Free Thinking – Fighting Capitalism from Within

Posted by Cila Warncke

I just finished Peter Chapman’s excellent expose Jungle Capitalists about ruthless banana baron United Fruit Corporation which ran Central America as its private fiefdom for most of a century – casually killing off unruly workers, uncooperative heads of state, uncharted jungle and anything else that got in its way. It got me thinking about the antidote to brute free market economics. Given that we live in an anxiety-riddled, security obsessed, paranoid late-capitalist society there are limited alternatives. You can’t drop out and live off the land anymore unless you’re rich enough to buy the land in the first place, and our high-tech culture makes it difficult to live a private life. It isn’t easy to shape your own existence, given the physical, legal and ideological constraints on personal freedom. There are people, however, who take on the challenge and look for creative ways to address the ever-present imperative to pay the rent while doing something that is personally meaningful and socially beneficial. These unsung freedom fighters fuck with the system by surviving within it while doing what they want to do – and by using their skills in constructive, cooperative ways. In a perfect world, it’s what everyone would do.

This is the first instalment of what I hope will become a long series of blogs profiling individuals and businesses that operate outside the prevailing paradigm. First up, Algo Mas – a 100% Fair Trade shop in Ibiza.

Thursday evening in the tiny village of Sant Miquel and the plaza below the Iglesia is full of children, music and the scent of home baking. On the corner, door and sky-blue shutters flung open, sits Algo Mas. This small Fair Trade shop has just celebrated its second anniversary and judging by the stream of locals who stop to say hello, it is firmly cemented in the community. Italian expats Valeria Cova and Aurietta Sala run the shop, along with Blanca Llosent. Aurietta and Valeria are Italian, but have each lived in Ibiza for more than 30 years and have fond memories of the days when visiting friends meant half a day’s walk through the countryside and dinner by candlelight. They are not hippie dilettantes, however, or airy fairy idealists. Algo Mas is the product of hard work, common sense and a firm commitment to the principles of Fair Trade. Click here to continue reading

Exclusive Sasha Interview

Originally published in OWTL issue 39. Posted by Cila Warncke

Meeting Sasha is roughly the dance music equivalent of an audience with the Pope. Even people who don’t know (or care) anything about dance music know who he is. On the other hand, rabid fans don’t seem to know much more – only that he’s a genius mixer, DJ, and producer; that his music can change your life. No one’s quite sure, though, how a shy lad from North Wales became possibly the most recognised, and revered, DJ on the planet. Least of all him. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t fallen into this, ‘cause I was a lazy twat,” Sasha says, fidgeting with a Marlboro Light.

Sasha

Sasha

Part of his mystique is down to his wariness of the media merry-go-round. Before he arrived his PR runs through a list of the don’ts: Sasha doesn’t do photo shoots; Sasha doesn’t do lists. When he arrives he’s utterly amiable though, only saying he wishes he’d “handled things differently,” in the press, when he was younger. Now, he is professionally friendly, engaging; he makes eye contact, smiles a lot, when there’s a question he doesn’t much like he leans back, chuckles, and subtly shifts the topic.

Luckily, this doesn’t happen often. When we meet, Sasha is about to play his first London gig in over a year (at The Key), and is anticipating his first large-scale set at TDK Cross Central. He seems genuinely happy to be back. “I really do miss London,” he says, settling into a corner table in the Electric, on Portabello Road. For the three-odd months a year he lives in town, he’s based in West London. A handful of his mates are scattered noisily around the next table, downing mid-afternoon beers, waiting for him to finish. His PR team hovers nearby. Clearly he’s taking no chances on anymore slip ups with the press.

Londoners could be forgiven for thinking he’s gone off-radar lately. “I’ve been in America, doing residencies like Crobar and Avalon, and doing regular shows. Recently, I’ve been in New York setting up my studio,” he explains. New York is where he spends about five months of the year (the remaining four are in “airports and hotels”). The NYC connection started back when he and John Digweed were residents at Twilo, playing regular 12 hour sets of banging, dark progressive tunes. Now resident in the trendy (but not cheap) East Village he enthuses about the café culture and the way “on any given night, anything can happen.” Including moving into Garth Brook’s old studio. “It’s a really nice sounding room,” he says, of his new space, “but the last album recorded there was Kenny G’s Christmas album. We hope he hasn’t left any weird vibes,” he says, chuckling.

Sasha imparts this casually, sipping his beer, as if jet-setting between two of the world’s hippest (and most expensive) neighbourhoods were totally normal behaviour for a Bognor lad. Yet he admits when he first moved to Manchester, to try his hand at DJing he didn’t expect it to last. “A lot of my friends were DJs [too].Every winter when January came and the clubs emptied out we thought it was pretty much the end of the world. The end of the scene. All my mates thought it was a two year flash in the pan. My parents were disappointed [in me], very disappointed.”

By a stroke of good luck, as their playground, the Haçiencda (“the Haç” as he still affectionately calls it), sank into a morass of gang violence Shelly’s opened down the road in Stoke, and he landed his first residency. “People were pissed off at going to clubs and getting beaten up. There was nasty shit going on. [Shelly’s] was an hour down the road and it exploded. Even then, though, I didn’t really [think it would last].”

Sasha behind the decks

Sasha behind the decks

Sasha’s career took off and, as the international bookings started rolling in around ’93 and ’94 he thought, for the first time, maybe it would last. The next ten years are well-documented. In 1994 he and John Digweed mixed the now-legendary Renaissance compilation. It’s an album – and a friendship – that has stood the test of time. (In the course of the interview John gets 13 mentions, Sasha’s wife, two.) “John and I have a really unique relationship. It’s great working with John. He’s so professional. The exact opposite of me,” Sasha laughs. They work so closely, he says, that he can’t remember whose idea it originally was to open the Renaissance album with a daring three remixes of Leftfield’s ‘Song Of Life.’ “It worked beautifully together, but I don’t know who it was. When I work with John it’s very difficult to pinpoint after the fact. We lock ourselves in a room and listen to records for a couple of weeks, then we go and mix it down together. It’s very much a collaboration.”

And he doesn’t just mean in musical terms. Though Sasha and Digweed are only playing 10 dates together this year (“and that’s more than we’ve done in the last five years,” he says) he clearly treasures their camaraderie. “He’s a dark horse, I tell you,” he says, more than once, chuckling at some remembered mischief. His stories often loop back to reference his pal. “I’m not very good at travelling. John [Digweed] gets everything into one rucksack – CDs, change of clothes… I end up with two suitcases, two huge pieces of hand luggage. John’s always laughing at me [because] I’m always getting charged for excess baggage. If I’ve been in a hotel room ten minutes it looks like I’ve exploded… clothes everywhere! But it kind of makes me feel at home, a little bit. It helps me keep my sanity.”

The other constant in Sasha’s itinerant lifestyle is, obviously, music. It always has been, really, but technology has made it instantly accessible, all the time. “I used to check my record boxes, and – especially in the middle of the summer – they’d invariably go missing for a week at a time, somewhere,” he recalls. This sneaky respite turned into a nightmare on the eve the ‘Airdrawndagger’ launch, though. “I was flying back from Ibiza to play [the launch] at Bedrock, and my records went missing. I got back at five in the evening and basically had to go to a record shop and cobble together a DJ set from promos and stuff. It was such an important night for me, and to have that go wrong… I decided to switch to CDs, and from CDs to computer was quick.”

Armed with a Mac laptop and a London-based server Sasha will never have to do a last minute record dash again. “I update my record box every week,” he says, meaning his digital music collection. “I’m constantly downloading music, people send me stuff over Instant Messanger… Before you’d be desperately trying to get decks in your hotel room, now all my music’s on my iPod.”

The trade-off is everyone else has music at their fingertips, too. “Before, you know, I could get hold of a track and I’d have it for a year before anyone else. That just doesn’t exist anymore,” he says, a little nostalgically.

It’s an almost throw-away comment, a statement of well-known fact. But what he’s saying, in extreme shorthand, is the whole system of privilege which helped propel him, and his contemporaries like Judge Jules, Danny Rampling, Digweed, and Pete Tong, to the peak of their fame and earning power, broke down. It can’t have been an easy adjustment for one of the original superstar DJs to suddenly find that being a superstar was no longer enough to keep him ahead of the pack. To discover exclusives he once commanded because he was Sasha, were there online for any two-bit bedroom jock to play with.

The rub being, people didn’t – and don’t – expect any less. Ask if he ever gets tired of being “on duty” all the time, of working flat out to keep up with the onslaught of new music and technology, and he smiles a little. “Yeah, I guess so. But that’s my job. I mean, people expect some kind of legendary set, every time they see me. It’s important that I’m on top of things, and that I don’t disappoint people. You know, it’s hard to please everyone.”

He leans back against the leather banquette, his bright blue eyes narrowing, as he ponders this responsibility. There are several of these little pauses in the course of the interview, moments where Sasha, the musician and music fan, seems wordlessly puzzled, or even a little frustrated, by phenomenon of Sasha the DJ. Unprompted, he says DJing “never felt like a job, it always just felt like a night out, I used to blow off gigs and not really think about it.” As if the pressure of expectations could be dispersed by simply ducking it. But he corrects himself. “Maybe [I did], a long time ago, but the last six or seven years I’ll miss maybe one weekend a year, ‘cause I’m ill or something. I play virtually every weekend of the year, and when you get ill, you get ill,” he says rather vehemently. Then he leans forward, all wide-eyed sincerity. “I mean, if you have your wisdom teeth out and your face swells up twice its size you can’t really go out and DJ, can you?” he appeals.

It’s hard to tell if he’s being disingenuous, or if he honestly feels hard-done-by in public perception. More likely, his is the reaction of a fundamentally shy bloke often caught in a pressure cooker of anticipation. For example, he finds festival sets “nerve wracking.” When pressed for an explanation he shrugs. “I don’t think I play that kind of stadium filling music. I definitely struggle with what to play at festivals. And, um, so many things can go wrong, so many cock-ups can happen.”

Sasha, off-duty

Sasha, off-duty

Thousands of fans who have lost themselves in blissful oblivion at his festival sets might beg to differ, but Sasha likes the paradoxical freedom of “dark and dirty” venues. “You have a play a certain set at a festival, the biggest sound you can muster. When you play for 500 people in an intimate space you can try things out. The crowd will follow you, they’ll go with you.”

This idea of communion is, perhaps, what went missing when MP3s took over the world. Before, people who wanted to hear a certain kind of music had to go to a club, or a festival. Now, they just have to switch on their computer. It is a sea-change, Sasha readily confesses, that left him stranded for a bit. When it comes to production and DJing he does either one or the other. “I try to do studio work on the road, but… well, you’re knackered all the time. I take my laptop and don’t use it.” So, after a self-imposed touring exile of a year, to finish ‘Airdrawndagger’ (“the record label was fine, the pressure eventually came from myself”) he felt disconnected from the DJ scene. “I was kind of lost after that. [In] 2002, 2003 I was treading water. I was a bit unsure of what I was doing and where I was going.”

But luckily technology giveth, as well as taketh away, and the advent of Ableton gave Sasha a fresh perspective. “When I grabbed hold of Ableton I was so hungry to go and DJ again, I was hungry to be out there, playing.” So he did, taking to the road in the States, all over Europe and South America (where, he says, they have the best parties in the world) and dates in the UK including his Fabric residency, which came to an abrupt end last summer. Ableton, it seems, finally allowed the crowd-pleasing DJ and the perfectionist producer to work in some kind of alliance. Instead of locking himself in the studio for months Sasha can edit on the fly, showcasing his mind boggling musicality in a more direct way, satisfying his own creative urges and the audience’s insatiable appetite at the same time. “If I do a boat party in Miami, or a festival in Budapest, or a club in London, I can deliver something special. Five or six years ago I’d have a particular set I’d play, and it would evolve and change, but it would be slow, using a computer allows me to create a unique set every time I play.”

It’s a benefit that cuts both ways, as his newfound technological freedom allowed Sasha to record and release a brand new mix album in one night – thanks to Instant Live. This pioneering setup records, masters, and mixes live shows as they happen, meaning fans can walk out of a venue with a legit, properly packaged live CD at the end of a gig. Sasha’s management company set it up, and – remarkably – pre-licensed 60-odd tracks so he could pick and choose what to play on the night. Though he enjoyed it, the recording (at his Fundacion closing party at Avalon in LA) wasn’t exactly plain sailing. “At the beginning of the second CD my computer spazzed out on me. I guess ‘cause I was under pressure I wasn’t thinking straight. Normally I’d mix in a CD and reboot my computer but I thought I could fix it by fiddling with it”, he grins, miming slapping a keyboard. Hiccoughs aside, he is happy with the finished mix, and looking forward to getting to work on a studio album, proper. “I spent six weeks moving stuff and finding my way around [my new studio]. I’ll be going back in January to work on the follow up to ‘Involver’. It’ll be half DJ mix, half remixes, with some of my own productions.”

First, though, there’s the rest of the year to get through, and a string of gigs including TDK Cross Central, and Space, Ibiza, where he’s playing for We Love… since the demise of the Viva parties he co-headlined with Steve Lawler last year. Sasha is still clearly unhappy the night failed to take off. “It was launched badly. I think [the promoters] just assumed with me and Steve it would be a hands-down success,” he says, which seems like a fair analysis. Unfortunately the Sasha and Steve magic wasn’t enough to keep the night afloat. (By the end of August the headliners, including Sasha, had stopped turning up and there were only a few hundred confused looking clubbers wandering around the cargo hold of Space.) He’s philosophical, but disappointed about it. “It was humbling. It taught everyone involved a lesson. I would have liked for it to work out ‘cause you see Erick [Morillo] and Carl [Cox], they’ve both got established nights now, they’re just brilliant. Maybe next year we’ll think about doing something,” he concludes, brightening.

For every Viva, though, there’s a Southfest. Where, last December, he and John played to a screaming horde of 23,000 clubbers in Buenos Aires. “It started raining and nobody left. It was the most amazing atmosphere.” An online video clip is more illustrative: sheets of rain pour past the camera lens, Sasha – sporting film star sized aviators and a huge grin – pogos behind the decks, caught in the flashes of a blinding light show, the crowd stretching, literally, as far as the eye can see. “I felt like a rock star that night, it would be nice to relive that a few times,” he says, laughing.

TDK Cross Central won’t deliver 23,000 delirious fans, but Sasha is back in full, optimistic flow, happy to be home, excited to play for the “educated pests” (as he calls them) of London clubland. “I like festivals where you have a lot of bands and live things, it’s a bit more eclectic. It brings a healthier mix of people together. You can’t just turn up in London and play any old set. They won’t accept that. It’s challenging. But, you know, I love a challenge.”


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Clash: Deaf Stereo

Originally published in Clash

Deaf Stereo

Deaf Stereo


Deaf Stereo has been percolating ever since Luke, Will and Ben met at Westminster Uni on a music course, at the turn of the millennium. It was four years before they had a name and an idea to go with it. “We decided to stop playing stuff we thought we should, and play music we wanted to listen to,” they explain. The music they wanted to play, if their first single is anything to go by, is solid, grooving beat driven indie pop. Disco biscuits with a side order of Jack Daniels, say.

“We’re into bands like the Chemical Brothers, Underworld… we like the peaks and troughs of dance, but we also wanted proper songs,” says Barney, who describes his role in the band as doing “keyboards and laptop stuff.” About a year ago, they completed their set up, with fifth member, Tom, the handsome, clean-cut drummer.

Sitting in the trendy bowels of the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, it’s Will, who plays bass, who keeps up the steadiest stream of patter. A series of wry asides from behind a hand rolled cigarette. “Would I ever sail a giant effigy of myself down the Thames? Shit. If I were as big as Michael Jackson that’s the least I would do. I’d have a whole set of them.”

Ben, (guitars, backing vocals) is small, dark, thoughtful. He takes on the philosophical questions. Or rather, turns questions philosophical. If you had a band uniform, say, what would it be? Luke (singer) runs a hand through his beautifully cut hair and says, “That’s something we’re still thinking about.” But Ben launches into an earnest and articulate explanation of the dangers of embracing style over substance. Absorbing this, Luke effortlessly readjusts his stance on the issue. “We happy wearing what we wear. No one’s told us to change anything yet.”

These small, subtle realignments happen more than once. Not in a deliberate presenting-a-united-front kind of way, but in a fluid manner which suggests long practice in accommodating each other’s ideas and opinions. Disagreements are minor: Barney prefers Addlestone cider, while Ben is happiest drinking mojitos. Will predicts a Dire Straits revival to general eye-rolling. When it matters, they’re in perfect sync. They want the right songs on the album (“we have a reputation as a party band, but we have some slower songs too, we want to showcase that”); they like the same venues (Koko and Fabric, where they played a riotous 3am gig); and perhaps most importantly, they all know what they want on their rider: “You mean when we have a rider? We’ll have as much as we can get! We got sandwiches when we were at Brixton, that was great,” Luke says.

So far, they’ve humped their equipment through calf-deep mud to play at Glastonbury last year. They’ve written a raft of songs which will somehow have to be whittled into an album. They’ve learned to party on backstage freebies because “we can’t afford to go out unless we’re playing.” They’ve been given some good advice: “Get a job, sort your life out, stop wasting your time,” Will guffaws. And what advice would they give someone following in their footsteps? Ben and Will catch each other’s eye and chorus, “Get a job! Stop wasting your time!” They all laugh.

Mixmag: Farewell, Trash

Originally published in Mixmag
Erol Alkan
Everyone’s huddling against the walls to avoid the spitting rain. It’s not just any Monday night, it is Trash’s 10th birthday – and their farewell party. After a decade of trendsetting, musical innovation and eye-popping fashion Erol Alkan and friends are bowing out. These days Trash’s giddy mix of sex, dance and rock ‘n’ roll is standard practice, but it wasn’t always. “What everyone’s doing now, in terms of live music in clubs, Trash did years ago,” observes Liam O’Hare, The End’s general manager. From its earliest days at Plastic People, to its stint in Soho’s Annexe, to its triumphant years at The End, Trash has become a byword for what’s fresh and adventurous in clubland. So much so no one is surprised at the volume of bodies crowding the pavement. “It’s the Blitz spirit,” 28-year-old Sam observes, looking over his shoulder at the throng flowing seamlessly around the building till it comes face to face with itself. Everyone’s smiling, talking to strangers. Sam passes around a bottle of Strongbow. A blue-haired girl called Charleigh and her bandmates are discussing the video they’ve just shot. Like Bloc Party, Klaxons and New Young Pony Club before them the budding pop stars are regulars. “I can’t remember most of it,” she confesses.

Charleigh’s not the only regular with amnesia. Graham, a 24-year-old roadie who has been coming for five years says, “You don’t remember the really good nights.” He does remember, though, how Trash changed his life. “Where I grew up in Essex even wearing a white belt was asking for a fucking smack. Trash was the first place I fit in. I used to come on my own and just dance. Then I’d wait till 6am to get a train home. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” he says. Inches away a girl is swinging from the ceiling, knickers flashing. No one pays any attention. If you want a fashion eyeful just look around: there’s the bearded bloke in an apron, the pint-sized brunette wearing Superwoman-style pants and suspenders, the trio sporting multi-coloured rave gear.

Trash style

Trash style


“Trash is a one off. It’s the people that make it,” Rory Philips says. A resident DJ for nearly seven years, Rory’s seen a lot happen on the dancefloor. “One of my friends married a girl he met at Trash. No surprise really, it’s been ten years of drunken fumbling,” he chuckles. As if to make his point a couple reel past, joined at the lips. There’s an air of barely controlled chaos as The Lovely Jonjo whips up the crowd. “I was getting quite tearful,” he says later, but it doesn’t show. Jonjo is typical of the parade of clubbers who’ve reinvented themselves at Trash. He started out as a door picker but “hated it.” So when Erol invited him to DJ instead he jumped at the chance. “I get all soppy when I talk about him. He’s been a mentor to me.”

As the newest member of the Trash crew Jonjo reacted like many fans did to the news it was ending. “I was upset, devastated really.” For a lot of people it was a question of: why cut off a night in its prime? “There’s a lot I want to do I couldn’t do with Trash every week,” says Erol, who missed one night in a decade – for his honeymoon.

“A lot of people talk about going out on a high, but carry on. We didn’t want to outstay our welcome,” Rory adds.

Jonjo’s come around to the idea. “My first thought was, ‘this is over’. My second reaction was, ‘if I don’t grab it by the balls someone else will.’” By “it” he means Durrr, the new Erol-endorsed Monday night at The End where Jonjo and Rory will preside over a rotating cast of DJ talent and new bands. “We’re going to get a breath of fresh air. You need to embrace change.”

Justice @ Trash

Justice @ Trash


Change is on everyone’s mind tonight. Trash will be missed. Joost is over from Amsterdam, resplendent in a handlebar ‘tache and a tee-shirt reading Kids Want Techno. “There’s nothing like it in Europe,” he shouts over the music. There’s nothing like it in London either. George, another half-decade veteran, is sweating his glittery green eye shadow off as he waits in the crush by the bar. It took him two and a half hours to get in, and it’ll take him another forty minutes to get a drink, but he’s happy to be here. Where else can you get beaten up by Selfish Cunt? “He just grabbed me by the throat for no reason!” he shrugs, smiling brilliantly.

Celebrities, violent and otherwise, are part of the fabric of Trash life. Everyone has their favourite. Rory plumps for Suicide, Erol for Gonzales, Jonjo remembers Kelly Osbourne and Simon Amstell queuing (separately). “Grace Jones came once. She doesn’t queue!” he laughs. Liam O’Hare fondly remembers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He saves his highest praise for Erol though. “I had faith in him and he’s never let me down. He’s always pioneered.”

It’s a compliment Erol would be pleased with. Stepping up to the decks, wearing his trademark specs and an inside out D.A.R.E. tee, he is an unlikely focal point for frenzied adulation, but there’s hysteria in the air. Outside riot police have arrived to calm a crush of disgruntled clubbers. “We can make this a funeral or a celebration,” he says. Then he drops LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Losing My Edge’ and the crowd erupts. They get the joke. Later, when the dust has settled, he says softly, but very emphatically, “The only thing I’m frightened of is resting on my laurels. I relish the future.” For now, Trash’s loyal following is relishing the present, and the string of favourites ricocheting around the room. ‘Take Me Out’, ‘Danger! High Voltage’, ‘Lust For Life’ and, finally, at 4AM, long after reality has melted away, ‘Dancing Queen.’ Manager Liam should be on holiday, but he’s here instead, beaming. “It’s like the last party on earth!” Surrounded by the blurred grins and flailing limbs one thing is certain: if this were the last party on earth no one here would mind.

DJ: The Martinez Brothers

Originally published in DJ Mag

The Martinez Brothers

The Martinez Brothers


The Martinez Brothers are a publicists’ dream come true. A super-talented teenage DJ duo that got their big break after becoming MySpace buddies with Dennis Ferrer, they have it all: youth, skill, good looks and a great story. Yet the most remarkable thing about them is how poorly that set of facts describes them, how much lies beneath the sound-bite surface of their success.

The story of the Martinez Brothers – and what it suggests they may mean to house music in particular and dance culture in general – is as opaque and arresting as their wide, dark eyes.

Steve Jnr appears first, a slip of a kid in baggy shorts and trendy black half-rimmed glasses. His eyes flicker, the “oh geez, Dad, please don’t embarrass” me gesture universal to teenagers. We’re bunkered away from the blazing Ibiza sun in the unlit, unopened lounge at the back of El Hotel Pacha. Steven Martinez Senior, a manager for an elevator company, proudly recounts his sons’ boyhood musical achievements. How Stevie loved drumming and “whatever he was into, Chris wanted to get into.”

His eldest son eyes him warily. “I’ll go get Chris.” A minute later the Martinez Brothers return and their father melts into the background. They are both wearing fitted white tee-shirts, chunky diamond studs in their left ears. Chris wears a fat gold chain that hangs almost to his waist, anchored by a cross. Both sport trendy Fifty9 baseball caps, worn at jaunty angles – Steve’s backwards, Chris’ slewed forward across his ruler-straight, close-cropped fringe. Steve is the spokesman: courteous, articulate, informed (he’s planning to vote for Barack Obama because “for him to win would change history”). Chris is mischievous, funny, cocky (asked what his hobbies are he deadpans, “ballroom dancing.” Then snickers at his joke.)

It is day three of their first-ever visit to Ibiza. They’ve hired scooters and tooled around the island. They are staying in an expensive designer hotel. Last night they were “chilling with Erick Morillo” at Defected, at Pacha. Tonight, they’ll be joining him on the bill at Subliminal Sessions. Neither of them seems to find these facts remarkable. In the larger context of their career they aren’t.

Using the word “career” when talking about a 16 and a 19-year-old feels strange. Like they should be Britney Spears-style stage school brats or geeky child prodigies (they aren’t). There isn’t any other word though, given the brothers have been professional musicians since roughly the ages of nine and 13.

The eldest of four children, Steve and Chris grew up in the Bronx. Ironically, they were the reason their father, a self-confessed house head, give up clubbing. “I was really into the scene. Going to the Paradise Garage, everything. But then I got married, had kids, that was my priority. I didn’t set foot in a club from 1987 till 2003,” Steve Snr says.

Young Steve and Chris were obsessed with music. Their Gran bought a toy drum kit as a present and the pair bloomed into in-demand freelance percussionists. “Bands used to call up our dad and ask, ‘can we hire your kids for the weekend?’” Steve recalls with a chuckle.

“We had this regular gig in Connecticut. We’d get up at 5AM on Saturday morning, pack our instruments and drive up there, listening to Jamiroquai,” Chris adds, as if the only unusual thing about being a 10-year-old professional musician were the hours.

Dance music re-entered the Martinez house partially as an antidote to hip hop, Chris says. “I was into Jay-Z, 50 Cent, stuff like that. Our dad didn’t vibe with their messages so he started bringing us different CDs.” The giants of hip hop didn’t stand a chance as the brothers threw themselves into the sounds of Jellybean Benitez, Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez and Timmy Rutherford.

When Steve said he wanted to be a DJ, though, his dad hesitated, not wishing to expose them to the dance music lifestyle (“they’re good kids. They go to church. They didn’t know there is more than music involved,” Steve Snr confides). Still, assuming decks would be a short-lived hobby, he bought them a pair of CDJs.

He needn’t have worried. Chris and Steve have a connoisseur’s passion for dance music – to the point the scene seems almost incidental. Ask who their musical heroes are and Steve sighs at the mundane question. “We studied – we study – everyone from Stevie Wonder to guys like Villalobos and Luciano, everything….”

It doesn’t seem remarkable to them, as it would to anyone older, that house music can be an object of artistic consideration. If they are aware that most people (both inside and outside the scene) view electronic music as fundamentally, intrinsically connected with drug culture they don’t let on. Not that they’re naïve. Steve shrugs when asked what they think of playing to clubs full of people getting high: “that’s their way of having a high…”

“Ours is making music,” Chris chips in.

They approach music with a passion and a savvy that belies their age. A year or so ago, when Chris was 15, he started messaging Dennis Ferrer on MySpace. “That hook-up was my genius idea,” he quips. Chris can’t say what it was that made the revered house producer and Objektivity label boss curious about the youngster (at a guess, his insouciant cool and bone-dry wit) but he was. Mixes were exchanged and Ferrer invited the boy to play his night at Shelter in New York City. “So I asked if I could bring my brother along,” he says with a grin

Still shy of legal drinking age in the US, they had to arrive at Shelter after the bar closed at 4AM. Most DJs would blanch at having to follow Dennis Ferrer on the decks, but they didn’t. A partnership was born that night as effortless innovator Ferrer recognised a kindred spirit in the two skinny kids from the Bronx. Since then “Uncle Dennis” has been friend and mentor (they share management and he released their first record [tk]). “If we’re in the studio we’ll send stuff over to him. If he says it’s wack, it goes,” Chris says. The relationship works both ways. “He sends us stuff too. We tell him if it’s any good.”

This unlikely friendship has brought the Martinez Brothers into the Pantheon of the demigods of house music: Kenny ‘Dope’, Erick, Roger Sanchez. “All our friends are, like, 30 or 40,” Steve says with a laugh. It would be easy to think, cynically, that Chris and Steve are a mere novelty, a way for older house jocks to stir up a bit of publicity and attract a younger audience. Anyone who has seen them DJ knows better.

At 2AM the main room of Pacha is buzzing. Erick and a few friends are standing in the VIP area but every eye is on Chris and Steve in the DJ box. They are a two-headed, four-armed music machine, spinning around each other to grab CDs, fingers flying across the effects unit, heads bopping, never missing a beat. They aren’t just students of house music, they’re teachers, preachers, revivalists. Classic disco samples spin into faultless, pumping tech house and shots of vocals raise goose-pimples on arms. It isn’t just the music that’s infectious, it’s their attitude. Anyone else would be trying hard, they aren’t. They don’t have to. “It’s like seeing Masters At Work for the first time,” an awestruck punter exclaims. And he’s right; the Martinez Brothers belong here. Musically, stylistically, creatively, they are something special.

The sheer joy in their performance is infections. Summer is their chance to enjoy DJing without Chris, a high school senior, and Steve, a third-year liberal arts student, having to rush home for classes Monday morning. They are dutiful about their education but they know what the future holds. “Music, music, music,” Chris says emphatically.

Watching them wrap Pacha around their little fingers is enough to make the toughest sceptic a believer. Not just that they’ll get the production success, record label and high-flying DJ career they want, but that they are re-writing the rules of dance. That they are the first of a generation to take house music seriously, as music, and by doing so will take it further than anyone has before.

Dummy: Dan Sartain

Originally published in Dummy

Dan Sartain

Dan Sartain


Dan Sartain plays rock’n’roll. Real rock’n’roll. Like young Elvis did, like his hero Chuck Berry did. Onstage at the Astoria he first looks small and very alone; almost obscured by stacks of equipment for the next band. Then he smashes out an opening chord and his sole accompanist beats furiously at the drums and the sound blasts through the smoke and the chattering crowd like a jet taking off. Suddenly he’s channelling Chuck’s knock-kneed shuffle, spitting out raw three-minute sagas of love and death with sweat-soaked fervour.

Off-stage he smokes fast and talks slow in an unexpected West Coast accent. His gaunt face and mischievous eyes hint deliciously at a picaresque past. But the Birmingham, Alabama born and raised singer claims he had a typical childhood, playing with Transformers, eating Vienna sausages from the tin. Birmingham, for all its sordid racist history, is, he says, just like anywhere in America. And like many grown-up American kids he loves big glossy cars, sport, hip hop, and getting stoned.

Still, at not-quite 25, Dan seems old for his years. A little roughed up by life, already. Maybe that’s how you get, living with as-yet unrequited dreams.

When did you first get into music?
My dad was a musician so he had a guitar around, always. He taught me how to play my chords when I was about eleven, and that’s when I got interested. And I’ve got a cool big brother. He’s probably my biggest musical influence, as far as getting me good records and shit. Sonic Youth, Pixies, Rocket From The Crypt. What else do you need?

What was the first record you bought?
It was either Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits or AC/DC Who Made Who. I still have both those tapes and listen to ‘em all the time.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
An athlete. American football or boxing. I had the heart to do it but I didn’t have the body.
But I come to every practice and tried as hard as I could.

Were you popular at school?
Yeah, probably for the wrong reasons. I was either making fun of people or getting made fun of myself. The biggest class clown there was.

Is that part of why you got into music? To show off?
There is a certain buzz you get; it’s like a high, playing onstage. It kicks in the same endorphins as being an athlete. Except you get to be drunk and do it, so that’s cool.

How did your debut album, Dan Sartain vs. The Serpientes, come about?
When I was about 19 I made a record myself called the Crimson Guard, and I gave it to [California-based label] Swami Records, the one record company I ever tried to get on. They liked it and wanted to put it out so I rerecorded some old stuff and did a bunch of new stuff. It felt good. I felt validated as a musician.
I don’t know what would have happened if I’d gotten knocked back. Luckily I didn’t have to worry about it.

Who or what are the ‘serpientes’ of your album title?
It’s just, uh, snakes. Dan Sartain versus the snakes. All the snakes of the world. It’s cooler to say ‘serpientes’ than snakes.

You’ve been compared to Johnny Cash and Elvis – is that exciting or intimidating?
It’s nice, ‘cause I like Elvis, and Johnny Cash. But Chuck Berry’s better than both of them.

So who are your musical heroes?
Ol’ Dirty Bastard. [Jazz/blues musician] John Reece. Chuck Berry. And the people that I get to work with.

Is there any music you don’t like?
Most music. You gotta dig for treasure, you know what I mean. You gotta dig through all the stuff to find one jewel.

How important is your image to your music?
Not that important. But I like to look nice. I try to wear something with a collar.

What would be your dream gig?
Oh geez. I wish I’d seen the Ramones.

And to play?
There’s so many gigs that you play that you think were the perfect gig. My 21st birthday was good. You get to drink when you’re 21 in America, so it was like a big milestone. Was I drunk onstage? Oh yeah. Well, we were the first band so I wasn’t too tossed

What’s on your rider?
Towels, water, fruit. Nothing too exciting. I’d like to get lobster and pistachios but that ain’t gonna happen.

One reviewer wrote that you were probably destined for ‘cultdom not stardom’ – what do you think?
I agree with ‘em. I’d like to do enough to get some money though ‘cause I don’t have any money. When people say they don’t have any money they got something. They got some Christmas money put aside or something but I ain’t got no money. I ain’t got no money.

How does it feel to be working these last few years, putting out records, and still be broke?
Well, I can’t do anything else. And I can say that in all honesty, ‘cause I tried. I’ve been a pizza maker, done manual labour stuff, everything but office jobs.

What’s the worst job you’ve had?
The worst job I ever had was cleaning out the showers at the YMCA. They were obviously full naked men walking around. I’m not homophobic but then again, they weren’t homos. They were just naked dudes and it made me uncomfortable.

On MySpace you list your influences as Mike Tyson and THC – can you elaborate?
I just like to get stoned and watch Mike Tyson knock people the fuck out. Yeah! He’s the greatest champion of our life time.

Doesn’t the ear biting count against him?
One time he bit that guy’s ear, I guess. But Holyfield shouldn’t have been head butting him. You don’t head butt Tyson and expect him to take it lightly, you know.

Do you take any shit off people?
Never. I’ve been in fights, yeah. I’m not proud of ‘em. I usually win though. Hit someone in the nose and they get all bloody and they don’t want to fight anymore.

Who would play you in a biopic?
Sal Mineo, maybe. [Rebel Without A Cause co-star, murdered in West Hollywood thirty years ago.] I’d like to choose James Dean, you know, but you can’t choose somebody that’s more handsome than you.

Would you rather be famous now or well-remembered in the future?
What has more money? Famous now? Then famous now.
I’ll tell you this much, people that are rich and try to play it off – do everything very moderate – those are born rich people. But poor people, when they get rich, they’re like all these rappers. They’re like Elvis. Elvis was a poor person who became rich. He was like, I’m eating whatever I want, anytime. I’ve got three Cadillacs, got all these jewels in my belt.
I’d do all that. I’d do the lobsters, I’d do the rings, I’d do all that shit.

Dan Sartain vs. The Serpientes is out now on One Little Indian. His new album, Join Dan Sartain, is scheduled for release in Sept 2006

Q: Michael Eavis interview

Originally published in Q magazine

Interview with Glastonbury founder and Q Award winner Michael Eavis at the Q Awards 2005

  1. What are you Drinking?
  2. I’ve had a glass of white wine, but I probably shouldn’t have.
  3. Have you made any new friends? Anyone you want to meet?

It was good to see Chris [Martin] again. We’re great buds. I met Noel as well, he’s another great one. Have I met him before? Of course, but I hadn’t seen him for a while. They [Oasis] were the highlights of the nineties [at Glastonbury]. Their 1994 performance was a classic.

  1. Will your Q Award be going in the loo or on the mantelpiece?

Well, I have a few NME Awards but my cleaner doesn’t like them. She thinks they’re rude, so she keeps moving them all to the cowshed. I don’t think she’ll mind the Q Award though. It’ll go in the kitchen, next to my Pollstar award for Best Festival In The World. That was an extraordinary honour, so I think the two awards belong together.

  1. Liam or Noel?

Noel

  1. Anyone you think should have won an award today who didn’t?

Radiohead are still the best band in the world, but they didn’t get a mention. I suppose they aren’t doing much this year, so it’s nice to see Coldplay have a turn. For the most part I wouldn’t want to argue with the readers who voted… though I was surprised the Kaiser Chiefs didn’t pick up anything. I think there should have been more recognition for new music. There are so many great young bands coming up, like the Magic Numbers.

  1. Favourite speech/moment?

What Chris (Martin) said about Glastonbury was lovely – though it was about us so I don’t know if I can pick that! Nick Cave and Jimmy Page didn’t say much… there were no notable best speeches.

  1. Where are you going next?

Back to Somerset, I think. Though I’d like to have a chat with Chris before I go.

  1. Track of the year?

Fix You. It’s fantastic. The album has been getting some mixed press but I think it’s brilliant, and Fix You is my favourite track, by miles. The band’s manager sent me some of the tracks before the album was released and it’s grown on me ever since. I’m not a natural fan of anything, I have to be convinced, but Coldplay completely won me over.

  1. Best Album Ever?

(didn’t have an answer for this one)

  1. With no Glastonbury this year, what are your plans for the summer?

We have a lot to do on the farm. Dairy farm politics are in a state at the moment. The price of milk isn’t good. Supermarkets are making most of their money of dairy, but the farmers are struggling. Will I miss Glastonbury? No. I think it’s important to take a rest every five years, to have a fallow year to allow the farm to recover. People ask me, how can you turn down £15 million and I say, no problem. We do Glastonbury because we want to, not because we have to. We’ve been milking cows for 120 years so the farm always comes first.

  1. What was going through your head Friday morning at Glastonbury (this summer) when the rain was pouring down?

When the rain started I thought, fantastic! I knew it was going to rain, but I was sure it would be over. I went on Radio 1 and was convinced everything was going to be fine. I said the sun would be shining again by 11AM and it would be sunny the rest of the weekend. I was wrong, obviously, but thankfully we have a great crew who are incredibly skilled at handling a crisis. The guy who does our electrics has worked in Afghanistan and Iraq, so this was nothing. I wasn’t worried, not at all.

  1. Rumour has it after Bobby Gillespie’s unhinged performance on the Saturday night he was politely escorted off the farm and told to never come back. Is it true?

Not at all! [his outburst about ‘fucking hippies’] was the funniest five minutes of the weekend. It was a total hoot. He asked the crowd what they wanted to hear, expecting them to say Moving On Up and instead they said ‘Basement Jaxx’ so he got a bit upset. He was rude, but they certainly didn’t get chucked off. You can say what you like at Glastonbury

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Cila Warncke