A meeting of minds that has been in the offing for some time, Supersonic Festival finally unites Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, and Earth's Dylan Carlson onstage next month. We reached the two for a summit of sorts
“I remember hearing Earth 2 around the time of release, and just thinking, ‘What the fuck is this?’ I had no idea,” crackles Kevin Martin’s voice across the internet, still thick with a Dorset accent that’s survived years living in London and now Berlin. On another connection from Seattle, Dylan Carlson breaks his hitherto attentive silence to howl with laughter. Hearing a reaction to Earth’s 1993 opus, which pioneered what would become drone metal, isn’t new. “But if I’m honest, a lot of the music I cherish most leaves me unsure if I love it or hate it first time round,” the ever-forthcoming producer and multi-instrumentalist also known as The Bug presses on. “Then it pulls me back and I’m magnetised to it. That’s really true of Earth’s music.”
After more than 20 years of fate working round the clock, Carlson and Martin are set to cement a collaboration that started last winter with the release of Ninja Tune 12-inch Cold/Boa by performing live together at June’s Supersonic Festival. It's “a perfect opportunity” as far as Martin is concerned, while Carlson is looking forward to finally being in the same time zone as Martin, having worked on their studio collaboration over the internet following a hook-up by mutual friend and album cover artist Simon Fowler. “The way Kevin uses beats, if you’re not paying attention they do these little rhythmic turn arounds,” Carlson reflects, speaking slowly and methodically on putting his tracks down. “He organises space in a really interesting way. I remember the first time I started playing and I was thinking, ‘Oh here’s the beat’, and then it made this subtle shift and it suddenly felt very odd.”
“We’ve both been the red-headed step-children of whatever realm of music we’re part of" – Dylan Carlson
The parallels in both their ethos and respective careers are numerous. As Carlson was stepping outside the exploding Seattle grunge scene at the turn of the 90s by furrowing a darker, repetitious progressive sound, so Martin was similarly re-examining rock’s once-thought closed frontier and creating his own outsider scene with noise rock band God, and hosting DIY shows for Napalm Death, Godflesh and others. Martin and Carlson’s views on volume as being central to their process are obvious; yet both too have constantly sought to redefine what it is they do with it. The Earth of the 21st century is much changed from its 90s counterpart, much as Martin pushed The Bug fully clear from the dubstep connotations the project had picked up on 2008’s London Zoo, with last year’s thunderous, insular Angels and Devils. “With that record I was really aware that I wanted to keep honing my own craft away from everyone,” he agrees. “The musicians I respect most – and Dylan’s certainly in that area – are people who’ve found a sound that’s reflective of their personality and reflects them. I can recognise Earth tracks almost instantly and I would hope people would feel the same about Bug tracks. The real challenge for me in electronic music is how you personalise those machines.”
“That’s one thing I feel in common with Kevin,” Carlson chips in. “We’ve both been sort of, to use the old phrase, the red-headed step-children of whatever realm of music we’re part of.” For Martin, Earth had been on his radar since his days as a Wire magazine critic in the early 90s. Carlson, though, fully became aware of Martin under his King Midas Sound project, when they supported Om at London’s Scala in 2012. Carlson has since gone on to write favourably about Angels and Devils for the magazine Electronic Beats, and enthuses on its “numinous quality and timelessness, rare in a lot of electronic music” to us this afternoon; but it’s perhaps the dubbier sounds of KMS that reveal some key shared sensibilities between the duo, with Martin pointing out that Earth’s use of space between the notes is something that speaks to him as a dub fan. “I share a great respect for dub,” Carlson replies. “That repetition and space, but also the willingness to use whatever was in front of them to create something interesting. Lee Perry’s studio was like a four-track and a space echo.”
As much as The Bug and Earth have somehow always seemed meant-to-be, however, there are certain ironies in their coming together. Carlson’s mentions of Hendrix – like the 60s icon he also tunes down a half-step – and his dropping a line by Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore about not playing too much bring out Martin’s oft-repeated teenage hatred of guitars, or at least of those for whom technique ruled over emotion. “As a young kid, Hendrix was like the devil to me,” he admits to more laughter. “It’s taken me a long time to figure out guitars – and metal too, funnily enough. For me, metal records are so often ruined by vocals or guitars that are played too much, or horrible theatrics. When it’s whittled down to the purest tone or personalised intent that’s when it works. It’s why I like Earth, Godflesh and early Swans.”
It’s what makes it so fascinating that the pair have wound up on the same page; what Martin has added over the years to the minimalism and intent learned from post-punk and noise rock, Carlson has distilled from behind the more overt styles of the likes of Todd Rundgren and Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, to meet somewhere in the middle. For both, the quest to continue to explore remains fierce too; “I think drugs become a quest to have that feeling,” says Carlson, briefly referencing his well-documented substance struggles of the 90s. “It was that desire to always have that feeling that music gave me. Unfortunately the human body is not meant to feel that way all the time. But music should be mind-altering and affect you, otherwise it’s not… I think it’s funny when all my friends are like, ‘Oh I’ve got this song stuck in my head,’ because I don’t even hear like pop music. It just passes through me and nothing sticks.” That those at Supersonic will feel every frequency of sound that two such titans emit is in little doubt. “Hey, Kevin,” Carlson quips as we sign-off, “should I bring earplugs?”
Five more to see at Supersonic
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