With the release of his first full-length album, Ghettos and Gardens, and the accompanying world tour (his first -- with stops in Ibiza and London), Dirtybird's Justin Martin is having quite the year. Warmly received by critics, Ghettos and Gardens has garnered accolades from high-profile outlets such as the NPR and the BBC, and showcases Martin's distinctive "tough and tender" sound. He recently spoke with All Shook Down about his drum 'n' bass past, making Ghettos and Gardens, and the annual Dirtybird in the Park party. He plays this Friday, Aug. 3, at Mezzanine with Claude VonStroke, Kill Frenzy, Worthy, Leroy Peppers, and Ardalan.
Welcome back to San Francisco for a stop and a break from your Ghettos and Gardens Tour.
Thanks! I just got back today from a really fun weekend in Denver, New York, and Cleveland. I actually got back home two hours ago, and I just want to have some dinner, watch the game, and unwind.
What's usually your first stop when you get back home?
I like to come back to the house and watch baseball games. That's one of my favorite things to do after some crazy gigs. Other than that, I really like to get some really good chicken noodle soup from somewhere. I'm pretty low-key and enjoy just chilling at home.
Congrats on the success on the Ghettos and Gardens album, which has gotten a lot of praise and support from local and worldwide DJs alike. Can you elaborate on the "tough and tender" sound of the album?
The first person that said that about my sound was Ben Watt, and it was when my first track ever came out in 2003. He just started labeling my sound as just that. I've always liked the idea of having a juxtaposition of really beautiful soundscapes combined with really dark and nasty bass sounds. When I first started listening to electronic music, a lot of the earlier drum 'n' bass sets had these dark elements. I always wanted to create and have that in the music I make. So it's kind of become my signature. It's my take on electronic music. I like to have a split personality within my tracks.
The one remake on Ghettos and Gardens is Goldie's classic drum 'n' bass tune "Kemistry." Were you compelled to revisit this classic based on your early experiences as a drum 'n' bass DJ?
That track was from one of the first electronic albums I've heard, which was Goldie's Timeless. It is one of my all-time favorite tracks. That album was really inspiring from the beginning to me. When I was working on Ghettos and Gardens, I was thinking about doing a house version of a track I've always wanted to do. Barclay, aka Claude Von Stroke, is friends with Goldie, so I asked him to see if I could get permission to do my own remake of the song that was inspiring me since the very beginning of my EDM days. He said yes, and I asked if I could get the individual parts for the song. Unfortunately, they were recorded so long ago that the original DAT (digital audio tape) recordings were long-lost or destroyed. I just kind of went old school style and found all the different remixes on vinyl, sampled the original records, and put the remix together using original recordings I had on vinyl. It was definitely a super honor for me to be able to do a remix for one of my musical heroes.
Ghettos and Gardens moves through a myriad of musical styles, with some tracks incorporating heavy booty-bass grooves while others have a more classical and emotional feel. Which track are you most proud of?
They were all satisfying in different ways. I wanted the album to be very diverse, but I wanted something you could listen to from beginning to end. It's hard to say, because every track was special to me. "Hood Rich" is one of the most fun tracks I've made. I went crazy with production and sampled all these crazy strings and orchestras.
But "Don't Go" is always the most sentimental. It was written with my girlfriend in mind and I'd definitely say it returned to my deep house roots with Dirtybird. It was really fun to get back into a track that's very musical and emotional.
Next: Martin on whether the annual Dirtybird in the Park parties will continue.