In Full Bloom

Poised for his big break, Dirtybird’s Justin Martin previews his new album, Ghettos & Gardens, at Artisan Afterhours

Justin Martin was getting ready to leave London when he hopped onto Skype for a chat from his hotel room. Just a few days before the interview, the San Francisco-based DJ and producer played a gig that will remain with him for years to come. “It was one of the best nights of my life,” he boldly proclaims.

Martin and a number of his label mates from Dirtybird—including his older brother Christian and label-head, the wildly popular DJ Claude VonStroke—played a barbecue-style party in London. Tickets had sold out a couple of months in advance, yet there was still a line of people outside the venue longing for a shot inside the party. The crew started playing at 3 p.m. and didn’t shut down until 6 the following morning, at which point everyone moved to an after-party that lasted until noon. Martin jokes that he’s still recuperating from the event.

The DJ is in the midst of a whirlwind of back-to-back tours. When we spoke, he was finishing up a jaunt as part of Dirtybird’s trek in support of the label’s new compilation, Hatched, with a few solo dates thrown in between those gigs. That tour quickly segued into a solo venture crossing back and forth between North America and Europe for his new album, Ghettos & Gardens, which drops May 22.

Spring 2012 might just go down as Martin’s big break and, for this veteran of San Francisco’s lauded underground dance scene, it’s been a long time coming.

Martin likes to tell people that he has been working on Ghettos & Gardens, his first full-length album, for his entire life. In truth, he has spent about a year writing the bulk of the album.

Debut album aside, Martin is no newbie to the electronic music world. He’s been producing and DJing since the early 2000s and has released a long string of dance singles. In fact, his song “The Southern Draw,” was the inaugural release on Dirtybird. But the complete artist album, the thing that can catapult a DJ to the highest levels of the EDM world, has eluded him until 2010, when something clicked.

He started releasing tracks on a near-monthly basis. Some were solo efforts. Others were joint projects. Among the glut of releases was a collaboration with up-and-comer Ardalan called “Mr. Spock,” an ode to Star Trek that is the most beautifully geeky dance jam to hit the clubs in years. “I’ve been the most motivated that I’ve ever been,” Martin says.

After realizing how much music he had been sending out into the world, Martin had a revelation: “I could have definitely written an album this year.” A full-length album became his goal for 2011 and he did it, one that is influenced by friends and fellow producers, by new people he’s met and places he has visited.

“Every time I get back to the studio, I just want to take all this inspiration and put it back into the music,” he says.

Martin was first exposed to dance music as a teenager under Christian’s guidance in New Haven, Conn. He found his biggest dose of inspiration, though, in San Francisco, where he attended college and still resides.

His earliest tracks drew from the West Coast-house sound pioneered by artists such as Mark Farina. But, Martin’s style has evolved heavily since his early days. Ghettos & Gardens is an amalgamation of everything he loves, from house to hip-hop vocal lines to retro video game melodies, and all filtered through a sophisticated lens. His sound is much more subdued that the bombastic beats you’ll hear on the festival circuit these days, but no less energetic. In fact, he’s played a lot of the festivals, including Electric Daisy Carnival in Dallas and Holy Ship!, a cruise ship bash off the coast of Florida. The young party-goers he sees at these events may appear quite different from the longtime house-heads he’ll draw in San Francisco, but it’s all good, he says, “everybody has something in common.”

There will be no shortage of his own tunes when Martin stops by Las Vegas on May 5, debuting tracks from Ghettos & Gardens and also dropping a slew of new remixes of his latest work as well. “The response so far has been really good,” he says with a touch of relief in his voice. Martin’s anticipation for this moment is about to pay off.

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