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The Bug’s bass odyssey

The Bug, aka Kevin Martin

The Bug, aka Kevin Martin. Fabrice Bourgelle photo.

Review – The Bug at the Electric Owl, Vancouver, Nov 9 2014

– review by Taisuke Tanimura

Kevin Martin has been an influential figure in London’s music scene for almost 25 years. He has released an astonishingly wide variety of music, collaborating with the likes of DJ Vadim, Justin Broadrick (Napalm Death/Godflesh/Jesu), John Zorn and the Anti-Pop Consortium. His projects cover a large swath of sonic territory, from hip-hop, grime, and dub, to industrial, metal and ambient. Despite his experimental leanings, Martin’s music is almost always grounded in a strong sense of rhythm and a large helping of body-shaking bass.

His latest project, The Bug, is his take on ragga music, which he presented to an eager crowd at the Electric Owl last night. Martin warmed up the crowd for the first half hour of his set with some live mixing and editing of some cuts from The Bug’s latest album Angels & Devils. The album features an intriguing mix of down-and-dirty ragga numbers as well as more ethereal ambient tracks (hence the title). The guests on the record are as just as eclectic as well – Liz Harris (Grouper), Gonjasufi, Death Grips and Flowdan all lend their talents. Flowdan has been involved with The Bug from the beginning, and he accompanied Martin on this tour.

As soon as the first rumbles of bass filtered through the speakers, it was impossible not to move. As bleak and uncompromising as Martin’s aesthetic is, the beats and the bass tapped stirred something primal in all of us. Once we had worked up a sweat and were hungry for more, Flowdan took to the stage. Flowdan is an old hand in the UK grime scene, having risen to fame as part of the Roll Deep crew and then later gaining more attention for his solo work. His sinister baritone is a great complement to Martin’s music, and with his presence the atmosphere in the club went up several notches. Even though it was hard to hear what he was saying over all that bass, Flowdan’s energy was a welcome addition.

A couple of songs later, another MC (whose name I didn’t catch) joined the fray. The new MC had a higher, more nasal flow, and he played very well off Flowdan. With these two toasters the night reached its apex in a dazed, hypnotic frenzy of snares and wobbles. I could literally feel my body tingling as it vibrated under the sheer pressure of the low end, my feet swaying almost unconsciously.

There were two opening acts before The Bug – Tusk, whose minimal molasses grooves built some atmosphere while the punter trickled in, followed by Chambers, a local duo who laid down some thick rhythms using a laptop, guitar, and a truckload of pedals. Both kept things interesting by incorporating lots of live elements into their show, and I enjoyed their takes on the melting pot of dub/hip-hop/beats that were offered.

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