Martyn Q&A: On Club Culture In An EDM World, Meditation And Melancholy

Martyn’s new album is called ‘The Air Between Words’ but it could easily be called ‘The Air Between Genres’. Though often billed as a techno or dubstep artist, the Dutch producer hovers between a myriad of styles, more so now than ever before. His drum ‘n’ bass DJing days have long since passed and recent work, including 2011’s ‘Ghost People’, sees him engaging with sounds on a larger scale, without committing to one in particular. The result is impressive and consequently it’s been a regularly played album on the NME stereo this year.

It’s unpredictable, too. Just when you think you’re in for an industrial ride, the wonky jazz piano of ‘Drones’ enters with a head-thumping beat. ‘Love Of Pleasure’ features Inga Copeland on vocals over bass-driven house. ‘Lullaby’ is nothing of the sort. It clanks along on an 80s club beat before unravelling into a prettier rattle. ‘Glassbeadgames’, the title inspired by Herman Hesse and the track written with Four Tet, is a symphony of melodic lines that tangle into an ecstatic cluster.

Seeing as Martyn’s one of the most interesting artists working today, I had a chat with him about the state of ‘electronica’ in 2014, the therapeutic value of music, and how he makes his albums more human.

Dance music has changed so dramatically in the last couple of decades or so since you started DJing. What’s it like playing the US since the big EDM boom?

When I played in the US they classified me as dubstep at the time dubstep was getting a bit… funny. I was on line-ups with EDM acts that had completely different interests and depth. If you try to do something new and the guy next you is some teenage heavy metal fan it doesn’t work… every time I played I saw something like that coming. But over the last year or so lots of music like that has moved to festival and outdoor venues. What happens in clubs is much more credible. Music for the kids has moved outside.

What cities are you enjoying playing at the moment?

Stereo in Montréal is so healthy. New York, Brooklyn, Canada, Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, Chicago…

What informed the album title ‘The Air Between Words’? I’m guessing it refers to the concept of space in the album?

I’ve always been interesting in Eastern Philosophy, Taoism and the invisible frame that holds everything together. You need spaces in sentences otherwise they’re nonsense. A lot of repetitive music is meditative. My music has changed a little bit. I’m more interested in meditation and philosophy and looking at a different way of living, getting more out life than the rat race. My last album ‘Ghost People’ was more meditative, decisive and peaceful. I take more time to explore something, take one good idea and explore that. It’s about peace of mind and not being so anxious to get everything out there.

You’ve said before that melancholy is the one thread that runs through your work – why are you so drawn to it?

Melancholy is always in my music. It’s an emotion that is easy for me to call upon. I’ve always had a sense of melancholy and the bittersweet. This album is something for a warm, rainy day. A nice side and a lesser nice side. That duality. Melancholy isn’t a negative emotion. It’s about the sad and the beautiful. I like music like that. My task is to use the negative and bad thing and make it into something beautiful.

For other people?

First of all I make it for me. Music is like therapy. It’s not trying to help other people, it’s to help me.

Are there specific moments in your life you call on?

‘Great Lengths’ was the only album tried to a specific time and a rough patch. Generally it’s much more abstract.

You’ve worked with a few interesting field recordings. For example on this album you sample your own breathing and the kids playing outside your studio…

I carry a recorder with me and record stuff wherever I go. Street sounds are my Instagram. I record bits and pieces in different cities. I use it on tracks even if it’s in the background just to give it a bed of reality So it has a layer of humanity. Almost every track on this album has a found sound. It’s a way to create something that’s not from the studio.

You worked with Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet over email for ‘Glassbeadgames (8 Hours at Fabric Dub)’. Is ‘over the internet’ an effective way to write music these days?

Doing something online make you judge the product more than the person. If you’re sitting next to something you don’t want to not be nice! Though Kieran and I work closely we are ruthless. If it’s good, it’s good, and the advantage of that is a better project.

Martyn’s ‘The Air Between Words’ is out now on Ninja Tune