[The Bug @ Band Films studio space, Bristol, 13/12/14]
Dub is a virus that continues to mutate and evolve, and has parallels in literature, art, painting, film. Dub is a cut-tup methodology. Dub in the works of Jean-Luc Godard. Dub in the writings and techniques of William Burroughs and Brian Gysin. Dub is much more than a form of music. It’s a way of looking at the world. It’s a way of deciphering the codes and a way of breaking down structure.
– The Bug, interviewed by Dubspot
In an era of almost unlimited access to information, it is easy for music to become a distraction. We can forget its power to influence our emotions and to shape our inner worlds. Likewise, the pigeonholes of genre can sometimes be limiting, narrowing the conduits through which sound is allowed to flow. But for some artists, sound can be used as a weapon, a means to rupture categories and systems of thought; a way out of the confines offered by mainstream discourses and, in our current reality of neoliberal austerity and widening social polarisation, an escape from a world that seems perpetually on the brink of collapse.
The Bug is one such artist. He has expressed that his music is a way of channelling emotions born of urban unease, and anxiety, an attempt to ease the tensions generated in part by his love/hate relationship with London, its constant pressures and economic disparities. With his new LP Angels & Devils – widely heralded as one of the stand out albums of 2014 – he uncoils himself from the stranglehold of being a ‘dubstep’ artist by exploring the space opened up between two emotional poles: a highly aggressive, sexually charged and sometimes misanthropic urgency on the one hand; and, a more meditative, dreamlike space, full of ghostly vocals and haunting synths on the other.
As such, there is reason to believe that his gig in a warehouse location on an industrial estate in Bristol, organised by Simple Things festival, will be an full-on experience. The venue – a functioning film studio during the day – is sparse and minimal, all high ceilings and white walls. The first sounds to be emitted come in the form of house courtesy of Gramrcy and the confrontational noise of Vessel, who begins by shrieking into a mic gripped between his teeth, sending a large chunk of the crowd scuttling away in horror, index fingers planted firmly in their ears.
The Bug opens with the contemplative poetry of ‘At War With Time’ – featuring the tragically deceased Spaceape – quickly followed up by ‘Poison Dart’. Then, just to let the audience know he’s not mucking about, he drops the monstrous, testosterone-drenched ‘Fuck A Bitch’. The night then begins to veer between two extremes, reflecting the contrasting dynamics of the new album. There is a constant ebb and flow: going on the attack with violent, disruptive tunes and then retreating into an alternate realm from which growling bass and rogue snares emerge, as though they have escaped from a fissure in the ground. It’s an unsteady momentum that at times seems to perplex the audience. But as he has stated before, he doesn’t just make music to entertain.
There is an abstract, subterranean quality to some of the tunes he unleashes, churning away with an otherworldly intensity. Fresh contrasts constantly emerge: between shades of darkness; offensive and introspective, masculine and feminine. The latter is particularly evident, as the shadowy vocals of Inga Copeland and the dancehall rasp of Miss Red rub uneasily against the machine-gun lyricism of Flowdan, who comes to dominate proceedings in the second half of the set, leading the night into the realm of all-out bass warfare, much to the delight of the audience, many of whom have spent a good few hours ingesting laughing gas, over-priced beer and other substances. The night is cathartic, in an unsettling kind of way: music to shake the dread out of your bones. All part of The Bug’s mission to decipher the codes, strip back surface reality and lay bare the writhing mess of contradictions beneath.