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SBH Podcast 005 – The Bug

SBH Podcast 005 – The Bug

In celebration of his appearance with Small But Hard at The Berghain next week, we are very happy to be able to bring you an exclusive interview with an artist very close to our hearts, Kevin Martin.

Kevin’s legacy began with the devastating Techno Animal, with Justin Broadrick. Solo project, The Bug, allowed him to develop his unique vision. 2008′s London Zoo was a landmark album, a timeless classic that somehow also manages to capture London’s gritty underbelly. The follow-up, Angels & Devils, is out imminently on Ninja Tune.

Kevin talks about leaving London behind, his personal musical journey, and the post-punk roots of his musical aesthetic.

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INTERVIEW


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I recently decided to move to Berlin, for various reasons really. London had become unbearably expensive. I’d always had a sort of mixed love and hate relationship with London anyway. There’s just a point at which you have to ask yourself, is this torture really improving your life? Y’know, is it really improving your music? Do you need that inspiration of living in the shit and living in a shit-hole?

I’d ended up living in Poplar which is E14 I think, and just a miserable place. I mean, I can see why it’s the home of the British BNP. There’s just a horribly depressing oppressive atmosphere living in a place like that.

If you make music that has no commercial disposition, then you have to be aware of the fact that you are unlikely to make enough money to live in a prime location. So therefore you have to choose where it is possible to exist that’s artistically interesting and physically possible.

Berlin mostly signals potential to me. There’s massive potential in this city.

To be booked into the Berghain for the upcoming show with Small but Hard is exciting, cause you wanna stretch a system like that, and you wanna let people know there’s alternatives to just a 4/4 beat.

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I guess part of me…a tiny part of me is anxious, because all my music’s been written in London. It’s like, ‘Shit! I’ve never made a move like this!’, and that’s interesting in itself. Who knows how it’s gonna affect my music.

Personally, I have fire in my belly. I’m still fighting the same battle with the world and my own brain that I have been ever since I started making music in the first place, so I don’t think I need the shit that happens in London to inspire fire in my music. That’s in me, and that’s what I look for because I feel it should be reflective of me as an individual.

The music I like most is very original, made by individuals, who have found an independent sound, and more often than not have a DIY ethic.

Personally, not having London around, not being surrounded by London is going to be a new form of inspiration. I don’t see that it’s gonna detract from my continual craftsmanship or progression.

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When I was a kid, really critical influences were people like Public Image Limited, Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, Crass, 23 Skidoo, Cabaret Voltaire. Mostly artists I guess that are talked of in terms of post-punk music, because they all seemed very intent to do their own thing, and most of those artists it seemed like a fusion of disparate influences. It wasn’t just as singular as recreating the stereotypical punk sound at that time. But punk had obviously opened things up like having your own label, thinking about graphic design more, doing your own design, doing your own production, and that was inspiring for me as a kid.

When you have a very fortunate hybrid, strong aesthetic and a very formative time, that really helped me and I guess I still look for that from a lot of artists, and actually a lot of the artists I’ve ended up approaching for my new album, I feel have a very strong individual aesthetic, whether that be Death Grips, whether it be Gonjasufi, whether it be Grouper, Inga from Hype Williams…I feel these people have very strong individual identities, and I’m relying upon a trend, or an area of music to carry them along. If anything, I think they’re all misfits, and I’ve always felt like a misfit really.

It goes back to my interest in art, film, literature, in outsiders, and asking questions. If anything, the important thing about post-punk music for me, was that it asked questions of everything, and it basically had a whole lot of ‘fuck you’ attitude at the same time. And that was appealing, and it still is appealing. I still look for that.

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It was a guy, a really important guy for me, who lived in Weymouth, where I grew up, called Nigel Armstrong. He had had this band, which I really loved, cause it was like, for me, ‘WOW! These people are doing their own thing, and they’re releasing their own tapes, and they’re putting on their own shows!’, and this all seemed amazing, because I thought shows were just for big people, y’know, a big people thing. His music was very influenced by PIL as well, I think, in hindsight. And he became a very good friend.

It was all based around a record shop in Weymouth called Handsome Dicks, which was a meeting place for misfits, punks, anyone just looking for music which was non-mainstream would go to that shop in that area, and you would just a load of interesting people, and again, it was at an age where that was important.

And it was through Nigel that…I can’t remember if it was he or I who suggested it, but we started working together. I can’t even remember the name of the group we had at the time. It was awful! I really, y’know really, my part in it was awful! I had a saxophone going through effects pedals, and I was doing some bad vocals, and I had an SH101, which I couldn’t play, but it was all necessary. Y’know, it was a necessary first foundation.

In the same way that I can’t claim that all the things that were important influences were the first music I’d bought…I think the first music I’d bought was a Damned album, and I can’t listen to The Damned, and I wouldn’t say anything about them now, but it’s important you start somewhere, and that you realise that there’s a possible alternative to the sort of middle mass mainstream attempt to pacify everyone and to drain you all of creativity, so for me, what was important was just to start exploring, and making music for me has just been my way of interpreting the world outside that window, and it continues to be. So I think, that early band was a necessary evil that I had!

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I mean for me the first band that I formed was called God. That was just after I moved to London. In fact Nigel was still in the band at that time – he’d moved to London with me and a couple of friends. That for me is the first thing that counted in terms of me actually having a vision of what I wanted to do. And I think that’s important in any project. I know with Techno Animal, for instance, with Justin Broadrick, it took us a long time to really know what it was that we were trying to do. At first it was just blind exploration, and experimentation, which is cool. We all have to find our path.

With the Bug, from point one, I was pretty defined about what it was I wanted, and define what I was trying to do cause I didn’t want to get lost in being experimental for the sake of being experimental. I wanted to tackle song structures, which for a long time had been my enemy. I think I was the one in Techno Animal who opposed all structures, and made Justin’s life hell saying ‘Nonononono! No choruses! No hooks! Anything that’s open-ended’. So yeah, God was the first band. That was my apprenticeship, I suppose, really.

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God’s music was like a war declared on the audience. That’s what I wanted. God’s music was therapy for me, primarily. It was basically…I wanted it to be a mixture of free jazz, and now what people would call noise rock. Everything electrified. Everything to basically amplify the disgust I had for the world, and my past, and my future.

It was antagonistic. Like an exorcism really. The frequency range was huge, and it was maximal, really, in terms of the onslaught. And I loved it whilst I was doing it, it was necessary. And the people in the band, they were some great individuals to work with. But when I finally had the idea to start the Bug, it was really with the opposite in mind. I knew that for something to sound good on a sound system it had to be minimal, because I had become obsessed with reggae sound systems, since I had first moved to London.

I think I had only been living in London for about six months, when I saw a sound clash between Iration Steppas and the Disciples. That had such a huge impact on me. I never knew that music could be presented in this manner. Two sound systems opposite each other in a small room, with no stage, no light show, going back and forth, battling each other. Each mix getting more fucked up and intense and psychedelic.

When London Zoo came out, the first two years after that, it seemed like there was audience that had been created through dubstep, that could well appreciate our shit; where ‘Skeng’ and ‘Poison Dart’ were being spoken of as anthems. Yet when I took my style and my live approach to dubstep clubs, more often than not, it was a battle too. People weren’t used to what I wanted to do, which was to reflect what I had heard on the yard tapes from Jamaica, which was complete chaos, and sound as warfare.

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In God I’d put the band together, and in the end it had two bass players and a double bass player. Bass propulsion was heavy in it. I still wanted that feeling for my music as The Bug, and for the sound system. So for me, it was ‘How can I get a heavyweight dancehall sound that isn’t reliant upon cheese, and will just shock people? How can I make singles that will end every party, with fire?’

That was when I came up with the idea of the Razor X 7s, and tried to find my feet with the first Bug album, which was Pressure.

With each subsequent album from Pressure, to the collection of singles that was Killing Sound compilation, both on Reflex, and then to London Zoo on Ninja, and now to the new album, which will be Angels & Devils on Ninja, it’s exactly as you said, I feel it’s a craft, that I’ve been constantly trying to improve.

I think to make the perfect song is, for me, is an impossible task, so I just have to hope I can keep bettering myself with each attempt. That’s the beauty of it, and that’s the beauty of music. It’s an ongoing challenge and it’s….how do you say it….it’s like infinite in terms of possibility. It’s how you shape this shit, and how close you can get it to the dreams in your head, or to the creation of a concept or aesthetic in your mind.

It’s almost impossible to directly reflect that, in the same way as a film that reflects a book. Most people say that the film’s never as good as the book. Maybe the reality is never as good as the idea you have in your brain when you’re trying to come up with an idea for music. It’s just a challenge that I love. It’s like, ‘How close can I get to this?’.

With the new album, what I’m trying to do is stretch the parameters, amplify the angels and devils, and just like make it more hateful on one side and more beautiful on the other side, and that’s the challenge.

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I mean, fundamentally, I’m a fan! I’m a music fan. I go hunting for music. I NEED new music. I need new inspiration. I want people to write amazing tracks. I wanna be like, ‘FUCK! I’m jealous of that track, I wish I’d made that track’, y’know. So I’m always on the lookout. I’m an addict for new, exciting music. Always trying to find pioneers and mavericks in every genre.

For me, there’s no rhyme or reason as to who I would approach, but I just generally approach people that I’ve been blown away by. Like, when I heard Gonjasufi’s voice for the first time on the Flying Lotus album, I was just like ‘Who the fuck is this?! This is amazing!’ And Death Grips, y’know, when I heard Guillotine for the first time, for sure it seemed familiar cause of what we;d tried with Techno Animal. They seemed to have inherited what we were trying to do…I mean, I’m sure they didn’t know us….but they were pushing it even further still, y’know. And when I do discover people that I wanna work with, I work absolutely with them in mind.

Also, what’s been pretty crucial on this album has been the people that I’ve worked with haven’t just been like ‘rent-a-rapper’, not just rent-a-singer; it’s all people that it turns out have been really into Bug music.

When I found out my agent for King Midas Sound, Qu Junktions, represented Grouper I sent an email. I asked them for an email address, and sent a totally speculative email thinking she wouldn’t have a clue who I am, but just to introduce myself and say ‘Hey, this is what I do, I’d love to work with you’. She gets back and says that her mother and her were listening to ‘Skeng’ in the car the week before I’d sent them the email! Or approaching Death Grips and having them get back to me with the lyrics to ‘Skeng’ as a reply to the email.

You know, it’s weird, that somehow you’re approaching people, on spec, hoping that they might dig your shit, and you don’t have to buy them off to appear on the tracks, but then incredible that they come back with a really positive reaction and they even know who you are, let alone are enthusiastic. In a way it’s like a shot in the dark, but also it’s almost like there’s some weird telepathic thing. It’s like they’re on the same path as you are. Somehow they’ve got into your shit. Somehow they’ve realised what you do has some resonance to them, and therefore you end up working together.

I’m not a mystical person! It’s just bizarre. And maybe to an extent it DOES make sense. It’s not totally coincidence. These people that I’ve approached are probably pretty similar to me in terms of craving music that inspires them, and needing music to survive. Needing music to understand the world. Needing to need music.

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TRACKLISTING


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1_THE BUG Dirty

2_KMS – Funny Love

3_The Bug – Poison Dart

4_23 Skidoo – The Gospel Comes to New Guinea

5_The Birthday Party – Dead Joe

6_Public Image Limited – Death Disco

7_God – Bloodstream

8_Techno Animal _ Hypertension 3

9_Starship Africa – Creation Rebel

10_Killing Joke – Turn to Red

11_The Bug v The Rootsman – Killer Queen

12_The Bug – Skeng

Posted on April 2nd, 2014