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.”
Sweaty bodies, a wall of lights and a sound system that pulls you in and won’t let go. If you have experienced Hot Mass, you understand. Aaron Clark, co-founder of the Pittsburgh party, is in charge of co-curating resident nights Honcho and Humanaut at the after hours spot.
While growing up in Ohio, Clark wasn’t very active in the music scene. Mostly a bedroom DJ he says “I was still coming out of the closet and trying to pull away from my church. Once I turned 18 I started to hit the parties happening at Red Zone in Columbus and Moda in Cleveland.” Shortly thereafter he moved to Pittsburgh for university, unfortunately right when the city’s rave scene was in a lull.
When it comes to Clark’s background as a DJ, he says “I sort of tripped into it.” He would hear electronic tracks in the background of commercials and scour the internet to identify them, which would turn out to be “stupid stuff like Chemical Brothers. This was Napster days, so I’d download that stuff, but then realize that people made remixes of these things, which led me to more underground producers. It was kind of a rabbit hole situation,” he says. “I know a lot of people don’t believe in folks coming in from the commercial side of dance and landing in a good place musically, but it happens.” In high school he was introduced to his friend’s boyfriend, Rob, who had a full DJ setup and PA. This piqued Clark’s interest and pulled him to the performance side of electronic music which he says “really helped me start separating quality from bullshit.”
Before Hot Mass became one of the most prominent parties for today’s scene Clark spent about eight years throwing large scale events. While seeking a place to throw small after parties for their main events they stumbled upon Club Pittsburgh, a private men’s bath house located in the city’s historic Strip District. The space is relatively small, with small dark spaces for private encounters.
He reminisced about the beginning stages of their parties in the bath house. “When we first checked it out, we weren’t even sure how to use it. The space was super weird, not laid out in any sensical way for dancing, lots of hallways and cruisey rooms (as part of the bath house) but we could go late. So we took it, and had Kirk Degiorgio play a second set after his first one. It went off! I think we pulled the plug on a full dance floor that morning around 8 a.m.? Up to that point we would struggle to hold a crowd until 4 a.m. max. We were all really blown away by the crazy energy that room had, so we kept going with it.”
John McMarlin, manager of Club Pittsburgh, proposed that the after party events become a weekly which ultimately brought Hot Mass to fruition. Clark says, “That sounded insane to us, as everyone knows how impossible it is to keep a weekly party going. It’s torture. The idea was that maybe we could pull it off if we had four separate crews as part of the larger collective, and we all took a different week so we didn’t burn out.”
Hot Mass as a whole is comprised by four parts: Honcho, Humanaut, Detour and Cold Cuts. Each Saturday of the month is accounted for. Honcho is held the first Saturday followed by Humanaut on the second. The city’s record label collective Detour showcases the third Saturday and new to the roster is Cold Cuts, an event which curates an affinity for disco and hoagies on week four. I inquired how each of these facets play a significant role not only within their space but also to the scene at large. “This is a tough one to answer. I think all four crews touch different sounds of dance. Humanaut heads straight to techno, Honcho loops in the gays and does all genres, Detour is heavy on live sets as they’re so production-minded due to their label, and Cold Cuts is just a great fucking time. It’s positivity music,” Clark says. “You kinda touch all corners, and funnel everyone into one club together, making it easier for people to figure out what they like and dig deeper. Ideally, we are always giving up-and-comers a shot on the decks as well. It’s something I personally want to push further in 2017.”
The four crews work together to maintain the integrity of the space and progress the continuity of energy and quality talent.
“We’d all vote on the larger rules of the club, keep the door cover consistent, and operate under a unified brand – Hot Mass,” he continues. “We wanted the general public in Pittsburgh to think ‘it’s always a good time there’ and not get hung up on who was promoting the party. Amazingly enough, it worked. And over the past four years we’ve just tried to improve the place one piece at a time as we got the money, knocking out walls, moving the dance floor, new sound.”
But what exactly is it that makes this Pennsylvania party so special? The size of the space is small bringing an inherent intimacy to any party. Sexuality here is open and free and there is an undeniable consistent energy when you make it until 7 a.m. and those lights turn on. “It still feels crazy that we have this beautiful thing. I think being attached to the bath house (Club Pittsburgh) is incredibly important. Right out of the gate, it’s a gay space. That helps with crowd quality immensely and is really an inseparable part of it all. Once you have that base layer, you add the layers of good friends, techno heads, and out-of-towners coming through each week,” he says.
Honcho was established in 2012 while Humanaut was founded in 2005 and run by the collective efforts of Clark, Paul Fleetwood, Paul “Relative Q” Zyla, Benjamin Kessler and Tony Fairchild. Through both Honcho and Humanaut the floor of Hot Mass has seen talent from the likes of Bill Converse, Derek Plaslaiko, Shawn Rudiman, The Black Madonna, Claude Young, Ectomorph, Bicep, DJ Minx, Sassmouth, and so many more. Last summer Clark assisted hosting a Honcho Summer Campout in the West Virginia woods and sometimes you can catch a set by Honcho, which is comprised (give or take) by Clark, George d’Adhemar, and Clark Price.
“[Hot Mass] is one of the only places in town where different peoples bubbles crash into each other. Pittsburgh is not known for being a diverse place, which can feel suffocating at times. Hot Mass is a bit of an antidote to that.” – AARON CLARK
The dance floor at Hot Mass is one of which that allows freedom, tests your limits, breaks borders and pushes boundaries. There is no pretension, and with Club Pittsburgh’s environment these parties bring everyone together by serving to both the gay and straight community. Clark believes that these attributes of a party are “important because these moments don’t happen enough. As we’ve all seen, everyone is content to live in their own personal bubble these days. Gay people need to party with straight people, and vice versa.” He explains that this outcome won’t happen at a typical gay club which serves mostly as a place to get drunk. “I think the important part here is that there’s something for everyone to bond over other than a bar – the music.”
When he’s not bringing in talent or throwing down sets himself, Clark can be found working as a Cultural Engineer at the Ace Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. Through this position he wears many hats working with community relationships, marketing, event programming and social media. “I was attracted to it because I had respected the Ace brand for years, and I wanted to force myself outside of my comfort zone of just throwing techno parties.” Through this avenue they are collaborating with The Andy Warhol Museum, hosting independent markets and panel discussions, as well as pop-up dinners. Although a small component of what he does at Ace, Clark incorporates small music events at the hotel, with an occasional Hot Mass day party outside.
No matter what Clark does, both day and night, his love and drive for music will run deep and with passion. “Music is one of the only things that can overtake my emotions completely. I remember one time at a Bunker show in NYC, Magic Mountain High was playing live. My partner and I had just gotten to the club, completely sober. We’re standing on the dance floor and we just started crying. The music was so beautiful, it was involuntary. That’s really cool. There’s a lot of beautiful stuff in the world, but music consistently does crazy things like this, over and over again.”
Catch Aaron Clark make his Western New York debut on Saturday for the two year anniversary party of Rochester’s Signal > Noise.