How a Chance Encounter on a Bus Led to One of the Year's Strongest Albums
Martyn and Steffi grew up less than 20 miles apart, but it took them 35 years to find that out.
Photo via Stephan Redel. This article was published originally on THUMP UK.
In 1975, Martyn (Martijn Deijkers) and Steffi (Steffie Doms) were born in Holland, about 20 miles apart. They didn't meet until 2010. This strange coincidence—strange both in that they did meet some 35 years later, but also that they didn't meet in the decades before—became the foundation for a musical partnership, Doms & Deykers. The duo, who utilize the combined powers of two of underground dance music's most trusted voices, are now releasing their debut LP, Evidence From a Good Source. THUMP caught up with them over Skype, to trace the path from chance encounter to creative excellence.
Martyn and Steffi enjoy shared but distant personal histories. Both fell in love with music via family members; for Martyn it was his vinyl obsessed father, and for Steffi her new age infatuated older brother. In their teens they both started attending club nights and illegal raves in their neighboring areas. "We were definitely at the same parties," Steffi laughs.
"Without realising, of course," adds Martyn.
Having spent the early 1990s blissfully unaware of each-other's existence, independently forging a lifelong love of house and techno, they began to unknowingly diverge. Martyn discovered drum and bass. "I was going to London to buy records, and eventually some of us started our own night," he recalls. "That stuck me to drum & bass for a quite a while—I was playing it so it made sense to produce it as well."
Steffi is less keen to frame her musical maturation in terms of an unfolding lineage, or as being dictated by where she lived at particular times. The reason I moved to Berlin was to take on the offer to work with a club," she says. "It never changed anything about where I wanted to go musically". Rather, she talks of her DJ career as a constant flow of phases that have co-mingled in order to create a signature sound. Mostly anyway, "It's fair to say that after early-2000s I left the electro because that wasn't happening anymore," she adds.
Between 1975 and 2010, then, Martyn and Steffi became the DJs and producers we now recognize. Steffi, based in Berlin, as a label-owner and resident at Panorama Bar, and Martyn, based in Washington DC, as a genre-bender of everything from house and techno, to dubstep, breakbeat and drum and bass. So, on finally meeting, on a bus traveling to Lowlands festival, they had a lot of catching up to do.
"We met in 2010, so we were already like 20 years into our musical journey," Steffi explains. "There are so many things that we've simultaneously, separately experienced because we're from the same years—for example, the other day we found out that there's loads of broken beat records we both own. There's still so much to discover."
"I think we should point out that when we got to know each-other it wasn't just about collaborating on music," Martyn tells me. "It was as much about the friendship. We connected on a personal level before we ever discussed collaborating."
Collaborations did follow—they provided remixes of each-other's work, and placed tracks on each-other's label—but it wasn't until Martyn was playing Berlin and was able to meet up with Steffi again in person that they started making music together. In 2014, they released Fonts for the People on Martyn's 3024 imprint, as Doms & Deykers—named after their respective last names.
Yet it's the personal dimension that the pair return to routinely in their descriptions of working together, and how they were able to fall into such a productive partnership. "In the studio, we speak the same language," Martyn postulates. "Not just literally but because of our shared history and heritage, the similar things we both used to play and love. We could just say 'oh remember that one track from 1992', and the other one would know. Like two copies of the same encyclopedia."
That said, it sounds like the trick to success was learning when not to speak this language, as much as it was speaking it. "If there are two people in the room and one is behaving like the big guy, then the energy is wrong," Steffi continues, about their process. "If you always think you know better you may as well be making a solo record." While Steffi was wise to these dynamics, it was a little more in the way of curve for Martyn, who prior to their work had only ever collaborated with vocalists performing over his tracks—never in tandem with another producer. That said, he admits it was easy to relinquish autonomy in favour of the greater good. "The point of making music together is to blend two styles and make something new," he concludes. "If one person holds on to their too much, then you're never going to get an above average result."
The music that comes from the coalescing of their individual identities makes for a fascinating whole. These are tracks with a dancefloor-ready function, held together by threads of melancholy and soul—deft touches of humanity and melody that elevate their work above the status of nightclub tools.
Deconstruction of their music though—specifically attempting to decipher who provided what to each composition—should become a futile exercise over time, or at least that's what Martyn hopes. "I think the gelling is getting better and better," he beams, proudly. "Now, if I play our music to my closest friends who have listened to literally everything I have ever done, for them it's hard to say what is done by who." Steffi agrees, laughing, "Some people have even said 'oh man I loved Martyn's bassline'...and I'm thinking, it's actually my bassline..."
The work for their latest project, an LP titled Evidence From a Good Source, happened in snatched windows of opportunity, while Martyn and Steffi were both working on fellow Ostgut Ton labelmate Virginia's LP Fierce for the Night. "In reality the deadline was quite tight," Steffi explains. Despite this, their almost shared intuition triumphed once again, and they were able to lay the tracks down in the space of four days. "I think it's experience as well as being on the same wavelength," Martyn muses, "but I also think work ethic. Steffi is busy DJing, I'm busy DJing and I live in the states. I have a family so I don't want to stay away as long as I used to. That leaves us with quite a limited window within which to actually create music, so that meant we rinsed four days and got the most out of a short amount of time. No slouching, no videos, no texting..."
"No social media," Steffi adds.
The pair most come alive when talking about production, in fact, at the start of our conversation they politely, but firmly, request we talk about the album as much as possible—rather than conversations about Panorama Bar that "don't matter." Doms & Deykers, and production in general, is clearly a passion growing in intensity for both of them. As Martyn phrases it: "We both realise that what's important to us is the length of our discogs listing and the quality of music we release. It's just more remembered than whatever festival you were playing, or which club in Ibiza you headlined." Steffi agrees, "I think also it's a natural thing, that creative energy needs to get out. If you sit on it too long you get really unhappy and grumpy."
I wonder whether this turn to production is the natural conclusion of two 20-year plus careers spent behind behind the decks—a gradual but definite desire to escape the exhausting routine of residencies, tours and festivals, in favour of measured expression and (relatively) normal working hours. Steffi is eager to couch it on more positive terms. "I think for me, once I started making music, it was a release and there was no going back," she recalls. "I've really found myself in the studio, channeling that creative energy." That said, she does concede that DJing has become, if not less pleasurable, then at least a more complicated experience for her. "It's become a different job compared to 20 years ago," she sighs. "It's become all about the spotlight, and Twitter, and being up for the game every single weekend, people taking pictures. I think you could lose your sanity in that world."
Martyn offers a sombre agreement, "I think, on the DJ circuit, you do a couple of rounds when you're younger, and then you make a decision: either stay and get stuck in that loop or ask for something else, something more." Thankfully, the evidence would suggest that together, they have found just that.
Doms & Deykers - Evidence From A Good Source is out on the 28th October, via 3024.