words: LILY MOAYERI pics: ANDREW COTTERILL
An impenetrable gate sits atop the steep inclined driveway of a Beverly Hills mansion, one in that city’s famed 90210 zip code. A sleepy-faced Jesse Calosso clicks a remote control and the gate swings ominously open.
There is so much ground space, it isn’t quite clear where to stop the car. This $2.3 million, 10,000 square-foot-plus manse with the requisite pool is where The Martinez Brothers are holed up for the week with their friends, the aforementioned Calosso and spry Filsonik. The place is a change of pace from their permanent New York digs and a warm-up to their summer Ibiza one—not that The Brothers spend a significant amount of time anywhere but on the road.
Under the vaulted ceilings and skylights of the airy space The Martinez Brothers are huddled around a laptop, beats blaring. It doesn’t matter what the setting, get a bunch of young guys together and their living space turns into a frat house—albeit unintentionally. Gadgets are strewn about, everyone is attached to their phone, chairs are pulled out, and there are papers everywhere.
Disposable plates and signature red plastic party cups—the smaller, starter size—are in use as, “We don’t want to do any dishes.”
The Martinez Brothers -- Steve, elder, and Christian or Chris, younger -- are as far away from frat boys as you can get. Friendly and welcoming, the two are all smiles, hands extended for well-bred shakes. Everything about the two is well bred. Polite and considerate, it feels like they are thinking about you before themselves at all times.
For the week The Martinez Brothers are here, they are doing no work—for a change. The two are in a pleasantly chilled state—even more than their naturally chilled one. Chris, in swim trunks, always smiling so hard his eyes squeeze shut, sports formidable facial hair that likens him to a rabbi, the only thing missing is some ringlets.
Steve, in sweats, is distractingly good-looking with shaped eyebrows, a sly chuckle, and at 26 is only three years senior to Chris, but gives off an air of maturity experienced in one’s 30s. Chris, on the other hand, has the gangly colt feel of an adolescent. Looking to Steve for affirmation. Steve, in turn, is protective of his younger sibling. Both speak with New York accents so pronounced there are no “r”s heard in their speech, case in point, “Pizza’s hee-yah!”
The Martinez Brothers are comfortable in their skins. The siblings of Puerto Rican descent spent their formative years in the limelight, DJing in clubs they were far too young to be allowed entry to. With Chris still in high school and Steve starting college, under the watchful eye of their father, a pastor, the two were on soft drinks and juices, focused on doing what they were there for, rocking the party. It was their father who guided their musical tastes.
It was also their father who paved the DJ way for them. A frequenter of Paradise Garage, Martinez senior had house music playing in the family home from very early on. The Brothers’ interest in DJing was first piqued by watching the DJ accompanying a hip-hop MC, but with the 4/4 beats running through the Martinez household, turntablist dreams soon gave way to those of mixing.
“We started doing parties with my dad,” says Steve. “He hadn’t done parties before. He did them because we started DJing. We would rent a dance studio with wooden floors, take our sound system, throw a jam, and go to school the next day. We called them tea parties. From 6pm to 12am. Sunday tea parties.”
As is the wont of teenagers, the two were fully immersed in their social media, particularly MySpace, which was the more prevalent medium of the time. Connecting with house legend Dennis Ferrer in this fashion, Chris sent him links to their sets.
Ferrer booked The Brothers to play New York’s famed dance music haven, Shelter, their first ever club gig, in 2007. From there, their name, and along with it, their unerring music selection, drawing heavily from classic house sounds, started spreading. They were the new kids of the New York club scene. And they were children. Pictures of the two at that time show baby-faced boys, one pre-pubescent, one in the throes of puberty.
As encouraging as their family was of the brothers’ burgeoning DJ career, school was still a major player in their lives. It didn’t matter how late the party went the night before, they were going to school, and they were going to be on time.
“I barely kept up,” admits Chris. “I had to do an extra year. Honestly, I couldn’t take school seriously at that point. I’m not saying that it’s not necessary to do school, but I already had my career going. I knew what I wanted to do. Coming home from the gigs on the weekends on Monday to school, I was wiped all the time. The teachers weren’t having it, which was the worst part. They knew I was DJing. It wasn’t easy, but my super senior year I pulled through.”
“I didn’t get it as badly,” says Steve. “I did Hunter College for two years. My college schedule was a couple of days a week classes. I was going to college just to go to college. I was doing what everybody does, the most generic major when you don’t know what to pick: business admin. I didn’t learn anything substantial that I took with me. I already knew what I wanted to do at that point. But hey, kids, go to college.”
Music was ingrained as early at eight years of age for Steve and five for Chris when the two were put on the drum kit at their father’s church. Fighting over the drums, the loser played percussion. Church figures in as largely as music in the two’s lives.
There was a time when they were in church four times a week, something so commonplace that when they met people who weren’t, it was weird for them. Talk of religion, god, church, is inherently uncool, particularly in music circles, and is generally met with shifts away from the speaker. The Martinez Brothers aren’t Bible banging, judgmental, proselytizers. If anything, they make the presence of god and their connection very commonplace.
“It was our life,” says Steve matter-of-factly. “More than half our existence has been in church. People turn to church for the communal aspect of it more than anything else. There are a lot of emotions involved when you have a lot of people doing the same thing. Whether it’s partying to a DJ or it’s listening to a pastor, it brings an energy, in the church, or in the club. That has a lot of power within itself.”
The Martinez Brothers bring energy via an array of mediums, from the church of the DJ booth altar to the almighty fashion gods. Givenchy has been getting their taste as Chris and Steve have been creating soundbeds of original and licensed music for the runways shows since 2014.
And for the last three years, and again this coming season, The Martinez Brothers are bringing the communal vibe to Circo Loco at DC10 in Ibiza. From late May through to October, the two make their home on the hedonistic island, gigging around Europe. Back home, the house the two have bought in the Kingsbridge area of The Bronx, where they were bred, is being renovated, ready for them to move in upon their return.
In Los Angeles, the locals are getting a taste of The Martinez Brothers’ community at the multi-functional retail/salon/event space The Well for their Cuttin’ Headz label showcase. On an uncharacteristically drenched evening, stylish individuals of all ages and races are lined up in the brightly lit, uber-modern, retail portion of The Well.
It’s like a fancy dress party with outfits so extreme there is a belly dancer, a pirate, a vampire, Jamiroquai and Sherlock Holmes in attendance. One-by-one they bend their heads to have a silver necklace put around their necks in an almost church-like ritual. This piece of jewelry from SYMBOL:FLAME (which is a keeper) is the entry to the warehouse portion of The Well.
If the space wasn’t so clean, so permitted, and so above ground, it could be mistaken for similar spaces in downtown Los Angeles, some 20+ years prior. Same music, same vibe, less stylish, more nitrous … and you could be at an illegal afterhours in 1992. It would be 5am, and you would have crawled under a metal door to get in. Once inside, it would be very much like what The Martinez Brothers are presenting.
The warehouse is throbbing with beats, so much so it feels like you’re inside a heart, experiencing heartbeats from the inside out. The Brothers have tight control over the selection maintaining the energy level with booming house music. They lock into a groove for an extended spell, holding it with the slowest of tantalizing builds, bringing the audience to panting, then drop it, very casually.
Steve’s facial expression is serious, concentrated, he only looks up occasionally, smiling at particular faces in the crowd, pointing, and dancing slow motion, collarbones poking through his loose-necked black top. In contrast, Chris, in his Mickey Mouse t-shirt, is really going for it with fist pumps, smiling non-stop, sticking his head behind the speakers to chat with friends and fans.
What is being experienced represents Cuttin’ Headz, a label a long time in the making for The Brothers but only recently kicked off. Established towards the end of 2014, it features both their own productions as well as others. Cuttin’ Headz only has a few releases so far: The Martinez Brothers’ ‘The Hat Trick/E’s Demise’, their ‘Tree Town’ EP, and Destination Void’s ‘Between Worlds’ EP. There are a slew of releases lined up for the rest of 2015 including material from Luke Solomon, Jesse Calosso and Filsonik.
The idea for Cuttin’ Headz was put on hold when The Brothers banded with Seth Troxler for their Tuskegee Music imprint six months prior.
That label is only on its fourth release: The Martinez Brothers and Seth Troxler with ‘Space & Time’, three tracks from William Kouam Djoko under ‘Sacred Secrets’, and ‘The Come Up’ EP from Bas Ibellini, Jesse Calosso, and Filsonik, and ‘Just Back’ from Troxler. Both labels were supposed to be vinyl-only releases but are now vinyl first, digital one month later.
From the start of their original production, the first release being 2007’s ‘My Rendition’ on Dennis Ferrer’s Objektivity label, the amount of music The Martinez Brothers create cannot be contained. Plus, they do a lot of collaborations.
Not the least impressive of these is with Nile Rodgers, ‘I’ll Be There’, a modern disco classic, and the first single from Chic’s upcoming album, ‘It’s About Time’. Arthur Baker is another fan/collaborator. The Martinez Brothers have come up with the moniker Soundview for their collaborative efforts, the parameters are fluid allowing various collaborators to work with them without having to come up with a different alias every time.
A recent collaboration, ‘Masters At Dutch’ with Jesse Calosso and Blas Cordero, has resulted in a fun 10-track EP, ‘Dutch Masters Vol. 1’, which they are offering as a free download—all 10 tracks. There is no predictability with The Martinez Brothers’ original music.
It could be the bumping house they are known for spinning live, or something hip-hop-influenced, or soul, or funk. A quick listen to the five-track ‘Sunday Service’ EP with Bodega Bamz and it’s all those things in one, plus some ‘70s soundtrack vibes thrown in.
With everything they have going on, do The Martinez Brothers feel like they missed out on their youth? “Not even a little bit,” says Steve. “Family stuff only. A lot of our friends have 9-to-5s. We’re not knocking 9-to-5s, but it’s a totally different lifestyle. We have the lifestyle that is meant for us.”
“I had a taste of what my friends were doing in high school,” adds Chris. “I would go to the parties when I was off. It was cool, but I like DJing better. I tried to have a girlfriend back home and bring her out with me on tour. It doesn’t work.”
“I want a girl who looks cute and wants to stay home and wait for me after the gig,” says Steve. “Where are those girls?”
“They’re out there,” his brother states firmly. “They’re out there.