[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
When Edrina Martinez was a little girl, she wanted to be an astronaut or a rock star. Two things got in the way of the 21-year-old electronic producer who calls herself Astronautica: lack of science skills and the Low End Theory.
“I was always enamored by space and how big and massive it is…except I sucked at math and science,” Martinez remembers of her early years in San Dimas, home of the most excellent waterslides but not exactly a hotbed for ethereal and aqueous beats. Today wearing a scoop-neck tee and black leggings, she is olive-toned and of Filipino, Mexican and Nicaraguan ancestry.
Raised amidst diverse musical tastes — hip-hop, R&B, classical, salsa and jazz — she discovered the Low End Theory three years ago, after friends in San Francisco told her about the beat mecca where Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing, the Gaslamp Killer, et al., melted eardrums on a weekly basis.
“I was immediately obsessed,” Martinez says, describing the impact of seeing Nosaj Thing for the first time at the Lincoln Heights Wednesday ritual. A student at San Francisco State, she'd only recently reconnected with music after four years at a private, all-girls school in Glendora, where she listened to Elliott Smith and sporadically picked up the electric guitar that she'd begun playing at 11.
“I grew up in the suburbs, and when I went out in L.A., it was the douchey Hollywood scene. Low End Theory was my first time going into an actual subculture of L.A. and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Exploring the deep archipelago of local producers, Martinez rapidly became enamored with Tokimonsta, née Jennifer Lee, after discovering her videos while surfing YouTube late one night. Not only did she love the futuristic fracturing of genre, she connected with Lee's role as one of the few female stars of the L.A. beat world.
Transferring to Cal State Fullerton to study communications, Martinez moved into her grandparents' house in Covina. They built her a studio; she bought production software program Ableton and a pocket-sized recorder to tape found noises. After significant trial and error, her Soundcloud account started gaining followers — one of whom was Daddy Kev, co-founder of Low End Theory.
“What impressed me the most were her phrasing and progressions. She understands how to use negative space,” Kev says of Martinez, whose debut, Replay Last Night, drops this week on his Alpha Pup Records. “But her live performance really inspired me to sign her. She's cool, calm and confident. Electronic music is very male-dominated and it causes many female producers to have a chip on their shoulder. [Martinez] doesn't. She's comfortable with herself and it's refreshing.”
Astronautica's aesthetic synthesizes her past influences. There are sauna-warm electric guitar riffs, moody keyboard loops, R&B samples and the after-midnight soul of fellow LET alumni Shlohmo, Teebs and Nosaj Thing. As the elements in her name indicate, the sound is both celestial and watery — beat as cosmic soup.
Both for her present abilities and as a harbinger of future promise, she's earned representation at Creative Artists Agency, even accepting an invitation to DJ the talent agency's Grammy-night party before guests like Rick Ross and Rihanna.
“I just want to portray what's going on over here right now, in this time and place,” Martinez says, reflective of an era where the DJ is more dominant than the guitar hero.
“I figured if I'm not going to be an astronaut in a physical sense, I'd be one in a metaphorical sense. Plus, I've been called space cadet plenty of times.”