If you’ve ever seen the Martinez Brothers spin—doesn’t matter if it was in a club or just one of the many YouTube videos to capture their inimitable style behind the decks—you know that what separates Chris and Steve Martinez from the rest of the pack isn’t just their skills, but their seemingly limitless energy.
Sure, their skills are considerable. You don’t get to play a club like Pacha (NYC or Ibiza) or Watergate (Berlin) or in front of 6000 people at New York City’s Museum Of Modern Art PS1 Warmup Session without skills.
But what sets apart the Martinez Brothers is their energy—not just party-rocking stamina (though they’ve got that too), but an unmistakable positivity. Call it generosity. Call it curiosity—the quality which finds them building bridges between New York’s soulful house scene and a globalized minimal techno scene, putting them at the forefront of a movement beyond genre.
What sets apart the Martinez Brothers is their spirit.
Oh, and another little thing: their age.
By now you’ve heard about the Martinez Brothers. These guys are practically the definition of new blood. Steve is 21, Chris is 18—not even old enough to get into most the clubs he plays. In a musical culture that was born in the late ’70s, whose heroes are moving into their fifth or sixth decades on the planet, the Martinez Brothers’ age definitely sets them apart.
“To be honest, the people our age aren’t into dance music,” confirms Steve. “They don’t know about the culture at all. The people we hang out with are all older than us.”
But “the age thing” is no gimmick. It is what it is. Steve and Chris had as much control over when they were born as where they were born (the Bronx, for the record). And, lucky for them, house music doesn’t discriminate. House music found them.
The boys grew up playing music. “We used to play a lot in church,” says Steve. “Our main thing is percussion—drums, congas. We also play keyboards, bass, stuff like that. When we were young we’d play in different bands, borough to borough, way before DJing came along.”
But church wasn’t the only musical influence in the house. The boys’ father was a veteran of the disco era, of New York clubs like the Paradise Garage. Growing up, the kids and their father would listen to Timmy Regisford’s radio shows on Kiss FM. “House music was kind of always around, in a way,” says Steve.
All kinds of music made it onto the family stereo, and what found its way to the stereo usually found its way into the boys’ own diverse musical language. One CD they remember as pivotal was a Kenny Dope disco mix called “Disco Heat” (Mastercuts). “Disco is all about live instrumentation,” emphasizes Steve. “A lot of the chord progressions we would hear in it, and the percussion—it really grabbed us.”
What he says next doesn’t sound like something you’d expect to hear from someone who only discovered house music, by his own admission, four or five years ago: “Disco was the forefather of house. We got into that, and it was just natural to get into its evolution.
“What house is today is what disco was in the ’70s. That was the club music of its time. It was only natural to get into house.”
The brothers found a home at the legendary New York club Shelter—the global capital of soulful house, with resident Timmy Regisford at the helm. “He had such a major influence on us,” says Steve, before pointing out the obvious: “We’re like the youngest kids to go to Shelter ever. He’s a big part of what we do because we would go there just to study and learn. As far as DJ technique and selection, everything we learned… Anybody who went to the Shelter knows, we would just stand in the booth and watch.”
But as anyone could tell you, standing and watching isn’t enough; to become DJs, Chris and Steve had to figure it out on their own.
“We got into it really backwards,” admits Steve. “We started doing it on the computer, just messing around, then we got a CD set, and then we started playing vinyl.”
It was around then that they met up with the DJ Victor Rosado, who spent time behind the decks with Larry Levan. “We’d listen to him online,” recalls Steve, “and it turns out he was a friend of my dad’s from back in the day.” The boys’ dad had an idea: throw a party with Victor “under one condition: his sons open up. So that’s how that started.”
It was in the summer of 2006 that things really started rolling, when the boys were invited to play an Ibadan Records party alongside Dennis Ferrer and Jerome Sydenham—at Shelter itself.
Chris had been emailing Dennis through his My Space, and Dennis, impressed with the younger Martinez brother’s drive, invited him to play. Chris didn’t miss a beat; brothers are brothers, after all. “I was like, ‘Yo, can my brother get down with me?’”
Dennis was iffy. “What if I was the brother that can’t really play?” says Steve. “But he said yes. Now he’s like family.”
“It was surreal,” he continues. “It was funny because we were playing at the same time that Timmy was playing upstairs, with Dennis and Jerome doing Ibadan downstairs. Lemme tell you, man, when we started playing, it was packed downstairs. I don’t think it was necessarily because we were amazing DJs, but we were young DJs rocking the floor.”
They’ve rocked many more floors since. Pacha (NYC & Ibiza), Cielo (NYC), Karu & Y (Miami), Watergate (Berlin), Bataclan (Paris), Sasha Beach Club (Algarve, Portugal), She Club (Barcelona), Buddha Club (Porto), BBC (Lisbon), Red Zone (Perugia, IT), The Powerzone (Amsterdam, NL). (The first time they left the country, in fact, aside from family trips to Puerto Rico, was to play Cheers, Paris, the longest running soulful house party in Paris.)
In 2009 they are already booked to play at the festival Electric Daisy Carnival (Los Angeles), Ministry Of Sound (London), Pacha (Ibiza), Social Club (Paris), Singapore (Zouk) and will also travel to Miami, Sao Paulo, Rio, Milan, Berlin, Tokyo, Lisbon, Amsterdam and beyond.
The Martinez Brothers kicked off a new chapter in January, 2007, when Dennis Ferrer’s Objektivity label released “My Rendition,” a powerhouse of a record that won them a whole new world of acclaim. Picked up by compilations and DJ mixes on labels like Ministry of Sound, King Street and Subliminal, “My Rendition” won the boys fans far beyond the boundaries of the soulful house scene, making its way into the sets of many a techno and minimal DJ as well.
As with DJing, the boys learned production on their own. “‘My Rendition’ was a record I’d had finished for maybe two and a half years,” says Steve. “I did it on a Roland Phantom, which is like this keyboard sequencer. The day we played at Shelter I’d given it to Ben Johnson, the manager of Shelter, and he immediately gave it to Timmy, who played it that night. When we started building a relationship with Dennis, he said, ‘Let’s work on this record.’ I didn’t have a studio. I worked on it in his studio, cleaned it up, and basically that’s when it came out.”
The title is self evident: “It’s a product of its environment. You look at it, like ‘Rej,’ or ‘Body Resonance’ by Pastaboys – it was just a reflection of the time.”
The tune’s techno overtones might surprise listeners more accustomed to the Martinez Brothers’ soulful house roots. “But even our DJ sets are very eclectic,” says Steve. “As far as dance music is concerned, we play everything. We play soulful music, we play classic R&B, we play techno, minimal, we play everything. For us to say we’re soulful DJs, that’s not all we do.”
They have gone on to produce their ironically named followup “Debbie Downer” out in January 2009 with Berlin based Greek producer Argy and “Where’s Mr. Brown?” a hissing, techno track. Both sides have gained much acclaim from DJ’s such as Josh Wink, Dubfire (Deep Dish), Loco Dice and Sebo K.
You could call their position pivotal. Along with musicians like Dennis Ferrer, Jerome Sydenham, Luciano and Ricardo Villalobos, the Martinez Brothers are helping introduce house crowds to more techno-oriented sounds and vice verse; they’ve also been instrumental in turning Europe’s minimal masses towards the organic depths of American house music. Their age works in their favor: the brothers are simply too young for the prejudicial divisions between American and European house music to mean much of anything. They’re at the forefront of a generation looking beyond boundaries, and back towards community.
As far as producing goes, we owe it all to Dennis. He told us, ‘You guys are young, you have so much time to put out records, don’t rush. Take it easy. Learn how to produce it, learn how to work on your keyboard. You don’t have to rush. When you’re ready, that’s when you can release things. When it’s good, and he feels, you got something, we’ll release it. We’re just going with the flow.”
The flow. What sets apart the Martinez Brothers is their sense of flow. Watch them behind the decks: they don’t stop moving. Lean, lanky, all wrists and elbows and ear-to-ear grins, these kids look like they were born to move. They’re practically climbing over each other as records flow together, one brother cueing up a track, the other EQing, the headphones passed back and forth, forearms intertwined, heads bobbing in unison. It’s amazing to watch. It’s even more amazing to hear.
DJ Kusala (Peter Primiani)
Jump & Dance | Peter & Tyrone | Canada