As his fourth album, "O-pen" is just about to drop, Martin Swanstein takes the time to walk us through his lengthy career, his passion for Japanese cuisine, his newest project - "Concealed Sounds" and, of course, his enduring love for house music.
Yeah, things have been good. A lot of work in the studio and touring like usual.
Anything besides music and touring? Hobbies and such trivial things?
Music is my biggest hobby I guess... hehe. Food is a big passion as well, and always do some nice home cooking sessions with friends around.
Any favorite dishes you might want to share with us? Your most popular dish, let's say.
I am a big fan of the Japanese cuisine... Sushi is not my expertise but I love making other things like Yakisoba, Tempura, seafood Miso soups and so on.
That's quite an extensive menu you got there. Would it be safe to guess that you might as well have been a chef if you weren't a musician?
Probably not, I am not dedicated enough to that even though I enjoy cooking.
So what would it have been then? If by some twist of fate you wouldn't have gotten into music, how do you think your life would have turned out?
I honestly think it turned into music because there was no other way. It's all I ever felt this strongly about and dedicated time and effort to. So I have no idea what I would have done if music wasn't the way...
You started out when you were really young too. You first release on Deeplay came out when you were 17? 18? Did it come as a surprise? How did it play out, essentially?
Well actually my first release was "Laid Back Grooves" on Guidance Recordings, the Deeplay one came just some month after in the same year. I was about 15 years old when I started getting into DJ'ing and electronic music. Since I was already playing instruments and trying to form bands with my friends in school, I naturally started looking into producing when I got deeper into electronic music. After a few years of working with an old PC, a drum machine, sampler and one synth I finally had some music that sounded decent. I sent a CD to Guidance in Chicago as it was my favorite label at the time, I forgot that I had sent it, but then 3 weeks later I got a phone call and they wanted to do all the four tracks on the CD as one EP. It most definitely came as a big surprise and it felt kind of unreal until I had the record in my hands. I even doubted the quality of the tracks, but as the guys there believed in it there had to be something about it, I guess. Deeplay was a label formed by the owner of Yell Records, a record store in Malmoe (Sweden) which I gave a demo CD too as well around the same time with different tracks and he signed some as well. It was a very inspiring start.
It surely must have been. Around that time you said that you were heavily influenced by the DJ community in Helsingborg, a bunch of guys that played pitched down deep house. Soon after your early releases on Guidance and Deeplay you started your first label, Out Of Orbit, that took a slightly different approach. More progressive, electro influenced sounds. What inspired you to take that route?
Yes, there was a very strong DJ community in Helsingborg where I was growing up. This is where I learned everything about DJ'ing, they called themselves "Groove Society" and made some amazing underground parties, where DJ'ing was considered an art form. They would never compromise their music to make people dance and it was all about the music taking you on a journey if you let them. But this all happened from when I was around 15 - 18 years old. I moved to Copenhagen after I finished school, and this is where I got "signed" with my music. After Guidance and the Deep House moment I guess there was a natural progression in my sound and as a producer and DJ I am constantly looking for new interesting things that inspire me. Out of Orbit was actually more a label that housed my "Cosmic" sound, which was originally more about this spaced out house music with more electro and (sorry for the lack of better word) trancey elements.
You said in an interview that "the sound died out", the Out Of Orbit moment faded. Still, your deep house, chilled vibes sound as fresh and relevant as when they first came out? Why do you think that happened? One sound sticking for years and years, with some people rightfully calling it a "classic", whilst the other genre slowly faded out?
I think some people might feel that way about the Out of Orbit sound... That its "classic" and its still doing something for them, but for me the sound was maybe a bit too specific and associated with a certain area to continue being fresh.
After Out of Orbit came Re:connected, and at one point you were running both of them, actively pushing and releasing new stuff on both of them for a while. They're obviously different in both sound and philosophy. Did the same need for novelty and evolution push you to start a new label or did the scene influence you also?
Re:connected came around because I started making some music that was much more stripped down and minimal. I felt that it could never fit to Out of Orbit, as I mentioned it had a very specific sound. What I released on Re:connected was also very specific but in another genre, so the label was set up a bit more secretly. I didn't print the artist name on the label or anything, it simply was just "Re:connected". I think of that label more as one series of records rather then a real "record label", if you know what I mean.
By the time you released your second album "A Chemical Imbalance" were you still looking to maybe plan ahead and start out something new, fresh? You strike me as the type that doesn't really stay in one place musically for too long.
No I never think ahead like that or plan, the musically changes comes quite subtle and naturally. It may seem as I move around many genres or so, but actually there is a red line and my love for House Music can always be detected even in some of my most Techno influenced productions. But indeed, for me change and development is constant and important.
So house music always remained a footnote in your production. Soon after Re:connected stopped being active you might say your career took flight with a host of releases on labels like Lomidhigh, Moon Harbour and even Luciano's Cadenza and your releases certainly took on a more organic feel. How were those years for you? Both as a producer and as a DJ.
Yes, something happened around that time. I think it came when I did "Retrospective" which was a track I made as an ode to 90's House Music. It really inspired me to go deeper back into the groove of House and develop that. At that moment I was kind of "tired" of running a label as well and only wanted to focus on productions. I met Daniel Lyons from Lomidhigh at Culture Box in Copenhagen. It was at a party where Ricardo Villalobos played, and he dropped one of my tunes which made me and Daniel start talking about doing something for his label. Being closer to him and his label as well as Moon Harbour made me feel like I had found a home base of labels to work with so it freed me up a lot as a producer to focus on just making music. Back then I had been running Re:connected and the last days of Out of Orbit by myself, so it took a lot of time. Those were very nice years indeed, I felt that I grew a lot as a producer and also more and more DJ gigs happened and I had the opportunity to play some amazing clubs and places.
"Retrospective" and "Momomowha" were indeed head turners at the time. For me, it was the moment when I first became aware of Martinez. "Momomowha" had a very latin feel to it, and, indeed, many of your tracks have this type of swing. Even your DJ name sounds as latin as they come, even though you hail from as north as northern Europe comes. From where does this latin connection come from?
I think the "latin connection" in those tracks is simply just that latin rhythms are quite intriguing and make you wanna dance. The "latin connection" in my artist name is simply a very old joke. It's made up from my first name and the first letter in my last name, Martin S, when said fast is sounds quite a lot like Martinez. When I first started out DJ'ing I called myself Martin S. and one of my friends at that time had gotten all these empty cassette tapes for all his DJ friends to record a mix for him on when he was going for a long travel in Asia or something. He had come up with all these "funny" nicknames for everyone and mine was Martinez. Everyone liked it so I kept DJ'ing under that... and eventually made a record ... and yeah here we are now.
So after quite a while of doing releases for your home base of labels you decided to start off once again on your own with Concealed Sounds, your fourth project. What sparked its inception?
Well a lot changed over those years. I still work very closely with Lomidhigh, but with Moon Harbour I think we all went a bit in different directions and my music didn't really fit there anymore. I was working on a lot of music that I felt I needed a platform for it. I also came slowly to the conclusion that for me it always worked best to have my own label somehow, to have the freedom to release anything I believed in, the way I wanted to. I had the idea for Concealed for quite some time, but in 2013 I finally had the right way to set it up, with someone that could help me with the practical stuff and so on.
You've released some very promising young producers on Concealed like Alex Celler, Lowris and S.A.M while, for the moment, not playing the big name card. Will things remain the same for the time or is there something in the works in that regard?
Concealed for me is a label that is here to stay, it's not a concept label and it can be anything I want, it's all about the good music. I never felt the need for name dropping or just getting big well known names on there for the sake of sales or attention. I think this is the wrong approach. The idea is to keep it close, family style and release friends as well as the key artists on rotation, but in the end it's all about the music.
I admire your approach and it's this philosophy that has led you to your fourth album, "O-Pen", which has just been released. What's it about? How would you best describe it?
Yeah, it's been a project I've been working on for a very long time. I think the work on there spans over 2-3 years, though the versions included are definitely made recently. The idea on "O-Pen" is to have a pure artist album. Each track is a story of its own that fits into the bigger picture without being part of some concept. I wanted to make an album with "songs" if you know what I mean. This is also why in the end I decided to release it on my own label to have it in the exact format and version that I wanted it to be.
You've taken a step into more familiar territory for your listeners with some of the tracks on the album. Not to spoil anything, but would you consider ever taking a trip back to your deep house days anytime in the future? Maybe even some breaks for good old time's sake?
Absolutely, I'm constantly inspired by Deep House and, breakbeat, I'm not against that. I think it's just natural for me to make it in a newer format then trying to copy or remake something I already did. But gather inspiration from that, I do it all the time.
Could you maybe describe your process a bit? What do you consider to be the more important aspects of producing music? You've certainly incorporated a lot of harmonies and melody in "O-pen" and you've always had this quality that stands out in your tracks.
I think the most important aspect of producing music is to have fun, push your own boundaries and try new stuff all the time. I don't want to go to deep into details about my production process, but mainly I start with some idea, it can be a sound, a groove, or something like this. I play around with the idea and add stuff that feels natural without thinking too much about it. When it feels right I start pretty quickly getting into making the structure of the track. Recording longer patterns with variations of each instrument and part, then piecing it together to make the flow of the track. Once I'm there I have a good idea of how the track will be like and it's easy to add some details and finalize the mix. On the album I did want to try and return a bit more to build tracks around the melody rather than just the groove or beats. I think most of the tracks on there started with a melodic part and the rhythmic aspect was added on to that sort of, if that makes any sense.
I look forward to hear what the future holds for Martinez and Concealed. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and, for the record, when can we expect to hear "O-Pen", exactly?
Thank you! "O-Pen" has just hit the stores this week. I'm sorry for the delayed release but there is massive pressure on the pressing plants these days, so everything is taking much longer time than expected, but now its out there. Enjoy! :)