The Beat: dirtybird's Justin Martin gets rough, tough, and tender

Justin Martin, in fragranti

Like many four-year-olds, Justin Martin abhorred piano lessons. Unlike most adults however, he's now grateful for those tedious moments in practice and memorization. "Now that I look back, I'm so thankful that my parents forced me to do it," he says, "because the lessons of music I learned at a young age I've taken with me my whole life."

The world-traveling DJ and electronic music producer has recently accomplished a self-imposed goal: a full-length album. An ambition that has previously eluded Martin, debut LP Ghettos and Gardens (dirtybird) is almost 10 years in the making -- his very first record "The Sad Piano" was released on Ben Watt’s Buzzin’ Fly label in 2003.

"I don't think it [releasing an album] is the most important thing in dance music," Martin says, "but it was on my list of things to do."

In 2001, Martin bought a computer and dove into making electronic music -- however with technology came irresponsibility. "I wasn't very disciplined when I first started out," Martin says. While catching his first break as a DJ, Martin found the experience enthralling. He was being pulled in directions far and wide from San Francisco and was enjoying his new found success. "It was all so crazy and amazing," he recalls. "I was finally getting my name out there." And although Martin considered making an album amid the the initial height of his career, he admits, "I wasn't quite ready."

It was after years of reveling in the fun that often accompanies success, that inspiration struck Martin in the form of producer and dirtybird label founder Claude VonStroke in 2009. Martin witnessed the long strides VonStroke was making firsthand and realized that he could achieve the same fortune through hard work -- "the sky's the limit," he discerned. "That was when I really got motivated to sit down and write an album," he says.

A labor of true love, Ghettos and Gardens will be released May 22. "It's a real exciting time for me," Martin exhales. The DJ claims his album captures the opposite sides of his personality and elaborates on the duality of the soft and hard elements of music that he is drawn to. "I've always tried to combine an audible tough and tenderness," Martin explains. "I make music that has nice melodies but also has gritty undertones - nasty basslines and stuff like that."

As for the album's title, Martin drew fancy from a fountain many artists have dipped in before: a fight with the sweetie. After a squabble, the couple found themselves at an impasse - one headed to the liquor store and the other to a flower shop. A quick reconciliation resulted in a bouquet of roses resting comfortably in an empty 40 oz. bottle and the image of such proved powerful to a slightly-buzzed Martin.

"That image summed it up for me: this raw thing with beauty coming out of it," he recollects, "and I thought, 'This kind of represents my sound'."

Performing at the quarterly Dirtybird party at Mezzanine on Friday, Martin will be debuting most of Ghettos & Gardens. Martin says he feels "like a kid in a candy store," and has high hopes that his new material will be well received. "The harder I work, the more fun I have," he exalts. Not a bad mantra.

Ghettos and Gardens release party and dirtybird label showcase

Fri/11, 9pm; $5 before 11pm, $20 after


444 Jessie, SF.

Julia B. Chan is a writer and hosts "Play for Today," a radio program about new music on every Friday from 6-8pm. Follow her on Twitter @onTheBeat.

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