At exactly 2:47 a.m. on Sunday, March 28, the speakers fell silent. MARTYN, who’d been onstage for the last two hours, maybe a tad longer, stepped back from the “decks,” took a massive pull from his bottled water and looked out at a totally desolate Club 828. There were six of us, actually, not counting staff and the stragglers who spent most of their time smoking outside. Occasionally, one popped in to check out Martyn’s set, but only very briefly. As for real diehards, it was just the six of us, and we danced and clapped and whooped and cheered, because we had just experienced one the world’s top DJs and producers. You have to give Martyn (born Martijn Deykers) credit: the guy was utterly unaffected by the dismal showing. As we approached the stage, he came over and seemed genuinely flattered that these six yahoos were freaking out for him. With a huge grin on his face, he shook all our hands and thanked us for enjoying the music as intensely as we did.
I have to admit: I was bumming on Asheville that night. You guys slept through a major music event! It’s beyond rare that a DJ and producer of Martyn’s international stature plays a North American city that’s not New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal or Chicago. Here’s an artist who has slayed the best clubs and festivals the world has to offer, including Fabric in London, Berghain in Berlin and Montreal’s mighty MUTEK festival. Speaking of Fabric, in January the Dutch native released a disc in the club’s prestigious mix series, which also contains killer sets from Robert Hood, Claude Von Stroke, Steve Bug, Michael Mayer and more.
Martyn’s mix for Fabric, Fabric 50, is a good indication of what you missed. To begin with, he defies simple taxonomy, fusing together elements of dubstep, hyperstep, minimal techno, house, drum & bass, hip-hop, vintage new wave and even early-1980s club jams (everything from Prince to electro-funk). I, however, don’t mean to imply that Martyn is all about mashing disparate sounds together in some novel ode to manic eclecticism. Though he himself has said his mixes could be more streamlined, they are extremely well engineered and crafted, testaments to sound as architecture.
During his Club 828 set — which was, of course, awesome — thick, wavy basslines slid through scattershot percussion, jagged chords and the occasional vocal. Rhythms collapsed in on themselves, but not before giving birth to myriad permutations that would begin the lifecycle all over again. An endless stream of dubby squiggles and streaks emerged from the speakers, exploding, settling, melting, percolating, etc. Maybe because Martyn is both DJ and producer he’s capable of weaving together tracks on a seemingly microscopic level. Oftentimes, he’s more mathematician — furiously working out one of them mile-long equations — than DJ. At more than a few moments in his mix, Martyn hit a glorious peak when either you could’ve continued to dance or simply sat there stunned, marveling at the exquisite hypnotism swirling about your head. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a club rat to dig Martyn; you just have to dig music that’s designed to blur the senses through rhythm, groove and drone. This is arty stuff, no doubt about it.
In terms of sound, the only beef I had was with Club 828’s sound system. It’s meaty and powerful for sure, perfect for gut-rupturing hip-hop. Yet it does lack the definition and sharp focus required of techno and house music’s edgier incarnations. But hey, that pales in comparison to the fact that Martyn made it to our little mountain town Saturday night (and early Sunday morning). Major props to Club 828 for pulling off such a coup. And if such a killer event comes our way again, you better not miss it, Asheville. I know for a fact there are folks out there who would’ve had their minds blown by the great Martyn.