“I love the suburbs,” the 38-year-old says, sipping pho at a Vietnamese restaurant in Herndon on a recent Friday afternoon. “It’s very tranquil. And nobody knows what I do.”
Except for the customs officers at Dulles. With about 70 out-of-town bookings to play each year, Martyn’s on a first-name basis with plenty of them. But he won’t have to worry about passports or visas on Thursday when he headlines the U Street Music Hall — it’ll be his first Washington gig since moving to the area.
So how does life in the sleepy D.C. suburbs influence a global music career? Martyn plunges his chopsticks into the broth and recounts his former morning ritual. He’d wake up, walk to a nearby gas station for bad coffee and cheap cigarettes, and chat with the day laborers lingering on the curb — their stilted conversations cut short whenever an approaching police car sent the men scrambling.
Martyn didn’t have to hide behind the gas station.
“This was hard core,” he says. “How can I ever spend a day staring at the [computer] screen thinking, ‘I’m not inspired,’ after seeing something that happening down the street?”
Early club beginnings
Raised in a village outside of Eindhoven, the Netherlands’ fifth-largest city, Martyn lived in a home filled with records that his dad, a pro soccer player, would collect on the road. About age 13, Martyn started following his uncle to local punk shows, including gigs featuring legendary Washingtonians Bad Brains and Henry Rollins. “I never realized these people were from D.C., of course,” he says, “or what being from D.C. even meant.”
The rhythms of Detroit techno and Chicago house music soon drew him into Eindhoven’s after-hours club scene, but in the mid-’90s he converted to the innovative strands of drum-and-bass that came skittering out of the United Kingdom. On weekends, he’d hop over to London to dance at the legendary Blue Note club. In the daylight hours, he’d load up at the local record stores, plotting to bring drum-and-bass back to Holland. Within a year, he was hosting the largest club night in Eindhoven.
When Martyn’s father suddenly died of a heart attack in 2004, he went from deejaying to producing tracks of his own. Building rhythms became a part of the grieving process.
“If a lot of my music is melancholic, it’s not without reason,” Martyn says. “When you’re happy, you go sit in the sun. You make music when you’re down.”
He also set out to make chameleon tracks that could serve as connective tissue in an increasingly polarized drum-and-bass scene — the genre had become either too “dark,” or too “fluffy,” he says.