Sometimes life is simply about surviving. From setbacks to tragedies, some days can be just about perseverance and steadfast endurance. For Netherlands-born DJ Martyn, another day in the studio almost ended in tragedy as, while working alone, he suffered a heart attack stemming from a known congenital heart problem. Such a seismic physical shock has, understandably, had a profound psychological effect on him, both in his outlook on life and in his approach to his work.
It probably won’t come as a massive surprise, therefore, that Voids is not a lighthearted, bright and breezy listen. Rather it is reflective of an artist who has survived a life-changing trauma and, in doing so, visited the very darkest places a mind can go. It’s also a reminder that to survive and indeed, thrive, is to remember what is important in life and to extirpate those wasteful, extraneous aspects that drag us down and hold us back. To cast them aside. Consign them to the void.
Glitchy opener “Voids One” acts like a little taster to what follows as Martyn cuts and splices atmospheric samples and sounds, forming them into a murky, sonic collage which he ties together with a simple melody that draws in the listener. The superb “Manchester” is a fitting tribute to British producer and DJ Marcus Intalex who passed away last year. With a techno meets post-dubstep feel, it’s a song brimming with hooks and ideas. From the spoken word sample that directly addresses the passing of Intalex to the fresh, uncluttered production, it’s a mesmerizing track that promises to be a staple of the club scene for years to come.
One of the key characteristics of the album is Martyn’s ability to layer, intricate, dextrous percussion. On “Mind Rain” huge, dark, almost industrial synth chords are supported by a knotted web of polyrhythmic percussion. The techno meets jungle “Mya” features a taut, propulsive beat that allows Martyn to set swarming synths against each other as if locked in perpetual battle.
The almost tribal rhythms of “Why” give the track a feeling of sustained motion. Coupled with vivid, ambient swirls which are randomly interrupted by shuddering synth chords like a freight train suddenly speeding past. “Try to Love You” hypnotizes with a four-note, low piano motif before graceful piano playing gently shakes you awake. The mournful tone gives the album extra depth.
“Cutting Tone” is an enormous, dancefloor banger that mixes classic house and drum ‘n’ bass and finds Martyn artfully experimenting with his use of space, sounding, as it does, like it was recorded in an aircraft hanger. The steady work out of “World Gate” is another track made for big spaces. Like a boxer sparring with a punchbag, the beat reverberates through the track with tape loops that flood the senses before gently retreating. The suitably misty, haunting conclusion to the record extends the dark, moody atmospherics of the opening track but this time with added breakbeats.
Naturally, considering what has happened to Martyn there is a melancholy that courses through Voids but this is by no mean a bleak album. While at times the atmosphere is stiflingly claustrophobic, there is always a glimmer of hope, a shaft of light to lift the mood. The intense and emotionally enlightening experience that shaped the making of the album sees Martyn drawing from his own musical history, from garage and post-dubstep to trance and drum n bass to create a gritty, forward facing record. A lasting testament to survival.