For Justin Martin, 2020 was set to be a hell of a fresh start. Not just a new year, but a whole new zero. A decade of endless possibilities.
Martin, NorCal’s own white knight of house music, had set his plan in motion long before Jan. 1, 2020. He would release his third studio album on his new label, What To Do, go on tour in support of the LP, drop new remixes, and plenty more. It was going to be a whole new era of his project.
You know the next part.
And yet — despite a global pandemic that decimated his industry — Martin was still able to achieve his fresh start. What’s more after his impressive tenure as an artist working for other labels, Martin finally has full control over his creative output.
“I am at a point in my life musically where I can write whatever I want. That kind of freedom is incredible,” Martin says. “I have been craving it my whole career.”
Unlike some house and techno stalwarts, who present themselves as dark, mysterious enigmas, Martin has always been about having fun and spreading positivity through connection.
“As an artist it’s my job and my duty to express myself through my art, to connect with people, and help them with what they’re going through,” Martin says.
This year everyone on Earth is going through something. In addition to the pandemic, and the struggle toward racial justice reform, more than one country experienced fraught and contested elections. As a San Franciscan, Martin had yet another calamitous connection to share with his fellow Californian’s — devastating wildfires.
None of these experiences were positive in and of themselves, but the collective pain they inflicted helped many to forge meaningful bonds with their communities. Martin is no exception, and his music is better for it.
“I set out at the beginning of the year with a clear goal in mind. I was going to release an album with ten to twelve bangers that I was playing in my sets all of last year,” says Martin, who was supposed to be headlining club nights and huge festival stages. Instead, he found himself at home, with little to no income, trying to salvage his plans for 2020. “However, when I realized all my shows were cancelled [in 2020] I took a step back, looked at this body of work and realized it didn’t represent where I am right now.”
As Martin worked to find a sound that was true to who he was in 2020, he was reinvigorated. “I felt this great awakening within,” he says. “I’m really excited about this new direction. It’s a lot more emotional, a lot more introspective, a lot more melancholy.”
A key reason Martin was able to shift directions so decisively is his new label, What To Do. Launched back in January, the imprint was intended to serve as a launching pad for Martin’s breakout year, and he views the label as a blank canvas.
“There are no rules,” Martin says. “My goal was to create a platform for creativity, and that goes for visual arts, music. Pretty much anything that I’m passionate about I want to have an unfiltered avenue to share it.”
Currently, other than French house star, Tchami’s remix of Martin’s latest single, “Stay,” Martin has created all the music, all the visual elements, and done all the mastering for What To Do.
“There’s a lot of my heart and soul that’s going into it,” Martin says. “For me, it’s a challenge, because I’m exploring a lot of different avenues of creativity I never did before.”
Another avenue of creativity that’s new for Martin is the freshly launched streaming channel, GoodTV. A joint venture with friends and frequent lineup-mates Christian Martin, Ardalan, VNSSA, and Walker & Royce, the intentions of GoodTV are founded on two core principles: connecting with people and learning new skills.
“With the pandemic I feel like we’re all in our own worlds,” says Ardalan. “So, it’s nice to bring everyone’s worlds together and do crazy fun stuff.”
Ardalan brought worlds together by hosting DJs Nastaran Rezaee and AmiraLii live from Tehran, Iran during his stream. Martin says he is having a blast learning the visual jockey software Resolume so a clone of himself can crawl through the wall while he DJs. VNSSA is having fun spinning juke and other new styles while bringing the world of Space Yacht into her stream for a takeover.
“It’s 50/50 across the board. Everyone is doing their part,” says VNSSA, real name Vanessa Barnes. “We really want to put in the work for the fans.”
The team set out to connect with people, and connection spreads positivity. First, they spread positivity to each other when they came together on the project. Then that positivity spread to viewers.
The viewers’ positivity gave the team the momentum to connect with other artists and produce a streaming festival entitled “Pretty Good Fest,” tapping dance legends like San Francisco house visionary Mark Farina and DJ Heather — the latter is now a resident on GoodTV.
Essentially, what Martin and the rest of the GoodTV team have proven is that by connecting with good people, anything is possible.
“Right now, I’m using every day to write music and create content that’s going to brighten peoples’ days,” he says.
In addition to Martin’s latest single, “Hope,” which drops this Friday, he has another single coming in January.