EXCLUSIVE: Eli Goldstein interviews Doc Martin for yOyOyO 90s Jam Rave E-dition w/ Doc Martin, Robert Owens, The Martinez Brothers and more
Exclusive interview and words by Eli Goldstein with transcription and research by Joee Irwin… part 2 coming soon on the Soul Clap Blog.
Doc Martin is a legend. In the words of DJ Three (an American legend in his own right) “Doc is a founding father of west coast rave culture….. let alone America. We can attest to that, ever since our days as teenage ravers learning all about the west coast house sound from his sets at Boston area parties he’s been one of our biggest DJ heroes. When we finally got to perform with Doc at Deep in LA (on his birthday!) back in March we were blown away by how warm he was to us and of course by his infectious laugh. Then he showed up at our gig in Tel Aviv just to hang out and we were sold, not only is Doc a legend, but he’s also one of the coolest cats in the game.
So why isn’t he a global house-hold name? While other American house legends like Derrick Carter and DJ Sneak have maintained large global profiles, Doc was forced to to take a step back for a few years, but now he’s back with a vengeance (we’ve heard rumors of DC10 terrace sets this summer!) and we couldn’t be happier because we get to have him as a guest at our Yo Yo Yo 90′s Rave Jam this Saturday 30th June in London!
Last week I had the pleasure of catching up with Doc over Skype while he took a break from preparing music for his European tour, but before we get started with the interview here’s a little background from DJ Three: “Man… what can i say about Doc Martin. Bar none he’s had the most impact on my approach to DJing and still inspires as much today. His belief and ability to work the music and make the dance floor follow him is something else. Just the spirit of acid-house, really. He’s always quietly and steadily at the top of his game in a world where a “house” mentality has finally become the norm in the underground. Those nights when you experience a DJ working vibes and styles into something uniquely in and of itself?
That’s the Doc Martin magic to me, and not everyone has it! To this day he has records — staples in his sets — I’ve yet to hear another DJ play. No easy task these days and quite frustrating, actually! He’s literally the roots of the West Coast scene and he propelled “house” into US rave culture not as a house legend making a guest appearance in your town, but as a founding participant of rave culture all across the land — making the house snob like the trance-y record, or the techno snob hold his hands in the air to vocals. There’s so many lessons to be learned from the great DJs, but for me those lessons come to life in having known Doc as a peer, and now as a great friend.”
So without further ado…
ELI: Let’s start with the boring question. Where are you from?
DOC: So boring! I was born and raised in San Francisco in the 1970′s. It was insane. My family was into Shakespeare. My mother sang backup for Jefferson Airplane so there was a lot of hanging out at their mansion across from Golden Gate Park.
ELI: Do you think the hippy spirit was a big influence?
DOC: I do and into the 80′s SF was a hotspot for hip-hop, goth, funk, all different kinds of music. It was really varied and interesting.
ELI: When was your first DJ gig?
DOC: I was doorman at a place called DNA Lounge when i was 19 or 20. I wasn’t even old enough to be in there but it was my job. Our bartender was a DJ at another bar and I went to see him. He had to go use the restroom and he showed me how to cue a record so I could stand in. But I didn’t realize the channel was up and the owner heard the wicka-wickas he thought I was scratching and gave me a gig. It was kind of a biker/rocker bar and I was playing everything like AC/DC with early hip-hop. It hadn’t really been done before. I guess it was early mashup and went over really well with people jumping up and down on the bar.
ELI: That leads me right into my next question, which actually comes form your homie Sunshine Jones (of Dubtribe Soundsystem fame). You found a niche as a hip-hop DJ… And you were killing it in SF with five gigs a week but then switched to house. Why?
DOC: I was into East Coast hip-hop, but MC Hammer and Miami Bass were big in SF. The whole city was into Miami Bass. At shows goths would be next to punk rockers listening to new wave and hip-hop. Then I heard and house in 1986 and at that time there really wasn’t anything to go off of for how it was supposed to be played and when i started finding records like Mr. Fingers – Washing Machine I mixed them into my hip-hop sets and eventually that was it. It happened really fast!
ELI: When did you move to LA?
DOC: I moved to LA in 1990 because at that time in San Fran I had done all I could. Someone brought me down to play a warehouse party. I was blown away by that scene because I’d never seen anything like that. I was booking house artists like Liz Torres, Inner City, Fast Eddie, Jomanda, Tyree Cooper in SF, and I’d met Marques Wyatt who was booking those same artists in LA so I had connections. My first club gig in LA was with Guy Called Gerald and Adamski and that rave sound in SF hadn’t really blown up yet. Plus there was that “Euphoria” episode of 90210, so I felt like it was the place to go.
Because of the reputation I quickly built in LA I got to goto NY and their scene was into the even harder techno sound at Frankie Bones’ Storm Raves, like the hard Dutch Rotterdam sound. I was one of the only DJs playing vocals at the techno clubs so i met a group of DJs who were into my thing and we started Chocolate Factory. It was Joeski, Onionz and Keoki. From him I got to play Disco3000 quite a bit… It was even crazier than how it’s described in Party Monster.
ELI: Got any crazy stories about Disco3000?
DOC: Haha so it was a wednesday night party that was rivaling anything happening on the weekends. It was drag show and one time there was this guy who got on stage peed in a cup and drank it in front of everyone, and that was his act! it was like, “what is going on here”.
ELI: What were some of the big songs you were playing at Disco3000?
DOC: By going to NY I turned into a record junky! Bobby Konders – Nervous Acid, Coco Steel and Love Bomb – Feel It, and Lil Louis – The Conversation. I mean I was playing a lot with vocals.
ELI: You know we’re from Boston, anything to share we might now know about our hometown?
DOC: There was a series of color raves in Boston (yellow, blue, red). They were really good. There was one I was playing where they threw a bunch of us in this upstairs room and a young King Britt was there. The room was really good and at the after hours he and I played back-to-back for 6 hours and that was just wow. It was great to meet a kindred spirit from somewhere else in the country. especially back then to be the guy playing house and disco and breaks at a rave was different and it was great to meet someone doing the same thing.
ELI: Ok back to LA. You started throwing parties when you got there? What happened?
DOC: When I first moved here my roommate was doing parties at The Plaza (the club from the movie Less Than Zero) and at lots of warehouses, but at the time there wasnt really the thing of the travelling DJ and moving to a new town to pursue DJing wasn’t really done. So it was difficult when I arrived because no one knew me but within a few months I was playing 5-6 nites a week. It was really different because not only was I playing different music but unlike SF where the DJ played the whole night, LA was about short sets so I came in with a really different style.
ELI: Playing all those warehouse parties there must have been a point when the police caught on to what was happening and started cracking down.. What is your craziest police raid story?
DOC: There were a few promoters that moved over from England and started doing a lot of warehouse stuff. There was a party we did one week where the cops came in and took our info and threatened the DJs that if they caught us again at another rave we’d be arrested on the spot. The following week I’m doing another party at a break-in-warehouse and the cops come. We literally kicked a hole in the wall and climbed out. They actually had a task force just for the raves. Luckily there were bunch of good clubs in LA so it wasn’t always in a warehouse. I did a traveling party called “Flammable Liquid”. It’d start at 3am go to 11am and change locations every week. there was a Friday after-hours at a gay club called The Probe that was lots of disco and Sundays there was soulful deep house at Sunday Love which was always really good with an eclectic mix of people.
ELI: I was going to ask who are the DJs you grew up listening to in SF, but you didn’t really listen to DJs. You were thrown into it, and that probably has a lot to do with your style right?
DOC: Yeah but there were DJs like Cameron Paul who did these megamix records with music between 96 and 120bpm so you could go to the bathroom in the middle of your 8 hour set. Also Ted Cousins, he didn’t really mix, more of a slip cue style where he’d slam the next record in but not miss a beat on the dancefloor… Something I’m kind of scared to do now. He never missed a step!
ELI: This is a silly question. Do you have any stories about your name? I’m sure you know there’s a British TV show called Doc Martin, and a shoe company, Dr. Martin… They were big in the 90′s right? Did they ever try to sponsor you?
DOC: Yeah, of course I’m aware of the show because you have to go through a few pages of youtube videos before you find something I did. And actually I was sponsored by Dr. Martin for a couple years! Me and Lily (my wife) were sponsored. Back then I was wearing Dr. Martins, Fluevogs, Adidas, and actually a lot of two-tone wing tips because I was into ska.
ELI: One of the reasons we do our 90′s party is because we like dressing up in 90′s clothing. What’s some of the outrageous stuff you wore?
DOC: I had these cutoff overalls with flower print on the front like a total hillbilly. Also, on 8th street in New York there was a guy who would spray paint pants. I had Bart Simpson ones. He was smoking a spliff and the spliff was saying “work that motherfucker”! I had oncs with the beads, i had the clock.. all that crazy shit!
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