Justin Martin reflects on 15 years of Dirtybird BBQs
Justin Martin, widely known as one of the nicer guys in the dance music scene, turned 40 on April 20. It's hard to believe for someone who led a lively group jog at 7 am after a long night of partying at October's Dirtybird Campout, the bicoastal music festival put on by Martin's Dirtybird Records.
The label is set to accomplish another milestone this year with the 15th anniversary of its first Dirtybird BBQ in San Francisco, which was once just a get-together for a few dozen family members and friends. This summer, the events are expanding to Brooklyn and Denver (the winner of a fan vote) and returning to the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Austin. These days, about 5,000 people attend the often sold-out affairs, which will resemble Campout more than ever this year with the addition of comedy sessions, bingo, and a Best In Show talent competition for fans.
Martin is set to play the Bay Area (May 4), Los Angeles (May 5), and Brooklyn (June 16) BBQs, where he'll have plenty of new music to showcase. The Dirtybird co-founder released a collaborative EP called "Yonder" with his protégé, Ardalan, in February. He's also booked to remix tracks by Rüfüs Du Sol and Catz 'N Dogz in the coming months.
AOL caught up with Martin so he could reflect on 15 years worth of wild stories, delicious food and heart-pounding music.
AOL: 2019 marks the 15-year anniversary of the first Dirtybird BBQ, which even predates the founding of Dirtybird Records by a year. How much do you remember about that first event?
JM: It’s kind of a blur. It’s amazing to see what it’s built up to from a renegade party in Golden Gate Park. The first one, there was maybe somewhere between 25-40 friends and family. One of the reasons we called it a barbecue was because if we called it a party, it’d set us up for failure if no one showed up. So we figured let’s just call it a barbecue, and if people dance, even better.
The popularity grew pretty quickly in the following years after that, just via word of mouth and the early days of social media. It got to a point where our party was 2,000 people strong in this tiny meadow in Golden Gate Park. The park rangers were eventually like, "Alright, you guys can’t do this here anymore.” But it was a good problem to have because it forced us to expand to other areas and other cities instead of just remaining in our comfort zone. It’s been an amazing, natural progression.
AOL: Now that you’re 15 years in, have you been able to do some reflecting about the past and future as these milestones approach, or do you just keep your nose to the grindstone?
JM: I’m always thinking about it. It’s funny though, back then we were trying to grow it and expand the community to share what we were doing with more people. It’s funny we look back at those simpler times as the good old days.
Don’t get me wrong, where we’re at is so incredible. I think last year at our Open BBQ we had over 5,000 people show up. Which is a trip, it’s like a mini-festival. To have seen it grow into that, yet keep the same community on the dance floor as this organic vibe ... It’s really cool.
AOL: Have there been any flashpoints that you’re able to look back on and pinpoint as big turning points that let the barbecues build into what they are today? Or has it been a steady growth?
JM: After the original free Golden Gate Park parties, when we realized that we'd outgrown this little meadow, we had to search for a new venue. We took maybe 2-3 years off while we figured out our next move. It’s not the easiest thing to find venues that’ll host loud music and a lot of people. So we ended up at Treasure Island [Editor’s note: An artificial island in the San Francisco Bay], which was awesome. That’s when we realized in those 2-3 years we had taken off, people were starving for it. When we came back, it was like 3,000 people strong, which was bigger than where we’d left off. That was a point when I realized, this is such a beautiful thing to be a part of.
AOL: Why is having a barbecue an integral part of the Dirtybird brand, both in terms of the standalone events and as part of the Dirtybird Campout festivals?
JM: We were basically just a group of friends and family that started doing this for the love of it. We didn’t have this idea in mind to end up as a festival and have 5,000 people showing up on a Sunday at this outdoor event. We were just doing it because we wanted to play loud music outdoors and hang with our friends. My parents have been to almost every single one in the Bay Area. Grillson, rest in peace, he was there from Day 1. He was the one who brought the barbecue grill to the first one. So, we’ve always had this extremely strong core.
AOL: What are you most looking forward to about 2019 and beyond, both for yourself and Dirtybird?
JM: I just finished building a music studio in the last year. While I was doing that, I took off producing for a while. So now, I'm just excited to be working on music again. I’ve got a bunch of releases and remixes coming out in the next couple months, so that’s exciting. Obviously, BBQ season is exciting for me. Can’t wait to do a Bay Area BBQ and then an LA BBQ the next day. I mean, there’s never a dull moment in my job. I’m really lucky, I have to pinch myself all the time. I feel really blessed to be part of the Dirtybird community.
AOL: With all the positives, is there anything over the past 15 years that you wish you could change?
JM: I always say I wish I could sleep a little bit more. But there’ll be time for that later on in my life, or my afterlife. You sleep when you’re dead.
AOL: Moving into a lightning round to finish off here: What is your favorite contest to judge, at either a Dirtybird BBQ or Campout?
JM: I’ve been a judge for the talent show the last couple years, and it usually gets pretty wild. People have the most random talents. We have people singing karaoke, belly dancing, hula hooping or doing standup comedy, often terribly. If anyone has some type of talent, they’re welcome on stage and it’s just such a fun thing to watch and see the crowd reactions and give my commentary.
AOL: Favorite BBQ food?
JM: I’m a pizza guy. I know that sounds like it doesn’t fit on the barbecue. But my dad cooks a mean pizza on a barbecue grill. So if I’m thinking outside the box here, I’d say pizza.
AOL: Favorite song you’ve ever produced?
JM: Oh, there’s so many. Different songs have different meanings for different parts of my life. But maybe "Don’t Go,” because it’s a song that I can still play in my sets and see the emotional response that my fans have. And that to me is pretty exciting. They’ve probably heard it 100 times already, and they still get excited to hear it again.
AOL: Favorite DJ B2B partner?
JM: Probably my brother, playing drum n' bass. We’ve done a few Campout sets like that and it’s been really fun.
AOL: Dream collaboration partner in the studio?
AOL: And to finish off, a favorite story from a past BBQ that you’ll cherish forever?
JM: There’s so many. But one of them that sticks out the most is back towards the end of our Golden Gate Park parties, where it started to rain a little. Obviously, we’d be religiously checking the weather leading up to any event, praying it wouldn’t rain. And it had been threatening rain, then started light rain about an hour into the party. And we were thinking, "What do we do, do we call it or keep going?” And we just kept going, and it kept raining harder and harder. There was a certain point where we were just past the point of no return. And people were going crazy, dancing in the rain and mud, putting garbage bags over the speakers and generator to keep them safe. And it was one of those special moments that you never forget the energy. It was like pure magic.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Tickets for the upcoming BBQs are on sale now at DirtybirdRecords.com.