Artist of the Month: The Martinez Brothers

Clubland’s iconic family duo, The Martinez Brothers, speak to Harry Levin about their dance music mentors, NYC nightlife, their yin and yang workflow, and how passion defines their Cuttin’ Headz label.

16 min
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Nov 7, 2022
·
By
Harry Levin

Every day when Steve and Chris Martinez wake up in the morning they are thanking god.

When they go to sleep at night, they are thanking god.

And countless moments throughout their days living their lives as globe-trotting DJs, producers, and label heads, they’re thanking god as well.

Known as The Martinez Brothers on lineups and production credits for the best part of fifteen years, Steve and Chris Martinez grew up playing music in the church with a pastor as a father, but their connection to a higher power transcends any boundaries of religious texts. To them, it’s a lifestyle. A set of values they put into practice every day.

“God for me is my friend. He’s the reason why we have all this success. He’s blessed us,” says Chris.

“It’s more a state of mind and a relationship. That’s been the base of our lives since we were born,” says Steve. “Even to this day that love for God and that higher power is something that’s really important to my family, and it’s something that they constantly remind us about when we’re at our lowest points or our highest points. Always be grateful no matter where you’re at.”

At the time of the interview, Steve and Chris are dialing in from a place where they spend a great deal of time most of their summers, the magical island of Ibiza. In a few hours, they will DJ at the celebrated nightclub, Hï Ibiza, as a part of their weekly residency, and for the remainder of this year, they have lauded, worldwide events on their schedule like The Warehouse Project in Manchester, Mint Festival in Leeds, and A Day At The Park in Rotterdam.

They are constantly on the road, making beats, digging for new music, A&Ring for their label Cuttin’ Headz, and this journey began over 15 years ago in their native home of New York City.

Check out The Martinez Brothers’ ‘Artist of the Month’ Beatport chart.
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With the support of their father, Steve Martinez, Sr. [Mr. Martinez], the Martinez brothers first took their place behind the decks when they were both teenagers.

Mr. Martinez came up in New York’s house music renaissance, attending all the legendary hotspots like Paradise Garage and The Loft. When Steve was 14 and Chris was 12 they made their father a mixtape, and Mr. Martinez didn’t believe it was them at first because of the advanced quality.

At that point, fully aware of their talent and passion, in 2005, Mr. Martinez connected with Victor Rosado — an old friend of his and former Paradise Garage DJ — to produce parties for Steve and Chris to play called Kids of House.

Soon after, still in their teen years, the brothers were playing now mythical clubs around New York like Shelter and Cielo. They would oftentimes have to play past 4 AM when the club was done selling alcohol because they were underage.

Today, Steve and Chris are the ones who play the headlining sets that run up until the moment the club stops serving alcohol; when the dancefloor starts to dissipate, and at every step of that journey upward, they’ve had each other. No matter how tough the journey gets, they’re in it together and they thank God for that.

“We live a life that is full of a lot of different variables and a lot of different temptations, but at the end of the day you have to know that we’re human and we’re always going to make mistakes, but you can still always give reverence,” says Steve until the last two words when he and Chris speak in complete unison.

Following the shared words, both Steve and Chris break out into the wide-mouth smiles that have become staples of the Brothers’ live set videos on Mixmag, DJ Mag, Cercle, UMF TV, and every other reputable broadcaster of DJ sets.

Steve turns to a friend who’s sitting off-screen and says, “You see what I’m saying?” before facing me again to say, “That’s my brother right there,” with an affectionate pat on the shoulder.

Chris then follows it up by saying, “He’s speaking facts!” as he points to his brother.

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Thousands of people have felt this dynamic on the dancefloor, and even more have heard it in their productions. It can really only be described as brotherly. Across their history in the scene, they have almost never DJ’d separately, but the reason for that isn’t just because of the deep love and gratitude they have for one another.

“Me and my brother’s relationship is a total yin and yang,” Steve says.

“I was literally just thinking that,” Chris chimes in.

“What I lack, he makes up for. For example, I’m an overthinker. I’m always overthinking everything. Whether it’s making tracks or when we’re DJing or life situations. My brother always goes with the flow. He has so much confidence and sometimes I lack confidence,” Steve says.

“But this is where the yin and yang part comes in. Sometimes I’m too [confident] and he brings me to understanding of why we can’t just do it like that,” Chris says. “The way we come about making music is totally different but when we come together it gives us an understanding of how it should be sounding.”

“It’s like a friendly tug-of-war. Nobody falls down. It’s always for the best of us two and whatever we’re doing at the moment,” Chris says. “This all happens live too while we’re DJing. It’s a constant conversation. When it’s really good there is no conversation, but if we’re figuring it out there’s a conversation during the set.”

“We’ll always listen and we’re always going to take that chance because when you take those chances something beautiful comes out of it,” Chris says.

As much as Steve and Chris compliment each other as producers, DJs, and human beings, they couldn’t develop the connection they have without a foundation of alignment both in music and life, and that alignment is forever bound to their hometown of New York City.

“I can’t explain to you in words the amount of respect we have that we’re from that city and that we consider ourselves a continuation of that heavy lineage of music,” says Steve. “Not just dance music. Music in general because anyone that went to The Loft will say that David [Mancuso] wasn’t only playing disco. He was playing jazz. He was playing all types of things.”

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When they were teenagers the brothers would visit shops in New York that don’t exist anymore like the Manhattan establishments Vinyl Mania and Dance Tracks. They’d search for techno records that they heard when they were in the club (they specifically remember when “Rej” by Âme came out back in 2005), but they would also look for jazz, Brazilian music and salsa.

Scrolling through their Twitter feed, they frequently adulate their favourite music which ranges from the Los Angeles-based jazz pioneer Roy Ayers’ seminal classic “Everybody Loves The Sunshine,” to albums they laud with the praise of “no skips” like Kanye West’s Graduation (2007) and 1993’s Midnight Marauders from New York’s own rap outfit, A Tribe Called Quest.

Despite being heralded dance music superstars and fashion icons, they consider themselves music nerds before all. That nerdiness, that love they’ve been developing since they were kids, that’s what connects them to a community.

“We’re all nerdy dudes that love music,” says Steve. “That’s our number one focus in life. The party and all that other stuff comes way second, compared to the love we have for actual music.”

Someone whom the brothers acknowledge shares that focus is another exalted house music producer and DJ, Dennis Ferrer, who was a member of their same New York community. In truth, Ferrer grew up three blocks away from where they did in the Bronx.

Chris first reached out to Ferrer on MySpace around 2005 to connect and Ferrer ended up becoming one of the earliest mentors to the brothers. He was the person who inspired them to take their productions to the next level. He would push them to actually finish their tracks rather than stop at initial ideas in addition to endowing them with specific knowledge of production techniques like mixdowns, EQing, and more.

“Everybody knows Dennis is a genius,” Steve says.

“He’s revered,” Chris quickly follows up.

“Especially as a producer,” Steve continues. “He’s really [the greatest of all time] and that genius. Especially behind the boards. He’s a nerd. A super nerd.”

Dennis was just the first of many mentors who became their peers. Steve and Chris’s passion for music has served as a means to connect with practically all of the world’s most celebrated artists in house and techno.

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They tout Timmy Regisford, one of the founders of Shelter, as their favorite DJ (yes, they have the same favorite DJ). They’ve produced music with New York legends like Louie Vega and UK legends like Jamie Jones. They’ve started labels with renowned artists like Seth Troxler, and a glance through their past gigs has seen them share a bill with basically everyone that matters.

“I’m just really thankful we’re able to share the stage with some of these guys because they’re really talented. In the studio and on stage. Seth Troxler is an amazingly talented, smart human being,” Steve says.

“It’s always nice to have those friends that share that common love of music and finding new music,” Chris says. “When we were making ‘Bappi’ with Jamie [Jones] and we had that beat going and all of a sudden he brings out this sample and we come to find out Bappi [Lahiri] is a really famous Bollywood artist. He did a lot of famous scores. We had no idea who this guy was until he presented this sample!”

The Martinez brothers are certainly grateful to be so close with such respected artists, but overall they don’t see fame when it comes to music. They are just as excited about the demos they receive from unknown artists for their record label, Cuttin’ Headz, as they are to get in the studio with yet another revered one of their friends.

From a certain perspective, they find putting on younger artists even more rewarding due to a piece of wisdom imparted to them once again by Dennis Ferrer.

“No matter what always try to give someone else a shot. That’s something Dennis always taught us. Shed light on their music, too, and always try to pass it down,” Chris says.

“Thank you to all the producers out there who stay sending us tracks,” Steve says. “There’s so many guys making jams in all parts of the world.”

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The demo pool for Cuttin’ Headz is one of their favorite sources when they dig for new music the same way they’ve been doing since they were teenagers. They want to be the ones to break the new artists to the world, which they have done more than once via now stalwart house acts like Jesse Calosso and Beatport Next artist Jaden Thompson.

During the interview, they turn the laptop so I can see their friend Blas Cordero sitting on the balcony of the Ibiza flat.

At the time of writing, Cordero has 169 monthly listeners, two original releases, and two compilation entries (one on a 2020 Cuttin’ Headz compilation entitled Boogeyman) on his Spotify, but Steve and Chris are talking about him with the same kind of zeal and reverence with which they discuss Ferrer, Vega, and Troxler because he brings that same love, that same passion, that same nerdiness to the music.

“This is our boy Blas right here. He’s fire. He’s a little beast. Every time I hear this dude play he kills it.” says Steve. “The number one thing about anyone that works with us is you have to be passionate. You have to be as passionate as us.”

“Because it’s not even work at that point. It’s something that you love to do. You’re going to do it because you love it,” Chris continues.

To Steve and Chris, this life of music has never felt like work. It’s always been and it will always be something they love to do. And in this life, that really is a blessing.

Harry Levin is a freelance journalist, follow him on Twitter.

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