At the dawning of the 21st century, the DJ is on the brink of becoming a cliché.
When the mastery of Serato Scratch and a well-stocked iTunes library are the only criteria necessary to rock a party, craftsmanship and a near life-support-like dependency on music seem to be long-forgotten prerequisites.
But Bronx-bred brothers Steve and Chris Martinez are insistent on bucking the trend on a few different levels. At 19 and 16 years of age respectively, The Martinez Brothers exhibit an impressive dexterity as DJs and an intimate connection with a genre of music deeply ingrained in their DNA: house. They’re an anomaly of their generation, and not just because they’ve spun crowds into frenzies in Ibiza, Hong Kong, London, and Switzerland before they’ve even hit legal drinking age.
They’re two teens who hail from the birthplace of hip-hop but who have eschewed the path of jockeys like Cipha Sounds and Whoo Kid for the trajectory of house legends like Kerri Chandler and Dennis Ferrer. They’re known to rock the dancefloor with their mélange of disco, soulful house, and tech-house, and all the styles converge on their 12” single, “My Rendition.” Even more surprising is that these future kings of house music are sketching out their nascent four-to-the-floor career from the sleepy environs of Monroe, NY, a middle-class suburb an hour outside of New York City.
It should be noted that the princes of the turntables weren’t exactly pleased with relocating to a new kingdom. “When we first moved here, I was pissed,” recalls Steve. “I would have an attitude every day, always arguing.” Their father, Steve Martinez, Sr., who is currently building an addition to the family home to house a new mixing board, concurs: “In the beginning, it was kind of tough for them to get acclimated, because we’re from the ’hood.” But TMB soon found a way to shake their suburban homesick blues and bring some boogie-down Bronx flavor to the boondocks. “People started moving out of the neighborhood because we used to play so loud,” says Chris. “We had our drum kit and would go all night.”
TMB owe a great deal of their love for house music to their father. An ordained minister and former devotee of legendary disco institutions Paradise Garage and The Loft, Steve, Sr. indoctrinated his sons with house music early in life. “I used to bring Steve into my room on Saturday nights to listen to Timmy Regisford spin on 98.7 Kiss FM,” he recalls. As Chris and Steve progressed into adolescence, their dad became concerned that his sons would absorb some of the sordid elements of hip-hop. “They were listening to a lot of hip-hop, and some of the stuff they were listening to wasn’t positive. And I said to myself, ‘This music is dope. The beats are hot. But some of the music is denigrating women.’” Engaging his parental instincts, he made the decision to reintroduce his sons to a genre of music he saw as possessing a more redeeming value. “I bought a Kenny Dope disco compilation for them, and they liked it.”
Can You Feel It
It was the ensuing proclamation, however, that caught Steve, Sr. off guard. “A few weeks later, Steve approaches me and says, ‘Dad, I wanna DJ,’ and I started laughing,” he says. “I told him to study the music, know the labels, know the arrangers and who wrote this and who played keyboards on that.”
Steve and Chris, both well versed on keyboards, drums, and percussion instruments, soon also became adept at the software-based computer application Virtual DJ, which prompted their father to buy them a novice DJ set-up in 2004. But Chris and Steve’s lofty hopes of wreaking havoc on the wheels of steel would soon be deflated. “I don’t know about Steve, but I was talking about being a hip-hop DJ,” admits Chris. “When my father bought us CD decks, I remember almost crying because they couldn’t scratch.”
Making the best of their situation, the brothers crafted an impressive mixtape that flabbergasted Steve, Sr. “I almost started crying,” he recalls fondly. “I reminded them again, ‘If you want to be in this, you gotta know the game because people are going to think you’re a gimmick.’” In addition to homework and household chores, Chris and Steve began feverishly scouring the internet, meticulously dissecting the minutiae of the dance music culture of yesteryear.
“We wanted to learn,” insists Steve. “We looked at where these songs were played and what year they came out–the history behind a label. We would be on the computer for hours.”
Grooving Without a Doubt
After getting their sea legs at a 2005 party called 45 RPM, promoted by their father along with former Paradise Garage DJ Victor Rosado, offers to spin at NYC nightspots began pouring in. But it was Chris’ correspondence with house DJ Dennis Ferrer via MySpace that segued into an invitation to spin at one of New York’s longest-running house parties. “I just hit him up as a fan,” admits Chris. “After I sent him a mix, he asked if I wanted to play with him at Shelter.” Asking Ferrer if Steve could tag along, however, was almost a deal-breaker. “I asked him if I could bring my brother, and he wasn’t really feeling that.”
But their set would prove to Ferrer and others that TMB were more than the sum of their parts. “They went on, and it was bananas,” gleams Dad. “It got so packed on their floor, they had to close it down early because nobody was upstairs on the main floor!”
In their three short years as professional DJs, TMB have racked up an impressive resume of credentials that many DJs twice their age still only aspire to. But it’s apparent that they’ve heard the hater’s anthem from many skeptics. “There’s guys that are 40, 50 years old that have been doing this forever,” acknowledges Steve. “So when you hear about some 16-year-old playing music who’s supposedly good, I guess you might have your reservations. But a lot of times, these people have never even heard us spin. And when they do, a lot of times they backpedal.”
On the other hand, many have heralded TMB as the second coming of lauded NYC-based DJ/production duo Masters at Work (“I think they only say that because there’s two of us,” says Steve).
The Kids are Alright
Their newfound celebrity and acclaim aside, Chris and Steve are your average teenagers: they lose their Sidekicks, they defend Lil’ Wayne’s lyrical prowess, they wield bragging rights among their classmates. It just so happens that they can also wax poetic on obscure releases from classic dance labels like West End and Prelude and spin soulful house at the most posh nightclubs in Paris. “[My classmates] don’t believe me,” says Chris with a sly grin. “And it’s not like I go around like, ‘Oh, I’m a DJ.’ It just comes up in conversations at school, like, ‘Yo, what did you do this weekend?’ and I’ll say, ‘Oh, I went to Tokyo.’”
Besides working on tracks for an upcoming album to be released on Ferrer’s Objektivity Records, life for Chris and Steve in Monroe has been pretty peaceful. And they’ve since learned to appreciate the tranquility of their new home base. “When you get home at six in the morning from a gig, you don’t want to come home to ambulances and police sirens,” reflects a slightly older and wiser Steve. “You just want to chill. Now I love it. I don’t think I would want to go back to the city.”