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10 Questions for Musician Kevin Martin (AKA The Bug) | reviews, news & interviews

10 Questions for Musician Kevin Martin (AKA The Bug)

10 Questions for Musician Kevin Martin (AKA The Bug)

The electronica titan talks collaboration, fatherhood and the Supersonic Festival

The Bug in full effect

Kevin Martin is a musician, record producer and journalist. He is best know for recording and performing as The Bug, however, has been and continues to be involved in a variety of other musical projects including: GOD, Techno Animal, Ice, Curse of the Golden Vampire and King Midas Sound. During 2014, The Bug released both the Angels and Devils album and a collaboration with Dylan Carlson of American drone-metalists Earth, titled The Bug vs Earth – which sees its live debut at the Supersonic Festival in Birmingham on Saturday 13 June.

Guy Oddy: The Bug vs Earth is a great record. How did you end up collaborating with Dylan Carlson?

Kevin Martin: It was via the guy who illustrated the cover for my last album, Simon Fowler, who’d previously worked with the likes of Earth & Sunn O))). I remember hearing that Dylan had come to a King Midas Sound gig at the Scala in London and then I’d heard that he’d used a King Midas Sound track for a podcast that he’d done. I thought it would be appropriate to approach him for my last album because I was looking to make a narrative structure. After we’d done the tracks though, I thought that they were so strong in their own right but might have become a bit lost among the other tunes and I wanted to give them room to breath and just blossom really. I thought they merited their own space.

I heard a rumour that you were going to remix some early Earth tunes. Has anything come of that?

Dylan’s a keen fan of dub music and he asked me to do some dub mixes and alternative versions from some of Earth’s back catalogue, which I’d be honoured to do. At the moment, it’s about finding the time but I’m certainly hoping that I can at some point because I’m a huge fan of those records.

The crazy thing is that there’s a perception that all of Earth’s stuff is very similar but I think all of their records have got quite disparate identities and they’re all fantastic in very different ways but there’s plenty of space for me to manoeuvre, if or when I can take on the job.

You’re giving your debut live performance with Dylan Carlson at the Supersonic Festival in Birmingham in June. You’ve previously played there with King Midas Sound & the Bug. What do you like about the festival?

When you’ve been booked into a few festivals, you realise that some people book you because they genuinely love your music, with others it’s about money in the bank. Lisa, Jenny and the crew behind Supersonic are really committed to a wider vision of music and the bills they book reflect a part of my musical taste. Sure, I’m a big fan of reggae and hip-hop, which doesn’t really get a look in but the experimental electronics and guitar end of my taste is absolutely satisfied by the incredible bills that Supersonic put together. They’ve got a really great vision for what they’re doing and I like their strong films bill as well. I just think it’s done for the right reasons and so many festivals aren’t.

I think that I played at the first Supersonic and every time I see the bill, I wish that I’d been there or been on it. I’ve been invited a few times and it’s great to do this particular collaboration for Supersonic. I can’t think of a more appropriate festival in the UK to be doing it.

I became more and more immersed in what I call the magical little zone which is a studio. For me, it’s a way of almost constructing a parallel universe because the real one’s so completely screwed

When you had GOD as your musical outlet, you basically sang/screamed & played saxophone. Now you’re known for your use of electronics. Was there a particular moment when you realised that electronics was your future or was it more of an evolution?

I knew that I was never going to have the voice of Al Green or Captain Beefheart and that singing wasn’t what I do. I just shout and scream and when I did an album as Ice in 1998, called Bad Blood, I knew after that I didn’t want to commit vocals to any recording again as I didn’t feel I had the ability to do any more than scream. For sure, screaming’s great and I needed that therapy at the time but that combined with the fact that from the beginnings of Techno Animal, I became more and more immersed in what I call the magical little zone which is a studio. For me, it’s a way of almost constructing a parallel universe because the real one’s so completely screwed.

I’m also a child of dub music and I was very fortunate, at a very young age, to be exposed to some incredible productions by the likes of King Tubby, Lee Perry and Adrian Sherwood and they really stung me because I realised the potential to turn songs inside out, back to front and upside down via a studio was incredible. It goes against all the things that are usually associated with bands and at the time we started Techno Animal, both Justin Broadrick [of Birmingham noise-terrorists Godflesh] and I were frustrated with our relevant bands of the time.

I didn’t feel that I could really explore the potential of the studio with GOD and when we started Techno Animal we were both becoming really obsessed about chasing down non-structural music. For instance, via abstract musique concrète or film soundtracks or world music or hip-hop music or dub and we didn’t want to be constrained. We wanted freedom to move and to express. Bands can be really restrictive – both in good and bad ways.

I was always saying to Justin, “Fuck that. It’s too catchy”, whereas over time and certainly since The Bug’s 2008 album London Zoo and also with King Midas Sound, I’ve become far more interested in the perverse potential of a song, where you can have the sickest of sonics with the most beautiful of choruses. For me the song is no longer the enemy, where it was once.

The Bug reminds me of the spirit of Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound System. Have you ever worked with him?

We planned to. We were meant to do a Bug In Dub album together and we had many meetings about it and I actually started work on it but it sorted of fizzled out for various reasons. He remains a very good friend and I have high respect for him, though. One of the major reasons that it didn’t happen, however, was that when I talked to other people that I trust and asked them if they’d prefer a new album of Bug music or an album of dub mixes of old stuff, they all said that they wanted new music, and I went away and thought about that.

I’m pretty obsessive about how I make records. It’s just about how much time there is to do real justice to a record. You know, my days of thinking that improvised music is the be-all and end-all are long gone. I feel that to make a highly crafted and amazing album takes longer and arguably has better results by the end of it.

You’ve made music with a vast array of collaborators over the years, from a spread of musical genres. Have you never just fancied working with a regular band again?

I’m always looking to the future and I think it’s so easy after a while to become jaded and cynical. Also, various pressures force you into a situation where you choose the easy money option and that’s really not me. For better or worse, it’s not me but I do seem to have this insatiable appetite to push ahead.

Justin Broadrick and I will definitely work together again at some point: hopefully, sooner rather than later. He’s like a brother to me and out of all the people that I really miss working with, Justin is the one because he taught me so much and we have such a similar compulsion to make music.

But in terms of bands, I’ve had really good friends in my bands and it’s been really necessary therapy for me at the time but actually, I don’t really miss being in a band. I do work with some people regularly, like Flow Dan [of UK Grime crew Roll Deep] – he’s been working with The Bug for many years now and I see him as a band member. Also there’s Roger Robinson who’s in King Midas Sound. I’ve been working with him for over 10 years – maybe even 15. But I just don’t feel that it’s necessary to be limited.

Continued overleaf

 

Guy Oddy: When did you start getting together with Jamaican dancehall MCs? It’s quite a jump from collaborating with the likes of Terminal Cheesecake and Godflesh.

Kevin Martin: It seems on paper that you’re right. But you’ve got to remember, the first music that had an indelible impression on me was punk and I bought a Discharge record with the first pocket money I had to buy a record. The first stuff that made me want to make music was probably Public Image Limited, Killing Joke, Crass, Throbbing Gristle and the bass was the lead instrument and dub was influential.

Gary Boniface, the first singer with Terminal Cheesecake ended up forming a reggae band after they first split. The spirit of dub was always deep in Terminal Cheesecake and I feel at the core, the slow tracks by Godflesh were as dubby as fuck. Just through the use of space and bass. So in my mind, there’s not a huge leap because punk and dub were always synonymous for me because Radio 1 DJ John Peel was my teacher when I was growing up.

I was living on the south coast in a tiny little town and John Peel’s transmissions on the radio, because I was nowhere near a big city, were inspirational. Hearing both those musics being played simultaneously meant it really isn’t an alien mismatch, as far as I was concerned.

How did these Jamaican guys take it though when an English guy turned up and said “Let’s do something together”?

You know I’ve never tried to be Ja-faken. I’ve never tried to pretend to be anything other than what I am. The reactions varied though. Cutty Ranks hated his track. He called me up and cussed me out and said that I should pay him $500 to get a real mix done in Jamaica.

Kevin MartinI laughed at that but in my heart I was quite sad because, of all of the people that I’ve worked with, Cutty Ranks is one of the MCs that I hold most dear. Other people like Daddy Freddy and Warrior Queen have become very good friends and really respect what I do – trying to capture the spirit of Dancehall without making some bleached out, clone-ist copy of it. So I think it’s cool that they’ve appreciated that and the fact of the matter is that I’m trying to find a new vision for Dancehall – for my roots. I haven’t tried to sell anything back to Jamaica as some weak imitation. I’m just trying to make honest music that is built on a core of the fire in your belly.

As the Bug has gained a greater profile and critical acclaim, have any major acts like U2 or Coldplay come sniffing around to ask for production assistance?

Down the years, Trent Reznor asked me to do a How To Destroy Angels track, which I did for him but his partner couldn’t write the right vocal for. The Sugababes’ manager also asked me to produce something. I turned that one down.

Massive Attack are regularly in contact and Thom Yorke asked me to do a mix – which I did do. The Beastie Boys got me to do some remixes when I worked with them and there’s Grace Jones. So, it’s been insane.

Just mentioning these names has a real surreal feel to me. Growing up as a kid, a lot of the people that I’m mentioning were legendary. In fact, it’s madness even being able to talk about that to you. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a huge honour to even be invited and I feel luckier than anyone on Earth that I’m able to do this.

You’re a father these days. How has that affected your world view?

That’s a tough one. It does change you. I’d run away from being a father for so many years. I came from a broken family, so I was fairly cynical about the family. It was through meeting the right partner that I was just, “Yeah. This is the perfect person to have a child with”. Having had a big struggle with that child at the beginning – it’s brought us together even more.

Probably for the greatest part of my life, I’d been a very nihilistic, misanthropic, cynical fucker. Now I’m the stupid grinning, proud dad and I love it. I love being a dad. It was the right time and the right place.

Undoubtedly, London is the foundation of my music and it was hugely exciting to be there for the Jungle scene and the beginnings of Dubstep, as well as everything else like improvised music

You live in Germany now. How does it compare to living in the UK?

It’s cheaper! We had to leave the UK though because my partner is Japanese and she couldn’t get a visa to stay anymore. We know a lot of non-UK citizens that have been forced to leave the UK because Cameron’s an arsehole.

That was the catalyst for me to have a huge think about where life was leading – having lived in London for 20 years. London was falling to the same curse of luxury apartments and gentrification and decibel limits and club closures and trendy, over-salaried, vain fuckers. And as far as I was concerned, London hadn’t actually improved in the time I’d been there. I’d ended up living in a complete shit-hole called Poplar E14, which is lorded over by Canary Wharf and it’s the home of the BNP. It’s like a microcosm of all cultures together in one place – but every culture hates each other.

I had to meet my partner at a bus stop to walk her 400 metres home safely and we were still getting chased by gangs. It just got to a point where I thought: am I actually living in London or am I just struggling?

Undoubtedly, London is the foundation of my music and it was hugely exciting to be there for the Jungle scene and the beginnings of Dubstep, as well as everything else like improvised music. Seeing people like so many jazz people and many contemporary classical people in London was incredible. And the reason that I moved to London in the first place, was that it was a freak colony and Berlin is the same for Germany. It has that past of being an artists’ enclave, an oasis in a very right-wing country, and Berlin is still that.

It’s not as multi-cultural as London. I miss that. But the Turkish community is the real life-blood of this city and I love the Turkish community being in Berlin. I also chose Berlin because it’s a music city and also you can go somewhere at 4 am or 5 am to have a drink or eat some food. In London, that’s impossible unless you’ve got membership of a fucking gentleman’s club. It has always shocked me that you would think of London as a 24-hour city but it absolutely isn’t.

There are still shadows of racism that loom very large in Berlin and in Germany generally – which concerns me because my partner is Japanese and my son is mixed race. Berlin’s a very poor city too. It’s the poorest of the major German cities but it’s changing very, very fast and so many of the major cities in Europe and the World are just enveloped in greed and the lifeblood of the cities is being pushed to the outskirts. It’s a worrying trend.

The world is in such an unstable place at the moment. There’s just a huge turbulence where people who don’t have cash are just beginning to resent it massively.

It’s funny because the only people that I hear who talk about one city being better than another are people who are frighteningly loaded!

Ha! If you’re absolutely loaded, you’re always going to be happy because you can do whatever the shit you want. However, having said that I know a lot of people who are extremely proud of their roots and love their location even if they aren’t loaded.

It’s got to do with the people you grew up with and the families that you’re part of. A lot of people move to cities like London, as I did, to try to find some golden path to opportunity. But there are other people in those cities who’ve grown up with friends there: someone like Manga [another member of Roll Deep who has also worked with The Bug]. Manga’s family and all his friends are in East London. They live in council flats and he’s proud of London and loves London and wouldn’t think of leaving London.

I suppose it’s different if you’ve got that big social web around you.

Exactly. Him and Flow Dan love London. Flow Dan hates going around the world. He loves London. I loved and I hated London simultaneously and I still feel like that about the city.

I actually think that the more you travel, the more you realise that we all just revolve around the same needs. It doesn’t matter what colour you are. We all just want to love and be loved and we’re all looking for the ideal partner. As far as I’m concerned, if you find that partner, it doesn’t matter where you are really. I’m happy in Berlin right now but I’m also very aware that there are pitfalls in this city – in exactly the same way that there were pitfalls in London.

I’ve got hugely fond memories of London but I ended up living in a studio for eight years, without a shower and without a kitchen. Just because I didn’t have the money to have a flat and a studio and I was determined to make incredible pieces of music. And that was my aim and that was more important to me than making cash. It depends what your goals are. It depends what your gods are.

Overleaf: Watch the video for "Skeng"

 

 

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