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FIVE STEPS: Martsman

FIVE STEPS: Martsman
Jack Smith

With genre-spanning releases across a number of decidedly left-field labels including Med School, Commercial Suicide, and Offshore, Berlin-based artist Martsman has certainly carried an air of enigmatic unpredictability around his work. Finding a home of late with Warm Comms-affiliated Techno imprint Pushing Red, his latest release on the label is a glowing advocate of all the best features you’d associate with music around the 130BPM mark – shuffling and funky, yet with no apparent lack of weighty aggression in parts or dance-floor accessibility, ‘NYCD’ / ‘Shrank’ certainly holds its own with considerable style and production technique. We caught up with the producer following on from the release to give us his Five Steps, from the impact of the city of Berlin on his work, his relationship with Heath (Pushing Red), to future material for everyone’s favourite Berlin-based, cosmic DIY labels Hidden Hawaii and Alphacut.

Step 1: Origins

Even if it’s almost impossible to name one single track that ‘started it all’, Goldie‘s one-hour epic ‘Mother’ on Saturnz Return comes closest to that. I had listened to some Jungle and Hardcore before, but Goldie’s take on things on that album have been very influential for me and set off my interest in Drum & Bass in general and a certain experimental touch to it as well. Late 90s Reinforced Records and artists associated with the Drum & Bass genre like Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Autechre or Paradox have left their traces as well. Witnessing a liveset by the latter in 2001 most probably made me start thinking of writing, producing and performing myself.

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Step 2: Introducing

Even if it wasn’t literally the first track I wrote and/or released, I’d pick ‘Ago’, which came out on Offshore Recordings in 2005 – the 12” was actually a split release with Klute’s Commercial Suicide label. Back then I was mainly influenced by what was called ‘Drumfunk’ – a more drum oriented sub genre of Drum & Bass. ‘Ago’ was my take on that kind of thing. Along with another track called ‘Marksman’ which was later released on Offshore as well, ‘Ago’ has been the track I learned basic production and mixing techniques with. Mixing down those two tracks was a process of probably half a year just because of the fact that I tried out so many software and gear. My setup back then as well as today was a Windows PC running a free tracker software called Buzz. I think I’m using more VSTs today than back then but in general the way of working has stayed the same.

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Moving to Berlin in 2006 had an influence on me in two regards. First of all, the omnipresence of music, the big scene, the various venues and the variety of sounds inspired me and literally forced me to be more busy and productive for many years. Secondly, Berlin’s history of (Dub) Techno has left its traces, even though subtlely and probably most noticeable in my music from the last two years.

Step 3: Foundation

The most successful track and probably the one that introduced Martsman to a wider audience was ‘Halow’ released on Hospital Records‘ sister label Med School in 2008. I got in touch with Tony (London Elektricity) in 2007 and we’ve been working together closely for some time. ‘Halow’ was one of the first tracks Hospital signed. I was and still am quite happy with the track – back then, it seemed to hit a nerve when mainstream Drum & Bass started to embrace a certain experimental take on the genre.

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Various renowned radio DJs started to play out the tune in their shows and the general feedback on the 12“ was pretty good as well. This was definitely a moment when I realized that my sound was able to get a lot of people excited.

Step 4: Present

I’ve been in touch with Heath of Pushing Red for years now. Back in 2008 I released a 12“ on his other label Warm Communications with two tracks that have been received quite well, namely ‘Bluetone’ and a remix of Angelzero’s ‘Recess’.

I started writing music in other tempos basically at the same time when Heath launched the Pushing Red outlet and I kept him in the loop with my new material. Sketches of both ‘Shrank’ and ‘NYCD’ have been lying around in different versions for some time on my harddrive before I managed to finish them up to my satisfaction just recently.

I’d say it’s still noticeable Martsman music, a certain breakbeat affection and wonkiness still remain, even though both tracks are somewhat more stripped down compared to my previous Drum & Bass tracks. If there’s a tendency in my more recent works, it’s probably marked by reduction of elements and a focus on loopiness. Both tracks (and also a third to be released on Pushing Red as well) tend to that in my opinion – but that’s really quite subjective.

Step 5: Future

I’d actually name three of my tracks here, all of them released in the course of the last year. Firstly ‘Static’ on Hidden Hawaii, a stripped down and Dub-inspired track that best reflects on what I said earlier about Berlin’s influence on my music. I’ll definitely follow that path in the near future.

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Also ‘Flinch’ and ‘Soma’ off a series of self released EPs called ‘Black Plastics’ – my approach to mid tempo music is pretty well reflected in those two tunes in my opinion.

I’m currently working on new material for Hidden Hawaii and Alphacut Records, some of which will see its release still this year with a bit of luck.


Martsman – Shrank / NYCD is out now on Pushing Red.