Martyn: 'Dubstep in the US has taken the place of nu-metal'

Following our history of Dutch pop and our guide to the country's music scene, we meet the Dutch DJ and find out how he turned his back on gabber and trance to infiltrate UK dubstep

Big-name Dutch trance DJs such as Tiësto, Armin Van Buuren and Ferry Corsten may dominate international DJ polls, playing to stadium-sized crowds around the world, but arguably the most innovative and influential Dutch DJ and producer around today is an expat called Martijn Deykers. Under the name Martyn, he brought drum'n'bass to his hometown of Eindhoven in the 90s, before becoming the first foreigner to infiltrate the tight-knit London dubstep scene. Although his label 3024 is named after a Rotterdam postcode, he has lived for the last few years in Washington DC. His excellent second album Ghost People came out last autumn on Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder label.

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Goedemorgen Martijn. You grew up in Eindhoven but moved to Rotterdam as your musical career was taking off. What are the main differences between the two cities?

They're quite different. Eindhoven is smaller and much more relaxed. It's only 20 minutes from the border with Belgium, and the south of the Netherlands shares with Belgium a slower pace of life and a bigger food tradition than the area "above the rivers". Rotterdam is the real Netherlands, you know? The accent and even the language is different. What the rest of the world knows about the Netherlands, that's what you see in the bigger cities.

Eindhoven sounds nice. So why did you decide to move?

In 2001, Rotterdam became the European City of Culture. The government put a lot of money into the cultural scene – there were a lot of new clubs and festivals opening up. For me, it seemed like a good idea to move there. Rotterdam is quite attractive for young artists anyway. It's maybe comparable to somewhere like Manchester – it's an industrial port city, quite harsh, but at the same time it has a lot of cheap places to live, and abandoned buildings that you can use for something.

We know the Netherlands is the home of gabber and trance. How does a kid from Eindhoven end up getting involved with drum'n'bass?

I grew up on a healthy dose of house and techno, but when the first Metalheadz and Photek records came out in 1995, that sound really grabbed me. I would go on pilgrimages to London with a friend. We'd go out to as many clubs as we could in one weekend – the Metalheadz night at Blue Note, places such as the Leisure Lounge and Complex – and come back laden with as many records as we could carry. I wanted to recreate that magical vibe in the Netherlands, so we started our own drum'n'bass night in Eindhoven. We didn't know anyone else who had those records, so that's how I started DJing. It grew into quite a big venture. By 2000 we were getting up to 1,600 people. We had all the big UK names play there: Goldie, Doc Scott and D:Bridge.

Your first record didn't come out until 2005. How come it took you so long to get around to making your own music?

It was never really my intention, to be honest. I was more concerned with clubbing and dancing than making music. But after 2000 there was a split in the drum'n'bass scene. One side became really dark and the other was more melodic, almost fluffy. A lot of people simply abandoned the music altogether and moved on to speed garage or whatever. There weren't many people making music that was both hard and melodic so I felt that was my cue to start making my own tracks.

When did you have your dubstep epiphany?

It was around 2005. I did follow 2-step and garage a little bit but I lost track of it for a couple of years. Then I heard Burial and Kode9 and Digital Mystikz and I got the same feeling I had when I first heard drum'n'bass 10 years before. It gave me a new energy, and it turned out that my ideas seemed to fit this slower tempo. I didn't even know it was called dubstep at this stage.

Did you immerse yourself in the London dubstep scene in the same way that you did with drum'n'bass?

No, actually the first time I went to FWD was when I was booked to play there. But somehow my work resounded in this community, especially thanks to Kode9 who really championed my stuff. You could tell what a close-knit scene it was at that time because when Steve [Goodman aka Kode9] first played my remix of TRG's Broken Heart, the next day I had all the big dubstep DJs emailing me to ask if I had any more music. It was strange to suddenly be a part of this completely new scene. I think I was the first foreigner to play FWD.

As with many graduates from that FWD scene, you've moved towards more of a 4/4, techno-influenced sound on recent releases.

For me it wasn't a move towards four-to-the-floor, more of a move back to four-to-the-floor, because that's technically where I came from. Before drum'n'bass I was listening to house and techno. It's about trying to find the essence of dance music and making it as personal as possible.

Your tracks are always quite dense and melody rich. Is that because you envisage people enjoying them outside of a club environment?

Well, the tracks that most affected me when I was a raver were the ones you'd be whistling as you went home on your bike – as you do in the Netherlands. The melodic elements grab my attention. For me, the bassline never really sticks in my head, unless it's something utterly ridiculous. I'm trying to make the tracks that you hum when you cycle back from the rave.

Which other producers do you rate at the moment?

I like Caribou a lot, especially his stuff as Daphni. It's really loose. He doesn't care about the restrictions a lot of producers put on themselves, he just does what he feels is good, and you can really hear that in the music. Another guy I really like is Levon Vincent, an American house and techno producer. He tries to give his music more of a live element so it doesn't sound like it's written in little blocks on a computer screen. I also really like the new album by the Invisible. For me, it's in the same vein as something like Burial – very moody and rainy. Very London.

What about any artists from the Netherlands?

My friend 2562 is always innovative, although he's in Berlin now. And there's some pretty cool stuff coming out on a new Amsterdam label called Audio Culture.

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What's your take on what America now understands as dubstep?

[Laughing] It has very little to do with me! Dubstep in the US has taken the place of nu metal. An electronic music rave in America now is like a Limp Bizkit concert 10 years ago. If you listen to a Skrillex set, it's basically just an orgasmic reaction every three minutes. It has little to do with what dubstep was really all about, which was sort of a meditation on bass. Now it's like a caricature of that in the US.

Is there any kind of underground electronic music scene in Washington where you live?

Washington is a weird city because it's kind of transient. It's a city where people come to work or study, and once they're done, they're out. There are few people who actually stay here long enough to build a scene. There's not much of a grimy club culture, although there is quite a big gay scene.

So presumably you didn't move to Washington for musical reasons?

No, that was for personal reasons. I married an American girl. She lived with me for a while in Rotterdam and then we decided it was time for something else.

What do you miss about Holland?

I think if you move away from your home country, you develop a love/hate relationship with it. Obviously you miss things, but you can also see that country's flaws, so it's quite strange to think about the Netherlands now. Obviously I miss my family. I miss watching football. And it's corny, but I really miss Dutch cheese … and liquorice! I never thought of myself as a hardcore Dutchman but recently I found myself desperately searching all the stores here in Washington for some salty liquorice and I thought: "What has happened to me?"


Sam Richards

The GuardianTramp

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