By day, Nathan Martin is one of the county’s foremost funeral directors; respectfully conducting the final arrangements for families coping with the emotional punch of the loss of a loved one.
As a moonlighting DJ, music producer and club night promoter, he swaps the top hat and black suit for the record decks and headphones.
And he’s enjoyed considerable success. He’s performed around the world, holding crowds in the palm of his hand at the likes of London’s legendary Ministry of Sound, The Cross and Fabric clubs. He’s performed at Pacha in Egypt and New York’s famous Twilo. His biggest show was to 45,000 people at the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. He’s also a regular in and around the county – including a ten-year stint as resident DJ of Banks Bar in Maidstone.
He’s produced dance floor hits and superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold has popped around his house for a cup of tea. He’s worked with the likes of DJ Sasha, Maidstone’s homegrown music star Nic Fanciulli and The Thrillseekers, among many others.
“It's that taboo of people thinking all funeral directors are scary,” he explains, “that they live in the dark with skulls for wallpaper. But it’s not like that.
“I'm just a normal person and at the weekends I enjoy going out to play some music. If I've been looking after families and getting emotionally drained from what I'm experiencing during the week, going out and playing music is the best therapy.”
The two sides of Nathan’s life are hard to reconcile. And he goes to great lengths to ensure there is a very clear dividing line between his two interests; especially given the deep emotional connection he has with his day job – what he describes as “his calling”.
“My mum passed away when I was very young; when I was 10 or 11,” he explains. “Then I suffered various bereavements throughout my teenage years.
“But I was always drawn back to seeing what the funeral director did on the day of my mum's funeral. These people are looking after the most precious thing in my life. The service was done with such military precision and with so much respect.
“To see the caring, compassionate way they treated my dad through this horrendous time. It was hugely comforting to know that there was somebody there.”
Not that it was his first career option.
Born in Barming and raised in Maidstone, he left school at 16 and went into the Navy where he served for several years before leaving to train as a chef – a career which saw him work in a string of top restaurants.
But his desire to help those whose pain he was only too aware of, would win out and, in his early-twenties, started a career at an undertakers – working his way up from the bottom to the top of his profession.
Today, he is an area manager at Funeral Partners – the third largest funeral provider in the UK – where he oversees nine funeral homes. He had also recently been appointed as the Kent president of the National Association of Funeral Directors; a role he is rightly proud of achieving.
Now living in Snodland, with his partner of two years, he has never regretted his career choice.
“I never wake up in the morning and dread going in to work,” he says, “I love everything I do.
“I never let my standards slip. From putting polish on my shoes every day to brushing my top hat down and polishing my can every time I leave for a funeral. You’ve got to present yourself in a way the family know their loved ones are being properly looked after. It’s challenging and it’s emotional, but it’s also the best job in the world.”
Not that it’s all been plain sailing.
“I’ve been doing this job for more than 20 years,” he reflects, “and I've never experienced anything like I did during Covid. The number of deceased was just shocking.
“And off the back of that we had to then explain to the family why they can't carry their loved one into the chapel; why they can only have a handful of people there.”
His love of music, meanwhile, pre-dates his career choice – initially stumbling into the joys of playing music when trying out the DJ decks of a friend’s brother.
“He was a bedroom DJ,” he recalls, “we’d go in and have a go when he was out.”
It has become a release for him which started with his debut club night in Maidstone to a highly successful sideline.
“From Monday to Friday I am completely dedicated to my job. But on Friday and Saturday that’s my time to play music,” he says.
“I still remember the first time I did my first ever mix from one record into another; when you've blended music into each other seamlessly. That's it. You're hooked.”
Starting with house music, his focus has been on dance, trance and everything in between ever since.
He’s performed alongside some of the biggest names in the music industry across the hottest venues in the world. And he still gets a buzz when performing.
“When you get that reaction from the crowd it’s the best thing. I’m quite a shy person really. I hide behind my music a little bit. But every now and again, when you get that feedback from the crowd, it brings you out and then you start to really enjoy it with them. I'm just playing other people's music; very loud. There's nothing special about me.”
While he may be modest, he expanded his skillset into producing and was signed to Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto label. He’s also done production work for BBC Radio 1.
“The most random thing,” he says when I push him for on his work with the big names, “was when Paul Oakenfold turned up at my house for a cup of tea. That was bizarre. I got home from work and suddenly there’s a knock at the door. It was Paul – he was on his way back to the airport he thought he’d drop by. He’s lovely.“
Not that he’s short of famous names in his address book – having promoted shows and performed alongside the likes of DJs Dave Pearce, Grahan Gold and Seth Troxler.
So has he ever been tempted to shift his music career above that of undertaker?
“There was a period of time,” he recalls, “when I was away most weekends playing music and there was the opportunity to focus on it. But my passion is looking after people, bereaved families at the lowest point of their lives. That was a clear decision for me.
“Monday to Friday I’m 100% focused on funerals. Then, come the weekend, music is my release.
“I’ve helped many families during my career and often see them when I’m a DJ in a club. They are surprised. But I think it helps bring them round to thinking that funeral directors aren’t scary.”
He’s recently been performing regularly at London nightspot XOYO and been behind the decks at Rochester’s George Vaults as well as regular nights at the Social Chill Bar in Maidstone.
I’ve helped many families during my career and often see them when I’m a DJ in a club. They are surprised
In addition to that, with his funeral director’s hat on, he’s helped promote campaigns calling for death, dying and bereavement to be on to the national curriculum to break the taboo around what is, after all, inevitable for us all.
He’s also launched a LGBTQ+ group within the National Association of Funeral Directors to help tackle homophobia in the sector – which he had been a victim of in the past – and promote equality and education around it.
“You know, I’d love to be touring the world and playing music,” he reflects, “ but looking after people at funerals is much more important to me. It will always come first – its my greatest passion in life.
“Now I’m president of the Kent areas for the NAFD I’ll be able to help give a voice nationally to Kent funeral directors, and that’s a great privilege.”