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By Chuck Strouse
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Dan "Doormouse" Martin, a six-foot-tall electronic musician who sports a beard and an all-too-revealing high school cheerleader outfit, screams across the stage, beckoning DJ Baseck to do a set of jumping jacks. Miami native and Schematic recording artist Otto Von Schirach stands off to the side, appearing frightened as a naked Baseck furiously complies with Martin's requests. Over the course of the performance, Martin will eat his boogers, completely disrobe, taunt the audience, and generally push boundaries.
To the outsider, these antics might seem sophomoric. But Martin has the talent to back up his high jinks. He's the godfather of Midwest hardcore and an originator of breakcore, two aggressive electronic genres that reconstruct the 4/4 beats of house or techno and rebuild it with dense jackhammer tempos. His musical journey has taken him from early attempts at bad techno through gabber and breakcore before eventually arriving at a distinctive amalgam of hard electronic beats, ingenious multigenre sampling, and freeform experimentalism. He has founded two successful and respected imprints of his own, first Distort and then Addict, and his productions have appeared on many others.
His 2002 arrival in Miami from Milwaukee adds another dimension to the superclub hedonism and DIY no-fi noise/electronic ironists who dominate South Florida's electronic music scene. Martin falls in the area where superior talent, outsider aesthetics, and over-the-top performance art intersect. Once the initial wave of shock subsides, audiences will discover one of the most intriguing performers in Miami.
"Half of my rep is for being an insane, meat-throwing, head-butting spastic, but the other half is for always showing up and always throwing myself into [the music] full force," reflects Martin.
As a youth raised in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Martin found his tastes transitioning from metal to punk to "bad rave music." In the mid-Nineties, he acquired primitive pirated musical software; purloined his father's CPU; showed the first tracks he made to DigitalHut, a small Brooklyn-based label; and in 1996 released 414 Tracks,the first in his ever-growing deluge of output.
During this period, he was also actively contributing to Wisconsin's underground music scene. A small venue dubbed The Barn, which was literally a barn in rural Wisconsin, served as a meeting place for disaffected teens attempting to ward off religious orthodoxy and subfreezing temperatures with musical experimentation and a noxious mix of drugs and alcohol. It marked the birthplace of a burgeoning Midwest breakcore scene, and after Von Schirach, Venetian Snares, and Baseck were shipped in, the scene began to flourish.
It was at The Barn in 1995 that Martin would meet drummer Joshua Jenquin, a.k.a. Anonymous, and instrumentalist Marty Frank. Their performances, which featured alternative uses for raw meat, enamored and inspired Martin. "The performance stuff really started when I started playing with [meat].... Something inside of me snapped and I became intoxicated with the power of performance," recalls Martin.
While some producers in his field rarely emerge from their equipment-laden dungeons, Martin began developing his wildly escalating, ultra-aggressive live shows. They would quickly develop into a calling card of sorts.
"That's kind of why people would go to the shows, to be scared, like a more musical, more intelligent G.G. Allin," states Von Schirach, breakcore artist and coconspirator of Doormouse's. "The first time I met him, I thought he was going to jump me."
By the late-Nineties, the scene at The Barn had spread to Milwaukee. Martin's sound was also growing more nuanced and thornier. Pinning down exactly what type of music Doormouse produces is tricky. He built his early reputation on gabber, a Dutch-born form of 4/4 electronica defined by tempos upward of 160 bpm, but quickly moved past this strict definition.
Recent releases incorporate gabber's breakneck pace but also express a palpable and divergent sense of humor and stylistic range that distance him from the other producers in the genre. And though some dub his music breakcore implying a mixture of electro breaks and hardcore tempos Doormouse also rejects that label: "Breakcore is just another silly genre name. I make music and some of it falls into certain categories and some doesn't. I just make music that I feel."
Since Doormouse immersed himself in live performance and solidified his reputation regionally and nationally, he has released more than 40 records, not including collaborations, remixes, and appearances on other records. He has toured the U.S. and the world, and has opened a highly successful record store in Milwaukee, Massive Record Source.
Despite helping foster a vibrant scene in Milwaukee, by 2002 Doormouse was ready to move on. He sold his record store and relocated to Miami, where he had a girlfriend who was pregnant with his child.
Upon his arrival, Doormouse instantly became one of the most aggressive and innovative artists in South Florida. Despite his credentials, it has been a slow burn here for Martin. Initially he usually just DJed at a series of regular hip-hop gigs in SoBe. On the occasions when he'd play his original compositions, his shows were more reserved, though a neophyte would be hard-pressed to recognize this. "We still do get over-the-top. It's not as self-destructive. It's now more for the performance."