The Mouse That Roared
Detroit, May 2003, the "Gangster Bass Tour": Dan "Doormouse" Martin, a six-foot-tall electronic musician sporting a beard and an all-too-revealing cheerleader outfit, screams across the stage, commanding DJ Baseck to do jumping jacks. Miami native DJ Otto Von Schirach stands off to the side, scared shitless, as a naked Baseck furiously complies with Martin's requests. Over the course of the performance, Martin will eat his boogers, completely disrobe, taunt the audience, and generally push buttons and boundaries.
Miami, November 2005, Churchill's: Still bearded but sans miniskirt, Doormouse invokes the randy audience, sweating and jerking to his heart-attack electro: "Everybody with herpes, say 'Hell Yeah!'" Way too many in the crowd respond. The party rages on.
To the outsider, Martin's shtick might seem sophomoric, the drunken gimmicks of an artiste doing his best to glom some cheap shock value. But Martin has the talent and the history to back it up. He's considered the godfather of Midwest hardcore and an originator of breakcore, two aggressive electronic styles that deconstruct the 4/4 beat of house or techno and rebuild it with dense, jackhammer tempos. His current, genre-bending sound as seen at Churchill's that night is a dizzying collision of pounding beats, ingenious multigenre sampling, and free-form experimentalism. With his music and the two successful labels, Distort and Addict, that he founded, Martin has helped push the electronic-noise scene out of basements, across the world, and into South Florida.
Martin's arrival from Milwaukee in 2002 added another round of ammo to an indigenous noise community that runs counter to Miami's superclub hedonism. As his shows make apparent, Martin stands at the intersection of superior talent, outsider aesthetics, and over-the-top performance art. Once the initial wave of shock subsides, audiences will discover one of the most intriguing performers in the region if they stick around long enough to hear him.
"Half of my rep is for being an insane, meat-throwing, head-butting spastic," Martin says, "but the other half is for always showing up and always throwing myself into [the music] full force."
As a kid raised in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Martin's tastes transitioned from metal to punk to "bad rave music." In the mid-'90s, he acquired some primitive, pirated musical software, purloined his father's CPU, and eventually showed the first tracks he made to DigitalHut, a small, Brooklyn-based label. He released 414 Tracks in 1996, the first 12-inch in an ever-growing deluge of output.
At the same time, Martin was actively contributing to the Midwest underground through the local version of the warehouse party. A barn in rural Wisconsin dubbed, not surprisingly, the Barn served as a meeting place for disaffected teens to escape religious orthodoxy and subfreezing temperatures with musical experimentation and a noxious mix of drugs and alcohol. It was the birthplace of a burgeoning Midwest breakcore scene, and after fellow noiseniks like Miami's Von Schirach, L.A.'s Baseck, and Canada's Venetian Snares were shipped in for parties, the community began to flourish.
It was at the Barn in 1995 that Martin met drummer Joshua Jenquin (a.k.a. Anonymous) and instrumentalist Marty Frank. Their shows, which featured alternative uses for raw meat, inspired Martin. "The performance stuff really started when I started playing with [meat]," he recalls. "Something inside of me snapped, and I became intoxicated with the power of performance."
While some producers in his field rarely emerge from their equipment-laden dungeons, Martin made a conscious effort to focus on developing his wildly escalating, ultra-assaultive live shows.
"That's kind of why people would go to the shows," Von Schirach says, "to be scared, like a more musical, more intelligent GG Allin. The first time I met [Martin], I thought he was going to jump me."
By the late '90s, as the scene at the Barn outgrew its pastoral confines and spread to Milwaukee, Martin's sound grew thornier and more nuanced. The first threads of his current style were emerging, but pinning down exactly what type of music Martin makes is tricky. He built his Barn reputation on gabber, a Dutch-born form of 4/4 electronica with tempos upward of 160 bpm, but quickly left it behind. His more recent work incorporates gabber's breakneck pace but also a sense of humor and stylistic range that distance him from the genre. And while some call his music breakcore implying a mixture of funky electro breaks and speedy, hardcore tempos Martin also rejects that label. "Breakcore is just another silly genre name," he says. "I make music, and some of it falls into certain categories and some doesn't. I just make music that I feel."
Such music has solidified his reputation as one of electronic music's main mavericks. Martin has released more than 40 records, not including collaborations, remixes, and appearances on other records. He's toured the U.S. and the world and opened a successful record store in Milwaukee, Massive Record Source. But after fostering a vibrant scene there, by 2002, Martin was ready to move on. Envisioning a more sober existence, he sold the store and relocated to Miami to be with his pregnant girlfriend.
Upon his arrival, Martin became one of the most aggressive, innovative, and potentially dangerous artists in South Florida. But even with his credentials, it's been a slow burn. Initially, he just DJ'd a series of hip-hop gigs around South Beach. On the occasions when he played his original compositions, his shows were more reserved, though hardly noticeably so. "We still do get over the top," he says. "It's not as self-destructive. It's now more for the performance."
Lately, Martin has built more momentum. He's staged breakout performances in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. And while he hasn't yet established the rep that he had in Milwaukee, he has made converts with every performance. Whether he can unshackle Miami's electronic scene from the dominance of booty bass and reggaeton, he can always count on a dedicated following of freaks, punks, hipsters, and fans of the unexpected. They'll be waiting with the usual mixture of excitement and fear to hear what Doormouse has in store next.
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