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Nightfly Reviews: Martyn - Voids

Posted on July 02 2018

Voids is the latest full-length release from Netherlands-born DJ and producer Martyn; it’s a record that skilfully draws together the artist’s blend of unique styles, from drum’n’bass and post-dubstep to South African gqom music and Nyabinghi. 
This record marks a significant step in Martyn’s career, he returned to the studio to create Voids after suffering from a heart attack and a consequent near-death experience last year.

Listening to the record you can almost hear the rupturing of stability that such a life event can elicit, a void that makes itself known in the spaces between the interlocking bass and drums of the album, a light peeking through the cracks and manifesting in its sparse, sorrowful melodies. 

In an interview with Mixmag, Martyn reflects upon this time, recalling listening to Max Roach’s 1979 ensemble percussion LP ‘M’Boom’ which served as an inspiration for Voids. Martyn said: “Playing this record was such a surreal experience, the first music I consciously listened to after my recovery. I could hear so much space in the music, something I had never noticed before; almost like a 3D experience, with the most striking aspect being the emptiness between the players.” 

Reminiscent in both the album’s title and its beginning and end tracks ‘Void One’ and ‘Void Two’, this sense of emptiness encapsulates the record. The textured soundscape of the opening track, ‘Void One’, blends panting breath and distant vocals with industrial noises and hospital machinery bleeps, all unified by the sporadic pulse of the bass, emulating a struggle to arise from the darkness back to life. 

This mood is explored in a dance context within the next track ‘Manchester’, dedicated to DNB producer and close friend of Martyn’s, Marcus Intalex, who passed away in May 2017, leaving a void in both the drum & bass and techno communities. The track captures the deep DNB feel of Marcus’s productions, there is undeniable darkness that permeates in the ominous rumbling bass and minimalistic beats as they combine with Martyn's haunting house chords and broken melodies. 

The record truly comes to life the next track, ‘Mind Rain’, opening with a pulsating sine and a heavy kick that drives the track, its acid baseline and jungle rhythms showcase Martyn’s ability to fuse his influences effortlessly. ‘Nya’ follows suit with tight, syncopated grooves and light dub chords that float above the mix, giving plenty of space to that growling bass beneath.

The expansive and dreamlike pads of ‘Why’, my top track on the record, melt perfectly in with the tribal drums, weaving Martyn's tasteful homage to Detroit into the mix with the ease of the vocal sample that gives the track its name. ‘Try to Love You’ is a sombre retreat from the rest of the album; a solo piano plays a jazzy interlude, swallowed by atmospheric and earthy textures that billow throughout the track. The distance between this song and the following two could not be further, the shadowy synths and compelling polyrhythmic beats of ‘Cutting Tone’ and ‘World Gate’ repair the melancholic fractures that ‘Try to Love You’ creates, powerful UK garage tunes that equally give an elusiveness to the album.

The record’s finale, ‘Voids Two’, revisits the ominous soundscapes and eerie melody of the intro track before it is cut through by a heavy breakbeat and whirring synths. It's a track that is at times manic with these faint echoes of hospital machinery bleeps and the vocal sample relentlessly repeating ‘explosive decompression’, but is constantly given room to breathe with Martyn's warm, swooning chords and use of varied dynamics. There’s a balance of dark and light that is perfectly struck in this record, one that characterises a period of recovery and an effort to find beauty in a void, in the harmony of noise and silence. 

- Georgie Hurst

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