DJ, producer and radio host Richard Martin had his finger on the pulse when he brought electro-swing music to Toronto dance clubs, and when he introduced ethno-electronic music to his radio audience.
Electro-swing is an updated version of swing jazz that has been flourishing in clubs around the world since the early 2000s. DJs mix swing with modern beats like hip hop, house, electronica and even drum and bass to create the sound.
Martin – a.k.a., DJ Medicineman – has been producing popular “speakeasy” dance parties under the brand Electro Swing Toronto at the Revival Club for the past seven years. “People really get into the vintage fashion. People love getting nostalgic about the 1920s and ’30s,” he said. The concept of the speakeasy comes from Prohibition, when alcoholic beverages were banned in the United States from 1920 to 1933 and people had to party under the radar.
A band opens a typical Electro Swing Toronto party, and once they’ve finished playing, a DJ takes over. Burlesque is also a component of the show. “We always have burlesque performers,” Martin said. “That’s harking back to an art form that was popular back in the day.”
Martin also makes it his mission to promote global music. He introduced radio audiences to ethno-electronic music on his weekly radio show, No Man’s Land, on CIUT-FM 89.5.
When the show went on the air in 1998, it was a traditional global music program. “In the late ’90s, a lot of world music was starting to get mixed with electronic music and it was pretty groundbreaking stuff, and there was an appetite for it and so I got deeply into it,” Martin said. Now he takes his radio audience on a musical journey with hypnotic sets of global music – Indian, African, Latin, Middle Eastern and eastern European – by mixing the tracks with progressive beats.
He aims to create a uniform sound for each set. “That’s part of it, trying to create a journey that’s as seamless as it can be,” he said.
“I’m really doing a live mix on the radio, that’s my approach, which is not as usual on the radio – that’s what DJs do in clubs.”
The radio show allows him to explore the nuances of the music, he said. “It’s a lot harder to do that in the clubs, because you’ve got crowd noise and because it’s much more bass-focused.”
On No Man’s Land, Martin plays music people are unlikely to hear anywhere else. “A lot of what I do is really filtering through music, trying to find what is the best and most relevant to what I do,” he said.
He’s connected to numerous independent labels around the world, many of which have a hard time getting their music heard. “Community radio provides them with a much more alternative programming environment,” he said. He reaches an international audience through SoundCloud, where he posts his radio shows.
Martin’s journey of musical discovery began in the early ’90s, when he drove across the United States. Arriving on the West Coast, he heard exotica – jazz from the ’50s and ’60s that had been updated with global influences. “A lot of the jazz artists were taking influences from the islands, from Africa and from Latin music, and they were mixing it with their jazz. There was a resurgence of that back in the ’90s on the West Coast, particularly in San Francisco,” Martin said.
“It makes sense that people, wherever they come from, start finding ways to incorporate their folk and cultural roots into new styles and genres of music.”
Richard Martin DJs an evening of electro-swing music, which includes a burlesque performance, on June 21 at the Royal Ontario Museum, as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival (torontojazz.com).