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"I have a lot of fashion rules," says Daniel Martin-McCormick, the 28-year-old musician who makes up half of the rock-gone-electronic duo Mi Ami and the sole member of Ital—the latter of whose head-turning debut, Hive Mind, was released last month by Planet Mu. He's explaining a couple of things at his kitchen table in Williamsburg. It's his living-room table, too. God bless New York real estate.
Martin-McCormick points to his watch. "Malcolm X, who's my hero, always said that he didn't respect anyone who didn't wear a watch," he says. "And my sunglasses are just Clubmasters, but they remind me of his glasses."
Sure, but those items are style classics. The real question mark is the awkwardly rendered guy who sits smack in the middle of Martin-McCormick's slim chest.
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"I try to exclusively wear Bob Marley shirts," he explains. "It just makes me smile, you know? In Mi Ami, we got really into Bob Marley shirts."
Martin-McCormick laughs. Sure, his solo moniker is a Rastafarian term for wholesome food. But please—he knows precisely how recherché a Bob Marley shirt is in 2012, how (for lack of a better phrase) in-your-face hipster it is. (He's not kidding about Mi Ami, either—the same Marley image from his T-shirt is at the top of the group's MySpace page.)
He elaborates: "I don't know if I need to reclaim Marley because I never claimed him, and he wasn't taken away. It was maybe just claiming the little part that I like. He's a logo or something like that—a lifestyle accoutrement. But for someone who [had] hated him, his music is actually kind of sweet. What you hate is the culture that surrounds the idea of Marley."
We're drinking water. When I got here, Martin-McCormick felt bad—I'd shown up in the middle of a protest about charter schools occurring directly in front of his building's door. He'd offered coffee. Yes, sure.
"Oh, wait," he said as he looked at the coffeepot. "I haven't cleaned this since before I went on tour."
When did you go out on tour?
"January 11." It's February 16.
Martin-McCormick just got home the day before—two days before Ital headlined 285 Kent—and the press rounds are still going. He's personable, quite alert, and friendly, and it doesn't feel like a chore. He gives the sense that he's exactly what he wants to be right now.
And why not? Martin-McCormick is becoming popular by doing just that. Hive Mind is getting good reviews—a Pitchfork 8.0, most obviously—and Ital's show on February 17 at 285 Kent demonstrated that he could cultivate an indie-crossover audience. Not a mainstream one—though given Martin-McCormick's rather cheeky flip of a Lady Gaga vocal sample on Hive Mind's opening track, "Doesn't Matter (If You Love Him)," which hangs over the track like a cloud, that's probably not entirely out of the question, either.
It's early days yet for that, though. Indie is a more natural fit, given Martin-McCormick's obvious subcultural affinities, not to mention his head start with Mi Ami. The larger broadening of the electronic dance audience works in his favor as well. As electronic dance music surges in popularity, spawning one hilarious misunderstanding after another between pop fans (who, dance partisans huff, don't get the cultural norms behind house, techno, dubstep, and their fellows) and DJ-music geeks (who don't get why people with day jobs like their music short, hooky, and to the point), more and more rock musicians are beginning to make the leap.
Skrillex, of course, is the big one, applying the morphing basslines and synth squeal of brutalist U.K. dubstep producers such as Caspa and Rusko to what is essentially nu-metal under a different name. Needless to say, more self-consciously artistic club-music types have recoiled in horror. In England, for instance, many dubstep-identified artists have been moving toward house music's more basic four-to-the-floor pulse. Take Scuba or British dubstep producer Paul Rose, who runs the influential Hotflush label (which issued Joy Orbison's "Hyph Mngo," 19th in the 2009 Pazz & Jop poll) and has a residency at the storied Berlin club Berghain. Last October, Scuba issued a volume in the DJ-Kicks mix-CD series that contained far more 4/4 kick-drum leading the rhythm than subsonic-cum-supersonic bass pressure.
This is hardly the first era in which rock musicians—understandably unconvinced with the relative health of their home style—moved toward DJ music. But more of them are doing so with real conviction, from Jamie xx—whose DJ sets, album of Gil Scott-Heron remixes (We're New Here), and dubstep-leaning 12-inch for Numbers, "Far Nearer," have earned praise from hardcore dance quarters—to Friendly Fires, whose first two albums were punctuated with a house CD, Suck My Deck, for Studio !K7. Then there's Radiohead, whose last album, The King of Limbs, was remixed by a slew of hip dance producers: Four Tet, Jacques Greene, Lone, Blawan, and SBTRKT, whom lead singer Thom Yorke is rumored to have remixed under the pseudonym SiSi BakBak. (Yorke has not addressed the rumor.)
Martin-McCormick's path is closer to those lines. The crowd he played for at 285 Kent wasn't the kind that wants to rage all night but rather something more collegiate and collegial—more indie. As much as Martin-McCormick is a rock guy wading into dance music, so is much of his audience.