Back in 2011 we caught up with Martyn as he prepared to release his sophomore album Ghost People on Brainfeeder – conversing away on the obstacle of second album syndrome, his first foray into performing his music live and his early collaborations. Seven years later and an album on Ninja Tune in between, his fourth LP titled Voids lands on Berlin’s flagship label Ostgut Ton on the 22nd of June. Questioning everything he has done musically in the past, and everything he still wants to do, the album has been described as being written as a means of catharsis, recently being released from the hospital after some unexpected health issues. Turning to Max Roach’s 1979 ensemble percussion album M’Boom, however, was the spark in reassessing the elements that drove him to make music in first place.
In his own words: “That was the first record I listened to in my studio after coming out of the hospital. It’s a project where Roach works with a slew of top notch percussionists and drummers and rotates them for every composition. Playing this record was such a surreal experience, the first music I consciously listened to after my recovery. I could hear so much space in the music, something I had never noticed before; almost like a 3D experience, with the most striking aspect being the emptiness between the players.”
In the space of eight months Martyn would write his fourth album, creating an almost semi-descendant of his first LP Great Lengths sound-wise, yet forging new paths forward in genre. At nine tracks, with no collaborations or vocalists, the music is described as being stripped down its essentials, as Martyn looks to recontextualize his music with elements of Nyabinghi, drum ‘n‘ bass, and gqom. His Truancy Volume, which he calls an ‘inspiration mixtape’ to compliment Voids, is a collection of music, new and old that he’s listened to over the past year. With Digital Mystikz alongside Shed and Objekt alongside Appleblim, Martyn roams through an almost biographical tale of selections, with his love for jazz shining through with the inclusion of London jazz collective Sons Of Kemet. We also caught up with Martyn for the second time on Truants to talk about Voids, how his ideas form, playing live at Panorama Bar and how radio has become more accessible than ever.
Hey Martijn, hope you’re well! Nice to see a mix culminate here after that interview in 2011. That was the first one I ever did so excited for it to come full circle. Let’s start with talking about the new album Voids, which is out on the 22nd June. It’s your fourth album and coming out on Ostgut Ton. What can you tell us about the making of this one, I understand you were questioning everything you had done whilst making this one? “Glad to be talking to you again! This record has been a long time coming. The last couple of years I have been flying under the radar a bit, as a collaborator under a different guise (with Steffi as Doms & Deykers and on the Virginia LP on Ostgut Ton) and also by taking some time off of touring for (physical/mental) health reasons last year. I definitely needed to take a step back from the touring life to rediscover the fun in making music, and frankly, just to reassess what I had done in the last thirteen or so years. Obviously I never want to repeat myself musically but I do think my original ‘voice’ is something I’d like to hang on to, and to keep that ‘sound’ strong and clear, I felt I needed to go back to basics a bit in how I write music. There are no collaborations on this record, just me doing what I do best and in that sense it’s a very introspective record, quite dark and melancholic in places but also very energetic. I’m also super happy that Ostgut Ton took the project on, they’ve been supportive of my music and DJing for years so it’s great to have found a home there.”
You’ve talked in the past how you don’t quite consider yourself a technical savvy producer, relying more on ideas and inspirations rather than equipment. How do you find these ideas usually form? “It’s not that I know absolutely nothing about studio production, I know how to make things sound the way I want them to (more or less), and frankly you need to know things to then un-know them and experiment. But I don’t enjoy spending too much time figuring out the ins and outs of a particular piece of equipment, or spend hours on one loop. I’m more interested in sounds and once I have a few sounds together that spark an idea, that’s when I like to go into the studio and make it.”
I heard that playing more live sets is one of your mains goal at the moment. Can you also tell us about your recent live set at Panorama Bar? I heard that was a special one for you – you’ve described DJing before as being very emotional. How would you describe your current live set? Surely there’s an extra layer to that considering the music is all produced by you. “When you are sitting on a lot of new music it’s definitely more exciting to play live, and at Panorama Bar recently I did kind of a try-out of my album, which was really cool. I feel very at home in that place and so I don’t have to worry much about what could work there or not, and the crowd there is very receptive. The dynamic and pace of it is completely different from DJ’ing, I know my own music inside out and because you’re working with stems and separate sounds, it’s more like a freestyle arrangement that’s continuously evolving and going into different directions, while with DJ’ing you obviously have the music speak for itself a bit more. I’ve said before that DJing is very emotional, but maybe I should just say ‘performing’. I think in both situations, DJing and playing live, you just want do what you think sounds best at that particular moment, open yourself up and do what feels best.”
Let’s talk about your love for radio. You have a regular slot at NTS but there’s always been a bigger interest outside of just your own shows, correct? This idea that it can be used as a platform for political discussion and exchange. Do you think there’s a role for radio more than ever now? “I just finished a two year stint of my show “Layovers” and now I’ve started a monthly jazz show on NTS which I really enjoy doing, as I can feature a lot of music I never get to play anywhere else. Also, I play on The Lot in NYC sometimes and one-offs here and there. Radio is more accessible than ever before, and it gives a wide variety of people opportunities to make their voices heard. Political exchange doesn’t just happen through talk radio though, just look at NTS’ lineups, the fact that there’s so many women/POC/LGBTQ+ on there with their own unique ideas, stories and musical tastes makes it so much deeper and interesting, and it sets an example for others that anyone who can bring it deserves a spot.”
Let’s talk about records as it seems you’re still an active digger that enjoys regular visits to the record store, especially whilst on your travels. You’ve been buying a lot of jazz lately I’m assuming? What are some current record shops that you’ve left feeling especially satisfied? “I’ve always bought jazz records, and even though I don’t mind playing a variety of styles out, for some reason I found it very difficult to drop a Pharoah Sanders banger in the middle of a Panorama Bar set or something. I just couldn’t incorporate it in other music things I did, until I got the opportunity to play it on the radio that is. That’s why I’ve been more actively shopping for it again. As far as record shops, I just really enjoy the wide variety of shops, I think if you’re a DJ or you run a label yourself, it’s kind of weird if you don’t show your face in a shop once every while, to have a sense of what’s going on, what people listen to and what new/old music is around. Even just to see what labels are doing great artwork for their sleeves. I just tend to buy different things online than I do when I hear something at a listening post too. As for shops, there’s a couple really great local ones here around DC, in London I love SOTU and I have to spend some quality time at Rye Wax next time I’m there, Manchester has some great ones, Berlin I’d say Hard Wax, Audio-In and Sound Metaphors.”
What can you tell us about the mix you’ve done for us today? Was there any particular theme you went for this one? It unintentionally became more of an “inspiration mixtape” as background for Voids. Some new and old music that I listened to a lot over the last year. Music by Steven Julien (aka Funkineven), Objekt, Sons of Kemet, which is a London based jazz collective that I really love, one of my fav Digital Mystikz tunes, Appleblim and Shed. I included a track from my album too, called “Mind Rain”, it’s around 49mins in.”
Last question, and our regular go-to. When was the last time you danced, and what was the last thing to bring a smile to your face? I DJed at Honey in Minneapolis a little while ago and moved/danced to Josey Rebelle’s set who played so much amazing stuff! The last thing to bring a smile to my face was yesterday when the DC ice hockey team Washington Capitals advanced to the next round of the playoffs, and I don’t want to talk about it because I am probably jinxing them so hard now!”
Photo by Josh Sisk