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"I think there's a sensuality to volume" Interview with The Bug

25 de Abril, 2023 EntrevistasJorge Alves

We need to talk about Kevin… And we just did. A cool chat with The Bug.

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Interview with The Inspector Cluzo

"Writing music is what we love so much" - Interview with Brutus
For years now, Kevin Martin has been synonymous with loud and abrasive experimental music. Under The Bug moniker, he has created some of the most vicious and awe-inspiring dancehall/noise explorations in existence, which was all the motivation we needed to sit down with Kevin a few hours before his Amplifest debut at the Hard Club restaurant. It was there that we discussed his music, sound as a source of transcendence, the importance of cultural diversity for him and even how it feels for a once “miserable, moody asshole'' (his words, not ours) to now be a family man after finding the love of his life. More than an interview, this was an informal conversation, as any other way would, quite frankly, be boring, and he will be the first to tell you: boredom is an enemy of life.

 

 Hi, Kevin, thank you so much for doing the interview. So, tonight you're performing here at Amplifest. How do you feel, are you excited?

K - Oh, no worries. Yeah, very excited. I've never played Amplifest before, but I've been to Porto many times and I love it… I actually spent extra days here because I love this city and my family has never been to this place before, and so I wanted them to experience Porto because we almost moved here, but we ended up choosing Brussels instead. Miss Red, though, moved to Porto (Miss Red was present when the interview was made as she was hanging out with Kevin and his family, and later made a surprise appearance during the gig)

 

Oh, really? I knew you lived in Brussels, but I had no idea you ever considered Porto.

K - Yeah, Porto was our hot favorite… And then Sharon (Miss Red) took our idea and moved here, so we changed our minds afterwards, we were like “She's moved here, we are out of here (laughs)… Nah, we made the decision for different reasons, but it was down to those two destinations .

 

I see… And are you happy in Brussels?

K - I love Brussels, particularly the neighborhood we live in, called Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, which is very central and happens to be the poorest neighborhood in Brussels and in Belgium, and also the most multicultural…

 

That's actually very cool, because when you moved to London, that's what drew you to that culture, that multicultural environment…

K - Exactly, and I missed that in Berlin. We lived in Berlin for maybe eight or nine years - maybe seven or eight years - , and it got much better in that regard, there was more and more non-white people moving into the city; but, still, it was very white in comparison to London, and I'd always lived in the poorest areas of the city, because I was poor (laughs), so my neighbors were always Jamaican or Indian, Pakistani or Turkish, and that feels more home to me. Now, if I go to cities where it's just white people, I actually feel a bit uncomfortable, it feels strange to me…

 

Even though you're white… 

K - Even though I'm am white, yeah… and in the area we live, there's very few white people, it's predominantly North African or Turkish. But here's what I love about the neighborhood: In London, we lived in some very heavy neighborhoods, where it was very multicultural, but every culture hated each other. In Brussels, though, we live in a very multicultural area, but everyone has respect for each other, and we just get on with life, because it's a struggle and we all know it. And I love coming out of the door of my house, my apartment and just not knowing what language I'm gonna hear next, because it could be any language… I love it.

 

It's kinda like your music, so multicultural and with so many different people…

K - It's true, it's true… Very much so.

 

And, you know, I've seen you live three times, and you're famous for how loud you blast the music on stage; for those who are not very familiar with your work, it's really about getting lost in sound, right?

K - Yeah, 100% percent. It's got nothing to do with machismo or “metal”, because I don't like machismo, I don't feel comfortable with it, and bragging about volume, all that posturing, is very boring to me. The reason I try to achieve very intense levels of volume on stage, is so I can really forget where I am, because I'm not particularly comfortable on a stage, and I'm not an outgoing person… I'm trying to be very open with you, but it's not my natural personality. Miss Red, for instance, she loves being on stage, but for me, it's just an occupational hazard (laughs). And offstage, the reason I want high levels of volume is primarily so people will lose their shit, in terms of transcendence and in terms of experiencing levels of frequency they may not have felt before; So, it's just about that incredibly intense experience, basically.

 

Yeah, it's just like Swans…

K - Yeah, they were a big influence on me as a young guy…

 

Yeah, I know. They have played here a couple of times, and it's always so loud, yet so beautiful… You just get lost in that sea of sound.

K - You know, I think there's a sensuality to volume; and when you feel completely overwhelmed by and shrouded in sound, it is actually warm, it's not meant as a sadistic weapon. We all have different levels of pleasure and pain - thresholds, if you will -, and I can't say some people won't be pissed off when they hear these levels of volume; but, for me, it's about freedom of choice: if it's too much and you don't like it, you leave, because that's how I feel when I go to any show, you know…

 

Sure. I even remember an interview where you mentioned those legendary On-U Sound shows that you never saw or heard, but knew of thanks to articles others wrote about it, and there would be people trying to get in and others doing everything they could to get out…

K - Yeah, I never saw those shows, but I had a very good friend called Dave Watts, who was in a band called Fun-Da-Mental. He used to go to all those shows in London, and he would tell me that the queue to go in in was half the size of the queue to leave. And the first time I saw Swans in London - I can't remember what year it was -, I was a young teenager, and I just happened to see them by chance, I didn't know their music. I had only seen a hype preview in a listings magazine in London, where it said that this was the most intense music you would ever hear in your life, and that it was like sadomasochism in sound, so immediately I thought “wow, what is this all about?”; so I went to see them, and the first act was not musical, they just had bodybuilders on stage doing bodybuilding routines, and straight away I was like “well, this is crazy”. And then, when Swans came on, it instantly just blew my head off: within maybe two songs, about two thirds of the audience were gone, because it was so brutal, and I was actually deaf in one ear for at least a week or two. It was really loud…

https://thebugmusic.bandcamp.com/album/fire-2

 

Oh, I can only imagine. It's funny because the first time I saw you, back in 2015, also with Flowdan…

K - … At Milhões de Festa?

 

Yeah, exactly. I will never forget seeing members of the audience covering their ears, trying to deal with that massive volume of sound… But I think there is something really beautiful in watching a show that some people are just going to hate, but that you truly enjoy.

K - A lot of the music that I ended up loving most was music that when I first heard it, I wasn't sure if I liked it. Public Enemy, for instance, I remember hearing their first album the week it came out, and it gave me a headache. Joy Division - I thought Curtis had an ugly voice and I couldn't listen to it. When I first heard John Coltrane's free jazz albums, it sounded like a wall of noise, I wasn't ready for it at that time. But all of those things that I just mentioned are now amongst my favorite music.

 

 

“All that we've been talking about, the music I just mentioned to you, it all literally changed my life - my life was changed through music. And if I can have that impact on anyone, I will be a happier person, because it means other people can experience the same joy that I had.”


 

I totally get it. It's really about that gradually evolving “ journey”, most definitely. For example, this afternoon, I saw Lingua Ignota…

K - Oh yeah, she is great!

 

She really is. And I was almost in tears watching her perform. In a way, that's what I want: I don't need music to always make me cry necessarily, but I do need to feel something strong…

K - Yeah, me too!! I believe that there's many enemies of life, but one of them is boredom. And this is all about stimulation of the senses - the ears, the cerebral… It's all about that adrenaline. All that we've been talking about, the music I just mentioned to you, it all literally changed my life - my life was changed through music. And if I can have that impact on anyone, I will be a happier person, because it means other people can experience the same joy that I had. In a way, this is just like drug dealing: I'm addicted to music, that's my drug, so I would like to pass it on.

 

A good analogy, for sure. Well, let's talk about your most recent studio album , Fire. You've said it was developed as a reaction to the social and political tension that was going on at the time; but now, with all that is happening - the War in Ukraine, protests in Iran, political turmoil in Brasil, and so much more - , do you think your next effort could be as just as raw, since the world remains a shitty place?

K - Well, I'll be really honest, I'm not even thinking about the next Bug album right now… I have been doing a lot of Kevin Richard Martin albums, that's been much at the forefront lately, but I also just released a Bug album called Absent Riddim, consisting of seventeen versions featuring the same beat, which I love the idea of simply because it would confuse people, and I don't know… Some people are very happy to repeat the same album over and over again, and I'm not like that: I wanna keep myself inspired and excited, and hopefully have the respect of those who realize I'm trying to improve my craft. I see it as craftsmanship, like a carpenter… Can I keep improving my craft? That's the challenge.

 

I get what you're saying. I had the chance to listen to the album you were talking about (Downtown, released through Intercranial Recordings), and even though it's different from what you produce as The Bug, both seem to share that eerie feeling of paranoia. Safe to say there is an emotional connection between them?

K - It's not like it couldn't be, because it's me… As much as I try to separate them, it's impossible because it fundamentally comes from me, you know… and generally I'm not into fluffy cloud ambient music, I find that boring, but I like the idea of ambient music that is, well, disconcerting, music that is background but not really, that is making you feel a bit uneasy. It's difficult because a lot of metal or industrial music, or even some dark ambient music, it just seems cartoon music, it doesn't touch me… There's guitarists that I love, of course - Justin Broadrick, Christian Fennesz, Aaron Turner -, but what I don't like is cliché rock/metal guitar.

 



The Bug at Amplifest 2022 

 

You mean, the whole concept of shredding and stuff like that…

K - It's just predicatble … And again, that's another enemy of life.

 

You also released a collaboration with Al Cisneros (Sleep, OM). Can you talk about that? It is very influenced by dub…

K - True, Al is huge fan of dub, as is Justin (Broadrick), as is Dylan Carlson… and dub is heavy, you know - especially when you hear it in sound systems, then is heavy as fuck. So, to me, it’s no surprise that Dylan, Justin, or Al love dub so much. And I actually met Al because King Midas Sound (a project featuring Kevin, poet Roger Robinson and Japanese artist Kiki Hitomi) supported OM in London, and fell in love with it. In fact, the first time I saw OM was when they supported Sunn O))), and I didn't know them. I knew Sleep - I already liked them when they were in Earache Records many years ago - and when King Midas were asked to support OM, I had just seen them and I was already a very big fan. You know, there were a lot of things that I liked, but one of them was not knowing who they were, it makes things much more exciting.

 

Yeah, when you don't have expectations and you're blown away…

K - Exactly, it byspasses the intellectual and goes straight to the heart… and that night, they had a guy called Rob Lowe (Lichens) - they don't play with him anymore, but at that time he was still with them - and his contribution, particularly, blew me away. When I returned home I immediately tried to find who this dude was, because he reminded me of this guitarist who used to play with Miles Davis called Pete Cosey, they had a similar style. After that, I just fell in love with OM's music, and when we played with them, it just turned out they were wonderful people… I will give you an example: we got paid very little for that show, and afterwards Al came to my room and asked if he could have a word with me, and he gave me some of their fee. He said ”look, your show was amazing, we loved it and we know you didn't get much, so we would like to offer you some of our fee”. That is unheard of …

 

So humble…

K - Yeah, and then we got to talk about reggae, and that was game over, because he and I are addicted to 7" reggae singles - he collects them and so do I. After that he invited me to do a reggae DJ session supporting Sleep in Berlin, and I remember telling my wife “this is a bit crazy”, because I could just imagine metalheads throwing stuff on stage - I thought it could get a bit nasty. But, at the same time, I was like “well, why not, let's try and see what happens”, and actually, it was 50/50, but those who liked it, dug it a lot. Al completely loved the session, so much that he even asked me to support OM on a European tour. However, this wasn't a normal Bug set per se: I was playing a lot of traditional dub for the first half of the set, and playing Bug instrumentals afterwards, so it was a hybrid session, but it went really well too. And ever since then we've kept in touch, I told him I run a label (Intercranial Recordings) and he was like ''I would love to record for you”, and I said, ''sure”. In fact, I'd heard his solo dub stuff - which is very good -, so whatever he was gonna give me, I was pretty sure I would like. And I did! It was very traditional - traditional old school dub, beautifully done. And you know, at first he asked me what I thought of it and I was like “yeah, it's wicked, although maybe I would've added this, this and that'', and right there he asked '' well, why don't you create some mixes'', so I said sure, why not… That is why I did the other sides.

 

That is awesome, because not all artists are that open-minded… 

K - No, he is cool, man… I think he comes from a different place than me musically, I feel he is very much a product of his metal/rock love.That's not me, obviously, so our meeting point is dub, and reggae.


 

That makes sense. Now, I'm not sure if you wanna talk about this, but I know for a fact that you hate that whole English conservative monoculture, and since The Queen passed away this year… Well, what are your thoughts?

K - (laughs) I don't give a fuck…

 

Yeah, I figured (laughs)...

K - Yeah, I really don't. My mom is angry that I don't care , but it is unnecessary, The Royal Family is unnecessary; it is a relic, an imperial relic. To me it's like a different planet.

 

Agreed. I mean, some people wanna be rich and privileged, and yeah, money is important to an extent, but I feel like the most important thing in life is to find your inner peace and place in this world…

K - Of course, that's how I feel too… That's what life is. man.

 

https://pressurerecords.bandcamp.com/album/rosin

 

In fact, I remember an interview where you said you often look at your bank account and it isn't always pretty, but, at the same time, it is safe to say you would not be as happy if you had to compromise your artistic beliefs.

K - Yeah, that happens a lot, and it's scary as hell most of the time. But yes, I'm happy doing what I'm doing, 100 % percent. And also, on a personal level, for many years I never thought I could be a dad, because I was a product of a very broken family … And it was the same with Justin, we used to talk about it all the time, and now he is a dad too, we are both late fathers. You end up discovering new sides of yourself as you get older, that you didn't even know were there… That's a joy too. If my father had “won”, I could have never trusted family, or the idea of having kids, because that's the way I was heading for many, many years… he would have won the battle, because he brutalized me and my mom.

 

I know… There is an interview where you admit you used to listen to music as a way to hide the sound of your parents beating each other up…

K - Yeah, true - Discharge, Crass, stuff like that - to stop their screaming and shouting… It was brutal.

 

But you were explaining how you never thought you would become a dad, and that just proves how life is unpredictable.

K - Yeah, and I think that's a beautiful thing , how unpredictable it is. I see life as chaos, and the only way through it, the only way to deal with it, is by finding your personal path of happiness… Well, not happiness because that makes you feel like a hippie, but contentment somehow… Fortunately I was able to do that in my life through music. And you know, before meeting my wife I'd had several relationships that broke - because I wouldn't be a father, I wouldn't get married…

 

Well, you did take one of your girlfriends to see Sunn O))), that's some intense stuff (laughs)...

K - I know, I know (laughs)... But do you know the whole story?

 

Yes, after a week or so she fell in love with the show and couldn't stop thinking about it…

K - yeah, and that's true, believe me.

 

I believe it. But, so, as you were saying, you had many relationships that fell apart before finding the love of your life …

K - That's right, and like you said, a few minutes ago, life is totally unpredictable. I happened to meet my wife at the right time and place in my life, where it wasn't even a question, it was like “let's have kids”, “let's move to Berlin, let's move to Brussels”.

 

And how long have you been together now?

K - We've been together for ten years…

 

And you decided, fairly soon, that you would have kids and start a family?

K - Well, it wasn't that simple, more like I discovered a path that I didn't even know was there. It was almost… how do you say it, man…

 

Well, this might sound lame, but maybe the word you are looking for is soulmate?

K - Oh no, it's precisely that, yeah… and I think some people are lucky - as I am- to have done that, some people aren't … Totally unpredictable, like you say. Who knows when, how, who, where… You know, there's a great film that I really love by Wong Kar-Wai… Do you know this director?

 

I do, yes…

K - Ok, do you know his film “2046”?

 

I'm familiar with the plot, but it is still on my “watchlist”…

K - Ok, so it is my favorite, and it's basically more or less about all we're saying. It's about the whole notion that you can meet people who you think are right for you, in the right place, at the right time, only to find out they're not. It really deals with the unpredictability of how relationships work… You've got to see it- if you're a fan of his, you will be blown away, it's incredible. And the more I watch it, the more I realize I've been there. Because there were times I would meet someone I thought was the right person, but in the end it very much wasn't. I mean, we all go through that… And, then, when I finally did meet the right person, it was unquestionable …

 

You knew then , when you met your current wife, that she was the one…

K - Yeah, no doubt. And then, my daughter, at the moment, is a big influence, because she loves Rosalía. So we listen to a lot of Rosalía nonstop in our house. I love her albums, one of my favorite records this year. But yeah, man, that film, “2046”, is incredible - Wong Kar-Wai and his cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, are artists - fine artists. But that film in particular, and its levels of meaning, it's just incredible for me. It's mind-blowing.

 

I will definitely watch it as soon as possible. But you know, you were talking about that whole idea of unpredictability being a beautiful thing, and that's actually one of the reasons I wanna be moved by a show. You never know when it's going to be your last, so treat each one as if it really was…After all, wouldn't you want that last experience to be really memorable?

K - Agree, 100% percent. I think, as you get older, you realize the fragility of life, and how everyday can literally be your last. And so it's a case of… If you're gonna justify being on stage, surely that the goal that you are trying to achieve is to create an experience that is unforgetable, and preferably, will have an impact that will make those watching start making music, or hopefully just be touched by music in a way that makes them find the same pleasure I did through sound. And the funny thing is, there were times where I wanted the tracks that I was making to end parties - the idea was that it was so brutal and intense that nothing could follow… So, for me, the need for that intensity, that visceral experience, has been there for a long time.

 

That's funny, because people sometimes think that your music is…

K - Miserable?

 

In a way… But it's the opposite: you have a lust for life, you have said it yourself…

K - Yeah, yeah, it's exactly that. I hate that, when people mention dark in conjunction with my music, and it's one of the reasons I named the album “Fire”. It's got nothing to do with darkness, and I'm not saying that just to be argumentative or difficult, because that is just how I see it. A lot of the music we've mentioned in this interview is music that makes you feel alive - better to be alive - and you only got one life, so why would I wanna wallow in self-pity and darkness and grumpiness? And trust me, there have been many times in my life where I was like that. I was miserable as hell. I remember when I used to tour with GOD and Godflesh, back when I first met Justin, I was like “Why does everyone wanna speak to Justin and not me?”, and it's because I was a miserable, moody asshole standing in the corner, and as times changed, I changed as well, and I realized that if you put out energy, you get back energy.

 

So maybe the Kevin that played at the Paradiso in Amsterdam and had the whole crowd leaving by the second song because the sound was just too loud, maybe that Kevin no longer necessarily exists? Or, at least, he isn't as angry?

K - Oh, I would absolutely agree that's no longer my pleasure…At the same time, if it happens, so be it. And I still like I still like to fuck with people, that is the deal. Because I still want that, I want to be challenged. I don't particularily like comfort zones - in art or music. But as anyone that knows my music - Justin, in fact, is a good example: when he heard “ Fire” , he told me this was the heaviest album I had ever made. And it's like - I'm not compromising in any way, shape or form, because it's not in me, I can't do it, and my wife wouldn't expect me to do it. I just try to keep inspired by what I do

 



The Bug at Amplifest 2022
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