San Francisco is Worthy

By terry church

When Worthy [a] yawns into his breakfast cereal, Justin Martin flicks through the morning papers. The two dirty birds share a nest in San Francisco. It’s like a frat house, for house music producers.

“It’s pretty funny that we’re room mates,” says Worthy, whose real name is Sean Worthington Williams. “There are times when I’ll be making a bassline and he’ll come bang on the door and shout ‘Don’t change that, it sounds fat’. And then other times, he’ll ask me to listen to sounds he’s making and get my opinion on something. We help each other out.”

Worthy and Justin Martin [a] met long before they co-founded the Dirtybird [l] soundsystem and record label along with Claude VonStroke and Martin’s brother, Christian. Worthy, who is originally from Washington DC, moved to New York to study computer engineering where he met Justin Martin at Fordham University.

“He introduced me to electronic music and taught me how to spin,” says Worthy. “Then he moved to San Francisco and after a few weeks he said ‘man, you gotta come to San Fran, it’s going off here’. So I moved out there after a visit. And then I met Barclay [Claude VonStroke] and Christian, and we all played at the Dirtybird parties. And it all went from there.”

It makes sense that the shared lineage of Dirtybird’s four fathers is drum & bass. The label, and their own solo productions, are known for warbled basslines, rough frequencies, and dark beats.

‘Hyphy house’, the genre term that refers to the type of booty-shaking hip hop flavoured house music championed by Worthy, VonStroke, and the Dirtybird camp, is probably a result of their early fascination for bass and drums.

Justin Martin (left) and Worthy. The two live together in San Francisco.

“Both me and Justin liked drum & bass and we played it when it was blowing up in the US,” reveals Worthy. “D&B seemed like a natural transition from the metal music I was listening to before, as I used to be in a band, and play guitars and drums. Drum & bass has a similar kind of energy to metal.

“All of us Dirtybird guys were into drum & bass, and we all transitioned together. At the first Dirtybird parties we used to try and out do each other by dropping the sickest tracks that we could find. Because we all came from drum & bass we all dug the same beats.”

Whilst Claude VonStroke and Justin Martin have blown up since the early days of Dirtybird, Worthy’s rise has been slower – his Myspace strapline is ‘the underestimated Dirtybird’. When VonStroke became an international star via tracks like ‘Who’s Afraid of Detroit’, ‘The Whistler’, and ‘Deep Throat’, Worthy was dropping wacky electro and house on his own Katabatic records, now called Anabatic.

Worthy admits that, back then, he was still learning the ropes. “When I listen to my old songs I realise that a lot of it sucks,” he says, laughing. “There was too much going on in my tracks. Some of it is horrible. My overall sound quality has improved since then. I learn new things with every track that I make. I keep reading books. I’ve mastered a lot of producer techniques, like EQing, and my songs sound much better for it. I’ve just gotten better, overall, as a producer.”

That’s because Worthy made the best of a bad situation. Originally in San Francisco he was working as a computer programmer, and DJing was just a hobby. Then he was made redundant as the economy tanked. “I would probably be programming computers and building websites if I wasn’t doing music,” he says. “When I was let go, they gave me one year’s workers’ compensation so I thought ‘if I want to be a producer, it’s now or never’. So I jumped into music full time and kept pushing. I kept saying to myself, ‘I need to keep making the best music ever’.”

Worthy kept pushing, and the dance music world has started to notice. When Worthy is finished with our interview, he’ll have another two to do today. For the next two weeks, he’s touring Australia. His recent track ‘Concumbia’, a collaboration with Yankee Zulu, has been sitting in the tech house Top 20 since May. Simultaneously, his remix of Deepchild ‘Stripjoint Mathematics’ has been rising up the minimal Top 100 for the last few weeks. Both are on Anabatic.

“I’m focused on developing myself as an artist,” he says. “I knew that ‘Concumbia’ would have an impact as it’s such a summer song. It’s been my biggest hit to date. Anabatic has been slowly building a name for itself. People seem to be respecting the label more and more, and the music that I’ve been releasing on it recently has been of a high quality as people keep sending me great stuff. I’m honoured that people are listening.”

Worthy, Yankee Zulu ‘Concumbia’

Worthy’s sound has evolved too. As he explains, “Two years ago I was more electro and now I’m more organic. I like the rolling, funky basslines of techno. Barclay says that I’m the more mainstream of the crew, and I think that I definitely bridge that gap. I always try to push my sound musically. I want to keep on transitioning and growing as an artist.”

For every big room pleasing ‘Concumbia’, Worthy has three grimy house and minimal techno treats. ‘Work The Walls’, his latest underground club hit, reminds of the early work of Popof with wacky sound FX used as percussion to create a sound that sits somewhere between electro and tech house.

Worthy ‘Work The Walls’

For a while, all roads in electronic music led to Berlin. Every self-respecting DJ and producer seemed to move to the capital of Germany in order to benefit from its apparent lack of creative boundaries. Worthy and the Dirtybird crew are one of the few to have remained Stateside.

“For sure being based in Europe would have been easier for touring,” Worthy says. “Musically it would have been awesome there and I’ve seen people blow up just because they moved to Berlin and got inspired. But the fact is, I just love San Francisco. It’s so vibrant. Techno is blowing up here. There are parties practically every night of the week, and everyone is really supportive of each other out here.

“The US is getting better too. The Wolf+Lamb guys have been punching it. Los Angeles is booming. Smaller US cities are bringing me out more and more, and there’s lots of young kids getting into the scene which is great.

“There’s something of a resurgence going on here. And everyone I know is touring the US more and more,” says Worthy. The fact is, San Francisco is Worthy.