Billie Ray Martin
|Billie Ray Martin|
|Birth name||Birgit Dieckmann|
|Also known as||
|Born||Hamburg, West Germany|
|Origin||West Berlin, Allied-occupied German Democratic Republic|
Born in Hamburg, West Germany, Martin grew up near Reeperbahn, St. Pauli, in the city's red-light district, with her working-class grandparents, who bombarded her with Elvis Presley and German schlager music. Otherwise, she worked hard at keeping her away from the hookers and harbour-workers who populated her family and the area in which they lived.[dead link] Billie's mother worked at the Star-Club, St. Pauli, where she waitressed to The Beatles during their 1962 residency. Billie's first demos were made at the age of five years old. Her teenage years were taken up by an obsession with the songs of Elton John, which was soon to be discarded for a lifestyle of punk.
In the early 1980s, Martin moved to Berlin. It was the time of the electronic invasion by bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and the early Human League. Billie's conceptions of music were changed entirely. At the same time, she was consciously encountering the soul music of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Aretha Franklin and the Motown and Stax revival . She formed a number of soul and sixties garage oriented R&B bands including Billie and the Deep, an eleven piece soul band with a garage sound. Their live shows became very popular in Berlin in 1985–86. She also experimented with electronic music for the first time, again forming many bands including The Idiot Cards and Shimmer.
After these experiences, Martin moved to London with one mission: to fuse soul and electronics (‘the intellectual and the emotional’ as she put it). She placed an ad in Melody Maker reading 'soul rebel seeks musical genius' and met with four men from Birmingham who had been looking for a voice to add to their sonics. Electribe 101 was the result. Martin went to Birmingham with a tune in her head and they recorded it on the spot. The track was entitled "Talking With Myself" and released as a 12" single on their own Hipnotic label. Quickly attracting radio play, it got the attention of Phonogram Records and the notorious manager Tom Watkins (who managed Pet Shop Boys, Bros and East 17). Watkins famously pestered them to remix Bros, which they refused. Electribe 101 signed with both label and manager.
Meanwhile, Martin had met DJ Mark Moore and gave him her details. He invited her to the studio to work with his band S'Express. Martin contributed to two songs on their debut album "Original Soundtrack" – 'Pimps, Pushers and Prostitutes' and 'Hey Music Lover' (retitled 'Music Lover' in the US). The latter became the third S'Express single and a top 10 UK hit (reaching #6), giving Martin her first Top of the Pops appearance. It allowed her to travel across Europe with the group for a variety of TV appearances in support of the single.
Electribe 101's first single with Phonogram was "Tell Me When The Fever Ended" released in November 1989 reaching No. 32 and gaining the band a Top of the Pops appearance and unanimous press acclaim. They were quickly dubbed 'the next big thing' and Martin described as 'a genius singer', while NME described the single as "The second best soul song to come out of Britain in many a year, the best being their on-the-whole passed over debut 'Talking With Myself'.”. "Talking With Myself" was re-released in February 1990 with a Frankie Knuckles mix and became a hit reaching No. 23 in the UK and No. 8 on the Billboard charts. DJ and producer Marshall Jefferson refused to remix it as he felt it was "already perfect". Melody Maker described it as 'one of the greatest soul songs ever recorded'. Once again, Electribe 101 made an appearance on Top of the Pops as well as other TV programmes including MTV. "Talking With Myself" remains a club classic and has appeared on countless Ibiza and chill-out compilations over the past 22 years. It was re-mixed in 1998 and reached No. 39.
Billie's personal style gained attention, with her gracing i-D magazine's cover and weekly music/pop periodicals, pre-eminently: NME, Melody Maker, Smash Hits, Record Mirror and Number One. NME described her style as looking like 'Cilla Black on Acid' when she made her first Top of the Pops appearance. A connection with Steve Nieve led to her being a guest vocalist with house band Steve Nieve and The Playboys, memorably singing "Stay With Me" and "Chain of Fools", on Channel X UK television series The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, first aired on Channel 4.
Electribe 101's third single was entitled 'You’re Walking' and reached No. 50 on the UK charts, prior to the release of their long-awaited debut album 'Electribal Memories'. A live concert at London's The Town & Country Club (now The London Forum) was televised on ITV to coincide. They also played to a crowd of 50,000 at Milton Keynes Bowl in support to Erasure. Electribe 101 were then selected as the support act for the European leg of Depeche Mode’s 'World Violation' tour, including several nights at both the Birmingham NEC and Wembley Arena. A fourth single was released – a cover of the Jesse Rae song 'Inside Out' which remains a favourite of many DJs including Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl. The video was filmed in Paris. Electribe 101 continued to tour, enjoying a rapturous reception everywhere from London to Tokyo.
The band then set to work on their second album, with a provisional title of 'Electronic Soul'. Problems with Watkins and Phonogram meant this was not released and the band split while on the verge of signing to Sony Records. There were plans for an EP entitled 'The Industrial Gospel Revenge' including a cover of 'That's How Strong My Love Is' and their own ballad ‘ A Sigh Won’t Do', but this did not materialise and the band went their separate ways.
Her debut solo release was at the end of 1993 and in collaboration with the British dance duo Spooky on a cover of the Throbbing Gristle song 'Persuasion'. It placed Martin back in the spotlight, with favourable reviews, the track being described as 'a transformation into a distinguished electronic chanson'. Her second release was the 'Four Ambient Tales' EP with Dave Ball and Richard Norris of The Grid. A daring blend of vocals and ambient textures it was described by The Face as 'monumentally beautiful'. She made a further appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show on Channel 4, performing a cover of Ann Peebles’ "I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down" with Slash from Guns N’Roses on guitar.
She gathered a new set of songs, writing with collaborators including David Harrow, Arthur Baker, Mushroom of Massive Attack and Eric Kupper. She booked a showcase gig at London's Jazz Café and as a result was signed to East West Records, a subsidiary of Warner Music. In the US, Martin was signed to Seymour Stein’s Sire Records. The first release was "Your Loving Arms" again with Dave Ball and Richard Norris of The Grid on production. The track gave her the title of 'the Marlene Dietrich of techno' from Select. It reached just No. 38 in November 1994, but continued for months to be a club hit. On subsequent re-release the song peaked at No. 6 in the UK Singles Chart in May 1995, Martin once again appearing on Top of the Pops and various UK and European TV shows in support. In the US, the Junior Vasquez mix helped the song strike the Billboard Hot 100 twice, peaking at No. 87 in 1995 and at No. 46 a year later. Further mixes by Todd Terry and Brothers in Rhythm helped the song become a success across Europe, reaching No. 1, and remaining on European charts for many weeks. It also topped the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart and is now considered one of the all-time classics of dance music. Two videos were commissioned – the original in black and white and one in colour for the US market.
Already in February 1995, the Junior Vasquez mix of 'True Moments of my World' was being played in clubs, but this was not released as her next single. Instead, 'Running Around Town' was chosen and reached No. 29 in the UK, as well as hitting No. 1 on the club charts. Her solo album entitled Deadline for My Memories was planned for an Autumn release, but was delayed until 1996. Produced by BT (Brian Transeau) it was Billie's vision of Kraftwerk meets Phil Spector featuring epic ballads like the title track alongside gospel influenced songs and house and electro classics. It included several songs originally destined for Electribe 101's second album. The album was preceded by extensive press coverage including a number of magazine cover stories. Martin also guested on BBC Two's …Later with Jools Holland performing two songs from the forthcoming album – 'Hands Up And Amen' and 'I Don’t Believe'. Jools later reflected that Billie's scary hula dancing was the best dancing that had ever featured on the show. Morrissey and Pulp were other guests on this edition of '…Later'.
The album was preceded by a third single 'Imitation of Life' on 31 December 1995 which reached No. 29. A video for the single was filmed in the docks and bars of Hamburg and featured members of Billie's family and her friends. "Deadline for My Memories" was released at the end of January and allowed Martin to tour the UK, with dates continuing throughout the year. Two further singles were released from the album – 'Space Oasis' and the big ballad 'You And I (Keep Holding On)’. TV appearances continued including a live MTV performance from Turkey.
In Europe she collaborated with Italian dance producers Datura and featured on three singles which were major hits in Italy, Greece and Turkey – 'Devotion', 'Passion' and 'Mystic Motion'. She also loaned her (uncredited) vocals to a track called 'Sky High' under the name of Individual, which was a major club hit.
Martin spent an increasing amount of time touring US clubs with her live show promoting "Your Loving Arms" as it began its second ascent of the charts, again reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Charts. This included a TV appearance on ‘The Ricki Lake Show’.
Meanwhile, she continued to write new songs for a projected second album, which were taking on a more soulful and country influence. As this did not fit with Warner Music’s vision for Billie, she left the label and London and moved to New York. During her time there, she wrote with dance music producer Fred Jorio and also embarked on a drum and bass project entitled Sonnenstahl. She signed with React Music Limited in the UK, with two solo singles planned from the Jorio sessions – 'Honey' and 'Don’t Believe A Word'. 'Honey' was produced by The Grid and released in July 1999 with live shows including an extravagant performance at the Summer Rites festival in London's Brockwell Park. The song hit No. 1 in the club charts, but missed the radio support it needed and made No. 54 in the UK singles chart. The second release was cancelled and Martin focused her attentions on her next solo album, deciding to fuse the drum and bass ideas with the more traditional blues and soul songs that she had been writing. "Honey" debuted stateside courtesy of Nervous Records four years later. The song peaked at No. 1 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts despite sporadic radio airplay.
She also recorded an album of soul and blues songs with the Jon Tiven Group in New York. This album remains unreleased and includes new songs such as 'The Glittering Gutter' and 'Your Ghost Is Right Behind Me'. A single and an EP of her drum and bass recordings were released by NY label Finetune recordings. The single was 'Pacemaker' while the EP was entitled 'Crime & Punishment'.
In Summer 2000, she travelled to Memphis, TN to record her next album at the legendary House of Blues studio. Her band was led by Marvell Thomas, son of Rufus Thomas, and featured members of Aretha Franklin’s own band. Ann Peebles and Carla Thomas provided backing vocals, while Peebles duetted with Martin on the album's title track "18 Carat Garbage". Back in Europe, Martin added her trademark experimental electronics to the recordings with producer Felix Huber and recorded some additional drum and bass inspired tracks with the group Plexique. The album "18 Carat Garbage" was released on Billie's own Sonnenstahl record label. Two singles were released from the album: ‘I’ve Never Been To Memphis’ and the Motown inspired 'Where Fools Rush In'. The album got a second lease of life in June 2002 in the UK with sold-out live shows at the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road. These included a performance of her "Repulsion" show (a live score to the Roman Polanski film) which she performed again in January 2003 to a capacity crowd at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts. The show was endorsed by Roman Polanski himself as was her plan to launch "Repulsion – the musical". In 2002, Sonnenstahl Records released the 12-track CD "Recycled Garbage", a compilation of remixes of selected tracks from "18 Carat Garbage". Most prominently, the album featured the Junior Vasquez remix of "Systems of Silence" which hit US club and buzz charts.
Martin then released a series of singles on her new Disco Activisto label, including the electronic music club hits "No Brakes on My Rollerskates" and "Dead Again". She made headline performances at the clubnights Drama and Electrogogo in London and Susanne Bartsch's clubnight in New York, among many others.
In 2005–06 she released collaborations with DJ Hell and Slam achieving critical acclaim. The song "Je Regrette Everything" (written by Billie and Mikael Delta) appeared on DJ Hell's album "NY Muscle" (Universal Music) and caused The Guardian to write 'Billie Ray Martin is a revelation'. DJ Hell himself said of Martin 'she's one of the living legends in modern music history and one of the best voices on planet earth'. "Bright Lights Fading" appeared on Slam's "Year Zero" album. Both this and "Je Regrette Everything" were subsequently released as singles. Martin performed at two major release extravaganzas for 'NY Muscle' in Berlin and Paris, performing the song 'Je Regrette Everything'. The performance in Paris was filmed and released on a DJ Hell DVD.
The Moroder-influenced solo single "Undisco Me" was released on Rebirth Records in April 2007, and reached No. 6 in the UK Dance Chart. She also began a second career as a disc jockey launching her own clubnight Komputerliebe in London and then Frankfurt, which lead to subsequent bookings across the globe.
In 2008, Martin formed a new project. Recording as The Opiates with Robert Solheim on production. The Opiates made their live debut at Rough Trade, Brick Lane, London, in March, to coincide with the group's first release, the "Anatomy of a Plastic Girl" EP.
In 2010, she released "The Crackdown Project" featuring her takes on the Cabaret Voltaire classic album "The Crackdown". It reinforced her unique position as an artist who appeals to the both the uber-cool magazines like Flux, Wound and The Wire as well as the pop mainstream, achieving 'Song of the Day' status at Popjustice. 15,000 downloads in a matter of days, plus overwhelming press and DJ feedback confirmed her vision.
2011 began with the solo single "Sweet Suburban Disco" being Billie's new vision of Italo disco. With mixes by Vince Clarke of Yazoo fame amongst others, it quickly attracted support from the world's key DJs from Black Strobe to John Digweed. A shared love for old-school Chicago and Detroit house-music brought Martin together with underground darlings Hard Ton, and the "Sold Life" EP was the result. Featuring a new song "Sold Life" and a cover of the Pierre's Pfantasy Club classic "Fantasy Girl", the collaboration brought Martin back to her house beginnings and her famed Electribe 101 roots. It created a serious buzz, charted by everyone from Laurent Garnier to Kim Ann Foxman from Hercules and Love Affair.
A second EP from The Opiates titled "Rainy Days and Remixes" was released in September 2011 as a prelude to their long awaited album "Hollywood Under The Knife". A short UK tour including a gig at HMV on Oxford Street, London launched the album, which was packaged in unique imagery by Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans. A long-term fan of Billie, he supplied nine previously unseen images for the cover and booklet. The album got a four star review in Metro among other positive reviews and featured in many end of year polls. In February 2012, a remix collection entitled "Hollywood Cuts" including contributions from Kim Ann Foxman and Aerea Negrot of Hercules and Love Affair plus Throbbing Gristle legends Chris & Cosey was released.
Spring 2012 saw the release of a series of collaborations including 'Make Me Feel' on Terranova's 'Hotel Amour' album, and 'Hyper Lust' on the new album from Motor – both making impressions on buzz and other charts when released as singles across the Summer.
In September, Martin released a limited edition DVD entitled 'Five Takes (A Song About Andy)’, featuring five movies inspired by Andy Warhol‘s Screen Tests. The song 'On Borrowed Time' is presented in five unique takes, with music by electronic producer and soul singer Waterson.
Albums and EPs
- Electribe 101 – Electribal Memories (1990)
- Persuasion Ep (with Spooky – 1993, reissued 2003)
- Four Ambient Tales EP (1993, 4 Ambient Tales, re-released 2000 as Four Ambient Tales)
- Deadline for My Memories (1996) – No. 47 UK
- 18 Carat Garbage (2001)
- 18 Carat Garbage Demos (2002)
- Recycled Garbage (2002)
- BRM New Demos (2003)
- The Opiates – "Anatomy of a Plastic Girl" (2008)
- The Opiates – Rainy Days and Remixes EP (2011)
- The Opiates – Hollywood Under The Knife (2011)
- The Opiates – Hollywood Cuts (2012)
- "Five Takes (A Song About Andy)" – DVD release (2012)
- "Persuasion" (Billie Ray Martin featuring Spooky) (1993)
- "Your Loving Arms" (1994) – No. 6 UK; No. 46 US
- "Running Around Town" (1996) – No. 29 UK
- "Imitation of Life" (1996) – No. 29 UK
- "Space Oasis" (1996) – No. 66 UK
- "You And I Keep Holding On" (1997)
- "Pacemaker" (1998)
- "Honey" (1999) – No. 54 UK
- "I'm Not Keen" (Mikael Delta featuring Billie Ray Martin) (2002)
- "Systems of Silence" (2001)
- "I've Never Been to Memphis" (2001)
- "Where Fools Rush In" (2001)
- "18 Carat Garbage" (2002)
- "Honey '03" (2003)
- "Je Regrette Everything" (DJ Hell featuring Billie Ray Martin) (2003)
- "Disco Activisto - The First Two Singles" (2004)
- "No Brakes on My Rollerskates" (Hot Skates 3000 featuring Billie Ray Martin) (2005)
- "Bright Lights Fading" (Slam featuring Billie Ray Martin (2005)
- "Undisco Me" (2007) No. 20 US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play
- The Opiates "Anatomy of a Plastic Girl" EP (2008)
- "The Crackdown" (2010)
- "Sweet Suburban Disco" (2011)
- "Sold Life" EP (Billie Ray Martin & Hard Ton) (2011)
- "Hyper Lust" (Motor featuring Billie Ray Martin) (2012)
- "Make Me Feel" (Terranova featuring Billie Ray Martin) (2012)
"Imitation of Life" was remixed by Grammy Award winning remixer David Morales. Brian Transeau (aka BT) produced remixes for the singles "Space Oasis" and "Running Around Town". Almost all of Billie Ray Martin's singles have been remixed by Junior Vasquez, including "Your Loving Arms", "Running Around Town", "Space Oasis", "Systems of Silence", and "18 Carat Garbage". "Your Loving Arms" and "Imitation of Life" were remixed by Brothers in Rhythm. Roger Sanchez and Todd Terry both remixed "Your Loving Arms" edits – it was hoped the latter would replicate the stateside success enjoyed by Everything But The Girl's No. 2 hit "Missing." "Honey" was remixed by Above & Beyond, Chicane, and Deep Dish. "Pacemaker" was remixed by E-Smoove.
- List of number-one dance hits (United States)
- List of artists who reached number one on the US Dance chart
- Martin Ray Martin | Music Biography, Credits and Discography. AllMusic.
- :: Billie ray martin i-fansite ::. T0n1.altervista.org.
- Electribe – 1.0.1.* – Talking With Myself (Vinyl) at Discogs. discogs.com (22 May 2011).
- Tom Watkins – Pop Svengali. Popjustice.com.
- :: Billie ray martin i-fansite ::. T0n1.altervista.org.
- :: Billie ray martin i-fansite ::. T0n1.altervista.org (10 January 2002).
- S'Express – Original Soundtrack (CD, Album) at Discogs. discogs.
- Electribe 101 – Electribal Memories at Discogs. discogs.
- Erasure — Milton Keynes — The National Bowl — 01 September 1990. Songkick (1 September 1990).
- Electribe 101 – Inside Out – Listen live music, download free mp3 and search all in iTunes and Amazon stores. X-musics.com.
- RA: Martin Ray Martin. Residentadvisor.net.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 351–352. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.