If you didn't know much about him, it would be easy at first glance to write off Stickybuds as just another party DJ, more concerned with the thump of the music he makes than the message behind it. But scratch below the surface and you'll realize there's much more to revered West Coast producer, born Tyler Martens.
For one, after over a decade in the industry, Martens has shifted from the sample-heavy approach of his early years to a more lush, organic sound that incorporates live instruments and vocals. The former Kelowna Centre for Arts teacher has also been beefing up on his songwriting and music theory skills, even picking up some piano along the way.
"Coming up, I just used to sample tons of stuff — all these amazing artists who were great songwriters and musicians, and when you take away the sampling and actually just create all that stuff yourself and find people to play and sing on your records, it's so much more work and so much more challenging," he says. "But it's also so much more rewarding when you actually do it."
Known for his wide-ranging sets that incorporate everything from reggae to hip-hop, funk and drum n' bass, Martens has become a master of the mix.
"Aside from the music being good, mixing is the most important piece," he says. "You can string (listeners) along and never let the music end that much — like I really don't play a lot of breakdowns where the music completely stops. There's always elements going either from the previous song or the current song, they're always mingling just to keep you engaged in the music."
The prolific producer is also the first name anyone in the know associates with the Kootenays' beloved electronic festival, Shambhala, having performed there each of the last 13 years, his sets becoming highly sought after mixes on Soundcloud after the fest wraps.
"I work harder on that set than anything else. It's the pinnacle of my year," Martens says.
After so many years, Martens has to work to keep things fresh at Shambhala — even challenging himself to release a chill mix at last year's festival that runs counter to his usual upbeat dancefloor fillers.
"Every year, there's usually someone new coming to my life as a musician and I get vocals or stems from them (to use in my Shambhala set)," he explains. "I'm like a farmer in the field checking out the fresh produce and figuring out the best dishes I can make with it."
As Martens has matured as a musician, so too has the messaging he incorporates into his songs.
"Politically and economically, I'm decently educated, and find those things enthralling. But I'm switching from doing Facebook posts about it just because everyone is an armchair economist or political spectator now. It's been a goal for a long time to put those messages more into the music that I make," he says, adding that his next album, due out next year, is his most political yet.
With the noxious state of political discourse, athletes and entertainers have experienced a certain backlash for voicing their views. But Martens isn't about to let that silence him.
"Right now, I feel like the landscape and the global consciousness is so poisoned by this insane propaganda barrage that's coming at everyone from every angle at every moment of the day," he says. "You'll see fans, as soon as someone says an opinion, be like, 'Stick to music, man! We don't care what you think!' So instead of just sharing my opinions on Twitter, which is very disposable these days, I'm trying to focus it more into the music."
Martens has managed to carve out a globe-trotting career for himself — his track, "Clap Your Hands Now" was even used in Sony's worldwide marketing campaign for Spider-Man: Homecoming — by doing exactly what he wants to do, something he doesn't plan on changing anytime soon.
"There's lots of people who don't exactly like my music, and that's fine. But there's lots of people that do. So I'm going to do keep doing what I want," he says.
Stickybuds brings his freewheeling set to Tommy Africa's on Dec. 13. Doors at 10 p.m. Tickets are $15, available at the club or online at myshowpass.com.