World-renowned techno and house producers Seth Troxler and The Martinez Brothers, comprised of Steve and Chris Martinez, created the label Tuskegee to form a platform for black, Latin and minority electronic dance music artists. Since its inception in 2014, the label has generated awareness about where techno and house music truly originated, and it has seen releases by acclaimed artists such as Omar-S, William Djoko and Filsonik. Troxler—who was voted No. 1 DJ in Resident Advisor’s ‘Top 100 DJ’ polls in 2013—and The Martinez Brothers, Mixmag’s ‘DJs of the Year’ 2014, will join forces on June 24 for OUTPOST presents Tuskegee at The Brooklyn Mirage. The label founders chatted with Forbes about their upcoming show, the creation of their label, diversity in dance music and more.
Lisa Kocay: What inspired you to create the label Tuskegee in 2014?
Seth Troxler: “Tuskegee was created because we saw that in our industry, there were few colleagues that had the same heritage and cultural background as us. It struck us as odd, considering the foundation of dance music has predominantly been people of color. We questioned why had there been such a colonization of dance music and why only a handful of young producers of color existed. It was our initial idea and hope that young kids would see the label and want to send us demos—that we could make a great space for other minorities to release music. It was through dance music that we were able to change our lives, our social economic situations—through this music, we have traveled around the world. We wanted to show that as an option for kids with backgrounds like our own, that there was a space with their own likeness. We’ve now decided to take the label in a new direction, releasing music from our heroes—some forgotten in time, some house legends.”
The Martinez Brothers: “Tuskegee’s name and concept was first brought to us by Seth [Troxler] at a time when we all saw a lack of cultural diversity, specifically in dance music. Both Troxler and ourselves came from the inner cities of New York and Detroit, yet have lived amongst some of the most talented and creative people we know, even in those especially trying times. We believe there are still so many young, talented artists out there who come from the same roots and streets we did, and Tuskegee was inspired by kids who are growing up just like we did and still working hard to make their dreams of music a reality. Now it has become an outlet for us to put out music from people we have always admired—it’s now a combination of the two.”
Kocay: You’ve both come from very different backgrounds—The Martinez Brothers being raised in the Bronx and Seth Troxler being raised in Detroit. Despite growing up in different cities, do you feel you have shared common experiences growing up that led to you creating the label? If so, can you elaborate?
Troxler: “I think even though we grew up in different states, our backgrounds are very similar. I come from a southern Baptist family (my grandfather and uncle were both pastors). Steve and Chris [Martinez’s] father is also a pastor. We watched the same TV shows growing up in America. We share the common interests most best friends do. But also inherently, the minority experience in America is similar especially between Hispanics and African Americans: ideas, references, music and jokes all the way down to shared cultural struggles and financial backgrounds. I think class and race are very much tied to our cultural American experience and who we are.”
Martinez: “I think it’s the commonalities in how we were brought up that led us to create the label in the first place. Those shared experiences, even when we grew up in completely different states, paired with the contrast of musical and cultural roots, have made the label and production process so unique. When we first started hanging out, we were a bit separated because we came from soulful house, while Seth came from Detroit techno and minimal. But the more we got to know each other, the more we realized how similar our lives were growing up watching the same TV shows, being brought up on similar foods and just overall, we had a lot in common.”
Kocay: Since the inception of the label, do you think electronic music has become more inclusive to minorities? If so, how? If not, what do you think needs to change?
Troxler: “I think since the inception of the label, dance music has become more inclusive in terms of minorities, but I think that is largely demonstrated by empowerment of women and the LGBT community. I think that’s also a reflection of the American minority situation. Where we’re making great steps in other areas, people of color seem to still be at the end of the line, so to say. If you look at America today, racism is stronger than it’s ever been in my lifetime. This a demonstrated fact we see daily in the news. It’s funny to see the world so responsive to some movements, but when people of color ask for equality, the response is very different. Just look at the NFL: even when we started Tuskegee, a lot of record stores wouldn’t stock our records and accused us of being reverse racist, which is so far from the reality of the situation. In America, there is a very funny double standard concerning the progression of minorities but without the progression of equality when it comes to people of color. I’m not offering that I have a solution or even saying there needs to be some kind of affirmative action, however, I do feel there is a lack of color in dance music. In terms of the idea of appropriation, there is no greater case to be made than that of dance music where viability from people of color has gone from being widespread to a few dozen.”
Martinez: “Dance music has always been inclusive of minorities. Our favorite DJs were all people of color: latinos, all of them. Dance music, though, has definitely grown to be more inclusive of minorities. But because Europe is a more widespread market, you see a more white-washed version of electronic music, and therefore not as many artists of color coming out of Europe, which without a doubt constitutes a large part of the electronic music scene as whole.”
Kocay: What can attendees expect from your OUTPOST show at The Brooklyn Mirage?
Troxler: “Well this is an easy one. They can expect some really good music. Basically modern and classic house music based on where from we come from, Detroit and New York City, and everywhere we have visited in between.”
Martinez: “We plan on bringing good vibes, good music, constant smiles and a beautiful Brooklyn experience. It’s never anything but when we get together with Troxler in New York City, or anywhere for that matter. Bring it on, Brooklyn.”
Kocay: What are your plans for the future?
Troxler: “I’m currently about to release an album on R&S Records with Phil Moffa, a New York professor from Purchase College, under the moniker Lost Souls Of Saturn. Besides that, we have some great releases coming up on Tuskegee from K-Alexi Shelby, Jamal Moss, and Reade Truth—all historical producers from Detroit, Chicago and New York City.”
Martinez: “2018 will be another crazy summer with back to back gigs, traveling a ton and spending whatever downtime we have at home in Ibiza working on music. After the summer, we plan on taking a little time off touring and putting all of our focus and energy into making music. With traveling, it can be hard to get creative sometimes, so we find that it’s really important to put aside some time in the year to give some undivided attention to just making music. Not to mention, good for the soul. We’ve just finished building our new studio, so we can’t wait to get back to it and look forward to sharing new music in the fall.”
Kocay: Is there anything else you think I should know?
Troxler: “In a final thought, I just want to note that we as people, the Bros and I, are totally inclusive. And where some of my answers to this interview may seem a bit hardline, they are merely honest reflections of what’s happening in the world we live in. Tuskegee is fundamentally an art project we wanted to work on based on what what we saw in society. I think fundamentally, equality is found when people see the artistic and social contribution from others. I think bias ends, when someone with any bias relates to the other side. The more that we can shed light on the cultural contribution from people of our backgrounds, different from the negativity that is projected via urban music, then we can paint a much more positive picture of who we are, and be a positive influence to others looking for an alternative positive identity to associate with.”
Martinez: “Yes. We want to remind everyone out there that Puerto Rico is still in desperate need of help to get back on their feet, following Hurricane Maria. Although it still may not be flooding your Facebook feeds, Puerto Rico just underwent a massive natural disaster and they need our help. Visit mariafund.org to make a donation and keep spreading the love.”