"This Island Can Mess With Your Head if You're Not Careful"

We were given unprecedented access to the Martinez Brothers, spending 48 hours with them as they opened Ibiza 2015.

by John Lucas
10 June 2015, 12:25pm

As the Martinez Brothers touched down in Ibiza to play the opening party at Ushuaia and begin their season-long residency at DC10's Circo Loco, THUMP's John Lucas was given unprecedented access to the guys and their entourage, to bring you this account of what it's really like to hang out the world's biggest underground house DJs on the White Isle as they negotiate groupies, Easyjet lager louts, and sock shortages.

11pm, Saturday 30th May.

We are standing behind the controllers on-stage at Ibiza's opulent Ushuaia Beach Hotel. There are five thousand house music fans crammed up against the barriers in front of us, whooping, cheering and making those Jay Z-style triangle signs, their iPhones flashing like exploding stars.

"Crazy crowd," I say to Steve Martinez. Lithe and athletic-looking in a grey vest, he's setting up with his brother Chris, preparing to take over from Davide Squillace and Andrea Oliva in what is to be The Martinez Brothers' first gig of the Ibiza 2015 summer season. Generally agreed to be the most anticipated act on tonight's bill, the crowd's excitement at seeing them is palpable and fiery.

"Don't get me started," he says, looking at me meaningfully as he drops the first beat of their burning White Isle summer. "I'll get thinking deep, bro."

Of course, headlining the opening party of one of Ibiza's grandest venues in front of thousands of fans is a long way from the Martinez Brothers' humble beginnings playing percussion with the church band in the Bronx for their father, Steve Martinez Snr. But after ten years in the game spinning at clubs and festivals all over the world, knocking it out the park at Panorama Bar, holding a residency at DC10's iconic Circo Loco since 2011, being named Mixmag's DJs of the year in 2014 and performing on Nile Rogers' recent CHIC single "I'll Be There", it's heartening that the guys still seem genuinely surprised at their success and grateful for it. Because, make no mistake, in underground house music circles, and in Ibiza in particular, The Martinez Brothers are a very big deal indeed.

But when we first meet in tour manager and Cutting Crew cohort Jesse Calosso's room at the Hard Rock Hotel, the less glamorous, more quotidian aspects of life as internationally touring DJs become apparent. After admiring some basketball vests branded Tuskegee, the label the boys run with Seth Troxler, newly designed for them by a friend in Paris, Steve shakes his head in disbelief at the behaviour of fellow-passengers on their Easyjet flight in from London, where they've just played a private party. It's nice to know that the English are maintaining their reputation for good manners.

"The guys on that plane. No self-awareness, bro. Two dudes standing over us, talking loud, oblivious, the whole fucking flight. And they have, like, codenames for their drinks: JD, G&T." He looks wonderingly. "I mean if I'm doing something I know is annoying someone then else I'll stop immediately. They were so obnoxious."

"And Chris was being Chris," says Jesse. "Making it real obvious he was pissed."

Well, The English like a drink.

Steve and Chris jump around the room, full of nervous energy, pumped to be back on the island and about to play their first set since October. Also present is Shauna, the boys' tireless manager and Olive, Chris's Mancunian girlfriend, who's also a dancer for Jamie Jones's Paradise party. It's a tight-knit crew. Chris brims with youthful nervous energy while Steve is more brooding and analytical. Jesse, meanwhile, their ever-smiling, bearded childhood friend is a chilled-out centre of gravity in a tie-dye t-shirt.

"Nice haircut," someone says of Steve's new buzzcut. "Stixon!.

Everyone laughs.

"They started calling me Stix in Berlin because they thought my haircut made me look like Dixon," he exlains ruefully. "Now it's stuck."

"Time to go?' says Jesse, looking at his phone.

"Yeah tie-dye, let's go now. Fucking loving it!" says Steve.

The mood is light, but beneath it you sense an underlying seriousness. Despite the invasion of the super-rich in Ibiza in recent years, threatening to turn the island into a bland VIP bottle-service hell, it remains — along with Berlin — at the top of the pecking order in terms of the international club scene. Recognising this, the Martinez Brothers will be based here again for the whole summer, living in an apartment just outside Ibiza Town. Throughout our time together they refer to the island as home. Right now their predominance is confirmed, but the nightlife scene here is a cutthroat, multi-million dollar business, and staying at the top of one's game is essential — every gig counts. Now they're ready to get to work.

"I had a couple of months off, bro," Steve says. Then he nods at Shauna. "And now she's pimping me out like..."

"Making up for lost time. Gotta pay the mortgage," Shauna jokes.

As we step outside into the humid, neon-lit air, beats thundering from Ushuaia, Steve looks around as though a little dazed by it all.

"I can't believe I'm here again, man. It's like culture shock. Well, not culture shock, it's just weird bro."

The brothers play a triumphant set of tough house cuts and acid-tinged techno that reaches fever pitch with Brett Johnson's slamming "Breathe" and finishes up with a track with Kraftwerk-like vocals that Steve describes as "some of our own shit we made". A Polish model in a leather bondage strap and a military cap behind them watches each mix intently. The stage is almost as crowded as the outdoor club area itself, with other DJs, the promoters of Circo Loco (there to claim ownership, as someone humorously observes) and various friends, local faces and general hangers-on thronging behind the boys. The brothers dance and pump their fists in the air while playing, geeing up the crowd. Steve attacks the knobs and dials with fierce concentration while Chris is all smiles, hand-in-hand with Olive, who dances behind him for most of the set

After Nic Fanciulli has taken over on the decks we head backstage to the artists' area, which is decorated in black with ornate couches around low tables holding bottles of champagne, vodka and mixers. The guys bound in and hug Miss Kittin, who played earlier, and chat to Nick Yates, the promoter of Jamie Jones' Paradise party. With his leather jacket, slicked back hair and gold chain he's a whirlwind of machismo.

I get chatting to Emily and Sophia, two of Olive's glamorous Mancunian friends. Sophia is also dating a high-profile DJ. Intelligent and friendly, she tells me what it's like.

"There's good and bad to it, but the good outweighs the bad," she says. "I don't want to be a typical DJ's girlfriend."

"So what do you do for work?" I ask.

She looks at me bemusedly.

"Oh, I don't work," she says. "I just hang around at the villa."

"I love you," says one of the barmaids to Steve.

"What's going on?" he says, shaking her hand with a gentlemanly smile, before swapping numbers with her. This is clearly something of a pattern. Outside, as we walk back to the hotel, Steve stalks the street, tall and lean, exuding star-quality and the machismo-fuelled triumph that comes from just stepping off stage. A string of five or so girls accost him within minutes.

Jesse looks at me confidentially.

"You see that. You see how he has three girls around him now? Chris is the louder one – he draws attention to himself. But Stevie? Stevie's the one you've got to watch. Like a sniper. A silent assassin."

Steve catches up with us and bumps me on the shoulder.

"It's not for everyone this life, bro!" he laughs.

Back at the hotel Steve, Jesse, their friend Viktoria, a Russian art dealer, and Raphael, who works for MyKita and is here to give the boys some sunglasses, squash up onto Jesse's small balcony where the sounds of Nic Fanciulli's trance-tinged set and the fireworks that accompany can be heard. Chris has gone straight back to his room with Olive. Steve and Jesse chuckle good-naturedly at their onstage devotion.

"They were holding hands the entire set. Like, what the fuck!"

Presumably Steve is happy with his single status right now, then?

"Bro, why would I get a girlfriend in this situation? You saw what happened then – I got like, three phone numbers in about five minutes. Why would I go with some girl just to break her heart when I meet this other one on tour?"

He checks his phone. He has a WhatsApp video message. "We're at a paaaaarty!" a group of girls yell.

"Wow. Just wow,' he sighs, clicking it off.

Does he ever get tired of people wanting something from him all the time?

"Sometimes he gets asked for like fifty photos in a row and he has to say 'no, I'm tired, I'm going back to the hotel now,'" says Jesse.

"I don't like to do it," says Steve. "But you can't please everyone all of the time. I'd like to, but shit..." He pauses. "I mean it's like my dad told me, this DJ thing is a package. We joke out there, but it's not for everybody. People think they want it because it's glamorous and shit. But they really don't know what goes with it. Going to the airport after like one hours sleep and shit, people fucking with you..."

He looks at the ground. The brothers are so humble and chill that you get the sense they still can't believe where they are. At the same time, they've been doing this for over a decade — since they were teenagers — and there's a toughness and professionalism that comes with that. Dealing with all of the shit, all of the crazies, the hangers-on. All of which is multiplied ten-fold during a season on Ibiza where the heat and licence for excessive behaviour can do strange things to people.

Tonight is also the opening party at Amnesia and Steve and Jesse debate whether or not to go, checking set times on Facebook. Only problem is, they have to be at the airport for 8am for a flight back to the UK where they're playing FSTVL.

"To go or not to go – that's the question. We'll say now we'll only go for three hours, but that's never the end of it. I've done this shit for ten years. I know I gotta pace myself."

"This island can mess with your head if you're not careful. Coming for a holiday and coming for a season are two totally different things, bro. My brother (mentions a friend's name) came here last year and ended up leaving after a few weeks. Couldn't handle it. Didn't say a word to nobody."

Not falling foul of temptation and staying grounded all comes down to upbringing, according to Steve.

"We come from a church background and that means a lot. But all religions talk about keeping the ego in check, and that's key."

Clearly the guys owe a lot to their parents, who brought them up well in the rough Bronx neighbourhood they came from, steering them away from negative influences and — in the case of their father — actively helping to build their music careers by promoting early gigs and working with their management to ensure they cut the best deals possible.

"They're like super-fans," he says. "They read everything about us online." He's very protective of them, and damning of an anonymous online poster who spread a made-up story about Chris missing a gig due to a drug overdose. "My mom shouldn't even be having something like that in her brain!" he says.

In the end the guys decide not to go to Amnesia after all. Everyone's tired and it's late.

"Let's go grab a slice and then sleep," says Steve. "Hey, I know it's not what you want for the story. You want us to go to Amnesia, bring back eight girls to the room, someone gets thrown off the balcony into the pool . . ."

Instead we head down to a small pizza joint on Playa d'en Bossa's strip where superstar DJ Steve Martinez treats us all to margaritas and bottled water. Tasty as they are, it rather underlines the point that life on the road for the touring DJ is not all groupies and complementary Dom Perignon.

"Socks – socks are a big issue on tour," he observes, chomping on his slice. "I put them on my rider. You think I'm joking."

You don't wear the same pair of socks twice?

"Not on tour. I'm not gonna carry dirty socks around in a bag with me. You don't know when you'll get a chance to wash them again."

11pm, Monday 1st June.

"Where's my baby bro at?" says Steve, pushing his way through the crowd backstage at DC10 at the tail of an incoming jet rips through the ink blue sky above us.

DC10's VIP area is something of an eye-opener. Here, hordes of black-clad, designer-wearing Spanish glitterati jabber incoherently at each other in the summer heat in a space behind the DJ booth where the Martinez Brothers will once again be taking on a bi-monthly residency. It's a confused mess of very beautiful people not making much sense, at times rather like being trapped in the brain of meth-bent Bret Easton Ellis.

In recent years Circo Loco has played host to Madonna, Kate Moss and Christiano Ronaldo. Today the singer David McAlmont is here, wearing a natty white jacket that used to belong to George Michael, along with billionaire fashion mogul — and former flame of Prince Andrew — Goga Ashkenazi, who wears a gold pendant in the shape of a pistol. Claire and Mike, promoters of notorious nineties club Manumission are also in attendence and looking particularly relaxed. But it would be wrong to let the Zoolander-types in diamante t-shirts and bandanas backstage and the increasingly mainstream crowd in the garden—– drawn by the club's branding, which is global these days — obscure the fact that Circo Loco very much about getting down and dirty to house and techno. And in this mad realm the Martinez Brothers are kings.

Despite having just flown in from FSTVL the guys are their usual charming selves today, full of Essex jokes and gags about the sub-par British weather. Steve wears a sleeveless black t-shirt and snakeskin pants, with Chris in one of the new Tuskgee shirts, while Jesse sports a fisherman's hat, and a Flat Eric shirt under his gold St. Christopher. They greet us with shoulder-bumps and a "Hey, my brother," from Chris. What is very clear is how stoked they are to be back, and how all-encompassing the mutual love between them and Circo Loco – which pretty much put them on the map in Europe – really is.

"DC10. I'd die for this place. Literally," says Steve in his intense, actorly way, echoing the thoughts of a great many of the club's regular punters. But what is it that makes this pimped-up shack down by the airport so special? It seems to come down to its status as a haven for outsiders and eccentrics united by their love of great music.

"You meet some crazy people on tour. And in DC10 especially. But the weirdos need somewhere to go, right? There are some clubs we play I couldn't go to every night. But I could go to DC10 every night for sure."

At 2am the DJ booth is so crowded we need security to help get us in. Nina Kraviz, who's just finished playing, stands by and watches raptly as Steve drops their first track, an as-yet unreleased remix of a Tiga tune they've made. For the next ninety minutes they play a selection of thudding techno and house. In front of them heads bob up and down, and shiny faces beam as though this is the best house party ever. In the booth Olive is holding Chris's hand as usual, while Viktoria dances hard. Kenny Glasgow from Art Department drops by to say hello, as does Laura Jones. Only an out-of-it Russian model in John Lennon shades who stumbles around next to Steve looks likely to derail things. But as the boys finish up with the beautiful oboe and string sounds of the Mr G remix of Mike Grant's "My Soul, My Spirit", the crowds cheers indicte that if this gig is anything to go by, their summer here is set to be just as successful as last year's.

Backstage, Raphael photographs the guys wearing their new MyKita shades, which they are immediately besotted with. Both turn out to be accomplished if somewhat shy models ("Can we wait 'til all these people have gone," Steve says, when asked to pose.) Finally, all their duties executed, they loll around in the office with Viktoria, Olive and Charlotte, the girlfriend of DC10's manager and a long-time friend.

"They're like my family, my brothers," says Charlotte, and certainly the group looks very close, a family that stays tight away from the madness of the Ibiza scene.

"You got one job this year," says Steve, pointing at her.

"I'm organisinig group activities for us," she says. "We're gonna go hiking, walking, swimming. No afterparties!"

Whether the Martinez Brothers manage to limit themselves to such wholesome activities remains to be seen. But what is apparent is just how committed to the craft they are, as well as to the life that goes with it – the package that their father spoke of all those years ago. And with such a strong group of friends and colleagues around them, it looks likely that their 2015 summer season in Ibiza will see them reach even more stellar heights than before.

Follow the Martinez Brothers on Facebook/Twitter/Soundcloud.

Follow John Lucas on Twitter