By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
But the people in attendance weren't content folding their arms and tapping their Converse, either. They were a large, expectant Friday-night crowd, after all. They wanted to dance. When Ital came onstage, they were instantly buoyed. Ital's records tend to unwind for a while: Hive Mind contains five songs, three of them more than 10 minutes long. But they play like compositions rather than meandering beatscapes. Bent over his sampler keyboard among the bright graffiti on the walls of 285 Kent, triggering the shiny, pointy synth riffs of Hive Mind's "Floridian Void," Martin-McCormick gave them plenty to shake to.
Martin-McCormick was born in Washington, D.C., and apart from three childhood years spent in Belgium (his government-worker dad had an assignment), he stayed there until 2005. He was a fitful music fan until freshman year of high school.
"I was researching for a project about the history of rock and roll," he says. "I found out about punk, and I was like: 'Holy shit. Here it is.' It just was this click-on. That's when I started to really devour and go into music, as opposed to just my favorite things on the radio or whatever. Shortly thereafter, I found out about [D.C. punk]. It was pretty easy to find out about Minor Threat back in '98. Pretty quickly, Dischord [Records] and all that other stuff kind of came into the forefront."
Although he always liked other kinds of music as well—he was buying D.C. go-go tapes at Tower Records alongside Dischord's punk- and post-punk-heavy catalog—the dance-music bug first bit Martin-McCormick hard via the Takoma Park duo Manhunter, who performed sequenced-and-programmed dance tracks live onstage before members Jason Letkiewicz and Ari Goldman split up. (Goldman is now the Beautiful Swimmers; Letkiewicz, who lives in Brooklyn, goes under a few aliases: Malvoeaux, Rhythm Based Lovers, and Steve Summers.)
"They had this band [in] 2004–2005 that did live techno," Martin-McCormick says. "I think [it was] a lot of people in the punk scene's first experience of that. I remember my friend said that he understood [why] people who saw Bad Brains back in the day thought they were the greatest band because it was like, Manhunter was playing ridiculous, energetic, sort of awe-inspiring music for this one scene, and it was like everybody was in it all together. I didn't know anybody that was a techno head. But everybody listened to some electro or some funk or was into a little disco. Music was around. It wasn't just like everyone was punk, punk, punk. But [with Manhunter], it was like, all of a sudden, 'Ahhhh.' After that, I started to dive in deeper."
This is not an unfamiliar narrative. In some ways, Martin-McCormick's revelation mirrors that of a similar time-place narrative on the opposite coast, in Portland, Oregon. It's easy to make Portlandia jokes (whatever you think of Portlandia's jokes), but the city's dance scene was basically nil until the mid '00s, when Glass Candy and Chromatics—both helmed by guitarist-songwriter-conceptualist Johnny Jewel—began mixing electronics with rock and turning a new generation of rock kids onto beat-led synths. It makes sense—the abundance of media access has opened dance music up to younger kids for whom it doesn't necessarily have the same kind of bad connotations it once did.
"Definitely the stuff that I was hardwired into earlier was experimental, weird punk stuff, like Boredoms," Martin-McCormick says. "Fugazi was a huge thing for me—I remember realizing that you can experiment with music. If I want to claim something as a steady focal point, it's not a genre; it's this DIY, wide-spectrum thing."
In 2005, Martin-McCormick left D.C. for the Bay Area. "It was really a rock-and-roll town for sure," he says. When he moved to San Francisco the same year, he caught the tail end of the turn-of-millennium laptop-IDM scene spearheaded by smart-aleck producer-remixer Kid606 and his label, Tigerbeat6.
"The dregs of that was still going on when we first started playing in 2007," Martin-McCormick says. "There was a couple of big clubs that were really focused on Burning Man–style break[beat] music and that shit. You'd get Derrick May to play, but he'd be on the huge stage, and this shitty guy with frosted tips would be opening up for him. It would be a bottle-service-style place or Mr. Fingers DJing at the worst fucking place, and no one even knows who he is there. There was this one place where they would have warehouse shows that were always kind of crazy, but it was just because the crazy warehouse people wanted to go party. There wasn't this feeling of new energy or that it was really the most relevant thing. What you got wasn't close to what you were looking for."
A similar kind of torpor had crept into his day-to-day life. "San Francisco is, in some ways, quite rough," he says. "It's really expensive, and there's a lot of drugs. So I had some grit—it wasn't just all laid-back. [But] after a while, you get into this groove. It's like this parallel world with a chill job and gourmet ice cream. You find the cheap room where there is not a lot of tension. At the same time, you find that there's no real sense of accomplishment. You're sort of floating. Actually, I had four chill jobs: two different clubs, at a farmers' market selling smoked salmon, and at a science museum one day a week. San Francisco was really comfortable—too comfortable. It's like you're living in a palace garden. You have to step out, feel a little push."