The Bug – London Zoo (Ninja Tune)



Ninja Tune’ roster has always impressed me, they have held my ears captive for so long and I have implicitly trusted their judgment. If you take the label notion as a meta-dj act then releases on the label would as a matter of course meld with your trust of the selector’ view(s) of the landscape of sound/time/ideas.

So why does The Bug just fall off the radar of sensibility for me? Let me try to explain, it isn’ that the beats aren’ bass heavy, they are and extra warm would it be on the dance floor, wondrous body mashing effects that put the body into electronic body music, so to speak. It isn’ that the sophistication of the beats, excellent multi- layered structure, well honed effects and for a generally vocal album Bug holds the vocals skillfully in the mix not stepping over them nor over emphasizing. If we can see the dubstep style as the logical inheritor of the rave/dub/hardcore then this is definitely an example of the sound. And form for forms sake is as reasonable an act as any other is it not? If so why does it need to hang it’s hat on such lyrics?

It is the sheer savagery and naïve hypocrisy of the vocals that ring the alarm bells. Vocals if we take them to be a form of poetry in the sense presented, as “message’, instruction to youth on a correct way of life, and concerns itself with “resistance’, “righteousness’, “Jah’ and the “wrongness of the world’. At one point it is proclaiming peace, another righteous anger, at another that only the good survive, at another smoking pot, at another Rastarfarianism (remember Haile Selassie {Ras Tafari} died in 1975), at another that everyone is going insane, at another a list of enemies(fuckaz). It comes across as incoherent and deliberately contradictory and chooses to read biblical text as literal and fundamental rather than as allegorical or poetic. I never thought I would live to hear a fundamentalist Rastafarian message, despite the seriousness it has always held for me a lightness of feel and poetic beauty which is missing here.

Yes Bug you may rally against (“Haters, Biters, Bigots, Music Industry sharks, Sheep, Racists, Vampires, Dollar Suckas, Fame Fuckers, The uncommitted, The Average, The Mediocre, The innocent bystanders, the anglo-american war machine and the international elite’) but truly you are an elite of hate. Your product is bile.

If people could get beyond themselves to see that people who do not hold their views are not necessarily wrong or mad then it is quite possible that they would not always end in a dark place as a result of this peculiar solipsism. Prescient is the sentiment of You and Me which tails off “… into darkness we go”.

You could just read them as advanced tropes of the reggae dub genre meet activist mindset and the terminally dissident. The Bug under this reading would just be part of a continuing narrative as the latest incarnation of the “sound carrier’ of the messages from these arenas. As such the album could be seen to be a manifestation of the interests of the communities who have their cultural lives “invested’ in these specific tropes. If dissent in the cultural political equals dissonance and anger in sound then this equation could explain London Zoo to an extent. (Even the idea London Zoo (too closely akin to Zoo York) has the sense of encaged, outraged prisoners, born to be wild, screaming their jungle roar to their jailers. It is almost a cartoon. ) Dissonance as sound form has never rung true, although it may ring true to those who live in the bleak house and to teenagers “oppressed by authority’ quite willing replicate this structure ad infinitum until it makes them sick. An alternative society of complaint does not make a sustainable community.

It is too easy to sell dissent to teenagers, yes Bug the cash registers ring at every cry of wrong; another sale is chalked up amongst the disaffected. The identification factor, seeing within your message the mirror of their world, as well as a reflection of the personal, is too easy a lure for the musical fisherman puts out to the sea. It is harder to give the conceptual and linguistic poetry that would enable the listeners to overcome this sense of disaffection and enable them within life. Dissent is too easy. Chomsky-lite for toddlers.



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  1. i think you might’ve missed the point of this record…this review seems to be a bit more oriented towards detailing your personal sensitivities (which obviously were offended by ‘London Zoo’, rather than really describing what the content of this record is about. It’s also arguably a bit patronising to suggest that every message involving Rastafarianism has to be a happy, uplifting and utopian one (not too mention dangerously close to ethnic tokenism).

    Anyway, not to hack on you – this are just my opinions, as always and I’m happy for any feedback / discourse

  2. innerversitysound on

    Quite right, I hadn’t thought of the ethnic tokenism side of things.

    It is quite an accusation but I have engaged in dub cultures only
    locally and the sense of any true Rastafarian culture is not here. The
    messages of Marcus Garvey/Haille Salaise and other leaders within the
    roots of this culture are freedom/independence/nationhood/african and
    religious identity. Excuse me if I believe these are uplifting values
    and valid for all cultures thus not ethnically token but universally
    apparent. I acknowledge these values are not universally held nor
    should necessarily be, but to a great extent it is the spiritual
    history that stretches back to the Queen of Sheba and King David that
    is still a thread from the Ethiopian/Rastafarian tradition that unites
    this particular community. Their survival is linked to this heritage,
    not the bile that is spouted on London Zoo.

    I do think that the issues spoken of in London Zoo are not well thought out.

    Perhaps I just don’t believe anger and dissent are the correct tools
    for self/communal enlightenment.

    Go figure – perhaps it is all subjective, perhaps there is no
    foundation. Perhaps the joy I receive in listening to the Congo’s (for
    example) is just an act of self disillusionment. In which case you are
    right to hack on me.

    Would quite willingly continue such discussions


  3. These are all really good points. I must emphasise also that my knowledge of Rastafarianism is less than comprehensive (and I derive huge joy and an uplifting feeling from listening to my Congos records, so you are def. not alone in that respect and I cannot hack.)

    I must admit that one of the reasons I liked London Zoo was because it seemed to represent the dark, dystopian, paranoid, post-Y2K end of the ragga spectrum, and reading your response makes me realise that the main reason I didn’t get offended by the lyrics was because I found them so parodic and OTT at points (ie. file under death metal and gangsta rap). I agree that this record isn’t very socially constructive and a lot of lyrics could be construed as bile. I don’t think I focussed on that level though – in my case, I think it might be all about the loud noise and ‘jump around’ factor, hence our differing reactions…

    Hey, good discussion – I thank you.