Please note: This is a slightly reformatted transcript of an interview conducted last year to record an accurate biography of Dominick Martin (aka Calibre) around the release of his FABRICLIVE 68 CD. It's never before been published in full (and in fact, still isn't) . Considering that we're handing the entirety of Room Three over to Martin for the phenomenal prospect of a six hour set on Friday 7th March we thought it was high time we shared an insight so fascinating into a producer who'd previously held his tongue for a long long time.
The following comes as told to Oli Marlow and Dave Gamble...
Where were you born? What was it like growing up there?
I grew up in South Belfast. It was pretty much what you’d expect Belfast to be like during the troubles: very grim, frightening and full of twats. Having to decide to choose philosophies and ideologies was for me like a godsend because it meant I didn’t have to believe in any of that bullshit. Religious societies are moronic; I mean I have no problem with spirituality but if ever you grow up in a place that demands you to make a choice… it’s stupid.
I think that was something that really drove me towards writing music and being creative - living with that behaviour. I mean it’s still going on now, but there’s a lot less of it. It wasn’t a very nice place to grow up.
What are your musical roots?
I was chosen when I went to primary school, I’m not sure at what age but it was about 5 or 6, to do these pitch tests and I got every one of them right. I was one of very few in the whole of the 400 kids who were tried that was chosen for the school of music to play the violin at that age. That was the first time that I really touched music. But my nan had also bought my mum a piano to encourage a music career but she ended up following a different path and then I came along and became fascinated with hitting the keys as a young kid. There are no musical people in my close family; I have cousins who will pull out guitars and sing at you, but... yeah [laughs]. Actually I do have a cousin who’s a singer, who did one of the Halifax adverts, so he’s a good singer and he does session work in London so I suppose he’s the closest thing to a musical mind.
Anyway, they bought me to the school of music and I hated it because it was very academic and sort of like going into the army but with musical instruments. They shouted at me and I didn’t like grownups shouting at me when I was that age so I said, “no thank you”. I was playing in Irish bands because I played the tin whistle as well as the violin – playing everything from jigs and polkas to very slow, beautiful lonesome sort of ballads.
I went to a secondary school in South Belfast that doesn’t exist anymore, it was so notorious that people wouldn’t send their kids there and they shut it down. So I had a very interesting sort of start in life you could say. And that’s the great thing about my music story at that age, is that when I left school I was starting to go raves the Art College in Belfast - this is very early on like David Holmes and Davey Anderson sort of era - and I’d go down there and that’s where I started to get the idea that maybe I could make a career out of this music thing. I was interested in being an artist and I played drums in bands and I was sort of doing a lot of things that I was interested in all at once so I knew I could do something with it. I had no qualifications and was told I was gonna go nowhere but… fuck those guys.
I’d say the first music I ever really fell in love with as a style was ska music: The Specials, UB40, Madness... I went to see Madness with my parents. Dad took me down there and they had to stop the gig because all these skinheads burst through the side door which was pretty crazy. But I got into a lot of that sort of music and from there, alternative indie, punk rock, heavy metal… you name it, anything at all, I was interested in it. And if there was something that was telling the establishment to go fuck itself then that was interesting to me too. I don’t want to admit to it but I was a wee bit like that.
In terms of drum & bass, my brother would’ve been going into specialist shops in Belfast in the early 90s, probably about ‘93/’94, and bringing home these Shadow bits… y’know Section Five, old school stuff as it would be referred to now. I didn’t know what drum & bass was and I didn’t like it when I first heard it. And then I think my brother had a CD version of Goldie's Terminator that we took ecstasy to and listened to it a lot and that’s when I thought, “Jesus, this is actually really fucking good, this stuff”. Me and my close friends were sort of into alternative music, like all our other mates were into shit, but for us, we didn’t really like handbag house or going to places where you had to dress up too much so it seemed to be a good choice.
Can you tell us about some of your first projects?
I remember I was writing music and I was in this band and I took a lend of their 8-track and I had a couple of Bontempi keyboards and some guitar pedals, so I just kept on writing and writing and I was sort of prolific. I’d sent this tape to David Holmes who used to go to a studio above a hairdressers’ in Belfast – I went round there and gave him a tape and then he called me and he said he wanted to put out an EP and yadda yadda. That was pretty much the start of it for me and then going down to Dublin and getting signed to U2’s label happened…
There was not much of a scene in Belfast. With the way politics are there and the geography, a lot of the energy of people went into that, it's hard to find the perceptive ear in that environment, you’re gonna go for whatever’s coming to you. It was sort of like a prejudice to the music in Belfast whereas in Dublin they didn’t seem to have that. It had a big scene where you had two clubs which were massive and which were competing with each other at the time. There was a lad that came up from Dublin and invited us down, and they were running a label and didn’t tell us anything about the client’s hotel or it being U2’s label or anything like that, we found all that out afterwards. That was where I met Fabio actually… through those guys. That was where the drum & bass thing really came in.
We’d get the likes of LTJ Bukem coming through [Belfast] and the top guys like that and I’d give them a tape, but it was funny because some of the early guys ignored me and you had to be pretty determined to get heard. But I remember I did manage to get a tape through to Bukem and he called my parents – I was only about 20 at the time – and it felt like it was the big time, like “here it is!” but the release never happened and it frustrated me to a large degree. But things like that are good because you realise how fucking annoying the music industry is from the start. You need to be annoyed a wee bit like that to learn a bit about it.
What about some of your first gigs? Can you remember any of those? Any stories that stand out?
I remember the first gig I played in England was funny because it was in Nottingham at a club called The Bomb and we actually got lost and my mates were like, “ask that taxi driver”. So I asked him like, “hey, do you know where the bomb is?” and that’s not a good thing to ask someone in a Belfast accent [laughs]. But this was my first gig and I remember I only had like three plates and Fabio had given me a bunch of things he wasn’t playing so I had to live off his scraps for a while. That’s how it was. The way I play music is I write for the sets so a lot of my sets have exclusive stuff, I mean maybe it’ll be a shit tune but at least you’re only gonna hear it once. I like to have that element of it, but this was before that time so my early DJ experiences were very harrowing. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I still don’t really know. Sometimes it comes to me and then it goes [laughs].
When I was with Creative Source, I didn’t have the freedom that I wanted and I suppose when I saw how Marcus and ST Files were running Soul:ution independently I leapt at the chance to run my own label, for me that was fantastic place to be because I didn’t want to have anybody being my boss. I wanted to have control of my own destiny and sculpt my own thing.
You can catch Calibre DJing for a mammoth six hour stint in RM3 on Friday 7th March.
Photos: Rachael Sanchious