The Bug traded in walls of noise for beats and bass, and hasn’t looked back since.
THE BUG with SEK ONE, GHOSTBEARDat the Drake (1150 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, July 24). $8. drakehotel.ca.
The Bug, aka Kevin Martin, is pleasantly surprised by the favourable response his newest record, London Zoo, has received from the press. His noisy experimental impression of dancehall reggae has often been regarded as some kind of odd outsider art. But in the current musical climate, his unlikely sound has suddenly clicked, and he's garnered unexpected praise from death metal magazines, dance music writers, hip-hop journalists and the indie scene.
"I think I may have sold out without even realizing it," Martin laughs from his London studio.
Not that he's terribly concerned with the issue of selling out. His early career saw him fronting punk-jazz outfit God. Over time he grew tired of the exclusionary elitism of the experimental music scene and became enthralled with dancehall reggae's insatiable hunger for new sounds and rhythms. He found he could achieve the same mind-expanding sonic assault of free jazz and noise music with massive amounts of bass and effects, while performing for an audience more interested in moving to music than talking about it.
"I've never been interested in being wilfully underground. I like the idea of playing to a large audience and seeing what they think of the work. I don't like the arrogant and patronizing nature of a lot of people who work in experimental music and think they're something special because they can intellectualize about their music and think the status quo is shit."
Letting dancehall MCs loose on his tracks, Martin tempers the experimental elements with the structure and focus that a vocalist brings. The weird sounds and textures are still there, but they become accessible when paired with a human voice and melodic hooks. However, since he reaches a market that isn't necessarily made of reggae fans, he's found himself being asked to address accusations of rampant homophobia, violence and sexism in dancehall, despite that fact that his own work steers clear of those issues.
"I think the issue has been amplified in a very sensationalistic way, and it's become just another way to put down black music. Black lyricists aren't given credibility. People like Johnny Cash, Nick Cave and Bob Dylan are considered incredibly literate for the way they sing murder ballads and homicidal rants, but if you tried to put Vybz Kartel alongside those guys in some supposedly respected journal, you'd get laughed down.
"It is a concern, though, and I do have a conscience about it. I don't approve of homophobia and I don't approve of misogyny. Misanthropy? I'm fine with that," he laughs.
The Bug talks abotu the live show and visa woes:
The Bug explains how John Zorn led him to dub production style: