Cliff Martinez, who was born in the Bronx but raised in Ohio, moved to California in 1976 landing in the middle of the punk movement. After stints as the drummer for the Weirdos, Lydia Lunch and Foetus frontman Jim Thirlwell, and the final incarnation of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Martinez joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers (playing on the band’s first two albums) and later the Dickies. It was during his tenure with the Chili Peppers that Cliff began exploring the new technologies of that era, which would eventually guide him towards the film music world.
A tape Martinez had put together using these new technologies made its rounds, leading him to score an episode of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The same recording also ended up in Steven Soderbergh’s hands and Martinez was hired to score the famed director’s first theatrical release 1989’s sex, lies, and videotape. Martinez’s longstanding relationship with Soderbergh has continued through the years and they have worked together on ten theatrical releases including Kafka, The Limey, Traffic, Solaris and 2011’s Contagion.
Perhaps it is because of his time in the punk scene that Martinez’s approach to scoring is nontraditional. His scores tend towards being stark and sparse, utilizing a modern tonal palette to paint the backdrop for films that are often dark, psychological stories like Pump Up the Volume (1990), The Limey (2009) Wonderland (2003), Wicker Park (2004), and Drive (2011). Martinez has been nominated for a Grammy Award (Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic), a Cesar Award (Xavier Giannoli’s A L’origine), and a Broadcast Film Critics Award (Drive).
Still the drummer at heart, Martinez’s use of audio manipulations, particularly for percussive sounds, has been evolving through the years and is evident by the hammered dulcimer of Kafka (1991), the gray-areas between sound design and score for Traffic (2000), the steel drums and textures of Solaris (2002), what Martinez called ‘rhythmi-tizing pitched, ambient textures’ of Narc (2002), and ‘using percussion performances to trigger and shape the rhythmic and tonal characteristics of those ambient textures,’ as he described his score for 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer.
Cliff Martinez was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2012 with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He earned the prestigious Richard Kirk Lifetime Achievement award from BMI in 2013. Martinez served as a juror for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and served on the International Feature nominating committee for 2011 Film Independent Spirit Awards. Martinez’s recent films include Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep, Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage, and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (co-composed with Skrillex). His second film with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives, earned Martinez a 2014 Robert Award (Danish Academy Award).
Cliff currently composes the music for the series The Knick, directed by Soderbergh. His 2016 releases include Arms and the Dudes, directed by Todd Phillips, and will team again with Nicolas Winding Refn on The Neon Demon.