The scene is a sweltering, heaving mass of joyous humanity. One part Berghain techno bunker, one part soca sweatbox, one part Caribbean house party: this is the fundamental vibe of St. Martin’s burgeoning SXM Festival. Imagine the sweaty tank top/shorts sensibility of Winter Music Conference, but with a decidedly island bent. And up on top of the palm-frond lined DJ booth, the slim figures of the Martinez Brothers are holding court. Presently it’s the younger sibling, Chris, sweeping the mixer to introduce “4 Day Weekend” off their latest Masters At Dutch EP, and the dancefloor is drinking it up like coconut water.
For these two kids discovered while still in junior high, it is just another day. After a blind reach-out from Chris in 2006 (at the time, aged only 13, Steve 17) to New York producer Dennis Ferrer, their star has been steadily climbing the house music pantheon. The very night Ferrer heard their CD, in fact, he immediately booked the Bronx siblings to play NYC’s Shelter — and their ascension has been star-dusted ever since. They’ve toured the world while still in high school, DJed Givenchy runways as the personal selection of Ricardo Tisci, and even earned Mixmag’s “DJs of the Year” honors in 2014.
We caught up with the brothers Martinez to find out what it’s like to conquer the world, from the city streets of the Boogie Down to the sandy beaches of St. Martin’s. They talk trap, dream collaborations, and about that time Nile Rodgers asked them to record with Chic. And perhaps most importantly, they tell us what’s next.
Billboard: So how was your set at SXM? How did St. Martin’s treat you?
Chris: I think it’s a dope, growing festival. More people are getting more knowledge around it; it’s gonna be one of those destinations you have to just go. And it’s cool, because it’s right before WMC — you can hop there, and hop there. And I think the crowd is just gonna get better, you know what I mean? It’s dope that they’re bringing that knowledge to the area, because it’s a vacation crowd normally.
Steve: Yeah, St. Martin’s is really, really beautiful. Just being there itself, it’s like you don’t wanna leave. So once you start partying and this and that… it was a lot of fun, I was pissed we had to leave.
Growing up you guys had a notoriously rich musical history, coming from a musical home that listened to a lot of samba, jazz, hip-hop, house. What do you listen to now, especially in the hip-hop realm?
SM: We listen to everything, I mean we love the old school hip-hop, the Boom Bap, Premier, Dilla, all that stuff. But we also listen to loads of music, trap, and whatever you wanna call it: Young Thug, Travis Scott, Uzi Vert, all that stuff. We feel the groove; if it has a groove, it works for us.
CM: At our age, we were brought up with the Biggie, we were brought up with the Jay Z stuff. Now we’re still young, and now the Young Thugs and Migos, Travis Scott — we like that too. So we’re kind of like in the old-school, new-school in between generation, you know what I’m saying? Because that stuff is really, really dope right now.
I’ve read in the past you guys have been working on hip-hop beats. Have you released any, or are you working on a project?
SM: We put out a couple of little EPs, we put out an EP [Sunday Service] with Bodega Bamz…
SM: Yeah Raekwon got on it. It was like an EP, like five, six tracks, something like that. Then we just did some beat tapes that we called Warhol Basquiat, if you go on SoundCloud, they’re there. And they were just chopped up beats, chopped up samples that we found and put together. So as far as the hip-hop front, that’s what we got. But we’re definitely gonna get into like… We’ve been making the trap artist stuff as well.
SM: And our own sound too, in our own way, trying to make new things, you know?
CM: A lot of experimenting.
When you guys come across the trap or Atlanta guys, do they know who you are?
CM: That’s crazy though. Funny enough, they actually do, man. Anytime that we bump into A$AP Rocky or even when we did a Carolina Herrera shoot with Rory, a lot of people know who we are, fortunately for us. So that’s good to see that the name is reaching other scenes, you know what I mean? They might not know our music, but they definitely know who we are. I can’t wait to see what the future holds, because we’ll collaborate with them for sure. And all of them are on our agency, William Morris, so we hook up with them every once in a while and just network.
I know you guys have already collaborated with a lot of people, big names in the scene like Seth Troxler, Miss Kitten, Mathew Jonson. Anybody else you wanna put out as a wishlist?
CM: We got signed up to work with MF Doom right now. We got a little project, we’re doing a little mix series, and he actually put some drops on it; that was really dope. So we’re finishing that up right now. Definitely Young Thug and those guys. I wanna say Travis Scott, too. He’s on the soulful side of things, of the whole trap world. He’s definitely got his own little sound. But that’s as far as hip-hop, and house….?
Give me one person in house music or electronic music that you’d love to work with.
CM: Yeah, you know what? Ricardo Villalobos, man. He’s like the MadLib of the techno shit, straight up. He’s another untouchable, bro. That’s another guy that’s like you can’t get in touch with him, he doesn’t have a phone.
SM: He doesn’t even have a phone, you know what I’m saying? But, man, we got so much respect for this dude, his music is just outta this world. He’s been making crazy music since forever, man. He’s so far ahead of the time, it’s crazy. But that’s one guy I would love to get into the studio, and just observe and learn, bro.
You guys were asked to do percussion on Chic’s album. As far as I know, you were the only people that Nile Rodgers asked to perform that weren’t in Chic, which is a ridiculous honor. My question is: did your dad — a Paradise Garage vet, the guy who got you both into house — go nuts when he heard you were working with Chic?
CM: [LAUGHS] Yo, pop did not know what to do with himself, man, seriously. I think [Nile’s] manager was at the Boiler Room set that we had done a month or two prior, so he had talked to Nile about working with us. And Nile just hit us up on Twitter randomly, and I told my dad that. He was like, “Get outta here, man!” Then he started talking about times when he’d seen Nile Rodgers back in the day, and this and that. I’m like, “Alright, you’re getting excited right now.” But yeah, man, he was bugging. We were all bugging, to be honest with you, I couldn’t believe it. He hit us up saying, “Yo, I just got my Chic tapes back, we should just go through them.” That was the first message that he gave us. I was like, What? And we came to the studio, we went through all the Chic parts. I couldn’t… We were bugging out, bro.
How was working with him in the studio?
CM: The first time I was in the studio, we were kind of just on a starstruck status. We just couldn’t believe what was going on, we were just going through parts. We did the percussion thing on it, and he was just saying stories just from back in the day. And then the second time we were in the studio we literally just got some of our boys that play instruments and had a jam session, bro, for like three hours. It was crazy. Even more. We made so many tracks.
SM: We had like 12 jams of just us and Nile Rodgers playing live with a group. We have a lot of Nile material that we just have right here, we’re just waiting for the right time to crack that open. Working with him in the studio was so funny ‘cause he just lets you out loose, man.
He has such a distinct guitar style and sound, and it’s so good for percussion. You guys must have just been looking at each other playing like, What the fuck…?
SM: Yo, straight up! We were just like screaming, we were laughing, we were just vibing, straight up. It was just a jam, it was such a fun time, man. The song [“I’ll Be There”] went No. 1 on Billboard [Dance Club Songs chart], actually. Shout-out to Billboard, yo!
As for your own personal music, your releases kind of bounce around from classic soulful house to a little techier. How do you decide what to release on your label with Seth Troxler (Tuskegee), and what to put out on your own Cuttin’ Headz imprint?
CM: We let it happen naturally, it’s like if it’s good, it’s good, you know what I mean? We’re not gonna be like, “Yo, we already had a techno release.” If it’s dope, it’s dope, you know what I mean? It’s all house music to me, man. Like, honestly, whether techno, soulful, yo, dude, for me it’s all one thing. I put it all into this house music. If it’s dope, it’s dope. Put it out.
Is there a specific sound that you wanna put out on Tuskegee, and is there a specific sound you wanna put on Cuttin Headz? What does each label mean for you guys?
CM: I think with Cuttin Headz, it’s more kind of like straight to the point, where, with Tuskegee it doesn’t have to be playable dance music; it doesn’t have to be something that you only find in the clubs. Like, Tuskegee has a song that doesn’t even have a kick on it, you know what I mean? We wanna kind of go more left with Tuskegee, and we’re gonna start doing that a lot more often, I think Cuttin Headz is more like…
SM: The pump beats.
Did you guys both get your degrees by now? I know that was a big deal with your family.
SM: [laughter] No, no. I got an Associate’s, a nice Associate’s degree, and then…
CM: Shout-out to getting my nice, late high school diploma, yo! When I got it, my dad cried, yo.
I mean, you guys were touring the world, and yet you were still trying to finish high school. I can’t even imagine how difficult that is.
CM: It’s hard man, to go traveling in Europe on the weekend, and doing a math test on Monday.
Oh my God, I can’t even imagine. So what’s next?
SM: Yo, album. The album’s gonna be crazy. That’s heavy in the works right now. We’re gonna try to get that out by this year for sure.
And who’s it on? Any plans?
CM: It’s basically just us, and having the other people working on tracks. I wouldn’t wanna say too much, because…
SM: Yeah, but it’s coming — be on the lookout this year. We’re still trying to figure out if we wanna put it on our label, or if we wanna put it on someone else. But we’ll figure that out. We’re just making the album right now, we’re not really worried about all of that.
CM: We’re just making positive music right now, so that’s been useful.
How far along are you — just getting started? Halfway there?
CM: Definitely not halfway there but…
SM: We’re there, it’s right there on that shelf.
CM: Working hard, that’s all you gotta know.