Touching Bass: The Bug

The Bug dissects dubstep's current position, creative pressures and talks chow chow dogs, naturally.

Since emerging circa 1990, Kevin Martin has been schooling our ears with the musical love childs of London and Jamaica. Among his index of alter egos, The Bug has become his favoured mutation. Dank explorations through dub, dancehall and trickles of dubstep have resulted in Hyperdub, Ninja Tune and Swamp 81 assigning his name to releases. The fourth album is brewing, and having recently upped sticks to Berlin, Deutschland was on the tip of the Touching Bass tongue. Somehow we also managed to dissect dubstep's current position, creative pressures and talks chow chow dogs, naturally.

Hey, how are you?
The Bug: I'm good. Just recovering really. I just finished a move to Berlin last Thursday and then flew to Detroit on the Friday, played there on Saturday and then came back here on Monday.

What’s attracted you over to Deutschland then?
It’s cheap! I've played in Berlin many times and been to the city many times and have always had a soft spot for it. Its actually 24 hour, it doesn’t pretend to be 24 hour.

Like London? I think that’s the most annoying thing when you have a night out and the trains are done when it’s home time.
Well, everything stops working. I mean, try having guests visit you from another country and explaining to them that you’ve got no choice after 11pm where to go apart from an over-priced club where you can’t hear them talk. Consistently embarrassed by the lack of choice in London. My love affair has been getting less and less for the last few years. I just think it’s become a yuppie island like Manhattan or Paris where they are getting more lifeless every year. You’re just taxed so heavily for living there. Its crazy expensive. I was having to rent a studio and a flat. It was stretching me and I realised I wasn’t living in London I was just surviving.

How is your German vocabulary coming along?
Mein Deutsch ist fantastisch mein Freund.

Gut. Onto your music, the other day Skream announced that dubstep is dead. As your linked with its more dubby roots, how do you feel about that statement?
I have a bit of an ambivalent attitude to dubstep. I have a lot of friends from that scene because I happened to meet a lot of them at the very beginning due to Kode9 offering me an invite to come to FWD just as it had begun. At that time, there were only about 20 producers in the audience. It was everyone just checking each other’s tunes in a very small club. It was very cool to see people who were doing stuff that I’d already been obsessed by and experimented with, but from a slightly different direction. I felt that I was doing The Bug music before dubstep. That’s factually true, but it was involving a lot of the same compositional obsessions with weight, bass and space. It’s not that I felt that this is me. The opposite actually, I feel like a freak everywhere and an outsider at the best of times. As a genre, it has become quite cheesy due to the globalisation of the music. When you have a genre that could include: Burial, Kode9, Loefah, Coki, Mala, and Shackleton – that’s quite a fertile cross-section of music. Now, it’s become pretty cheesy. It doesn’t surprise me that Skream would say what he said because it affects him indirectly.

After the big bang of any genre as it appears, it very quickly becomes about formula and sheep herd mentality. I think it just went the way of every genre but just in a very accelerated fashion.

Thanks to the Internet. Do you reckon dubstep has become too much a brand?
As soon as anything becomes a brand, it seems to become creatively uninteresting for me. I still listen to shit loads of hip-hop and hip-hop should have gone well past its sell by date. There’s still artists that come through that are fascinating and I find that with every genre, but like I said the big bang explosion of free form ideas at the genesis of every genre is when I'm most intrigued. I like pioneers, people that have found their very own voice. I like composers, singers and producers who as soon as I hear their music, I know who they are within 5 seconds almost. I think that’s the challenge.

With regards to your music then, how are you affected by the pressure to keep producing creative material?
I’d say it kills me and keeps me alive at the same time. The danger of not putting yourself under pressure, or not being put under pressure, is that you become stagnant. At the same time, it’s psychologically damaging to work under your own self-pressure or pressure from the media or industry. I guess that’s what keeps it interesting for me. It’s been an interesting dialogue that I've been having with myself in the years since London Zoo because apart from the major diversion from the King Midas Sound, I had spent a long time wondering how to follow up that fucking record. I didn’t expect the record to become as celebrated as it did. I didn’t expect to have 1.5 million views on YouTube for one of my songs. My initial thoughts would be to dump that sound and move on to brand new sounds, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought I would be gutted if artists I look up to decided to suddenly do a huge left turn and rewrite their style. Normally, what I like from the artists I respect most is that they approach their work like a craft and they have a recognisable sound that hopefully looks to get better and better. I've resisted the temptation to say fuck that and realised that my next record will be a continuation of London Zoo and just stretching the parameters even more.

In terms of the progress for your next project, where are you?
All the vocals are done; I just have to mix down. It was a bit of a hiccup having to come to Berlin at this point. I'm having to reset the studio this week but I feel in a good place about it. There’s a lot of good vocals on it and music I'm very happy with. Now I have to get down to the proper mixing of it. The week I decided to move, I added more stress to the whole situation by totally revamping the studio. I've been on very little sleep for the last few weeks, but I feel very positive and optimistic about the new studio set up and the album.

When you’re not making music, what do you like to do?
I like cycling. In London, that was the way around for me. I love navigating at night and in the early hours on a bike. In London, I had a dog. I'm part of the cult of chow chows.

In terms of travel, where’s the best place you’ve been?
Iceland was pretty cool last year for the first time; I’d never been there before. Also, Israel is a little bit of paradise. I can understand why the diabolical government of the country is trying to keep hold of that land. It’s an amazingly beautiful part of the world. Detroit, where I was at the weekend, was an incredible experience too because it was like a ghost town. It’s a bankrupt city where most of the buildings are derelict and you can buy palaces for about half a million.

Any palaces tickle your fancy?
Yep, any of them. You can buy a skyscraper for about half a million. A twelve-floor skyscraper – I don’t know if 12 floors count as a skyscraper – but you can get a one bedroom flat for that in London.

Have you ever been to Jamaica?
No, but it’s been something that’s been talked about a lot down the years and to be honest, I always resist the temptation because in a way, I was happier with Jamaica existing in my head. I’d heard a lot of nightmare stories about producers going over there and sometimes it’s better to keep a dream alive than encounter the harsh realities of a situation. Ironically, I think, I really will be going there in the next year because I'm compelled to go there. A few years ago, I had the idea – which I mentioned to Ninja Tune – of doing a Buena Vista Social Club type idea. Going to Jamaica and working with hardcore, old school MCs like Ninjaman, Cutty Ranks and Burro Banton but I made the mistake of mentioning it to people and a good friend of mine went out and did it. The idea of making a film around a trip and making some DVD together with that is probably not gonna happen. But I am noticing is that, whoever goes over there wants to airbrush over the reality of Jamaica and present it as a homage to Jamaica past. If I do do something now, it’s probably not gonna be my original idea but maybe a lo-fi, grimy, nasty-looking document of excess.

Finally, how are things moving with the King Midas Sound project?
To be honest, I told Kiki and Roger that this year I had to block out King Midas to an extent to finish off The Bug album. But, we’ve continued to work on the last single and the next single, which will probably be out in October or November time; then the King Midas Sound album will probably be out in the spring of next year.

Look forward to it.

The Bug plays alongside dBridge, Mala and the Mad Professor on June 15 at KOKO for Soundcrash Presents. Tickets are available here. Also a massive big ups to DJ Boba Fatt for putting together the mix.

Mad Professor - Rasta Kaos
Easy Star All-Stars - Money (Mad Professor mix)
Mad Professor & Jah Shaka - Slave Rebellion
Bob Andy & Mad Professor - Rasta Victory Dub
Mad Professor - Your Rights, My Rights
Mad Professor - Tribal Ground
Massive Attack vs Mad Professor - Karmacoma (Mad Professor Bumper Ball Dub)
Digital Mystikz - Anti War Dub
Mala - In Luv
Mala - Alicia
Mala - Left Leg Out
Mala - The Tunnel
Mala - Cuba Electronic
Mala - Changes
Mala - Changes (James Blake Remix)
Mala - Eyez VIP
Digital Mystikz - Haunted
The Bug ft. Hitomi - Catch A Fire
The Bug ft. Flowdan - Jah War (Loefah Remix)
The Bug ft. Killa P & Flowdan - Skeng (Kod 9 Remix)
The Bug ft. Killa P & Flowdan - Skeng
The Bug ft. Warrior Queen - Poison Dart
The Bug ft. Warrior Queen - Poison Dart (Skream Remix)
Shackleton - Deadman (The Bug Crackle Remix)
Shackleton - Deadman (King Midas Sound Death Dub)
Mad Professor - Chase The Devil
Massive Attack vs Mad Professor - Teardrop (Mad Professor Mazaruni Instrumental)
Massive Attack vs Mad Professor - Radiation Riling The Nation (Protection)
Ghostpoet - Survive It (dBridge Limbo Remix)
dBridge - Rendezvous
Instra:mental & dBridge - White Snares
Skream ft dBridge & Instra:mental - Reflections
dBridge - Since We've Been Apart
Spectrasoul ft dBridge - Glimpse
dBridge - Creatures Of Habit
dBridge - Wonder Where
Commix - Belleview (dBridge Belle-Reviewed Remix)
dBridge ft. Vegas - True Romance
The Bug vs The Rootsman ft He Man - Killer
The Bug ft. Tippa Irie - Angry

Follow Errol on Twitter @errol_and

For more Touching Bass, read