- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
It’s about an hour before the gig and The Bug aka Kevin Martin is already on fire. Well, the equipment is anyway. Turns out, Martin’s soundcheck was loud enough to set a bass bin alight. Good job I remembered to pack my earplugs.
The Berlin-based/ UK born musician and producer has been setting figurative fires since he first emerged in the early nineties. His music, it has to be said, isn’t easy to categorise. The Bug alone has absorbed and embraced everything from hip hop, electronica and drone to dancehall, dub and ragga.
Tonight Martin is joined by fearless dancehall MC, Miss Red. The Israeli born vocalist released her debut album, the relentless K.O., last summer with The Bug lending his distinctive riddims to the LP. Suffice to say, neither The Bug nor Miss Red will be holding back tonight (even if it is only Thursday).
There’s a table full of equipment as we enter the Belgrave. Amongst other noise-making machinery, there’s a Roland TR-08, a delay pedal and (more surprisingly) an acoustic guitar. These are the diverse weapons of choice for tonight’s support, M-G Dysfunction.
Amongst one of the more confounding acts I’ve seen recently, M-G Dysfunction is anything but predictable. A steady, otherworldly drone and some chanting ease us in and I’m intrigued. He plays a few angsty acoustic songs before reassuring us that, “it’s all good vibes now”.
Good vibes, however, might be a little misleading. Some satisfying beats get people moving before descending into abrasive noise. The set feels improvised, purposefully erratic. “Is this good?” he asks as he turns up the volume. By this point, I’m not really sure.
It’s a divisive and eccentric performance; some of it doesn’t work at all but even then it’s hard to look away. A drone-folk number provides something of a hypnotic highlight while Dysfunction is self-deprecating throughout, telling us “no one’s come here to see this”.
It’s these elements of self-sabotage, sonic antagonism and his unwillingness to give us anything approaching an easy ride that makes it a mixed yet memorable performance.
Bathed in ominous red light, The Bug is intent on submerging us in his world from the very start. A huge, floor-shaking drone rattles through the floorboards like a warning shot. Martin, stood behind his equipment, his records and some typically huge speakers, has only just begun.
When the bass finally drops it’s overwhelming. It’s interesting to think that Martin was actually a little dissatisfied with the in-house equipment and had asked for some extra subs that weren’t provided. As the vibrating brick work will no doubt attest to, it was certainly loud enough for me.
Martin has always enjoyed exploring the extremes and tonight’s show is a very deliberate sensory overload. The volume rattles my brain as the smoke and lights blind me; reframing the Belgrave as a smoky, underground club. Industrial hip-hop, dancehall and heavy-dub shake the room.
Tunes from The Bugs own back-catalogue pulse and throb alongside party-starting cuts from Logos, Kahn and Nazamba. ‘Skeng’ practically takes the roof off and is greeted with the sweaty fervour it deserves.
Sharon Stern aka Miss Red arrives about halfway in and takes everything to the next level. The MC oozes stage presence; shaking and endlessly gyrating to the heavy, pulsating riddims emanating from the speakers. A force-to-be-reckoned-with, she looks absolutely unstoppable.
Miss Red is a fierce, agile and adaptable MC; equally comfortable with the most intense dancehall known-to-man and atmospheric cuts like the stunning ‘Mi Lost’. Cuts from K.O. hit hard with the brutal bashment of ‘One Shot Killer’ and ‘Shock Out’ blowing minds alongside the brilliantly warped dancehall of ‘Big’.
‘Skeng’ gets a second, yet much welcome, airing while ‘Fuck You’ sums up the duos sweaty, take-no-prisoners approach. Each track is as intense as the last one. Stern’s performance is wild, angry, provocative and defiant. Burning up and wholeheartedly throwing herself into every track.
This isn’t the kind of gig where you get to stand at the back and casually observe. A couple of people in smart shirts appear in the room towards the end, dance for a while then retreat. Clearly, this isn’t for everyone. For those that feel it, however, it’s an utterly immersive experience.
It’s great that something this intense, this uncompromising, can be this much fun. I look through the strobing lights and smoke and see everyone dancing. Yes, dear reader, even I’m dancing. There really isn’t any other option by this point.
Photo by Nicholas Sayers