the psychopathology of kevin martin

I’d been trailing Kevin Martin for some time. Longer than I'd care to admit. After a bright start as part of the avant-thrash-jazz monstrosity known as GOD and some subsequent collaborations with Godflesh mainstay Justin Broadrick, something happened to Martin in the mid 90s. I'd follow up leads, but at the end of all the dark alleys, there was Mr K-Mart, looking back at me. His journalism and his genre-defining compilations for Virgin, such as Isolationism and Macro Dub Infection showed a marked interest in joining up the extreme edges of dark experimental music.

Martin was onto something… or was something onto Martin? He seemed so driven, that it didn’t seem entirely natural. I couldn't put my finger on it, and that annoyed me. I let the uncertainty ride for a while, but then circumstances intervened. First, as Razor X, Martin had upped the ante by combining Jamaican dancehall with extreme frequencies. Then, his record company started taking an interest in me. A CD entitled "Pressure" by The Bug turned up one day and proceeded to blow me away. It was part dub, part dancehall, all electronic… hardcore. Enough was enough - I had to find out more.

I finally pinned Kevin Martin down in a Holborn pub. Whatever bug is driving him was clearly out of control — he was obviously unwell and suffering from a bizarre temporal distortion that meant he hadn’t caught up with British Summer Time about a fortnight after the clocks had changed.

I played it cool, ran the questions in the hope that by digging deeper, I could get to the truth.


Can you tell me about your intentions behind setting up The Bug as a distinct project?

The idea behind starting The Bug album Pressure was a bit different to the first Bug release, Tapping the Conversation. That album was actually a freak occurrence — I'd been touring with Skitz from Wordsound and he approached me because he liked my stuff. Although that’s in the name of The Bug, I don’t really see it as the same entity I’ve now devised. The first release that was really me trying to find my own way was the Lowrider 12" for Fat Cat, which I recorded with Dave Cochrane, the bass player from GOD and ICE.

I started working on Pressure at a point when financially, it was probably the worst time in my life. My girlfriend and I were talking about whether or not to leave Britain because things were so expensive. Normally my reaction to those sorts of situations would be to make the most sadistic, unlistenable racket imaginable. But actually it went the opposite way and ended quite minimal, funky, not particularly antagonistic. I mean Razor X [The Bug’s collaboration with The Rootsman in a serious noisecore bashment style] is different, but when I first started Pressure it was with a view that I didn’t want to blow people’s heads off, but to indulge my fascination with dub and bass. Of course with GOD and Techno Animal [Kevin’s joint project with Justin Broadrick], those aspects were primary, but with the bug I wanted to focus totally on the bass and space.

When the ICE album was done, the record label wanted us to do live shows, and we were adamant that it was never meant to be a live project. So I told them we only wanted to be a studio project, but that we wanted them to help us make a soundsystem. After the album was produced, and the way it was produced (which included my own personal hell, emotionally, practically and musically) it was obvious to us that it was an album that would not sound very good on that soundsystem. There was too much middle, too much layering…

So I think, subconsciously, at the beginning of The Bug, I thought "Well OK, I want to make music that can be played over a system — music that I’m not hearing. I go to dub nights, but I’m not hearing dancehall. I want to hear really rough basslines that aren’t particularly reggae. I want to completely exploit soundsystem to its max."

Do you feel you have achieved that?

The Bug - LowriderI guess it’s part way. For me, it’s a learning process. Ultimately The Bug is my first solo project and I still feel that I’m finding my feet. It’s something that feels very instant in terms of satisfying all the criteria that I wanted, but I still think it’s very much the beginning of The Bug. If anything, I see it veering off in lots of directions at once, whereas when it first began it was to do the opposite. I wanted it to be very minimal, very hallucinatory, but not to rely on layers and layers of some very physical sounds. But as it happens with the Razor X mutation…

It’s all gone a bit mental again!

Exactly! I’m trying to fight that indulgence, but I do want to keep that side of The Bug — the Razor X side as well as the trippy minimal tracks, and to continue to work in reggae and dancehall, but to extend it into my areas.

So your exposure to soundsystems and having your own system has mutated the way you think of sound?

Yeah definitely. I feel scarred for life by my first experience with soundsystems. I can still remember vividly the first one I went to, which was in the east end of London. It was in a horrible old warehouse and it was The Disciples and Iration Steppas having a face off. There was no light apart from a bulb over each soundsystem, there were about 50 people there, no-one clapped… all of which was completely new to me. I was coming from a noise cum punk cum free jazz background and this was pretty radical — no stage show, no audience participation other than almost a complete homage or faith in the sound, and a total absorption in the frequencies. For me it was incredible.

So I’d say, yeah, soundsystem totally affected my whole outlook. Not just in terms of the sound, but just the obsessiveness with detail, and the obsession with mutation. And all the chaotic entities at the heart of it, whether it be through effects units, or just some of the characters that work within dub.

I find that interesting coming from a kind of industrial music background, where you’ve got people who have quite wacky beliefs or lifestyles. But often when you meet them they are quite boring people, who just happen to produce records which are supposed to summon up demons or whatever. If you look at Lee Perry or people on the UK dub scene, they are genuine eccentrics, or totally shamanistic people. Plus the sound they make is just as experimental, and in many ways much more exciting.

To be honest with you, one of the reasons I gave up GOD (the band!) was after a show, the last show we did. I had asked Boymerang to do their first show playing jungle, and I’d asked The Disciples to bring their soundsystem. Boymerang got bottled off by people who were into GOD, and then when The Disciples played after us, everyone disappeared apart from members of the band, because they thought it was a disco or something.

part of The Disciples' Boomshakalacka Soundsystem - reprinted with permissionThat night had been such a disaster in terms of amps blowing, people in the band not bothering to rehearse tracks, the audience seemed inflexible, even complaints from the neighbours at soundcheck! It was everything that was crap about rock shows. So I stood in the middle of The Disciples’ three monoliths, watching Russ do his thing. On that night GOD had 12 people in the band — two electric basses, one double bass, two drummers, a troupe of African drummers, electric viola, two saxophones and myself screaming through an effects unit. But everything I wanted to do in terms of disorientation, groove with a tonality, confrontation with sound as well as excitation through sound — was done by this one guy, standing with his little box of tricks. It just totally turned me around. It’s an obsession.

It just hooks you in.

Yeah! I think bass is addictive — volume is addictive. I don’t mean in a crappy "turn it up to 11!" sort of way, but it literally makes me feel good, spiritually. Having your internal organs rearranged by bass can be a really therapeutic thing. It’s an incredible thing, soundsystem culture. I’m just disappointed that there isn’t more of an audience for it and everyone involved with it seems to be struggling so much. But that’s also the reggae scene in general…

You seem happy to bring a huge diversity of genres to your work, rather than specialising.

Kevin MartinI grew up in Weymouth, a small town on the south coast. During my teenage years one of my best friends was one of the top rockabilly DJs in the south of England. I dressed in punk clothes. The first music that meant anything to me, that made an immediate impression was Never Mind The Bollocks and Discharge. But then I knew people who were mods or heavy metal kids into Black Sabbath… it would be impossible in a town that size not to mix with people from all different areas. A very formative thing for me was getting friendly with people who ran a record stop. They would turn me onto Beefheart, or free jazz, or Ry Cooder. In Lonon, it’s more integrated than places like America. It would be harder not to feel those things come in. I’ve never felt as if there’s a reason to block out influences.

Another thing that pissed me off with GOD is that we’d be having the same audience from town to town, which would generally exclude women and people from other cultures. I mean, I live in Alperton, which is a totally multi-racial area where whites are a minority, I live with a girl, and I have lots of women friends as well as male friends… it starts making you ask questions. So now, with The Bug stuff, seeing the impressions it’s made live on different people, it’s very intriguing for me. It’s music research, I see it as a science as well — seeing how to manipulate people and play with reaction. Not in a cynical way, but more…

Having fun?

Yeah — there can be a sexy side to noise — noise can be sexy for me, but so can a bassline and some beautiful rhythm. We DJ-ed recently at show in Switzerland with Techno Animal. Me and Justin played back to back on laptops, passing a cable between us after every two tracks. He was playing his new drum ‘n’ bass tracks and I was playing new Bug tracks. And suddenly there was a whole load of women who jumped the stage and started bogling in front of the mixing desk! That was fantastic — just to see a direct physical reaction from people who wouldn’t know what the music was, where it was from, wouldn’t know any prior history…

I got frustrated with the whole cultural elitism of experimental music, where it’s all about name-checking - your history is almost more important than your product. It was refreshing to play to audiences which have no preconceptions and judge purely on that instant. It’s a really primitive release, and I enjoy tapping into that.

You’re in quite a marginal area of music, but you don’t seem to be scared of collaborating with multinational entities like Virgin or IPC. Does that create problems, or is it just something which comes naturally to you?

PRESSUREFirst and foremost I operate out of fear and survival. I don’t worry remotely about being called overground or a sell-out. Most underground labels or artists I’ve met either go overground at the drop of a hat or have the same aspirations, but different mechanisms for achieving them. I don’t have enough faith in underground labels — I don’t have enough faith in overground labels! I don’t feel a loyalty to either. If anything, I just feel solitary in terms of continuing the course I began and continuing to work with people I feel are hardcore. Public Enemy were hardcore and they were on CBS/Sony. I find them more hardcore than a million noise artists who play to the same crowds with the same sound. I see no reason for a distinction.

Having said that, I obviously understand the problems of dealing with the devil at multi-corporate level. But I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t have to deal with banks at one level or another. So, no, I don’t think that causes me a loss of sleep because I don’t think I’ve ever compromised musically to get one of those jobs, or to be signed in that way — hence being dropped almost album by album! The ICE album came out on Warner Bros and they hated the record. I did one interview for the whole of America. I’ve done a lot more interviews on independent labels.

Would it be right to say that, with The Bug, you’re assuming the traditional role of a Jamaican record producer? You’ve got backing tracks and then get a vocalist in to do their thing over them?

Yeah — or it can go completely the opposite way. I’ve just been recording with Cutty Ranks.


Yeah! But he didn’t hear what the final track was going to be, I gave him a four bar loop of a very stripped down track off the album, because if I’d given him what the single sounds like, I just don’t think he would have done it. You have to be realistic about it. How I work with each vocalist will be different. But yeah, you’re right, basically I make music and then afterwards I’ll think, "OK, which vocalist would I like to put on top of it?"

A lot of lyrical content of The Bug (and especially Razor X) is quite aggressive. I wondered if you had any thoughts on the recent controversy around dancehall and what they call "gangsta rap" being a force for bad in the world? I noticed on The Rootsman’s site he was saying that a lot of the lyrics were tongue in cheek. Is it ironic?

Razor X - WWWWell, that was John’s [the Rootsman's] take on it. For me there’s a sense of amusement in some of the expressions, or the intensity of it. I find myself laughing at something so utterly extreme. The first time I heard Napalm Death I laughed with it. Irony I’m not so keen on in music, and I passionately believe in what I do with The Bug and Razor X. I don’t think that putting out lyrics that deal with violence is a bad influence. Whether or not The Bug or Razor X existed, violence is going to be going on.

I think that it addresses those issues, but it’s not meant to glorify those issues. It addresses the fact that there is a voyeuristic compulsion to know more about those issues and for me generally with dancehall, part of the attraction has always been the sex and violence. I love the primal thrust of the music. I love the antagonistic nature of the lyrics, although I fuckin’ hate some of the sentiments. But I hate some of the sentiments of pop or rock music, or any form of music.

I find it racist that dancehall and hip hop are particularly centred for that sort of attention, when people like Bob Dylan, Nick Cave or Bruce Springsteen can be called poets for dealing with violence in their way. Yet black music writers aren’t given the same freedoms for the same astonishing lyrics that happen in those areas. So, no I don’t feel it’s in any way a negative thing that we do.

This brings us nicely to the tradition of white people appropriating black music forms, which I’m guessing is something you also don’t have a problem with?

It’s something which I realise is an issue. In terms of colonising Jamaican music and me trying to exploit it, obviously I don’t feel that I do that in any way. I think partly for me, there’s almost a completely insane sense that I should end up working in an area like dancehall.

Maybe it’s to do with a very broken family background or being an only child, but I can’t say I’ve ever felt part of British culture or the immediate social cultures. I’ve existed by moving from person to person, whatever culture they are: black/white, straight/gay, male/female, I don’t give a fuck as long as I feel their intentions are right. I guess working in dancehall for me is as alien as working in any form of music.

It was John Peel who introduced me to reggae and a white lecturer who taught one of my friends when I was 15 and played me ‘Foggy Road’ by Prince Far-I, which again had an indelible impression on me. Adrian Sherwood was an outstanding inspiration for me. I can’t say I question any of their motivations for being involved with Jamaican music in one way or the other. As opposed to people who just sample snippets of Jamaican voice and never pay royalties, never pay vocalists' fees, and use it as some sort of cutesy badge. I find that more culturally exploitative. I pay the MCs I work with - I work with them live… when I did the Razor X show recently, I started with a half hour set of pure dancehall… if people didn’t like it, they could fuck off, really.

I think the whole thing is that I’m not trying to xerox Steely and Clevie mixes, or Tubby’s productions. I’m trying to do it in my area with the musical background I have. I think it would be very different if I just wanted to copy the latest dancehall tune and sell it to a white audience with a white MC.

So it is a difficult area to work in, but when I started the album, it was more as an electronic album — working with inspirations which I felt were very relevant. As opposed to setting out to make a reggae album or a dancehall album. I love the music and have done since hearing ‘Streetsweeper’ really. I think it would be more racist in a way to just concentrate on a white rock thing.

It’s hard to avoid it in London…

Yeah — it’s impossible to steer clear of reggae or hip hop or r&b and I don’t want to. I love those forms of music and as a producer I feel that black music has generally been responsible for most of the cutting edge innovations in the last 20 or 30 years. I think that anyone who produces music couldn’t help but be stung into action by some of the incredible productions that have come out of black music. That isn’t to say that there aren’t incredible producers coming out of white areas as well…

Have you had much feedback from people you’ve worked with or other producers who are immersed in Jamaican culture?

The Bug - Politicians & PaedophilesIf I’m really honest, I wouldn’t expect to get much reaction from dancehall producers, but it’s been totally energising to see the sort of people who have shown an interest whether it be someone like Aphex Twin, Adrian Sherwood, Mark Stewart, or Andy Weatherall. There seem to be a lot of those misfits, freaks and outsiders who have said how much they’re interested.

What has been positive for me is, say, sitting in the studio with Warrior Queen, and she arrives with herboyfriend who as far as I know is nothing to do with the music industry, and they’re both really digging the backing track and want to know if I do any other rhythms. Again, there’s no media filter — they didn’t know anything about me. And it’s the same when John Rootsman tells me that Mexican or He-Man are really into the tracks. John recorded the first tunes I did with an MC, which were the Daddy Freddy ones. He showed up in the studio with a bunch of guys from a notorious dancehall system in Nottingham and they totally loved the tracks.

So I think there can be a feedback thing going on, but I’m not thinking about that. I’d be in a different job, doing a different thing if I was, because there’s many more lucrative ways of making a living! There’s enough promising signs. Maybe some people involved with dancehall can pick up on stuff from The Bug.

Ragga mutates on such a regular basis, who’s to say that there’s no room for a noisy edge…

Of course! It’s already there, if you listen to yard tapes or pirate radio stations. That’s what my inspiration was for Razor X. Pirates that get played around Stonebridge Park sound more full-on than Razor X does. Going back and listening to jungle on the pirates, listening to DHR for the first time… 'Squeeze The Trigger' by Alec Empire was a major inspiration for Razor X, for sure.

When I was communicating with Toby, DJ Scud, I said to him when I put 'Total Destruction' on the Collision Course compilation "Why don’t you hook up with MCs, it would be incredible!" He never did it, and the more I thought about it, I wanted to do it myself. It was through knowing John Rootsman — John has helped me with more and more MCs. Because when I started working on the original Bug tracks, it was like dancehall without vocals, electronic dub without vocals. I can’t remember what the exact catalyst was for asking John.

Well, he has his resource of people who come through and record dubplates for soundsystems and stuff.

He’s an enthusiast. He’s very outspoken. We disagree, We work in radically different ways, but what I love about him is his energy, and the fact that he doesn’t see the need to reproduce the past, which is an affliction that I feel hampers reggae in the UK in a very negative way.

And finally, what’s coming up for you and The Bug?

Straight after the album there’s going to be the single with Cutty Ranks. It’s called 'Gun Disease', which is a re-make of 'Gunman Lyrics', one of his first hits. Then there’ll be a single with Warrior Queen, which is interesting for me, ‘cos I’ve never worked with a female MC before. There will be a Razor X compilation at some point. I've never really wanted the singles to go beyond their 1000 pressings, but a lot people have been finding they can't get hold of them. Apart from that, we’ve just completed new Techno Animal material.

What about remix stuff?

Mark Stewart’s revamping 'WWW' for his album. Adrian Sherwood says he wants me to maybe produce one of Mark’s tracks. I’ve just remixed an Adrian Sherwood track from his album. Yeah a lot of stuff. More Razor X tracks — there’s going to be an Aphex Twin remix of 'Run The Place Red' which is insane.


I still had more questions than answers. It was obvious now that there was something lurking in the bassbins of dub culture — ready to pounce on the unwary. But just how sick could it make you? Were soundsystems some sort of gateway to a dread hyperconsciousness? What was The Bug infecting Kevin Martin?

We walked to the tube together. The Central Line was working again after months of chaotic disruption. Martin was heading west, whilst I headed east. I thought I'd gotten away with it, kidded myself that my journalistic detachment had acted like a Hong Kong face-mask, but The Bug squirming in Martin’s belly had one last play to make. At that moment, there was just one weapon guaranteed to fly by wire into my subconscious and unleash untold mimetic shrapnel. Now, just as we were about to part, Martin pulled me aside at a junction between two platforms and hit the big red button: "Do you want to hear the track I've done with Cutty Ranks?"

Boom! I knew it was a trap, but it was too good to resist. The addictive lure of the dubplate. Martin put the headphones against my ears and pressed play. I thought I could just about hear him saying "Now it's your turn to suffer" before the wall of beats and feedback kicked in. This was serious shit - whatever was controlling Kevin had moved up another level. The track obliterated my consciousness and as I closed my eyes I could just make out a black-clad figure walking calmly off into the distance. When I came to, the headphones were faintly humming in my ears and the player was empty. I noticed a telltale swelling in my neck: my glands were up. I was coming down with ‘flu again. Or was it something else…