Kevin Richard Martin Interview – Part One: Really Fucking Heavy. Beyond Intense.

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Kevin Martin has been prolifically producing, performing and releasing music for around three decades. He’s most well known as The Bug, having released the breakthrough album London Zoo in 2008 and Angels & Devils in 2014. He has helmed many record labels, produced for many artists and deafened one or two audience members in the process. Always looking forward with his music, Martin is one of the most uncompromising artists active today.

For the last few years Martin has been refining his latest work, the very affecting Sirens, which is being released on Lawrence English’s Room40 label. Sirens is a perfect example of an artist using creativity to process a traumatic experience, in this case the difficult birth of his son.

Over the course of a 90 minute Skype conversation, Martin very generously spoke of the genesis of Sirens and the process behind the work, as well as delving into other Bug-related topics, including the forthcoming new Bug album, working with Justin Broadrick, King Midas Sound, Pressure, Acid Raggas and dozens of other tangents.

In order to preserve the reader’s attention, we have broken this interview into three pieces. Loosely themed around past, present and future. With many thanks to Kevin Martin for his candidness and generosity we began with a typically British/Melbournian discussion of the weather, as well as reminiscing about the last Bug show in Melbourne, hosted by Echo Chamber Sound where the security guard stood on stage threatening to pull the plug if the sound wasn’t turned down. Good times.

As I mentioned, tangents in conversation were abundant. Responses may have been edited and re-sequenced for structural purposes. Please read on.

[Interview Part onePart twoPart three]

Cyclic Defrost: Sirens is one of the most emotionally intense things that I’ve ever really listened to. Particularly when it comes to ambient or abstract music, it’s really quite hard to make something that’s so tangible. Can you talk to me a bit about the process of how you went through that experience and how you translated that into a really effective piece of music.

Kevin Martin: Basically, leading up to Finley’s birth, I had actually told my agent I didn’t want to play any shows whatsoever for the month before the due date, and for a few months after. But there was one show I couldn’t get out of, a one off experimental show that was for a guy called Nik Nowak, who’s a specialist in art and sound and is a very good friend of mine. He was doing an installation at a very prestigious gallery in Berlin and I felt I would have let him down if I’d suddenly pulled it.

So I was due to write it on the lead up to Fin’s birth. I knew it was going to be called Sirens and that it would involve sirens and bass, and it was going to be very minimal. More or less just that as repetitive motifs going through my soundsystem in this gallery, and I wanted it to be brutal. Then when the birth happened and all the drama that ensued, I was having to finish the piece and this shit was going on and it suddenly became obvious to me that this piece was intrinsically linked to what was happening. I involved motifs that I felt would make it more balanced between the heaven and hell scenario, you know, just the light and dark, but the extremity that we were going through at that time.

And becoming a dad, I’d spent my whole life running away from being a dad. I didn’t have any friends really that had kids. Very few. So I knew nothing about children, neither did my wife, and we were very positive about becoming parents, because for me having met my then girlfriend, it was just the right person finally at the right time. That made me smile and I felt that I’ve found some completeness in life. So when she said she was pregnant it was just absolute celebration.

The lead up to Fin’s birth was just all joy actually. There was no real sign that there was any problem until a couple of weeks before the birth, when suddenly the doctor had said the baby’s weight gain isn’t what it should be, but they thought he’d be okay. At that point you’re just being positive and if the doctor is saying it’s going to be okay then it’s not going to be a problem. And then we had the mass trauma at birth. It was weird, talking to my mum after Fin had appeared in the world, calling my mum saying, you’ve got an amazing grandson. And then just as we were calling Morisa’s mum in Japan, suddenly from the corner of my eye I just saw lots of doctors and nurses running into the room and we were just so caught up in the moment and the baby, we didn’t even realise there was a problem. And then suddenly the nurses are grabbing me by the arm, pulling me off the chair, saying you’ve got to go now, we’ve got to take you to another room, it’s an emergency here. I’m terrible with blood, I couldn’t even look down. I was just looking into my wife’s eyes, giving her encouragement, helping her breathe and all the time to trying to avoid looking down.

But as I was being pulled out the room, I noticed there was a sea of blood, litres of blood basically. And I just didn’t know what the fuck was going on. I was taken to the next room where you couldn’t hear anything. It was a vacuum and I was in there for an hour and a half, just absolutely panic stricken, wondering what was going on. I was brought in there with Finley, as it’s crucial that the baby has immediate skin to skin contact. So I’ve got this new born entity lying on top of me wriggling around, and me just trying to make sense of everything that’s going on with such a diametrically opposed range of emotions. To be honest, I wasn’t really feeling in a celebratory mood, I was just worried. So an hour and a half later a nurse comes in and says, look, we’ve managed to stem the bleeding, but we have to take her to intensive care now because we’re still worried about the repercussions, and we’re going to take you to another room. So then they took me to a completely dark room, which is me and the baby in a tiny room the size of a cupboard. And we went there for five and a half hours, at which point I just thought I was losing my mind really, you know? And I just teach myself and Finley a mantra of a nursery rhyme to just stay sane and to try and keep Finley calm, when I’m really not sure if I’d ever see my partner again at this point, and promising myself that if I did, I’d propose to her.

And you’ve got to realise I’ve never believed in the institution of marriage. I came from a family that was bust, broken, fucked, and for me that’s probably why throughout my life I have totally distrusted the family unit and probably also contributed to the fact that I wasn’t really interested in children, until I met Mori. And then they came in after five and a half hours to say, look, we think your wife’s going to be okay. Thank God. They took me and Finley to the intensive care unit. My wife’s got drips and tubes coming out of everywhere. She’s looking like a ghost, looking really drowsy and I just go down on my knees and propose to her in the intensive care unit. And we joke about it, we still laugh about it now saying I was basically just trying to take advantage of her heavily drugged state. And she didn’t say no. She gave me a really wonky smile and nodded her head. And there was a lot of tears.

It was madness, literally madness. So in connection to Sirens. Mori got better over the next few days. I think looking at pictures now of Finley at the time, just after birth, he doesn’t look well. At the time we didn’t notice that, funnily enough, because we didn’t know how babies should look. We were given the okay to go home with Fin and I think we’d been home a week with him, and he seemed healthy. And then suddenly he started puking and he ended up puking thirty two times in one day. It ended up like a scene from The Exorcist where there was like black shit coming out of his nose, his mouth and all through these times he was puking. I’m calling the midwife saying what’s going on? Is this normal? And she’s just laughed it off and said all babies puke a lot when they’re young, you don’t need to worry about it. And after twenty times I was calling and saying, you need to come here or I need to go to the hospital. So she came and as soon as she saw Finley, who had just lost consciousness at home, she broke down in tears and said we’ve got to go to a hospital. He did regain consciousness just as we were wheeled on a trolley into the Examination Room. They said they were going to check for meningitis, which I didn’t know what that entailed. They basically drilled his head and I’m just, at this point, I’m just on my knees crying like a baby and it’s just all too much overwhelming information. They find out it’s not meningitis, but that they want to examine him more with x-rays.

They somehow determined that his intestines had been twisted from birth and that they’d have to unravel his intestines, which they said it was complicated and life threatening. So they carried out the operation. He survived the operation, which was a miracle for us because we were shitting our pants. It was just like end of the world, you just literally come face to face with this incredible little being that you’ve become becoming insanely attached to who may not be with you. All questions of mortality are running around your head.

I can’t remember how many days we were in the intensive care unit with him at that point, after the first operation. And during that point I was having to run a home sometimes to keep working on this installation piece for Nik, not really feeling in the mood at all. But the mood of what was going on was being put into the piece. Then it’s two days before the installation, and they told us Finley, that’s it. He’s cool. We think in three days time we can take him home. The sense of relief was ridiculous. So we stayed in the intensive care unit for the next two days, and on the second day my wife and I went to the installation, which went really well. The piece was okay. It was very primitive form of what Sirens became live. All our friends were there, we could finally celebrate with people. We had the child and we could tell them all that he had pulled through the operation. And that was it, you know, feeling like that, very, very happy, extremely happy. And then we went from directly from the exhibition in a taxi back to the hospital to sleep in the intensive care unit with Fin. And as we got there the nurse said, I’ve got very bad news for you, your son is a vomiting again. The surgeon’s going to come in the next two hours, and we’re gonna see what we think the root of the problem is.

And it was just boom. You know, the force of gravity on your brain and body when you hear that. Basically the surgeon appeared and said, look, we’re not really sure what this problem is. This is looking extremely serious. They examined further. And at the point the surgeon came back, he didn’t look confident and it was the same surgeon that had conducted the first operation, who became, had become my God after the first operation, saving my son’s life the first time. But I remember distinctly the look in his eyes, and he didn’t look confident, and he said, we think he’s gotten the necrosis of the intestines, which basically meant his intestines were dying. He says we’re going to have to locate the area of necrosis and try and to remove the intestines, but we don’t know how much we’re going to able to remove or if we’re going to able to find all the areas of disease. And at which point we were told that Fin was being rushed to the emergency room, and we just walked around and around and around the hospital for hours, praying in our minds. Really, I don’t believe in God. I’m just hoping against hope that he pulls through. We came back in to the intensive care unit and waited there and then the surgeon came in finally and he was just drenched in sweat, looking pale and tired and says, Fin’s pulled through in the operation. We had to remove twenty eight centimeters of intestine, which is a lot for a kid. We think we’ve stemmed the areas and we think he’s going to be fine. But they were always saying “think”. After the first operation they were categorical after the second operation, they weren’t. So then for, I can’t remember how many weeks we lived in the ICU unit, which was just drama because every time his blood pressure went too low or his heartbeat would stutter or stop for periods of time, all these alarms and buzzers are going off. He’s got tubes coming out of everywhere. His head, his mouth, his arms, and he’s looking not particularly well, he’s been through hell really. Two big, big operations for an infant of that age. And it was the most intense experience of my life. You know, without a doubt. It’s life changing. You go through those experiences and you’re just trying to be positive, again, hope against hope. And he pulled through, you know, and God bless him. He’s an incredibly happy, healthy little boy. He’s our angel. Really. That was really fucking heavy. That was beyond intense.

Cyclic Defrost: That’s an incredibly heartbreaking story to listen to, and I’m glad things worked out OK for everybody. There is a massive amount of heaviness and intensity to Sirens and you’ve managed to translate a lot of that emotive experience to the work.

Kevin Martin: To be honest though was a challenge though because of how Sirens developed. I think what came after that Gallery Exhibition was that CTM approached me to perform Sirens as part of their festival, and I knew what I felt I had worked and what hadn’t about the initial performance in the Berlin gallery. I knew that it was really just the bare bones. So I tried to build it up more for CTM, and also I insisted that I wanted to bring my own soundsystem into the Berghain, which was hilarious because the Berghain was having kittens about it, CTM were shitting themselves. I had to go and have meetings with the Berghain and with CTM to confirm I wasn’t trying to kill people, because the soundsystem is basically two huge rigs. I just said them, it’s not about ferocity of high end volume, it’s about the weight of low end volume and just to be able to go from a whisper to a scream, and an avalanche of sound. I can’t remember how exactly how I build it. I think it was built as a symphony for sirens featuring a siren, fog horn, bass and extreme volume. I think that’s more or less how it was billed. I thought of a way to present it with lighting for CTM, and I think I’ve only done it about four times in its full sound installation way. That was the first proper one, and I just remember coming off stage and my wife’s at the side of the stage in tears giving me a hug. And the audience seemed to love it. Justin Broadrick was there, cause he played right after me as JK Flesh and he was just saying, wow, man, that’s super intense, incredible and blah, blah, blah, blah. So it just felt, okay, this is it, cracked. And then I did it a few more shows again, which went very, very well. People seem to get what I was attempting to do with it. It resonates as a sound installation and as an immersive environment, where you can feel the beauty and the terror.

 

Kevin Richard Martin’s Sirens is out now on Room40. Check the Bandcamp to grab the digital or black vinyl edition. You can also read Part two & Part three.

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