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Dubbing Out Your Environment: A Conversation with The Bug

Plus, stream a new track from 'Exit,' the record's just announced accompanying EP.
September 2, 2014, 4:01pm

Photo Credit: Fabrice Bourgelle

There will only be one record released in 2014 that features both grime phenom Flowdan and Liz Harris (of Grouper) doing guest vocals. Kevin Martin’s latest LP as The Bug, Angels & Devils, which released last week, is that album. Sonically, it’s like rubbing your head against a cement wall—with the pacing of a thoughtfully considered narrative—and having it feel really, really good. It’s a powerful, psychedelic listen: a messy yet direct exercise in raw power. The album’s intensity is not surprising considering that Martin has talked about the pleasure of having his internal organs rearranged by bass in interviews.

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His last album as The Bug, 2008’s London Zoo—featuring dubstep anthem “Skeng”—was unanimously critically acclaimed, a spastic and politically insurgent listen. Since then, he has worked on King Midas Sound, releasing more leftfield, dub reggae-influenced music, eventually making a left turn and morphing the project it into an industrial/noise style live act that has been described as “My Bloody Valentine in dub.” He’s also started a label called Acid Ragga—meant to marry Acid House with Ragga Dancehall—that has put out several extremely weird and viscerally electric singles, a project Martin has described as “the mood of THX 1138 married to a raga beat,” tunes made because he “craved a collision of the raw, rugged, sexiness of bashment with its sassy bionic swing, and the sheer head-fuck quality of the best acid, with it's bad trip, time warped, dystopian funk.” Wicked.

But there's more. On top of Angels & Devils, The Bug will release an accompanying EP called Exit on October 7 through Ninja Tune. Below, Noisey is happy to premiere the EP's first track "Black Wasp," which is another track featuring Liz Harris of Grouper. A few weeks ago, I talked to Kevin about intensity, his process and the importance of Dub in Postmodern culture.

Noisey: The process of making your last album London Zoo was being incredibly arduous, taking a number of years. With this one, you broke your Achilles tendon and got wheeled to the studio every day. How did that affect this album process, and why are your albums so hard to make?
The Bug: You know what, I ask myself the same question when I undertake every single album, and I’m not even being rye or cynical by saying that, I’m being a 100 percent truthful. I really blatantly don’t know why it takes me so fucking long to finish a record. In all seriousness I set myself really high standards and I want to make a piece of work that has resonance, and a piece of work that will detonate some form of reaction and that will stand on its own hopefully for some time after I’ve done it.

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The new album’s title Angels & Devils suggests extreme polarities. Can you talk about the idea of the two extremes?
I think I’m given to that, either complete misanthropy and total disgust at the world that we live in and the humans that populate it on one hand, or on the other hand I’ve become a father in the last year for the first time and that’s undoubtedly had an impact on me as well. By and large I think I’m a very positive person but most people would never even begin to guess that, but I think I’m always fighting my own misgivings about the human condition.

Can you talk about how this album overlaps with the Acid Ragga project? Is it a continuation of it?
I actually put a division up between this album and the Acid Ragga series because I didn’t want that to be a part of this, and I have other aspirations for Acid Ragga. I’ve already almost finished the next Acid Ragga seven-inch which I’m hugely excited about, it’s called the Robocop Riddim. It sounds like Sleng Teng meets DAF, it’s just like incessant, psychotic bashment, really.

What’s next for Acid Ragga?
I’ve moved my soundsystem to Berlin and I want to do Acid Ragga shows with 808 [drum machine], 303 [Roland bassline sequencer synonymous with Acid House], modular [synthesizer] and over my own reggae/dub soundsystem in a very small venue and just destroy people. When I used to read reviews of Underground Resistance they made them sound like sonic warfare really, in ill-lit conditions with strobes just hotwiring your brain, and that’s what I want to do with the Acid Ragga stuff.

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For me I just wanted to take that out of the equation for Angels & Devils because I think it stands in its own right. I also want to start a subsidiary label called Acid Teng for producers I admire who I know will be able to deliver the goods. There’s a legacy of Jamaican labels that I worship like King Tubby’s Firehouse label, which is not stuff he’s famous for—it wasn’t really dub it was digital stuff—and also King Jammy’s label which was eighties dancehall, again all post “Sleng Teng.” “Sleng Teng” is a track I keep coming back to because it seems to have caused such a seismic shift in what reggae was, and also it was very technology oriented and for me Acid Ragga is my attempt to come back with something heavy and physically demanding that I feel is lacking in a lot of Jamaican music now. That’s not to say that I’m an authority but more often that not if I want to hear something and I’m not hearing something from somewhere it makes me work harder to envision that myself. As far as I’m concerned there’s a real problem, because there’s been a real dearth of material from Jamaica that’s inspired me the last few years. That’s a rarity because my whole music career is indebted to Jamaican music and the incredible producers and vocalists therein.

What are some producers you’re thinking of working with for Acid Teng?
I think I’d rather not say because some of them just haven’t been approached yet… I’d love to say. The person who I reached out to literally last night or this morning at three in the morning and sent a very long email to, and have very little hope from getting a positive response from, is a guy called Lenky. Lenky wrote a very famous Jamaican rhythm called the “Diwali Riddim” [which served as the instrumental for Sean Paul’s ubiquitous “Get Busy.”] He also had his own label, which was a very obscure label of very experimental dancehall [called 40/40 productions.] Lenky for me is a really visionary Ragga or Dancehall producer and weirdly enough I happened to see a couple years ago that he did a mix for Beatport, I think it was, and he’d included a lot of Plastikman [an alias of Techno luminary Richie Hawtin] stuff, which I thought was really insane that a Jamaican producer would include a lot of Plastikman tracks in there. And that’s stupid for me to say that but it just upturned my own personal expectations in a really positive way. As far as I’m concerned, I know what he’s capable of because he’s fucking incredible, but at the same time if he’s into that area outside of standard reggae influences and sees how good Plastikman was as a producer, then I think potentially he’d be an amazing person to work with on the label or even as a collaborator.

When I listen to your stuff, there’s a certain intensity of feel that’s not really something I can put into words. It’s a certain texture, or vibe, even. Is texture important to you?
That’s interesting because one thing that me and Justin [Broadrick] from Techno Animal and Godflesh, he and I are both obsessed by texture and tone and it’s not really talked about very much in conjunction with my stuff, most people go for the obvious blatant shit like it’s very urban or it’s very sadistic or loud or bassy. Actually texture and tone is my greatest ambition as a producer.

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In interviews surrounding your last album, everyone was asking you about dubstep, which is a genre you are often grouped into. Back then, you talked about dubstep as really just being a continuation of the “dub virus.” What is the state of the dub virus today?
I think it will mutate and evolve and survive as it always has done. For me, I remember when I did the sleeve notes to an album called Macro Dub Infection where I contentiously said dub was around before reggae. There were dubs of Chess recordings, there were dub mixes done by The Beach Boys in the late 60s. Dub as a process existed but what reggae in Jamaica did was make it into a commodity and an art form. And for me, the spirit of dub continues and will continue. It has to for anyone who actually does their homework as a producer, that’s interested in a cut-up of narrative and a rearranging of narrative and the illogic we’re all surrounded by on an everyday level, I think all of that is involved in dub. I did an interview with a New York college called Dubspot, and I said clearly that dub is a way of thinking. It’s almost like a philosophy or aesthetic. I see echoes of Dub in the works of Jean-Luc Godard or William Burroughs or Francis Bacon. It’s how you contextually view the insanity we’re all surrounded by and how you rearrange it and realize we’re all living in this postmodern chaos. Just to navigate through that you almost have to do dub out your environment.

Are there any filmmakers or painters, you know, non-musicians doing dub right now that you think are cool?
Hm. You know for me, someone like Jean-Luc Godard, what’s interesting to me about him is that it was through editing and rearranging his narratives that I felt made it almost dub in essence. I’m trying to think of anything… My problem is, of late, I’ve preferred very slow, long-evolving movies, and I’m less drawn to crazily edited shit. That’d be a tough question for me. I’m always on the lookout for art, illustration, movies, literature, but you’ve put me on the spot.

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Why do you think you’ve been enjoying slow movies?
I think it’s pertinent to the first side of my record. I’m greedy—I want both. On one side I want complete bombast, on the other side I want complete slow evolution and I think what it is, again, is that I love extremity in art, not just the middle ground. For me the middle ground in life is almost death, the middle ground in art is almost cancellation. I think it seems natural to me that I will either love being completely mashed up by some hyperdelic craziness like Enter the Void on one side, or on the other side I would really enjoy the incredibly seductive slow-moving work like Wong Kar Wei or something like that.

The diversity of artists you work with on the new record is crazy. What’s your curatorial process like for choosing collaborators?
It’s pretty instinctive, and about trying to insert a narrative on the album and asking myself what I want from the final recording. A lot of this album came about as a result of soul searching after London Zoo, obviously and patently. At first, I was probably tempted to just destroy my own image and sound after London Zoo because I felt I was being really dragged into dubstep in a way I wasn’t comfortable with. I was sort of thinking, “You know what? Maybe I should just fuckin’ jack this and do something radically different and go totally into the Acid Ragga or go back to go forward.” But then the more I thought about it, the more I was like “well, actually, a lot of artists that I like most are people who have kept a line in their work and just kept attempting to better themselves and improve their craft.” I thought it’s actually sort of fake to just burn my past. Actually I felt I was happy with some of London Zoo, and I felt there was room to improve, but there was a foundation that I felt was very much me, but at the same I realized I wanted to stretch the parameters and break out from the ghetto, literally, philosophically and musically. I thought bringing someone like Grouper in would definitely throw people. How I’ve used music increasingly in the last five or ten years is very schizoid—either I enjoy getting totally immersed in the slowest most atmospheric, impressionistic shit or enjoy going to a club and have my fuckin’ head taken off. It tends to be those two extremes.

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Alexander Iadarola is always dubbing. He's on Twitter@aliadaroia

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