Kevin Martin has been busy. So far this year, he’s dropped projects via his most recent JK Flesh collaboration Zonal, King Midas Sound, as well as a solo album under his new, most personal moniker yet, Kevin Richard Martin. Though fans of his club music will be pleased to hear that he is now working on not one, but two new The Bug albums.
With nearly three decades in the music industry and numerous critical projects under various names, Kevin doesn’t feel the pull to release music for the sake of it and works on his terms.
‘The way festivals, agents and the industry generally works is that they want a product every year. You’re lucky if you get six months’ give out of that project and you can end up in the never ending slew of dropping an album a year.
There’s not enough resonance or time given to any release
‘I think it’s too much. I think it means that there’s not enough resonance or time given to any release. And I just think their sell by date is just accelerated too much as well.
‘For me, I like the idea of spacing out The Bug albums. I also like devoting headspace when I feel that’s where I want to devote my head – and right now, I really want to devote myself to The Bug records. Partly, that’s because I feel that a lot of club music is pretty stale, and that adds fuel to my fire.’
a lot of club music is pretty stale
It’s strong talk, but fans have every reason to believe that he will shake things up. When London Zoo crashed into our world in 2008, its deeply futuristic take on dancehall and UK club music felt like something entirely new and is to this day regarded as one of the most important UK albums of the past two decades.
London Zoo is one of the most important UK albums of the past two decades
His 2014 follow up Angels & Devils too had a critical impact on the music scene, finding common ground between Grouper’s Liz Harris and Death Grips. Still club-orientated music and certainly with a few club bangers, Angels & Devils says as much in its void spaces as its pared-back, grime and dubstep influenced beats.
The Bug’s most recent album Concrete Desert, a collaboration with Earth’s Dylan Carlson, is his most challenging yet, where drone metal guitar meets The Bug’s crushing bassweight. Though different as the record is to London Zoo, similar threads – dark dub, dancehall, heavy bass, spatial manipulation, drone noise – run through all of his projects, across all his monikers.
similar threads – dark dub, dancehall, heavy bass, spatial manipulation, drone noise – run through all of his projects
The one most immediately attached to The Bug, however, is his take on dancehall; and while its influence might be abstract in Concrete Desert, dancehall is right back in front and centre on the two new The Bug projects he’s working on.
It’s a personal obsession
‘It’s a personal obsession. I think reggae, dub and dancehall literally changed my DNA a little bit. My first experience of a sound clash just after I first moved to London really made me see electronic music differently, and realise what was possible in a live environment with that intensity of sound.
‘I’d come from working in bands, which is largely about show and entertainment. Going from that to this gladiatorial sound clash in the East End of London, with two producers, two sound systems facing off with each other – no stage, no lighting – it was an eye opener for me. It was about full sonic immersion and just getting lost in sound.’
It was about full sonic immersion and just getting lost in sound
Having grown up in the predominantly white seaside town of Weymouth, Jamaican dancehall was a very new obsession for Kevin. The music he first connected to as a kid came from post punk bands like Joy Division, Public Image Ltd and Killing Joke; though again, common themes occur through his whole life’s musical journey.
‘There’s a sort of punk spirit to dancehall, an extremity sonically and lyrically that is definitely connected to everything I’ve ever loved.
‘I became absolutely addicted. I was going to reggae stores in Stonebridge Park or in Harlesden or Ladbroke Grove every week and buying the latest 7-inches that were coming out. It was such an avalanche of ideas and the music sounded so futuristic – it just hooked me totally.
‘Part of the tradition of dancehall that I fell for is unpredictability and quality combined – body music that’s futuristic. I’m just releasing a single by Mr. Mitch, which is what he calls techno dancehall, and it’s absolutely fucked up in the best way possible – it’s a really twisted, new variant of dancehall.
it’s a really twisted, new variant of dancehall
‘In general, a lot of dancehall in the last few years has left me pretty cold, because it’s become so commercial and so linked to hip hop that it’s lost its identity. I’ve been struggling to find fresh producers that smash it. But that’s good, because it just means that I can continue my obsession – if no one else is trying to do it, I’ll do it.
‘I’m working on two new The Bug albums and they’re both extremely different, but they’re both going to be very much centred around dancehall. The fact of the matter is, I’m finding little to inspire me that’s come from Jamaica in the way I once did, but that inspires me all the more.
I’m working on two new The Bug albums
‘It would be safer for me to not be involved in dancehall in any way, but it’s an honest enthusiasm and a genuine obsession. Working with Miss Red has been an eye opener, because she’s as much of a freak as I am. She’s also very much got her own style and is very original in approach, but neither of us come from Jamaica.
‘The dancehall I make is filtered through my past and my sonic desires, and when I started making mutant dancehall and went on to initiate a label like Acid Ragga, it was very much with the idea that I wanted to make what no one else was making, I wanted to end parties with a bang.
I wanted to make what no one else was making, I wanted to end parties with a bang
‘When I first started making dancehall, or my version of Bug-style dancehall, it was insane because suddenly there’d be people like Aphex Twin, Grace Jones, Thom Yorke and Massive Attack praising shit that I was doing.’
While he might have been putting his creative efforts into other projects in the last few years, this obsession never left Kevin’s periphery and even before beginning work on new material from The Bug, he inadvertently started his new label Pressure, which came out of a sound system night he runs in Berlin.
Launching with his Burial collaboration Flame 1 in 2018, Pressure has released music from Israel’s Miss Red, Kingston Jamaica’s Vex, Japan’s G36 and London’s Mr. Mitch.
I was struggling to find music that was blowing my head off
‘I had my own reggae sound system that I’d brought over from London, that I’d never used until I came to Berlin, hilariously. With the Pressure label, I wanted to release music that I would want to play over my rig. It’s a simple equation, because I was struggling to find music that was blowing my head off and inspiring me generally, I thought “I’m going to have to go out to find it myself and promote it myself.”
‘I’ve probably chosen the worst time in music history to start a label, because people just don’t fucking want to buy music anymore, they want to stream it and get it for free. But like everything I do, it’s a labour of love. It’s about passion for sound, passion for an aesthetic and it’s all interlinked for me – the label, my music and the club nights.’
it’s a labour of love. It’s about passion for sound, passion for an aesthetic and it’s all interlinked
His original Pressure nights were inspired by London’s Subdub, which followed a similar format to Pinch and Blazey’s Bristol institution Subloaded, where sound system reggae in one room and bass-laden 140 music in another created a new middle ground that inspired a generation of artists who came after. That’s perhaps one of the reasons why The Bug’s music feels as though it was made for Bristol.
‘I was brought up in Weymouth as a kid and my choice was to go north to Bristol or East to London and I chose London, but I still feel an affinity to Bristol – apart from the fact that whenever I speak to Bristol my West Country twang comes back fully to hit me between the eyes.
‘There’s a warmth to Bristol. I generally find people to be friendlier and obviously the musical heritage of the city is incredible, so it’s a major city for inspiration for everyone, not just me. And I’ve been lucky enough to work with or know a lot of people in various Bristol music scenes.’
There’s a warmth to Bristol (…) it’s a major city for inspiration
The Bug comes to Trinity Centre this weekend with incredible US vocalist Moor Mother. They recently hooked up for Zonal track On The Range, as part of the Adult Swim singles series. They’ve also toured together under the Zonal project, but this will be their first run of shows via The Bug.
‘Moor Mother is also a total devotee of noise, punk, electronic, hip hop musics and she’s hardcore to the core. It was one of those times where you meet someone and instantly hit it off.
Moor Mother is also a total devotee of noise, punk, electronic, hip hop musics and she’s hardcore to the core
‘She’s actually quite tiny in real life and very quiet, but when she’s on the mic – and certainly lyrically – she’s just explosive and inspirational too.
‘I first discovered her through her first album and was just blown away. The first video that accompanied that I thought, wow, this is intense as hell. It sounds like Throbbing Gristle mixed with Death Grips, with this incredible female gorgon on the mic. It’s a joy to be able to work with her.
‘I’m already thinking what I’m going to do to shift the shows towards her. I’m probably going to even twist my sets up more than normal for those collabs. I know she’ll want me to and I know we both like confrontation, so I think it’s going to be super intense. She is an incredible artist and live presence, so I’m madly excited about it.’
it’s going to be super intense
Photos by Fabrice Bourgelle