First Floor #82 – Who Is Kevin Richard Martin?
a.k.a. An interview with the artist best known as The Bug about the surprisingly ambient-ish music he's been making under his birth name.
Hello there. I’m Shawn Reynaldo, and welcome to First Floor, a weekly electronic music digest that includes news, my favorite new tracks and some of my thoughts on the issues affecting the larger scene / industry that surrounds the music. This is the free edition of the newsletter; access to all First Floor content (including the complete archive) requires a paid subscription. If you haven’t done so already, please consider signing up for a subscription (paid or unpaid) by clicking the button below. Alternately, you can also make a one-time donation here.
ON MY MIND
“The music industry in general wants to reduce artists to one-dimensional caricatures and cartoon figures—you're only allowed one crack at one genre and that's basically it.”
When I spoke to Kevin Martin late last week, this was one of the first things he told me. It’s a sentiment shared by many artists, and it’s a fair critique of an industry that often has a hard time accepting that creative people will inevitably evolve and change over time. (For what it’s worth, I’d argue that many consumers and fans aren’t necessarily much better on that front.)
Change is why I wanted to talk to Martin in the first place. Over the past three decades, the UK-born artist (who currently resides in Brussels) has worn many hats, adopting a few different monikers—of which The Bug is easily the most prominent—and trying his hand at different genres while also collaborating with other artists under a myriad of different names, including God, Techno Animal, King Midas Sound, Zonal and others too numerous to list. (Feel free to visit his Discogs page and try to unspool them all.) And yet, even with all of these different projects under his belt, Martin is often seen in the simplest possible terms, as some sort of heavy bass champion whose primary concern is pushing soundsystems to their absolute limit.
As reputations go, it’s admittedly not a bad one, and it also reflects the reach he’s had as The Bug, but it nonetheless creates an expectation that industrial-grade dub and dancehall mutations are Martin’s stock-in-trade. It’s also occasionally left people—myself included—scratching their heads as he’s explored what feels distinctly different sonic territory as Kevin Richard Martin over the past two years.
That name first appeared on the 2019 album Sirens, an ambient-ish and highly personal record he created in the aftermath of his son’s birth, during which the health of both his wife and child were at risk. At the time of the LP’s release, it felt like something of a one-off, as the music was originally composed for a sound exhibition several years prior. Once the pandemic hit, however, the Kevin Richard Martin project suddenly went into overdrive; over the past year, no fewer than 10 different releases have surfaced, and while the quality of the music has been excellent, its deep and dubby explorations felt like a clear divergence from Martin’s significantly noisier output as The Bug and with his assorted collaborative projects.
With Return to Solaris—Martin’s reimagined soundtrack to Tarkovsky’s 1972 sci-fi classic Solaris—scheduled to arrive next month, it feels like the Kevin Richard Martin project is primed to reach a new level of prominence. But how exactly does the music, with its quiet introspection and cinematic scope, fit in with the rest of Martin’s catalog? What’s driving one of the biggest bass fiends in electronic music to now turn inward and follow a more meditative path?
Curious to find out, I reached out to Martin, who graciously agreed to speak with me. It was the first time where he’d specifically focused on the Kevin Richard Martin material in an interview, and we dove into the project’s past, present and future while also discussing his personal life and whether or not the music he’s making is actually “ambient.” (For what it’s worth, Martin does have some choice thoughts on that particular genre.)
The interview—which has been edited for length and clarity—can be found here.
(PLEASE NOTE: the link to the interview will be open to all for the next 48 hours, but after that, it will be available to paid subscribers only.)
A round-up of of the last week’s most interesting electronic music news, plus links to mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
Design podcast 99% Invisible isn’t a place where I’d usually expect to hear about the history of techno, but last week’s episode did a decent job exploring the music’s role in reshaping the city of Berlin, both before and especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Anyone familiar with the story won’t be surprised that Tresor founder Dimitri Hegemann was interviewed, and to the show’s credit, they also make a point to highlight techno’s Detroit roots, interviewing Juan Atkins and Blake Baxter and discussing how the music’s international success unfortunately hasn’t benefitted the Motor City in quite the same way.
NYC music magazine Wax Poetics stopped showing up on newsstands back in 2016, but following an ownership change and a successful crowdfunding campaign, it’s now been relaunched in its new home base of Amsterdam. Numerous features have been published on the Wax Poetics website over the past few months, and new print issues are also available as well.
Fresh off the release of his excellent new album Rare, Forever, Leon Vynehall put together a new mix for DJ Mag’s On Cue series, and also spoke at length about the new LP in the accompanying interview with Ray Philp.
Loraine James will soon be releasing a new album on Hyperdub, and the UK producer discussed the record in this short feature that Claire Lobenfeld penned for Bandcamp Daily.
Before her new LP The Tunnel and the Clearing arrives this Friday, Colleen talked about the personal turmoil that inspired the record in this Baker’s Dozen piece that Jude Rodgers put together for The Quietus. (True to the theme of the series, the French artist—who now resides in Barcelona—also toured through some of her favorite albums, including LPs from This Heat, Arthur Russell, GZA and more.)
I’ve written many times about how veteran producer John Beltran is wildly underrated, so it was good to see the Michigan native breaking down his decades-long career on the latest episode of the RA Exchange podcast series.
The latest issue of DJ Mag is dedicated to the idea of returning to the dancefloor after more than a year away, and several of its features have already been published online. This long-form piece, written by Ben Murphy, looks at the logistics of restarting the club and festival industry around the world, and while it’s heavily focused on the UK and US, it does provide a useful window into the many challenges and issues that will need to be addressed before things can fully get moving again.
Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and mental health charity Mind partnered with booking agencies Paradigm and POLY, record label Ninja Tune and promoter Percolate to create a new series of mental health resources for people working in the electronic music industry. Next month, that effort with continue with a Mind x Music Industry panel on June 15, along with the launch of a new, mental health-focused podcast that will feature guests from across the industry.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Palms Trax is starting his own label, CWPT, which the Berlin-based producer will officially launch on June 11 with a new EP of his own music. The title track of Petu—which is currently streaming here—is a collaboration with South African vocalist Nonku Phiri, and the release also features a remix from Masalo.
UK duo Overmono will be at the helm of the next edition of the Fabric Presents mix series, which is due to arrive on July 16. (The pair are also slated to perform at the vaunted London nightclub the following day, and a vinyl release with eight tracks from the mix is scheduled for September.) In the meantime, they’ve released a new single, “If U Ever,” which can be heard here.
Experimental / ambient artist Perila has done a lot of releases over the past few years, but the Berlin-based Russian will soon be offering up her official debut album. How much time it is between you and me? is being issued by the Smalltown Supersound label, and before it surfaces on June 25, one of the LP’s tracks, “Fallin into Space,” has already been shared.
Kevin Saunderson is one of the most important figures in techno history, and over the past 30-plus years, the Detroit icon has worked under a variety of different names, including E-Dancer. Later this year, he’ll be teaming with Swedish label Drumcode (which is headed by Adam Beyer) to officially close out the E-Dancer project with an album called Re:Generate, which will compile remixes of tracks from his 1998 album Heavenly by such artists as Robert Hood, DJ Bone, rRoxymore, DJ Minx, Special Request, Tygapaw and others. No music has been shared yet, but the LP is due to arrive on October 1.
Nearly six years have passed since the last album from the Moritz Von Oswald Trio was released, and the group’s vaunted leader has now apparently shuffled the lineup, recruiting Laurel Halo and jazz drummer Heinrich Köbberling for a new LP. Dissent will be released by Modern Recordings on August 6, and one of its tracks, “Chapter 4,” can be heard here.
UK producer Al Wootton dropped a surprise EP of dubwise creations over the weekend. Entitled In Our Thousands, In Our Millions, it’s being offered exclusively through Bandcamp and will be available for two weeks only. All proceeds from the release will be donated to Medical Aid for Palestine.
After several years out of the spotlight—during which time he was also working with artists like FKA Twigs—UK producer Koreless has reappeared with a new two-track effort, Black Rainbow / Moonlight, which came out last week on the Young label. A video for the record’s A-side can be found here.
John Talabot has collaborated with singer (and fellow Catalan) Maria Arnal on ARIA, a collection of original music that will accompany the Catalonia in Venice: air/aria/aire exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture. The pair has composed three different pieces, “ARIA I,” “ARIA II,” and “ARIA III”—all three can be heard here—along with two different extended versions of “ARIA III.” Aside from the already available streams, Resident Advisor reports that the music will also be released at some point via Talabot’s Hivern Discs label.
MY WIFE HAS BETTER TASTE THAN I DO
My wife Dania is a wonderful person, but she has little regard for my taste in electronic music. Head of the Paralaxe Editions label, she often describes the music I like with words like “cheesy,” “simple,” “predictable,” “boring” and, worst of all (in her mind), “happy.” In contrast, I think she has a fantastic ear, and I’m constantly amazed by the obscure gems she unearths, both from record bins and the dark corners of the internet. Given that, I’ve asked Dania to share some of her finds with the First Floor audience. Each week, she highlights something that she’s currently digging, and adds some of her thoughts as to why it’s worth our attention.
Hello. Just out on Superpang is Exigent Set, an experimental release from UK sound artist Joe Beedles, who works in in the space between unconventional techno and electro-acoustic music. Beedle likes to mix the real and simulated, and there is so much going with this track, with a synthesised (or real?) cello droning to the point of strings snapping and its staccato plucking sounding like chopped-and-screwed gamelan. Enjoy!
NEW THIS WEEK: THE BIG THREE
The following are some of my favorite tracks from three releases that came out during the past week or so. (Click on the track titles to hear each song individually.) An extended list of recommendations is available to paid subscribers only.
In all likelihood, the UK is going to be one of the first countries in Europe to reopen its dancefloors, and when that happens, “In My Mind” is exactly the sort of song that DJs ought to be reaching for. Taken from the new Quarters Vol. 2 compilation EP, the hyperactive tune encapsulates so much of what’s great about UK club music, employing lively breakbeats, playful melodies and towering basslines of both the buzzing and wobbling variety. (More importantly, it does so without ever feeling like some sort of museum piece.) For those in need of a snappier description, “In My Mind” could be characterized as a “colorfully rowdy” track, and after more than a year without proper partying, it’s a welcome shot in the arm.
Without question, KMRU is one of electronic music’s biggest lockdown success stories, but after hearing the Logue album, which compiles tracks he made between 2017 and 2019, it quickly becomes clear that the world should have been paying attention to this Kenyan ambient artist (who’s now based in Berlin) years ago.
In comparison to his more recent offerings, which often deal in sparsely populated (albeit undeniably arresting) soundscapes, tracks like “Argon” and “OT” are comparatively lush, evoking a sort of cosmic sensibility with their loosely sci-fi synth melodies and cinematically expansive approach. In truth, they’re not far off from Cliff Martinez’s Solaris score (for the film’s 2002 remake) that Kevin Richard Martin mentioned in this week’s First Floor interview.
“Jinja Encounters” takes a different approach, leaning heavily into field recordings and constructing an almost idyllic scene—complete with birdsong and the sound of a babbling brook—before the song blossoms into something more propulsive. It’s a more grounded effort overall—some of the percussion literally sounds like samples of silverware clanking against a plate—but the humility of the song’s component parts ultimately only enhance its invitingly tranquil spirit.
Fatima Al Qadiri has never shied away from concepts, and the Kuwaiti producer (who’s currently based in Los Angeles) describes her new Medieval Femme album as something that invokes a “simulated daydream through the metaphor of an Islamic garden.” Also designed as a tribute to Arab women and the poetry they created during the medieval period—a more in-depth look at what inspired the record can be found in this Bandcamp Daily feature / interview by Max Pilley—the LP filters traditional Middle Eastern melodies and instrumentation through a more modern (albeit still somewhat nostalgic) filter, its sound palette nodding to the ’90s video game soundtracks that have influenced Al Qadiri’s work for the past decade.
Yet Medieval Femme shouldn’t be mistaken for some sort of tribute to Zelda or Donkey Kong Country; it’s sadder and more stripped down, its dimly glowing neon and fuzzy sonics occupying a space that’s not too far from the haunting (and critically acclaimed) score Al Qadiri created for the 2019 film Atlantics. The album—and “Medieval Femme” in particular— also prominently features her voice, and while Al Qadiri opts for woozy, half-sung mantras over full-blown diva acrobatics, her pipes have never before sounded this beautiful.
Once again, additional track recommendations are available to paid subscribers. This week’s selections include new music from artists like Function, Grand River, Moiré, Breaka, Pixelord, Black Deer and more, along with tracks from labels like Sneaker Social Club, Mechanical, Knekelhuis and HAUS of ALTR.
To sign up for a paid subscription and gain access to all First Floor content, including the full newsletter archive, please click the button below.
That’s it for this week’s edition of First Floor. Thank you so much for reading the newsletter, and I do hope you enjoyed the tunes.
Have a good week,