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[rock the dub Interview]: Martsman


In a genre like Drum & Bass, there is a plethora of sounds coming from all over the world. There are some producers who receive all of the shine whenever they drop (Goldie, Fresh, Pendulum, etc.), and others who seem to have a strong underground fanbase, but for all their good intentions, never seem to get the proper blessings from the above-ground listeners. Martsman is one of those producers. Crafting soundscapes that are heavy on experimentation and his own singular aesthetic, his releases have been championed by labels and websites worldwide. Where DnB has strayed from the original tracks that kept you guessing and interested in the new sounds coming in, Martsman comes from a school that take the tune and keeps it fresh with interesting, invigorating ideas. Upon the release of a few top-notch 12"s from Martin, we diced things up over the state of the scene, netlabels, and what goes on behind the twitchy robotic beasts that Martsman creates...


khal: While you’ve dropped ill beats on Exegene, Plainaudio, Offshore, as well as Counter Intelligence and (forthcoming) bits for Bassbin/Breakin’, many may not recognize your name. If you had to describe your style of production, what would you call it?

Martsman: I guess most people would probably call it “Leftfield Drum & Bass”. I can’t really name a particular style nor do I aim to go into a certain direction though. It’s Drum & Bass in a way I would like it to sound like.

khal: The way you produce reminds many of producers like Squarepusher or Alpha Omega: edited breaks with an attitude of pretty much “anything goes” for the rest of the track. How do you approach producing?

Martsman: When I started listening to Drum & Bass, it wasn’t mainly the typical mid- to end-nineties sound most of the DJs played (Jump Up, Techstep etc.), but more the musical and experimental stuff from the Reinforced camp. The sounds of Alpha Omega and Sonar Circle were basically what I got to know as “Drum & Bass” in the first row, followed by artists like Squarepusher, Aphex Twin or Plug. For me, Drum & Bass is the name for a particular framework. Within this framework, basically “anything goes”. I love to play around with expectations, breaks and breakdowns out of the blue, stop-and-goes, glitches and the like. I would like people to start reflecting about the music they listen to again. It’s not about getting too intellectual, so that the audience can’t enjoy it anymore, but more in a way of creating awareness of the fact that there is music to listen to and not only some sound to fidget to like mad.

khal: For the gear-heads out there, can you describe what your studio setup is like? Is there one piece of equipment that you couldn’t work without? If so, why?

Martsman: Simply put: I don’t have hardware equipment besides two small Genelec 8020A monitors, which I bought this year. All I do is software-only. I use a freeware modular tracker called “Jeskola Buzz” running on a laptop PC. I chose Buzz back then because it was freeware, and now I simply can’t imagine working with anything else.

khal: What inspires you to produce? Are you trying to evoke a certain message or feeling with your tunes, or are they more exploration and experimentation or what?

Martsman: I often have precise ideas on what I want to do soundwise – especially when it comes to drumpatterns and basslines. It is like I have like 4 bars of a track in my head and try to work this idea out. Interestingly, I think I haven’t ever really finished a track based on such an idea. It is more like the ideas are a basis for me to start and most of the time trying to work an idea out like this leads to results I don’t expect at all. Sometimes there is an intention or a program behind certain tracks though. Take “Antifunk” on Counter Intelligence for example – the main point about the tune is the break which is not used in a typical breakbeat fashion but in a quite steady and “antifunky” way. In “Jump Funk” the patterns change on the formula “every 8 bars, put in another bassdrum after the last one”. I kinda like concepts with simple mathematics. Most of the inspiration comes from other music, no matter what genre. However, I always take something with me to write ideas down as they often vanish as quick as they come.

khal: I know you are from Germany, but one of your first releases was for Offshore, with “Ago”, which is where I first heard your production. How did you get involved with Offshore, which is primarily based in New York, USA?

Martsman: I got in contact with Brett (DJ Clever – OSR mastermind) via Sileni, another Offshore artist. He put out a track called “Twitchy Droid Leg” back in 2004, which was like an enlightenment for me. I hadn’t heard anything like that before, and all of a sudden, Drum & Bass was making sense to me again. I found out Sileni was posting on “subvertcentral.com”, so I just sent him a message, which he replied to about half a year later. Then everything happened pretty fast – I sent him a couple of tracks and he was quite into them. So he pushed them into Brett’s direction. Brett signed two tracks: “Ago” – which was released in November 2005 as a split release with Commercial Suicide, and “Marksman” – which will be coming on the “Buried Treasures” CD compilation very soon.

khal: Is the DnB scene in Germany large? Do you have any dealings with producers like Amaning or Deep Inc or any of the newer German producers out there?

Martsman: First of all, I have to say that I am not part of the Drum & Bass scene here for as long as several other German producers are. The first contacts with the scene were around 2000 I’d say, and it took another 3-4 years until I started playing out and got into producing properly. So, basically, as things are just starting up for me at the moment I am also just getting involved in the German Drum & Bass scene gradually. However, I was pretty hard to find like-minded people over here. That’s why I’d say I am now in contact with more people outside of Germany than within the country. Nevertheless, there is a growing amount of leftfield producers and DJs here I am in contact with. Cycom from Hamburg, who has releases out on Santorin Records and Alphacut as well as forthcoming bits on Counter Intelligence, Breakin and Transmute and is also active member of Plainaudio, DJ Con.Struct, a promoter from Leipzig and artist of Outsider Recordings, LXC, the Alphacut labelhead, Bad Matter from Berlin (Intransigent Records, Alphacut), the NSF crew from Mannheim (Soothsayer, Exegene), of course all the guys from Plainaudio and quite a bunch of other DJs and promoters. Apparently, when you’re doing leftfield Drum & Bass, you can’t survive music-wise without networking outside of Germany. However, there’s a noticable movement going on here at the moment. And it also depends on where you live. When I moved to Berlin in April, I experienced a much larger audience and also a wider spectrum of musical styles in Drum & Bass, than in Karlsruhe, where I lived before and where people were mostly into one particular style of Drum & Bass which I couldn’t force myself to neither produce nor spin.

khal: In speaking with you previously, I hear you do A&R for Plainaudio. How did that opportunity come about?

Martsman: Plainaudio was founded by Iaka in 2001. After two vinyl releases (Cycom, Barth) the label took a break and relaunched again in 2005 as a netlabel for Drum & Bass as well as Electronica and Experimental. First I was asked to do a release for them and by that time I got involved with the organization as well. Plainaudio is currently run by Iaka and Cycom from Hamburg, Buzz from Dortmund and Flowpro and myself from Berlin.

khal: Speaking of Plainaudio, not only have you put out *free* releases for them, but you have two releases under your belt for the Exegene net label. How do you feel about giving your music away for free? Do you think releases like these will help ease up the p2p trading of mp3s?

Martsman: The main point about netlabels in my opinion is, that, when they are led well, they can reach a much wider audience than vinyl-only labels could ever do – due to podcasts and distribution via blogs, e.g. Plainaudio tracks are distributed via Starfrosch, Europe’s biggest podcast for electronic music. Thanks to that fact we have download rates up to over 20,000 with certain releases at present, steadily growing. As most of the stuff we provide is more musical than the usual DJ-tools, it is not the kind of music that would easily sell on bigger vinyl labels anyway. Therefore, putting tunes out on a netlabel in the context of a release seems to be an adequate way to avoid real gems being lost over time. Don’t get me wrong, there are more and more vinyl-labels out there, that sign and put out this kind of Drum & Bass, but compared to the output of the producers, there are still too few labels to cope with the amount of tracks being done, which are worth to see a release. You often see talented producers give away some of their tracks for free on internet boards nowadays – so why not do it more officially plus promote the tracks in a way they deserve?! Additionally, I consider Netlabels an appropriate way to support artists that aren’t signed to a bigger label yet – they can work like a promotional platform. As far as the p2p problem is concerned – I might be taking it too easy in this concern, but putting out music on vinyl only means putting out music for the DJs only. I suppose most of the people downloading MP3s via p2p networks are music lovers who don’t have the chance to get the tunes else than on vinyl – which doesn’t make sense, when you’re not a DJ, especially when you have to pay the same amount of money for a 12” as for a full CD album. I can’t believe that DJs seriously play out pirated MP3s, at least not if it is still possible to get a copy on wax. And if they do so, shame on them! There are ways to ease the whole problem though. Offshore’s complete back catalogue can be bought on Warp’s BLEEP.com e.g. Other labels provide their tunes on Beatport for just a few bucks. I think that’s a good solution – it doesn’t really solve the problem with p2p, but at least it is an alternative for the non-DJ-audience to get the music they like legally.

khal: I’ve seen a few flicks of you DJing on your MySpace page. What types of tracks to you spin?

Martsman: I personally love every kind of breaks and bouncy stuff and I have a preference for everything that sounds electronic and sterile – tracks that don’t hide the fact that they are made with a computer, “Robot breaks”. I play lots of older stuff from the mid to the end of the nineties as well. I came to Drum & Bass rather late, which allows me to discover the sounds from back then with quite an excitement.

khal: Not to stereotype, but in the style(s) of DnB you produce, there seem to be a number of producers who tend to stick to wanting to promote and preserve the older sounds of DnB. They feel as though a lot of the newer stuff that gets released can be considered rubbish. Do you subscribe to those thoughts? Why or why not?

Martsman: Let me put it this way: It appears to me, that there aren’t too many things still to be done in Drum & Bass. I don’t say this in a pessimistic way, but it’s just a fact that most of the sounds and styles that appear “new” today, were there before. (Although it may sound a bit like a commercial by now, but in my opinion the only piece of Drum & Bass from the last couple of years that really came up with something totally new, was Sileni’s “Twitchy Droid Leg”). The only point is, that they are not as worn out yet as most of the mainstream Drum & Bass appears to be. E.g. I experienced that when I got a chance to go through the old Partisan catalogue recently and listened to some of Deep Blue’s old stuff. Interestingly, he did all this techno-influenced and halftime stuff that’s so en vogue now years ago! (And I think he’s not the only one who did.) Just it appears like no one was really interested. Today Amit’s the name when it comes to halftime stuff, and Martyn’s on his way to become the Detroit & Bass Don – and two yet existing ways to interpret Drum & Bass come to their right not only because their main protagonists do their thing very well but because a wider audience seems willing to accept it. However, I consider most of the recent mainstream Drum & Bass hardly exciting and therefore I guess I am in the same situation as most of the other guys who dig out older styles and sounds. But what makes the difference is probably the majority of them having been part of the scene from the early days on, which I was not. As I said, I came to Drum & Bass rather late and therefore, I don’t make a difference between the original “old stuff” and the “renaissance stuff” from today – it still sounds all fresh and playable to me.

khal: What producer or producers would you say are really making consistently dope tracks, inside and outside the DnB scene?

Martsman: There are quite a bunch of people I would like to name in this regard. Sileni’s the man when it comes to weirdo-robot-freakouts. Apart from “Twitchy Droid Leg” on Offshore there are other tracks out on Planet Mu, Thermal, Subtle Audio and Outsider and some lined up for Subvert Central Recordings as well. They are all more than worth checking out. Martyn’s doing his thing extremely well. From “Nxt 2 U” on play:musik to his remix of Graphic’s “I am metal” on Offshore, he’s consistingly following his path of a straight and yet out-of-the-box dancefloor oriented style. Alpha Omega – a legend back then, a legend now – nuff said. There are Macc, Fanu, Fracture & Neptune, Cycom and lots more from Subvert Central and beyond, who all are very strong when it comes to terms of next generation Drumfunk. In my opinion, there’s quite a lot going on at the moment!

khal: We’ve spoken on your past releases, but what do you have dropping in the near future? Any plans for an EP or LP releases?

Martsman: Sure there are plans, but nothing is settled yet, so I’d rather not talk about it at this point.

khal: Do you have any shout-outs or words of advice you’d like to drop before we wrap this up?
Martsman: I’ve been talking to a lot of DJs who emphasized, that they really would like to play more “out of the box” stuff but are too anxious that the audience would not like it and leave the dancefloor. In my experience, if you are consequent with what you play (and that doesn’t mean only to play for yourself!), most of the people come back after the first confusion. And besides, some more free room ain’t that bad if you really want to dance and not only nod your head, right?

Coming this December,
Offshore Recordings is releasing "Twitchy Droid Leg Remixes Part 2", which features a Martsman RMX of Sileni's "Twitchy Droid Leg" on the A side (followed up by a Vex'd RMX on the flip). We also have word that Martsman's "Antifunk", which is forthcoming on Counter Intelligence, is about to hit the testpress stage. Keep your eyes peeled, ears to the ground, and some cash tucked away for these releases.

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related links:
Martsman on MySpace
http://www.martsman.de/
Plainaudio
Martsman on rolldabeats
Martsman releases on Plainaudio: PP009MD, PP019MD
Martsman releases on Exgene: XGN012, XGN028
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3 comments:

Jason said...

great interview! go martsman! :D

egres said...

Yeah Martsman, smart words here. Keep it jungle!

Anonymous said...

nice and wise advice...especially last