It feels like yesterday that Martyn released debut album 'Great Lengths'. Landing in 2009, it sleekly brought together the worlds of dubstep and techno and turned the Dutch-born, Washington DC-based producer into a figurehead for innovative, forward thinking underground dance music. The warehouse techno ruffage of sophomore LP 'Ghost People' followed in 2011 and next month comes his third full length, 'The Air Between Words'. With a focus on infectious, bumpin' house music, it sees Martyn change direction once again but, of course, retains the rhythmic, dancefloor-ready dynamism that links all of the music he has put out thus far.
A versatile, stylish producer, it's fair to say that he's currently at the height of his craft. 'The Air Between Words' comes via the ever-excellent Ninja Tune and was made after Martyn decided to go back to square one and create music using all analogue equipment. More house inclined than he's ever been before, it's a strong set of tracks that bristle with energy and futurism.
With collaborations from Four Tet and Copeland locked in and a renewed 'back-to-basics' attitude towards production, we caught up with Martyn in London to discuss his views on live shows, vinyl and the processes behind his excellent new LP.
Exclusive interview and premiere of 'Secrets' below
With your new album, did you draw from influences from the past or future?
I think more from the past because I grew up on house and techno and the first sort of clubbing experiences I had were with that music so that's always been in my DNA. Even when I was making drum 'n' bass and what people call dubstep, that still sounded like techno for me. I think the main difference is the way I approached this album, because it's the third album and you have to sit down beforehand
and think about what you want to do and what you don't want to do.
My first album was basically me displaying all the styles and things I wanted to do and could do. I guess that's mostly the case with new albums, you want to show everything and declare a style, like "this is me", and I think the second one was a much more focused effort to make a techno album, or make something that you know would fit.
With this one, I just basically started building my analogue studio and really just went back to the beginning, just writing songs and just experimenting with machines to see what they do and what they sound like.
I guess it's kind of like a back to basics approach to making music again. All the songs are actually quite simple; simple ideas but just executed well, I guess.
The collaborations on the album include Four Tet and Copeland. The Four Tet one has had a lot of plays online. Did you expect it to skyrocket so fast and how did those collaborations come around?
The Four Tet one came about after I just ran into him a couple of times on the road, festivals, things like that. There were a couple of sketches that I had that I was stuck with and I just suggested to do something together. The funny thing about him and me is that we both have qualities that we can both work with. He's definitely got good ideas, and so do I, and I think the combination just worked really well. We're both real perfectionists so we just wanted to nail it and make it perfect basically. I mean it's been going back and forth for a long time, then we finally settled down with the arrangements because we wanted it to be really, really good.
And what about the Copeland track, was that because you had a good relationship with her already?
Yeah, it was sort of similar because when Hype Williams were on Hyperdub, we did a couple of shows together and that's how I got to know her. She writes a lot of music and also writes it very quickly. Same as with Four Tet, I had some melodic ideas that I really didn't know what to do with or that were more song based so we just started sending things back and forth. We did a track called 'A + E' that was released last year, and that was just a lot of fun so we did a bunch for this album.
Eventually there was only one that was really on there and then she co-wrote 'Forgiveness'. When we play live, we do the vocal version but we have a bunch more things happening so I think we'll be doing more together in the future as well.
A minute ago you touched upon the analogue sound on the album. Did you say you built a studio from scratch or was it stuff that you had before?
When I moved to the States I had nothing, I just had a laptop and a cardboard box that was my studio desk. I like the lo-fi aspect because you can buy a couple of really cheap synths, or effect pedals, or stuff like that, and if you don't like them it's not really a big deal, you put it back on Ebay and look for something else.
Will there be a new live show to accompany this album that differs from the ones before?
I think most visual shows are about adding some LEDs and there's no story, no concept behind it. I wanted to do something with a concept, and it didn't really work so I quit. Since then the live shows have got better just because it's a lot more focused. I just deleted all the shit around it that you don't really need. Now I do mostly DJ sets and actually just work really hard on them. With the live sets I do some
with Copeland which is also really fun because the two of us together is a real gem. It's fun because I can leave a bit of space in my music and I trust her because she's good at what she does. I used to use Serato and use digital files and I was never really happy with it. I dropped all of it and went back to vinyl and I've never felt better. There's so much added stress to using Serato and you don't realise that until you quit. It's so much more relaxed to use some records and enjoy yourself.
With the visual aspect of a live show, I'm not convinced that it works in most cases. I think there's very, very few people who do something really interesting and incorporate the whole visual aspect, like Amon Tobin, who's dedicated his whole music to a visual thing. I think for most people it's just another way to sell the same thing again and I just didn't want to go there, I don't want to put a funny head on this year, then have a funny head and a glove next year. I think that's the thing about the music industry, people keep doing the same thing. I think more people should wake up and think, "Maybe I should go to what I'm really good at and become better at that instead of listening to what everyone else says." I don't want to be known as a travelling circus; I just want to be known for making amazing music and being an amazing DJ, so lets do that.
Touching upon your sound, it's widely thought that it's constantly changing, constantly evolving. Is this a natural course?
Obviously I try and stay in touch with other people, what kind of music they're making and the records that come out that I buy to play out so I'm obviously influenced by what's going on. I guess over the last few years it's been sort of 4/4 based, not just here in the UK but in the US especially, there's so much going on at the moment. Saying that, obviously you don't want to copy other people and if you are making genuine music you don't have to decide in advance what you do, you just do it.
I keep my ears in tune but I'm definitely doing what I want to do. I think that's a better approach than trying to make something trendy. Once it's finished, within a year it's not trendy anymore, so you want to try and make something timeless.
With the underground music scene it seems like you've always been at the very top of it. Have you ever had any desire to take it to a grander stage. Not moving to chart music but breaking out of the underground scene?
Maybe… I mean there's not really much to break out of. I don't really know how happy you can be in the overground scene. I think a good example of someone who is really underground but on a high level is Jeff Mills. He makes exactly the kind of the music that he wants to but does orchestras and ballets, writes a book. He does a lot of overground things on a really high brow level, but you've never heard him add little vocal snippets to make it more appealing to the UK, so I think people like that are a big inspiration.
Finally, where do you think the perfect place to listen to this new album is?
I always thought my music is quite melancholic and has quite a sad tinge to it, so I would say a rainy summer night or some bittersweet kind of vibe. It's probably better than on the treadmill anyway.
'The Air Between Words' is out on July 16 via Ninja Tune
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