Interview with The Bug

the bug
Photo by Fabrice Bourgelle

It was just past noon on a Saturday in early October of 2008 as I pulled up in front of the South Station bus terminal on Atlantic Avenue in downtown Boston. I spotted Kevin Martin (The Bug). He had his hoodie up and his shades on and standing next to him was Miss Annette Henry, or better known to some as Warrior Queen. I threw the car into park and jumped out to greet our guests. The compact Scion hatchback I had borrowed from my friend Vicki to scoop them up in was not ideal: in addition to their luggage Kevin had also brought a smörgåsbord of hardware from his studio to do a live show, which from what I can recall was 100lb rucksack. So after playing a little game of tetris with everyone’s bags, we managed to squeeze everything in, including the three of us…

The rest of that evening went on to be total chaos: we had brought in extra sound for the show, but our sound guy left halfway through setup, because of a family emergency without giving notice. My co-promoter Damian then found himself crawling along the floor trying to decipher which wire was plugged into what. At the same time, I was running around the city trying to find a voltage converter that could handle all of Kevin’s equipment.

Murphy’s law seemed to be upon us in full effect, and this booking was quickly becoming a promoter’s worst nightmare, but the show somehow went on to do a full 180. By 10 pm the small downstairs of the Good Life Bar on Kingston street was rammed out. And something crazy happened in that little bar that night. The Bug and Warrior Queen mind fucked everybody in that room.

Fast forward six years later, and here I am with an opportunity to speak with Kevin. As a promoter and audiophile these rare moments don’t always present themselves so easily, so I jumped at the chance to explore inside Kevin’s mind, learn more about his new album Angels and Devils, and find out what makes him tick.


Interview by Chris Ward


Hello, Kevin?

Yeah Chris, how you doing?

Good, and yourself?

Yeah, very good man.

So let’s get started. Your music like everything else you do is done at a very intentional and personal level, with Angels and Devils what was your intention, and how did you approach things this time around?

That’s three segments to one big question. Are you asking production-wise, philosophically, or aesthetically what the intention of the album was?

I’m going to let you choose whichever one you like.

[quote_left]

I love music with fire in its belly and I&#39d rather play a track that will completely end a party in flames. That&#39s more of what I&#39m interested in, rather than a beat matched tool production.

[/quote_left]Hahaha, oh boy! There was a lot of soul searching that went into the making of the record, and there was sort of a weird panic time after the release of London Zoo, because I didn’t expect the strength of feeling and the amazing reception that London Zoo received. It gave me a bit of an identity crisis, because I felt like I was being swept along in the wake of dubstep, and whilst there are a lot of producers in dubstep that are close friends and artists that I certainly admire, I never felt comfortable being spoken about as a dubstep artist. So for me it was a bit of a misnomer being labeled as a dubstep artist. Dubstep producers and artists seemed interested in only one part of what I had already been doing before.

I love music with fire in its belly and I’d rather play a track that will completely end a party in flames. That’s more of what I’m interested in, rather than a beat matched tool production. I was always inspired by Jamaican yard tapes, which sound like hell on earth; literally like sonic warfare! Philosophically that’s how I see life anyway, so for me music is just a reflection of the war outside the window.

How do you think this album differentiates from your previous work?

Well, the key to this album is that there’s a schism. The second half is very much what I need as ammunition in my live sets. Whereas the first half addresses how I listen to music when I’m not in a club, which is to zone out and become immersed within the music. I think that emotion in sound has always been a very attractive proposition to me, and it was a key aim for me to stretch the parameters of what I had done on London Zoo in both directions. I wanted to make it more levitational and zonal for the first half, and then make it absolutely physically assaulting on the second half.

And knowing the influence that reggae, dub, and dancehall have had on your work, would you say that when you were building the tracks for this album, they were meant to be played on a large system?

I would say whilst there’s definite mutations and variations on how I see my personal vision of futuristic Jamaican style, I’ve kept a lot of the ragga side and bashy side of The Bug off this album very intentionally, because I plan to continue with my acid ragga series with a 7 inch label I run. I’m inspired by soundsystem music, and I’m very inspired by Jamaican music in general. But at the same time I found it very difficult over the last couple of years to find much Jamaican music that I’ve been inspired by, and for that matter club music. You know I’ve found myself listening to a whole lot more experimental and weird as fuck shit, that’s got zero to do with sound systems and a lot to do with psychological immersion.

[quote]

The big challenge is how you personalize the machines you work with and how you make electronic music sound like a reflection of your personality.

[/quote]

My initial reaction after listening through this album was that there definitely was a lot more headspace…

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think writing a track like “Skeng” was a breakthrough for me not just in terms of audience reaction, but also in terms of… how do I say it… It was a new vision for myself that Bug music could be minimal and just as effective as layered chaos. Going back to Techno Animal days with myself and Justin Broadrick from Godflesh, we were always obsessed by texture and tone of artists. In particular with electronic artists, because the big challenge is how you personalize the machines you work with and how you make electronic music sound like a reflection of your personality. I’ve found that the people who inspire me the most in any area of music are the people who have devised a sound that you can recognize within seconds. That’s very much the aim for me that people know: “Ah, this is a Bug track!” Like in the same way that I would know this is an Aphex Twin track or a Rhythm and Sound track.

Yeah, these new tracks definitely still sound like the Bug! As I got towards the end of the album I felt like you were digging back down into that rawness that was exuberant with London Zoo and your sound.

In a way if you want to be flowery about it, you can say that the second half is just like digging holes in the dirt and the first half is reaching for the heavens. As stupid as that may sound it’s very fitting.

Is that the significance behind the title?

The title came from a conversation I had with Ninja Tune where I said I want to stretch the parameters of London Zoo in both directions. That resonated with me after the fact and I realized it addressed a lot of what I would like to confront with this record. For me the album exists where extremes meet and where polarities collide and where the friction of good and evil, dark and light – or however you want to look at it – come together.

Well said. Upon listening through, my favorite tracks were “Void” (feat. Liz Harris), and “Mi Lost” (feat. Miss Red). “Mi Lost” is great because I can hear roots of Jamaican music in there, but it’s still a Bug tune, and Miss Red just kills it on the track.

[quote_left]

I'm fiercely proud of "Mi Lost", and if I had the money and connections I'd love to get someone like Damian Marley on that riddim.

[/quote_left]That’s nice that you say that, because that’s a track that hasn’t been talked about, and for me it’s like a future vision of dancehall in terms of the rhythm track, and Miss Red is incredibly talented especially considering her age. As far as I was concerned it was all the more perverse to have something that effectively is the sort of pop music that I would want to hear on daytime radio if I was cruising in a car down some boulevard in LA, which is how I would love to hear “Mi Lost”. You know whilst on the other side having something straight out filthy as “Fat Mac” or “Dirty” on the other side of the album. I really like the idea of having a record that is surprising on one hand, but also isn’t afraid of diametric opposites with links between the two. I’m fiercely proud of “Mi Lost”, and if I had the money and connections I’d love to get someone like Damian Marley on that riddim, or get that riddim voiced by a lot of vocalists in the Jamaican tradition, because I haven’t heard anything like it before.

Well hopefully Damian Marley will read this and want to reach out…

Hey Damian, if you’re free give me a call, man. Hahaha!

Something else I also noticed that I think is important, is that there’s a number of female vocalists showcased on the album. Is that something that was intentional or did it just happen?

Yeah, to be honest I had already done that on a label I set up years ago called Ladybug, which only released one 7 inch. At that time I was super obsessed by the idea of working with female vocalists on Bug riddims, because I liked the idea of something that was superficially pop – like “Mi Lost” for example – but still has a foundation made of filthy twisted sonic mayhem. I love the idea of having a pop hook on something that is just malicious.

I was speaking to Mark Pritchard earlier today and talking about how the album he’s working on at the moment is going down a very different route. I think it’s very important to keep yourself inspired and fresh and to confront what people’s expectations are. I mean in the music industry generally, and very much in the media, there’s a sort of consensual attempt to reduce all vocalists and musicians to one dimensional entities, which have a very definite sell-by date. It’s always bullshit to be compartmentalized that way, and it’s ignoring the facts. We’re all fully rounded individuals.

[quote]

I personally am obsessed with music! It&#39s one of the few things I have faith in, and it&#39s my parallel universe to the fucked up one we all have to exist in. As far as I&#39m concerned my life is spent between speakers.

[/quote]

I agree, I think we can get caught up boxing people, music, or whatever else into categories that limit our vision or understanding of the world…

King Midas Sound was very much a reaction against to how I was perceived after London Zoo. London Zoo had other tracks on it that no one ever talked about. Everyone just talked about the in-your-face dancefloor shit, which I’m very proud of. But, there was a whole side of that record that was neglected, and I’ve pushed that side even more on the new album. I personally am obsessed with music! It’s one of the few things I have faith in, and it’s my parallel universe to the fucked up one we all have to exist in. As far as I’m concerned my life is spent between speakers. The variations in my life and my lifestyle are very much reflected in how varied my tastes in music are. I’d go fucking insane if someone just made me listen to a dubstep radio show for 24 hours. I’d be pleading to let me out the fucking room after about an hour. Reggae is about the only core music that I never get tired of, because there is enough variation within the one genre.

In terms of keeping things fresh that leads me right into my next question, which is, when you’ve experienced writer’s block how did you overcome it?

Bang my head against the wall, hehehehe… Punch a brick. Generally, buying a new piece of equipment seems to work for me. I remember one case in particular when I was doing a remix for Thom Yorke, which literally almost drove me mad. It was one of the few times where I really thought maybe I should just give up music. I don’t know why exactly. I don’t think it was just about the track. I think it was about a catalyst that was going on in my life at that time. It took me three and half months to do one remix, and I worked on nothing else in that period. At about two-thirds of the way through I was at my wits end thinking, “you know what, I don’t think I know what I’m doing here.” And partly I guess it was because I was a huge fan of his work with Radiohead, and it just felt that there was a lot of pressure on me to deliver. At the same time if I remember rightly it could have been after London Zoo too, and it was like, shit what are people going to expect, and how can I sort of rail against that. I just had huge difficulties and in the end I had convinced myself there was nothing I could do to make this sound better unless I bought this overpriced filter unit, which I did, and actually it worked very well for the track.

That’s cool everything worked out. I also heard you’re a cyclist and I know Berlin is a big biking city have you had a chance to really get out ride around and explore since you moved there?

I had a major problem last year where I was in a wheelchair for three months because I snapped my achilles tendon, so that sort of fucked up my summer and my cycling capabilities. But now I cycle around Berlin all the time, and I love it. Berlin is a great city. It’s very open both geographically and philosophically. It’s a fantastic city to be based in!

Well, I’m glad to hear you’re all healed up and things are well.

Thank you.
[quote]

If you&#39re writing something that reminds you of someone else, drop it and write something else.

[/quote]

I’ve only got one more question. You’ve always been one to forge your own path; if there was one piece of advice you would want to share with all the young guns out there, what would it be?

Be individual. If you’re writing something that reminds you of someone else, drop it and write something else. Realize that the last thing you should be thinking about is making money, and approach music as a craft. Question the emotion in making tracks and amplify that while making them.

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