Having made a name for himself in the west coast’s beacon of dance music, San Francisco, Doc Martin has become a legendary figure in house since taking up his craft in the mid-’80s. With his marathon DJ sets, time spent touring with the likes of Grace Jones, Dee-Lite, Moby, The Prodigy, and many more, and a stacked discography of productions and remixes, Martin’s reputation precedes him.
So for this week’s Icons and Their Inspirations series of charts and interviews, we took the chance to learn more from Martin about SF’s fabled party scene and what first inspired this world-renowned DJ (who claims over 1,300,000 frequent flier miles to his name) to explore the possibilities of electronic music.
What was the first record that turned you on to electronic music?
Maybe Giorgio Moroder‘s “Midnight Express” or “The Chase.”
All that I clearly remember is a Numark mixer being in the booth. Most of the clubs in San Francisco had custom-builts or a mish-mash of different components.
Tell us about the scene in San Francisco at the time. Were there radio DJs that you admired? What were their shows like?
The scene in San Francisco was extremely healthy in the ’80s. You could go out and hear a variety of good music every night of the week. Clubs and events like DNA, DV8, I-Beam, Das Klub (now 1015 Folsom), The Underground, The Trocadero, Noh Club, Club 9, The Stud, Glass Haus, End Up, 16th Note, and Townsend were all good places to hear cutting-edge music (I’m sure I left a few out). The thing about San Francisco at the time was that you would hear all kinds of music throughout the night—new wave, hip-hop, goth, electro, industrial, funk, and whatever else the DJ wanted to serve you. A DJ had to play the whole night, too.
I was friends with many of the radio DJs at that time. Steve Masters was one of them, and he would come down to the clubs to hear what was hitting on the underground level. Next thing you knew, these cuts were getting played on the radio. As far as mix shows go, Cameron Paul was probably the most famous one to come from the radio. He even put out mix records where he would remix a few songs on a side. The DJs were, for the most part, pretty supportive of each other. I would go out a lot to see what other DJs were up to.
Who were your first favorite electronic artists? Any favorite songs?
What was it about those artists that particularly appealed to you?
At that time, they had something completely different from what everybody else was offering. This was at the surface of things for me, when I was first getting into it. Shortly thereafter, I discovered stuff like Section 25, Public Enemy, and Cabaret Voltaire, to name a few. By the mid-’80s the floodgates were wide open with music from every part of the globe.
How do you feel their legacy has impacted music—including yours—over the years?
Whether these artists were Top 10 or completely underground, they all had their part in paving the way for all of us. I was into a lot of different types of music then, and still am now. I still like to mix different styles of music together to create a vibe.
Have you at any point met these artists in real life?
I’ve met Afrika Bambaataa a few times over the years and I’ve also had dinner with Giorgio Moroder. We talked about his passion for cars and, as it turns out, his niece is a fan of mine.
What were your first pieces of electronic-music-making gear?
My first piece was a SP-1200 drum machine/sampler and a Casio CZ-1000. I would sample stuff onto my Casio, then take it to the club and play it over records.
Did you have any mentors when you were starting out?
I had mentors but not in the classic sense. My friend Blackstone brought over his turntables and his Radio Shack Realistic two-channel mixer, and said take two copies of the exact same record and go back and forth until you can mix them. I wasn’t formally shown how to mix records; it’s all by feel. Also, Ted Cousins was a DJ at DNA at the time, and he had his own style of mixing records that I really enjoyed listening to.
Tell us about your first big break, musically.
That is a hard question to answer because it kind of all happened at once. The city was looking for a new take on music, more of an underground approach with hip-hop and ’80s music that was driven more by drum machines. DJs would play a few of these songs in their sets, but the crowd wanted more of these types of records. I was at the record stores every week looking for music. I was discovering all these new electronic groups from everywhere: underground hip-hop and this new style of electronic music that was coming out of Chicago, New York, and London (which we called house, garage, sleaze, or acid). The one thing that I had over the other DJs is that I would shop at the gay-owned stores like Butch Wax and Record Rack. They were getting these records way before everybody else was, and I started DJing for Jean Paul Gaultier shows and for people like Grace Jones. The promoters liked the fact that I was mixing all these different styles together and this led to the crowds mixing together as well.
Your work has had a big effect on house music. Were there artists that you’ve mentored over the years there, and can you tell us a bit about them if so?
I’ve mentored, but again, not in a traditional sense. I always have been there to give advice to people when they have wanted it, and I’ve pushed people to promoters and have brought others on tour with me.
Tell us about your Icons and Their Inspirations chart—any specific approach you took to assembling it? Can you tell us about why you chose some of the tracks on the list?
Another hard question! For a music junkie, trying to put a whole decade into 10 records is impossible, and there are so many other tracks that helped to shape me. These three stick out though:
The first time that I heard this, I was mesmerized. When I would play this out, everybody from goth kids to hip-hoppers would go off. It’s such a good song and one that still stands up today.
This isn’t the first acid-house record that I ever bought (not by a long shot), but it is one that I can still play today. The thing that is crazy about this record, is that Bobby Konders was a well-known reggae (not acid-house) DJ in NYC. This EP is a pivotal record for a lot of DJs including myself, and all the cuts on this record are super-dope.
This song has such an eerie vibe to it. It was one of those records you could completely space-out to; the vibe is just so thick and haunting. This record was such an unexpected surprise for the dancefloors back then. People really liked it.
Who are your favorite new artists these days?
I have a lot of favorite singles, but there are only a few artists who are consistent for me. Chaim (from Israel), to me, has been on a roll for the last couple of years. He rides through many styles very well and always puts together an interesting song. I’d have to say that Franck Roger is on a tear again; not a new jack, by any means, but wrecking it still! The Split Secs guys from LA have also put out a few belters recently.
Any tracks of theirs you’d like to share?
Check out Doc Martin’s Icons and Their Inspirations chart here.