Sonic Agenda Exclusive Interview: Subset
In a world inundated with trap and bass DJ’s, none have taken the path to stardom that Subset aka Mark Martinez have. Often described as Holy Ship‘s first home-grown talent, Subset’s journey from OG Shipper to superstar DJ has been amazing, and all of Shipfam is in it for the ride. We sat down with Mark in advance of his Boston show on March 4th to talk music, the Ship, and much more.
Sonic Agenda: We’ve watched you grow from a fellow shipper attending other DJ’s sets to attending your set in the Pantheon Theater this year in January. Can you tell us about your journey to finally getting behind the decks, and what your initial reaction was when you found out you were playing Holy Ship! 2016!
Subset: I’m still in disbelief about it all. When I attended the first Holy Ship in 2012, I brought a massive suitcase full of equipment to play cabin parties, and ended up having wayyy too much stuff. I think I only played one or two small cabin parties that year. In 2013, I bought a boombox specifically for renegade sets. I played a couple cabin parties, but the one that set it off was the final sunrise. I brought my boombox to the top deck right at the exit of the S32 Disco (this was back on the Poesia) and started playing as that stage ended, since it was the last stage running.
People gathered pretty quickly, and we partied all the way until we docked back home and they kicked us off the boat. It was a pretty magical experience… we had slip n slides going across the deck, football with a pineapple, all sorts of silliness. One of my favorite moments was when I felt a drop of rain, and as I looked up, there were already 3 people holding shirts and towels above my head to shield the laptop and boombox. Everyone was in sync, and I knew we had something special.
In mid-2013, Steph and Robert Bunting announced their plan to throw an Unofficial Shipfam Pre Party for the 2014 sailing. They had previously thrown a pre party at their hotel pool for 2013, which got pretty crazy real fast, so moving it to an actual venue was the logical progression. I jumped in to coordinate DJs, Kory Sasnett helped find and sort our venue (Avenue D, which was so perfect), and we set off on a half year of planning what I believe is still the best pre party Holy Ship has ever seen. I scheduled something like 17 Shipfam DJs from around the world to play from noon til 2am, the Buntings took decoration to an entirely new level, and really transformed that space into something special. The vibe in there was unlike anything I had ever felt. It really felt like we were on the Ship already.
That year, I threw tons of cabin parties and did sunrise sets every single night when the scheduled music ended. The Zen Pool became the de facto meeting spot when nothing else was going on, and we all shared some beautiful moments over those three days. By this point, Holy Ship had overtaken my life and become the central focus of so much of what I do.
When we got back from Ship, my good friends Kunj Shah, Justin Charles, and Andrew Goldin asked me to throw a decompression party with them at a spa in Brooklyn. At first, it was just the “Deep House Spa Decompression Party”, but we coined the name When In Robe during the first event. We started throwing these parties twice a month on Sundays, and they truly felt like we were at Holy Ship. Everyone running around the spa in bathing suits and robes (before HS robes were a thing), phones stashed away in lockers, living in the moment. We focused on booking Holy Ship artists and related acts to keep the vibe that way too. In our short run, we booked some incredible talent including Gina Turner, Curses, Ardalan, Doctor Jeep, Wax Motif, L-Vis 1990, Sepalcure, Jubilee, Buku, and even a showcase for Gramatik’s label Lowtemp. The icing on the cake, however, was when the HARDfather himself, Destructo, blessed us with a surprise set following his appearance at EDC NY. I can honestly say I’ve never felt a vibe outside of Holy Ship that so perfectly felt like we were on the boat.
Around the time of Gary’s set at When In Robe, the Buntings and I began discussions with Danny Bell from HARD to move our unofficial pre party to the official pre party. We got our own
stage downstairs at Space, and opened up submissions again. The excitement in the community was palpable. It was surreal for all of us at that point, and really speaks to the community vibe of Holy Ship that they would bring us in and include us on an official level. It was an incredibly tough process, but we whittled down the 120+ submissions to 11 DJs (5 for January, 6 for February), and I played both pre parties along with running the stage/MCing all night.
Once again, renegade parties and sunrise sets were unreal. I didn’t even plan on going on Feb, but after the response to my cabin sets and Zen Pool sets, I knew I had to be there. After Jan, I commissioned a custom boombox from a fellow shipper, Steve Jones, who put together an amazing boombox in just 2-½ weeks, and then had it delivered from Portland by Jenna Cordova-Kelly, who lugged that 50 lb beast all the way to Miami for me. It made such a huge difference, and we were rocking renegades loud and proud.
I suppose this story has wandered all over the place, but my point is that it wasn’t any one thing that got me on the decks on Holy Ship. Outside of everything I’ve mentioned, I also organized Shipfam meetups throughout the years, DJed huge house parties for Shipfam decompression parties after various festivals (including a pretty legendary 14+ hour set after Mysteryland 2014 in a cabin in the woods), and spent a large chunk of my focus on bringing Shipfam together.
In June 2015, when the recap video for last year came out, I emailed Danny, who has been my contact for everything Ship-related. I decided to put it out there… “I know this is probably a massive longshot, but ‘if you never ask, you never know’, right? Is there any way I could play a set on Holy Ship next year? I’m currently booked on February, but I’ll do em both if I have to haha.” I didn’t hear back until a month later, and all I got was “i’ll see what i can do 😉”. I tried not to get my hopes up, as the dream of actually playing on Holy Ship was too unreal to let myself believe it would actually happen. I’ve gotten my hopes up for a lot of things in the past, and I’ve learned to try and stave off disappointment by keeping my expectations low.
After that, I didn’t hear back for months. I considered checking in and asking many times over the following months, but kept myself from doing so. I ended up booking a last-minute spot on January, as I couldn’t imagine missing my first Holy Ship sailing. The day after I booked, the day after the name change deadline, I received the email I never expected… “you’re playing a set on HOLY SHIP! Jan”. I stared at my computer in shock, kicked down the door to the bathroom, where my roommate and best friend was showering, and started screaming. I proceeded to run back and forth in my apartment for what felt like forever… How was this real? Holy shit, I have two weeks to prepare! So much needs to happen!
Over the next two weeks, so many people stepped up to make last-minute things happen. I got a new logo, shirts made, custom visuals, among many other things. And this was all in the time right before Christmas and into New Years. The way Shipfam stepped up to make things happen was beautiful… I can never thank everyone enough for all the hard work they put in.
That set on January… I can’t even explain the feelings that coursed through me as I stepped up on to that stage. And to get to play again in February? These weren’t just my sets, they were for all of Shipfam. Proof that there is no divider, that we are all the same and you can achieve your dreams and accomplish the seemingly-impossible if you work hard and never compromise.
Who are your primary influences for your particular style of DJ-ing? When did you first realize you wanted to pursue it as a career?
When I first started DJing, I was in a transitional time in my life where I was trying out new things, trying to find what clicked with me after dropping out of college in 2008. I had been digging for new music my whole life, just never with anyone in mind but myself. By early 2009, I was hooked, and knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to music.
In late 2009, I discovered A-Trak, who became one of my role models and main inspirations, not only in his musicality, but his work ethic and drive. It was his short, 23-minute live mix on LA’s Power 106 in January 2010 that really caught my attention. I hunted down all the songs from his mix (including YouTube rips of the tunes that weren’t yet released) and spent weeks figuring out how to recreate his blends and cuts. This was the first time I ever dissected and recreated a mix like this, and I learned more from this exercise than I had in months prior. I picked up several new mixing techniques, as well as an appreciation for cinematic flair and the power of playing tracks off of each other.
The next mix that truly changed my life was Melé’s FACT Mag mix in March 2011. Not only was I introduced to several genres of music that were entirely new to me, but many mixing techniques as well. I was left in absolute awe at the sounds I was hearing and the way Melé effortlessly danced through numerous genres and tempos with grace. I spent the entire summer and into winter listening to this mix and studying its structure, from its macro organization to the minutiae of the individual transitions. I learned a lot from this mix about using energies and sounds within tracks to mask and smooth transitions.
I spent 2010-2012 studying and working at the DJ school Dubspot in Manhattan, and got to spend a lot of time learning from my incredibly talented coworkers JP Solis and DJ Shiftee. JP taught me a lot about open format party rocking, multigenre music organization, and creative use of effects to really smooth out transitions. Shiftee is an absolute mastermind of multigenre, multitempo mixing, and I really pushed the boundaries of my sets as I learned more from him.
In today’s music scene, it’s difficult for artists to get noticed without having their own original productions. Clearly it hasn’t impeded your career, but do you have plans to eventually begin producing?
I’ve been producing on-and-off for the last 4-5 years. I haven’t put out much and truthfully haven’t spent enough time producing, but I have still been learning, albeit slowly. I’m focusing a lot more attention on production now, especially now that I’m doing music full time and have more free time to work on music.
I’m proud of how far my career has progressed mainly through my DJing and event production. Others have told me throughout my entire career that I needed to get into the studio, that the only way to make a living off of music is to release original productions. While that is the tried and tested formula, I believed that I have something else to offer.
Instead of the usual recipe of self-isolation in a studio, perfecting the craft of music production, I wanted to see if there was another way to bake a cake. What if I turned that formula on its head and became hypersocial, building communities and personal connections. What if I made it about more than just the music, and wove a narrative centered around altruism and positivity? If I combined that with a unique take on DJing and selection, could I carve out a little spot and make a difference?
These past couple months, with everything that has happened with Holy Ship, with all the love and support from the Shipfam… It has proven to me that it worked. Don’t get me wrong, it’s go time for me. I’m excited to put a bunch of music out this year, but I’m so damn happy that I could prove my worth contributing something different than usual.
How has the fast paced, diverse, and always evolving music scene of New York helped shaped the artist you are today? What was it like to have a residency at the legendary Webster Hall?
NYC is home to one of the most musically knowledgeable and diverse crowds in the world. Especially in the early days of BASSment, I had to stay on my toes, adding 3-500 tracks a week to my library and expanding my music organization tree so accommodate emerging genres. I’ve also had the good fortune to play an incredibly wide-ranging assortment of shows, opening up for brass bands, deep house warehouse parties, funk shows at spas, fashion shows, and the most ridiculous range of raves. I’ve had to learn to be more and more eclectic, working towards a sound I refer to as “context-appropriate bass music”.
BASSment Saturdays has been an absolutely incredible experience. We’ve create something special down there. It’s more than just a weekly show, it’s a community. When someone discovers BASSment, it’s like they’re joining a family. It’s been stressful and difficult at times, but that has been outweighed by the amount of beauty I’ve seen in that room, as well as within the community when they’re outside those walls. It reminds me a lot of Shipfam.
I’m so grateful that Webster Hall has trusted us to push our music programming weirder and more diverse. I couldn’t be more proud of the lineups we’re pushing out, and I’m still excited for every week, even after almost 5 years.
You mentioned on ‘Live With Sway In The Morning’ that you created your own label entitled Study Group. What can we expect from Study Group in the future?
I’m bringing on more of a team to help fully realize the potential of Study Group. I tried to take on too much of the responsibility in 2015, so we didn’t quite put out as much music as I had hoped. We’re planning more releases throughout the year, and should hopefully have a regular release schedule beginning soon. We also just launched the Extra Credit livestream series, teaming up with TPA Studios to do monthly live-streams from their gorgeous studio in Manhattan. We had our first episode a couple weeks ago with DJ Sliink, Nadus, and Goldwash.
Also, I’ll be throwing more events under the Study Group umbrella. We had some pretty successful ones last year, and we’re planning some big ones already.
What advice would you give to other DJ’s trying to make it big?
Stop trying to make it big. If your focus is on “making it big”, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. If you are busting your ass, day in and day out, because there’s a passion burning inside you for this music and you have to get it out, then you’re going to get somewhere. If you don’t have that passion inside you, either find it or move on. Work hard, do good business, and treat people well, and you will get where you want to be. Don’t compare timelines, not everyone follows the same path. If you focus too much on how long it took someone to get to X point, or how old someone was when they achieved Y, you will miss the important part. The only thing that matters is that you continually improve yourself and your abilities. If you are consistently becoming a better version of yourself, then you will succeed.
Which stop on the tour are you most looking forward to, and why is it Boston?
The best part about this tour is that I have incredibly good friends in every single city and the vast majority of the shows are being thrown by Shipfam. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Shipfam know how to throw a fucking party, and I’m just pumped to get to see so many awesome friends at every show.
I’ve only played in Boston once, and some of my favorite people live up there. I think I spent most of Jan Ship partying with Boston and Chicago. Couldn’t be more excited to come up there and get proper weird in a couple weeks.