If the '90s was an area of rainforest, natural home to the much sampled rave loon, then its rate of deforestation would have long passed an alarming rate. Pillaged by two generations, one born in that decade and now at the height of their clubbing peak, the other those who lived through its first rich bloom and are returning to their roots for cuttings, its golden house sound has already dominated the last five years or more.
Turn on a Saturday morning TV chart show and fifth generation copies of New York house and New Jersey garage often provide the backdrop.
If the surface looks increasingly bare though, there's fertile ground beneath. On the forest floor, now exposed thanks to the thinning canopy, are the breeding grounds of Richard D. James's unhinged experiment as AFX and Caustic Window, the off-grid electronic textures of Autechre, Boards Of Canada's blend of the sinister and soothing, and Drexciya's other-worldly electro. Hardcore, meanwhile, is proving the adage that it will never die, original soldiers such as Jerome Hill and Mark Archer still manning the trenches while youthful acts from Swamp 81's Benton to DJ Fett Burger rework its template and the jungle freneticism that followed with a respectful tip of their clima-fit caps.
It's the re-emergence of these freshly exposed shoots that provides the freshness of Doms & Deykers' debut album, 'Evidence From A Good Source'. The work of Dutch duo Steffi and Martyn, two residents of Berlin's much revered (and increasingly also satirised) Panorama Bar, eleven new tracks build on two previous EPs for Martyn's 3024 label, 2014's 'Fonts For The People' and this year's 'Dedicated To Those Who Feel'.
From the shuffling drums and urgent bleeps of opener 'Eyes Up' to the steppers ambience and muted rave hoovers of closer 'Sweet Sanctuary', it toys with familiar 1990s aesthetics and sound palates while assembling them using the modern touch of a pairing that has already released five solo albums between them. With each having previously shown an ability to bend today's rigid genre boundaries towards the more amorphous, shape-shifting of the past, it's a work that pays homage to a golden era without veering into pastiche. 'It's You I See' floats woozy jungle pads over a punchy hardcore b-line, yet nods to the present with its Machinedrum-style pitch-shifted vocal; 'Faye's Slide' crunches along to tense, off-key Detroit synth-changes before stripping down to driving beats and bass; and 'To All Friends & Family' is an end-of-night anthem in the making, early A Guy Called Gerald chords rendered from the sound of 808 State into a vision of that morning 8:08 state when the lights come up, illuminating a sea of grinning faces.
Despite their close proximity growing up in Holland — Martyn in Eindhoven, Steffi in the nearby village of Boxtel — the now 42-year-olds didn't actually meet until they were picked up in the same van on their way to play Lowlands in 2010, a giant festival east of Amsterdam in Biddinghuizen. “We realised that we were born only ten minutes away from one another,” retells Steffi, in her direct manner, over Skype when we call the pair one afternoon. Steffi now lives in Berlin since moving there in 2007, while Martyn is a resident of Washington DC, America, after getting married and relocating in 2008. “That got us talking and we realised we knew a lot of the same people without bumping into one another for all these years.”
Both gifted a a distinctive Southern Dutch accent, sometimes mistaken for being Belgian, further digging uncovered their near misses over the years. Martyn, the more seemingly self-contained of the two, recalled Steffi's name from flyers for Mazzo, the Amsterdam club where she'd held a Wednesday night residency after moving there around 1997. Spinning what she calls “IDM, or brain dance, and electro”, it became the springboard for her first label Klakson, which started in 2000 with other musical partner Dexter, later falling dormant in 2010 when she started her own Dolly label, until relaunching again last year.
“I was really drawn to the off-beat thing more than anything,” she says on the first records that she collected and played, picking up the electronic music bug from driving to parties in nearby cities that were playing new-beat and electronic body music (EBM), later attempts by friends to teach her to mix using two Strictly Rhythm records failing to to push her in the house and techno direction she later became better known for in Berlin. “Electro was just a thing I started to pick up in the mid '90s — early Drexciya things, Warp, Rephlex. It was a lot more daring to me at the time than deep house — not that I don't like deep house. The weirder it was, the more interesting it was to me. Maybe I smoked too much dope at that time!”
DRUM & BASS
Her parties at Mazzo would start start at 11pm or 12 midnight with more ambient electronica. “Then we'd play Detroit electro, then end with booty and 145bpm things, sometimes even mixing it up with some jungle and Miami bass. But there was hardly any boom-boom-boom,” she says, echoing the attitude levelled then at the relentlessness of four-to-the-floor. Steffi in turn realised that she'd also been to Martyn's Red Zone, the drum & bass party that he started and was resident at from 1998 to 2007 at Effenaar, a club in Einhoven whose free-flowing bookings would host Rolando one night, Grooverider the next.
It was Groove who set the Dutchman off on his decade-long pursuit of drum & bass, having previously dived into house and techno thanks to Eindhoven's close proximity to cities such as Antwerp just over the Belgium border — home to Cafe D'Anvers — and Amsterdam. “I'd just never heard that music before,” he tell us on his Grooverider epiphany.
The next day he made a trip to his local record shop. “Obviously, I couldn't get any of it as he was playing all dubplates,” he recalls.
So a few months later he visited London and made a transformative trip to the Blue Note in Hoxton Square, alongside various record shops. His collection made him de facto DJ at Red Zone, but despite having been bitten by the d&b bug Martyn continued to collect 2-step, garage and broken beat records, nurturing a deft eclecticism that was highlighted, when he began to move back to techno and slower tempos, on his stunning 2010 'Fabric 50' mix.
Having bonded, they stayed in regular touch via Skype, Martyn providing extended feedback to Steffi after she sent him her debut album, 2011's 'Your & Mine' on Ostgut Ton, home to breakthrough single 'Yours'. Various ideas to work more closely were floated — a remix for Klakson, the release of something that Steffi had heard in Martyn's live show. But it was a suggestion to jam together in her studio, and Martyn responding that he wasn't “that kind of guy” — admitting to DJ Mag a possible reticence about sharing ideas, or stepping out of his own comfortable way of working — which provided the genesis for their first material together.
“Whatever your reason is, you don't have to make a No.1 world hit, you can just jam in the studio and hang out,” Steffi persuaded him with the kind of assertiveness you can imagine steamrollering his reluctance.
Approaching that first session with a clear idea of what they wanted to make, a UK breakbeat-style track (EP title track 'Fonts For the People'), an electro track ('Tepper') and a Detroit-style techno groover ('Penny's Groove'), the tracks for their first release came together “pretty quickly” according to Martyn, a fourth house experiment still languishing on Steffi's hard drive.
The new moniker draws on their actual surnames, Steffi Doms and Martijn Deykers, and signalled a combined new sound that was beginning to deviate from both of their solo work. “It also has an official feel to it,” adds Martyn in a dry, laidback manner. “We joked that it sounds like a lawyer's office.”
The majestic 'Whirling' on Ostgut Ton's tenth anniversary 'Zehn' compilation last year raised the bar, compressing all the elements of 'Fonts For The People' into one track and demonstrated how their individual contributions to Doms & Deykers are not as obvious as it may first seem. “That has breakbeats on,” she answers, when we ask if this is the element that Martyn brings, her the more melodic Detroit elements, “but it's actually a sketch that came from my computer, with Martyn picking it up to the next level.”
It was from this basis that the album, which took about a year to come together, was formed. Both went through and picked their favourites from the other's sketches folders ('Grime For Dolly', for example, was originally something Martyn had begun working on for Steffi's label), three live sessions together providing the main hooks and melodies, before the finer details and mixing was done via Skype and FaceTime.
“We both went through the same musical motions,” agrees Martyn on how their tastes are more aligned than their previous solo output may suggest. “Steffi went a little on one side, I went a little deeper on the other side. I was deep into the drum & bass thing and dubstep, Steffi knows way more about electro than me, but generally she also knows a lot about breakbeats and I know a lot about my Detroit classics and my Chicago stuff.”
This innate understanding developed even further as the pair shared their love of music online, both constantly digging deeper into the further reaches of Discogs, a shared DropBox becoming a mood-board of inspiration for the album — basically “anything with a bleep”, Steffi says with a laugh.
But an emphasis on melody also shaped the project. “I think that's why classics are classics,” says Martyn, emphatically. “You want something that you can whistle as you walk out the door. Maybe someone calls that old school, but basically it's writing music rather than sounds with just a kick underneath.”
The idea of an album was actually floated during their first ever session together. “I said, 'Hold on, easy now, we're just doing a couple of songs together, let's see what happens!'” remembers Martyn on his initial wariness. “I'm a little bit more calculating in that sense.”
But it was the full melding of influences on their second EP, especially the breakbeats and melancholia of 'Blaff' and the similarly bitter-sweet depths of 'For Those Who Feel’, that convinced him of Doms & Deykers’ unique sound. Then there's their love for the album format, previously devalued, Steffi explains passionately, by a recent period when many producers have been “aiming for the short attention that they'll get from creating a dancefloor hit.”
Harking back to labels such as Planet E, she stresses that 'Evidence From A Good Source' recalls a time when albums weren't just collections of dancefloor hits to cherry-pick from a download site, but had to be bought and listened to as a whole. “It's almost like people have lost interest in making something that is both dancefloor compatible, car radio compatible — because that's a big one for me — and living room compatible.”
It's also about legacy, Martyn describing the joy of discovering artists whose Discogs page lists dozens of aliases, projects that extend — in true '90s open-mindedness — from techno to ambient to breakbeats. “That's what I respect in musicians at the end of the day,” he says, “their body of work.”
With house and techno reaching a level of popularity never seen before, could this also be the dawn of a new period of alternative experimentation and innovation? “A four-to-the-floor kick will never disappear because it's the heart-beat of everything, literally the body,” Steffi retaliates firmly when we question whether house has reached saturation point. Martyn, though, a past-master at bridging four-four and broken beats, sounds more hopeful.
“The last couple of years there was a lot of inward looking, where people were interested in their own scene and their own sound,” he reflects. “I think now it's starting to open up a little bit again. If I listen to some of the newer UK people, even within the established techno scene, there are people picking things from early breakbeat, picking things from electro, or trance even. There's a lot of searching going on.”
The recording process helped bring together their different production styles too, Martyn more experienced with software plug-ins and using a sampler to twist sounds into new forms, Steffi previously committed to sequencing hardware. “Not because I want to be analogue, but because for me machines are more hands-on,” she emphasises. “The interesting thing now we're combining these techniques is that you kind of get the hang of all worlds.”
Having previously taken their own live shows on the road, Doms & Deykers are doing the same — they’ve already played two shows, at Concrete in Paris and at Panorama Bar. Their London date sadly was due to be at Fabric, the future of the club still in the balance when we spoke. New is a wider tour due to kick off in 2017.
In the meantime, Steffi has her own new solo album planned. “Being on the road as a DJ, you have so many ideas that you never have time to make happen,” she says. “I’ve just realised how important it is to step back. It makes a hell of a difference for me to give my creativity a home.”
Martyn on the other hand is busy with the label, promoting the album, preparing further releases and setting out on the Doms & Deykers tour before starting on a new album of his own.
The album title, it turns out, isn't simply a reference to their shared influences. “1974 was a fucking brilliant year and we both had the luxury of being born then,” states Steffi, proudly.
“Except that Holland lost the World Cup Final...” laments Martyn, before his partner shoots back, “But Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest with 'Waterloo'.”
If this turns out to be another shared musical love, who knows where Doms & Deykers’ journey will take them next.
WORDS: Joe Roberts
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.