Nicole Palazzo on 28/7/12
One of the reasons why Justin Martin has been my favorite DJ is how he treats his fans like his family. I never would have thought that attending a handful of shows at Santo’s Party House, Good Units, DEMF, and exchanging a few messages on twitter would lead to a hug, a kiss and an introduction to his parents at the Dirtybird BBQ in Miami. His charismatic attitude and fun personality instantly put anyone in his presence at ease.
He sounded a little tired when I caught up with him by phone yesterday but with good reason as he just came back from playing in Ibiza at Heidi's massive Jackathon party at Sankeys and (shockingly) visiting DC10 for the first time. On the production end, he’s earned critical acclaim for his new album Ghettos & Gardens in May and remixed "Kemistry" an influential mid 90's Drum & Bass record originally by industry legend, Goldie. He is an artist driven to push boundaries with his distinct bassy grooves.
The million dollar question…What is the significance of the title Ghettos and Gardens? The title of Ghettos and Gardens actually came to me after I got into a little bit of an argument with my girlfriend. I’d already been working on the album for a little while and hadn’t come up with a theme yet or anything like that. My sound has always been described to people as tender and tough with really beautiful melodies with really heavy bass lines. I wanted the title to respect that and it was one night that I got in a fight with my girlfriend and we both went our separate ways to cool down. I went to the corner store and bought a 40oz just to drink and kind of forget about it and she went and got me roses. And she came back over and gave me the roses and we didn’t have a vase to put them in – so we put them in an empty 40 bottle. I was just sitting there the next day looking at the 40 oz and it struck me – it was just a really powerful image – here you’ve got these beautiful flowers that are coming out of something that is totally considered ghetto. Something that you can get at any corner store in any city in America and it’s the cheapest alcohol you can drink. The image is just kind of beautiful to me. Something disgusting but something really beautiful coming out of it. And I was like in a way that kind of represents my sound. Ghetto but its got elements of beauty in it. And the title just struck me – Ghettos and Gardens.
"...she came back over and gave me the roses and we didn’t have a vase to put them in – so we put them in an empty 40 bottle. I was just sitting there the next day looking at the 40 oz and it struck me – it was just a really powerful image – here you’ve got these beautiful flowers that are coming out of something that is totally considered ghetto. Something that you can get at any corner store in any city in America and it’s the cheapest alcohol you can drink. The image is just kind of beautiful to me. Something disgusting but something really beautiful coming out of it. And I was like in a way that kind of represents my sound."
In your promotional cover photos you are surrounded by flowers – Have you came across a flower that you love? Hibiscus. When I was working on the album, a lot of it I wrote when I was in Maui at my parents house and basically it’s the Hawaiian state flower. When I came back home I started asking around SF to find them and they didn’t sell them in SF because they don’t maintain. So I couldn’t find them anywhere but that is probably my favorite flower. It’s the most beautiful in my opionion.
What would you grow if your schedule allowed you to maintain a garden? Definitely jalapeño or some kind of chili peppers. I absolutely love spicy food. In my dad's garden he’s got these Hawaiian chili peppers that are so spicy. It’s a tiny little chili pepper that is bright red and he uses them a lot to cook when I stay there. I force him to incorporate them into the food somehow.
Your parents are frequent attendees of your shows. Were they always such big fans or only after you started to gain momentum? My parents have always been really supportive of any goals or dreams that I've had. Since I've been a kid it’s always been like “we'll support anything you do as long as you don’t ask us for any money and don’t end up in jail.” For me and my brother they just always wanted us to follow our dreams and do whatever it is that made us happy as long as we weren’t being lazy bums and we could be successful at it. I think it took a little while [for them] to really understand our music. My dad was really into classic rock and classical music when I was growing up. Then he stated getting more experimental – it took him a while. First he started listening to Radiohead and then the Thom Yorke solo album, everything but the girl, and Bjork and he just started to really understand a little bit about electronic music – slowly but surely. And now they love it! Not just because i'm their son but they actually listen to my album on a regular basis, which is like the ultimate! That makes me feel really really happy. I remember when I was writing the album I ended up taking some of the curse words out because I wanted this to be an album that my parents could listen to and something that parents could play their kids.
They seem like a lot of fun too. Yeah that’s the best part! They try to make it to every single one of our park outdoor parties. Not just that but they came to my album release party in San Francisco which is like next level – almost a little scary - because its night life. Here my dad is in the DJ booth drinking a 40 oz with me. And all my friends are crazy and drunk and acting all wild. But they had a blast!
"Here my dad is in the DJ booth drinking a 40 oz with me."
Personal favorite Song off the album? I’d have to say probably “Don’t Go.” It’s changed a few times for me in the last few months. But "Don’t Go" is the track that I put the most emotion into. It was basically dedicated to my girlfriend. I love my job but I’m on the road more than I am home. So I get to see my girlfriend for very short periods of time. So she'll bring me to the airport, like tomorrow and it will probably be the last thing she says to me. So it just kind of became a catch phrase like, “don’t go.” For me it’s a really emotional song and I put my heart into that one. It has a deeper meaning than a club track. All the tracks I have on the album have a special meaning to me one way or another. It always changes. “Hood rich” is another one – I’m really happy with the way that track came out. It was something different for me than my usual sound. I love playing that in my live sets. I don’t want to sound really typical but I’m just happy with them all!
What is your favorite city to get pizza in – in the US & abroad? My favorite city to get pizza in would have to be New Haven. Pepe's or Sally’s. They are so amazing. I also really do like pizza in SF – not in general but there’s a pizza place I really like in particular called Delfinas. And my dad’s pizza is pretty amazing as well. Abroad? That's a tough one. I’ve had amazing pizza in Italy. I can’t remember the name or the city but I do know I've had some pretty amazing pizza in Europe as well. The thing is when I'm in Europe – unless someone knows how much I love pizza – and a promoter is recommending a place to me. It’s really hard for me to want to go, explore and try some random pizza place. It has to be a destination. Amazing pizza is amazing. I’ve had too much pizza…I'm a pizza brat! The coolest pizza i've had was called the berry white pizza with strawberries on it. It was amazing and the name is just awesome.
How did you and Dirtybird label head, Claude von stroke, join forces? I first met him through my brother around 2001, I just bought a computer and had graduated from college. I was completely infatuated with my DJ hobby and when I graduated from school it was all I wanted to do. I started working at a bar but I really wanted to break into the local scene in SF and wanted to try and do it. I thought I was good enough to make a decent living locally, and at the time my brother was helping this guy Barclay Crenshaw aka Claude von Stroke, long before he was Claude von stroke. Christian was helping him work on this video called “Intellect” where Barclay interviewed like 30 different DJs. Everyone from Miguel Migs, Paul Van Dyke to Derrick Carter, all these DJs that were big over a decade ago and asked them all the same questions like what did you do to become successful? How did you get to this point where you are? And told the story of each one. So my brother was like dude if you want to do this, this is the guy that you need to talk to because he’s making this movie on how these DJs became successful. He introduced me to Barclay and he needed original music for the movie so in trade for me to give him some music for him to use in his film, he took me on it for his project to see if the lessons that he taught in his movie would actually work in real life. I became his guinea pig and he became kind of like my manager. He just started guiding my career and helping me figure out what I needed to do to become successful. After my first record got signed to Buzzin Fly then he realized oh wow this is actually working. Maybe I can do this as well. The Claude von Stroke alias began and we than started doing our Dirty Bird parties in the park, the crew formed, and then shortly after that the record label formed and now the rest is history.
Have you had any parties this summer at the park? No we have not. We are unfortunately looking for a new spot. According to the park, we outgrew the location that we used to use. Which is true. Every year it just seemed to double – the first year 30 people then the next year a couple hundred and then the next almost 1,000. All the way leading up to last year, which had well over 2,500 people. There was tons of traffic and there was nowhere on the meadow where you could just sit down. If you look at picture or videos its just complete insanity. So the rangers were like "yeah you cant do that here anymore." This year we took the barbecue on the road a little bit.
You’re in the middle of your ambitious ghettos and gardens tour. Has their been any cities that have taken you by surprise and blew you out of the water? Like every single weekend has been pretty insane so it’s hard to pinpoint which one really stands out. Detroit was incredible. DC playing at one of my favorite clubs in the US called Uhall. They have one of the best sound systems I've ever heard and I love playing for those guys. The past time it was me and J Phlip playing and it was incredible. The vibe was incredible all the way through until the end. Its weird because it’s the first time I've ever done a tour that’s just been me. So its sort of DB but its more about my album. So every city I've gone to it’s been it’s just been a pleasant surprise. Seeing the enthusiasm, people wearing my shit, and people bringing me flowers and its just really exciting, flattering, humbling and incredible.
As a long time fan of Goldie can you tell me more about your collaboration with the Drum and Bass Icon? One of the first albums of electronic music that I ever heard was his "Timeless" album and that was back in 95. And I remember finding out about him because I started to listen to drum and bass – I remember finding out about this guy Goldie was Bjork's boyfriend and opening act on tour. So I listened to his album and I was like wow! What is this shit. This is crazy! I totally fell in love with it. Instantly. One of my favorite tracks on the album was the Kemistry track. Which I know is dedicated to a friend of his who had passed away. I know it was special track for him. I always thought the vocals were so beautiful. When I was working on this album I was going back to a lot of my early influences and I thought it would be the coolest thing ever to be able to get the vocals from the song. Claude was friends with Goldie so I thought I might as well try to get the parts and do a remake of the track. So he contacted the label and the label was like well we were thinking about having some people do remixes because the 20-year anniversary was coming up for the album but we don’t have any of the parts to the song. Because it was originally recorded on DAD and it was done a long time ago. So I just went through all my vinyl, I have a bunch of different versions on vinyl from back in the day, and I just ripped it and took sections that I needed. That song was actually the most work and the longest that any track on the album took for me. I wanted to get it right and make sure that it was perfect for Goldie and he was going to love it. I wanted it to be completely bad ass. Its different than anything else that i've ever made. In the end I ended up sending it to him and he totally loved it. Which for me was one of the most special moments for me in creating the album. Because this guy was one of my heroes early on and he’s one of the reasons I’m doing what I do. His giving me that approval of remixing his song that I already felt was a masterpiece was just a dream come true. I definitely felt really lucky that he gave me the thumbs up on that one.
He was at the db party in Miami right? Yes that was my first time meeting him so it was really cool.
If you were a professional wrestler – what would be your song you walked to the ring to? The first thing that pops into my head is the boys are back in town by thin Lizzie. That song always got me riled up – so I would probably come out playing the rocking air guitar solo.
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