When we think of club nights, we think of energy, potency, sweat-saturated bodies weaving in and out of each other, guided by the vibrations of whichever monstrous rig happens to be presiding. Certainly, The Bug falls into this category. One of several personas taken on by Kevin Martin, The Bug’s body of work is harsh, heavy, dubby and grimey, for the most part. Martin has never been shy about expression and outlining the vast breadth of his influences though, and recently he’s been talking a lot about two things – science fiction and a particularly personal struggle which saw his newborn son undergoing emergency surgery.
Thus, ‘Sirens’ was born, a show unlike any other that The Bug has ever taken on tour. Last week, he took it to Bloc (or Autumn Street Studios) in Stratford, a dark, sinister place almost perfectly suited to the kind of overwhelming atmosphere which Sirens is built around. When I arrived, things were quiet, as a smattering of Londoners all shuffled around impatiently, most of them seeming rather uncertain of what their evening was going to entail. Anyone in attendance thinking that it was a normal Bug show was in for a hell of a surprise, but from what I could gather, everyone was marinating in a pool of certain uncertainty – nobody knew what to expect, but they were quietly excited.
Martin didn’t make any kind of grand entrance, he casually went about setting everything up while the crowd chattered, right up until the lights went down. Then, in came the dry ice, more dry ice than I’ve ever seen in an enclosed space before. The visual component of Sirens is just as important as the audible, and as such the same combination of industrial smoke machines, spots and strobes is needed to make it look right.
Look right it did, I could barely see my hand in front of my face but ahead of me Martin’s hooded silhouette was framed in a band of sickly yellow light. Gradually, heavy mechanical drones pulsed into the room, followed by a series of whirs, clicks, clatters and finally a heavy, distinctly terrifying horn blast reminiscent of War of the Worlds. In fact, the best way the soundscape presented in the 40-minute composition could be described is that it sounds like some ancient, sinister alien language, a celestial voice box booming out some intricate, foreboding tale.
The main reason why this was so effective and enthralling was the sheer intensity of the sound system at play. The volume, combined with the staggering deep depths the subs were able to achieve meant that every tone, beat and bass blast reverberated through your entire body. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it in any gig previous. The composition ran through a series of different movements, some frightening, some melancholic, and some even verging on hopeful. It was a powerful experience, and although Martin expressed some dissapointment with the way things had gone on his Facebook, not one audience member was left behind.
As the lights came up, there was a heavy, stunned pause before anyone started clapping, which is a rare occurrence at any gig. You couldn’t really describe this as a gig though, this was a voyage into Martin’s mind, drawing together his musical machinations and his personal struggles into a soundscape so vivid that it felt like a telepathic conversation. Martin’s reputation proceeds him at this stage, and you get the impression that Sirens has always been in him somewhat, it just took the right catalyst to bring it out.