Well-spoken and quietly humble, it is fair to say that Naeem Martinez is becoming increasingly enamored by art and music as time passes. Now based in Pittsburgh, he was born and raised in Harlem where his mother introduced him to the world of fine art in New York City.
“My Mom would frequently take me to museums. Being really young at the time, I would do my best to breeze through whatever exhibit we went to see. I would then proceed to inquire about when we would be leaving. Fast forward 15+ years, I’m the complete opposite and I’m totally interested in spending hours and hours in a museum. I took a long route to gaining an appreciation for the arts and have only come to really value these early experiences in retrospect,” he says. “With my growing appreciation for arts, I began to pursue a degree in Fine Art at Carnegie Mellon in 2008. I had spent six weeks taking summer courses at Carnegie Mellon the previous year, so I had a vague idea of what I was getting myself into.”
Martinez is a DJ, producer, and member of Pittsburgh-based label DETOUR. His interest for DJing piqued upon arriving to the City of Bridges when he found himself tuned in to Carnegie Mellon’s radio station WRCT. Specifically, he was exploring the sounds of rap and hip-hop on “What’s Really Good Radio” – a Monday evening show run by DJ Thermos and Shawn MC. As he became more exposed to rappers and MCs that he had never heard of “like the Monster Island Czars and Binary Star” his inspiration grew.
“With my head full of ideas after listening to WRGR for a few weeks, I joined WRCT in hopes of having a show and DJing. I went through the proper channels of becoming a member at the radio station and took the required AIR test (which took me four times to pass),” he says. Two years later in his spring semester of 2011 he started his show “Side A, Side B”.
“Over the previous year I had begun listening to more electronic music due to the influence and range of things you would be able to hear on WRCT. I simply say electronic because in retrospect, my taste was pretty surface level at the time. The jolt that really got me into things was seeing my peers like Alex and Juan use a computer to DJ, while at events like WRCT’s Biannual Dance party. One of the things that initially appeared as a roadblock for me to begin DJing was, me wondering how in the world I would get my hands on a pair of turntables.”
In the meantime he used his keyboard to explore technicalities through Virtual DJ and Traktor. Late 2011 he acquired a controller and soundcard, and would take any opportunity to practice at WRCT. He says, “This usually meant late at night or whenever there was a free studio.”
Years later he began exploring the realm of production, dabbling with GarageBand and then eventually he delved into advanced software. From that point forward he says producing is “a practice in trial and error with me trying to get things to sound the way they do in my head. The most helpful thing for me and I have to constantly count my blessings for this, is the amount of people around me who have a wealth of knowledge and experience producing. But more importantly who have no problem sharing this information. People like Preslav, who helped Juan and I mix down the second DETOUR record, when we really had no idea what we we’re doing. Shawn, who is always excited to talk at length about almost any synthesizer and drum machine under the sun. And Tom who wouldn’t hesitate to let me know if a section of a track needed to be edited or totally rearranged, while the second DETOUR record was being finished.”
His dive deeper into house and techno came about through another community of peers at Hot Mass. “Similar to my interest in the arts, it took me some time to really wrap my head around what was what in the realm of house and techno. I credit Humanaut’s Out of Order nights with helping me sort things out,” Martinez says. “I had a rough idea of what a house or techno DJ should sound like prior, but after regularly attending these nights, I was really able to my to get my bearings on things.”
Eventually he joined DETOUR in 2012, just before the label’s first event held at 6119 – an art gallery and performance space located on Penn Avenue. The label began under the efforts of Juan Lafontaine and Alex Price, who Martinez met through WRCT. “Juan approached me about DJing this party during one of my late night practice sessions at the WRCT and I of course said yes,” he says. That first party in September 2012 featured music from Naeem, Gusto, Mirko Azis, and Mr. Sensitivity.
“The current DETOUR crew is made up of Juan, Alex, Allison [Cosby] and myself. We all shift and trade jobs as needed to keep things going, but it’s a team effort to choose what actually makes it onto each record. While I share design duties with Juan, I’m the one that finds the the B-side images for each record. Each one is a location in and around Pittsburgh.”
DETOUR hosts events on the third Saturday of each month at Hot Mass. Although a techno label, their bookings reflect an eclectic taste for sound and energy. Their parties have seen the likes of Umfang, HUNEE, Analog Soul, Doc Sleep, Gunnar Haslam, Aurora Halal, Lena Willikens, Patrick Russell, and Norm Talley, just to name a few. Earlier this month DETOUR celebrated a five-year anniversary with Courtesy and Olin at Hot Mass. A Weekend Send day party celebration followed at the Ace Hotel with more from Olin, Elvin T. and sets from label residents Cosby and Naeem.
“I believe Hot Mass has truly become a second home to a lot of people. What makes it feel like a second home for every person is probably very different, but I think we would all agree, that being able to have that feeling is invaluable.” – NAEEM
It is undeniable and irrefutable that Hot Mass has had an impact on so many, from promoters, to DJs, to party goers. Each weekend Club Pittsburgh is host to something special. “For a person who is totally in love with dance music, Hot Mass becomes this place where you can hear that strange B-side cut, from that one artist’s eccentric side project, that just wouldn’t fly in a lot of other venues around the city,” Martinez says. “On a national and even international level the quality of what both the promoters and regulars of Hot Mass collectively bring in regard to energy, emotion, care and hospitality has been affirmed as world class by a number of guest DJs. Hearing how amazing this intimate club is by people who regularly DJ the world over, speaks volumes about what has been cultivated here.”
DETOUR plans to continue the genuine and passionate agenda to push quality music through future bookings and productions. DETOUR006 is the next four-track EP set for release Friday, October 13. It will feature “stuttering electro, sluggish EBM and booming techno, by the Brooklyn based duo SEER,” Martinez says. SEER, comprised by Maroje T. of Remedy NYC and Matt Parent of Blankstairs, are on the rise as solo artists with this EP being their first collaboration. “To celebrate the record, we’ll be having a release party at Hot Mass on October 21, where SEER will be playing live and DJing.”
Whether it be through curation and creating artwork through DETOUR, cultivating his sound as a DJ, or simply enjoying it all amidst the crowd on the floor, Martinez’s appreciation for his journey through music and art simultaneously expands while his passion for the craft deepens.
“There are two realizations that I’ve had in the past year or so regarding my love of music,” he says. “The first being the sheer amount of music that is out there to be discovered. As I search for new music with every gig I play, I’m constantly astounded by what is out there. I sometimes have to stop and think, that I’m really only scratching the surface with what I know and have heard. This feeling is simultaneously overwhelming and very exciting. The second realization is about how many connections I have been able to make solely through music. I’m hardly a social butterfly but through music, it’s allowed me both to meet and share ideas with a great many people, that I likely would never had met if it hadn’t been for music.”