An unforgetting shout

I’m not very familiar with the music of Kevin Martin, also known as The Bug, despite his prolific output, and his reputation as one of the most interesting electronic music producers around (collaborations with the likes of Napalm Death’s Justin Broadrick and general avant-garde legend John Zorn). However, if Fire is anything to go by, I need to be remedying this ignorance, and urgently. Stylistic touchstones for his sound here include grime, dubstep, hip-hop, industrial, and dub, but a list of genres is not going to tell you much about this music. For one thing this is not a fusion—this is one musician expressing a unique and compelling artistic vision. Heavy, ominous, and visceral, these beats and atmospheres pulsate with dark energy, not so much ‘speaking truth to power’ as reflecting violence back at power with articulate anger. That articulacy is a feature of this music, of the structures that Martin creates in his studio (or on his laptop or wherever), but equally importantly it is a feature of the incredible vocalists he’s enlisted to work with him. While in much of the electronic music world, and particularly within hip-hop and its offshoots such as grime, the word ‘producer’ means ‘beat-maker’, Martin is very much a record producer in the round—not one of these cuts sounds like an off-the-shelf vocal on an off-the-shelf beat. The whole album is a tissue of creative integration—vocals that sound like emergent properties of the beats, and beats that sound like they were made to be blessed by these particular artists, spitting these particular words, in this particular time and place. The sounds are often brutal, as in-your-face as it comes, but they are curiously egoless, and if you listen through to the album without paying much attention, what will stick with you will be the vocal performances. The record is bookended by two poems from the extraordinary Roger Robinson, between which there are some incredible outpourings from Moor Mother, Nazamba, and FFSYTHO, to randomly select three of the best. Some of it is good clean fun (FFSYTHO’s ‘How Bout Dat?’ and Daddy Freddy’s ‘Ganja Baby’, for example), but even those tracks are unmistakably political, and taken as a whole the album is a call to arms. This piece of art is clearly the product of a divided world, not one that is going to be mended by everyone suddenly deciding to get along with each other, but one in which resistance offers the only possible exit. For someone like me with a nice comfortable life, who doesn’t carry the burden of any marked identities (apart from my invisible Jewishness), it’s easy to forget what the world looks like for those less fortunate: this album is shouted from the place where that’s impossible to forget. And it’s an incredibly enjoyable listen to boot.

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