It was 1 a.m. on the fifth floor of an abandoned council flat in London. A massive system had been brought in from Bristol and the Heatwave party was living up to its name. A visit from the authorities and the threat of closure hadn't stopped the headliner from taking the decks but all doors and windows had to be shut. Equipment was failing, a technician was under the decks screwing together a powerstrip, the place was packed with people and even at a quarter power the system was still thumping people with bass while MCs spit lyrical daggers. Everyone dripped sweat, the walls were sticky with it. As The Bug looked up from the decks, he was having another "love it or loathe it" moment.
The Bug is the brainchild of producer Kevin Martin, who has been blending hip-hop, industrial and dub sounds together since the early '90s in groups including God'ce and Techno Animal. The Bug is a solo project and yet it's not, since every track is a collaborative effort between himself and a vocalist. He's been able to assemble an A-list of Jamaican talent over the last several years, with deejays giving voice to his twin obsessions of rhythm and noise. "I've never really felt part of any scene full stop," he says from his London studio. "I basically try and make records that I want to hear that I feel haven't been made elsewhere."
After the 2003 release of Pressure, Martin started the Razor X label with Rootsman to release small runs of amped up splattercore breaks. His new album, Killing Sound, is due this month from Rephlex–it collects Razor X's four singles ("Killer," "WWW," "Slew Dem" and "Imitator") and adds five new ones with vocalists Cutty Ranks, The Mexican, El Feco, Tony Tuff and Warrior Queen (who redoes "Killer"). Instrumental versions will be included to create what Martin describes with a satisfied chuckle as "one fucking obnoxious, noisy, brutal, unforgiving, relentless antisocial headfuck of a record...Babylonian babbletalk really."
Martin admits that Killing Sound represents the most extreme end of The Bug, but it continues to reference his obsession with Jamaican music. "The challenge is to be open to the roots of where The Bug has come from: my love of dub, dancehall, reggae, roots and ragga, filtered through my own history." Though the Razor X drum programming is often manic and the tracks geared toward upper midrange frequencies, they continue to be anchored by bottom-heavy basslines.
Martin's musical and production style mirrors the cobbled together nature of many Jamaican soundsystems. His speech is filled with words and phrases like "meld," "combine" and "mutate." He built his studio up piece-by-piece from just a CD player, a saxophone and effects pedals to its current combination of digital and valve-oriented equipment. "I'm no purist," he laughs. When he performs out now, he either takes a 24-channel desk with ADATs, synthesizers, effects units and CDs, or uses Final Scratch with add-ons. ("Whatever tickles my fancy or is appropriate for the show really," he explains.)
He is building a soundsystem with help from Russ D of roots/reggae outfit The Disciples–ten 18-inch woofers together with mids that junglist Dillinja sold him, all run with help from dancehall MC Ras B and dubsteppers Digital Mystikz. Pulling from different scenes gets to the heart of what Martin is about. "To get into The Bug stuff you have to be open-minded," he says. "I'm just constantly drawn to new sounds and new directions and new mutations in music. And that's why for me there's a beauty in dancehall and grime and still (to an extent) hip-hop, where it's not so much about being retro, it's about moving onwards and not looking back. Music for me should never be limited and should always be open and have an outward-bound trajectory. It shouldn't be trying to hold on to something."
True to that, Martin already has two projects well under way. One is a new The Bug album with MCs Warrior Queen and Ras B. "After Razor X I'm more interested in bass and moving people with low end," says Martin. "The new album has two directions. One is acid dancehall, taking acid lines and merging them with dancehall rhythms, and the other is a cross between grime and dancehall...much more minimal stuff." The other project is a new 7" label called Ladybug. "One side of each release will have a toaster, rapper or grime MC--women like Warrior Queen and Lady Sovereign. The other will have more idiosyncratic singers, people like Nicolette, Ari Up; Cobra Killers have agreed to do vocals on the freaky side." The first single, "Dem a Bomb We" featuring Warrior Queen–"a song about being blitzed out in London at the moment by suicide bombers"–will be out this month as well. Like all of Martin's stuff, expect to love it or loathe it.