Post-Rocktoberfest: Kevin Martin is God (Among Other Aliases)
Kevin Martin is a real survivor. It’s genuinely hard to think of another musician with such an extreme and personal viewpoint who’s managed to build a decent-sized audience, through sheer persistence, without compromising one iota. Apparently oblivious to the dictates of fashion, genre exclusivity and (occasionally) good taste, Martin has continued to follow his star for more than a decade and a half.
Doubtless, much of this time was spent as an outsider – wilderness years of poor sales, audience bafflement and critical neglect. In recent years, though, things have really started to look up. It’s been great to see Martin’s recent work – particularly the albums he’s released under his alias The Bug – gaining such a warm reception from critics and record buyers alike.
K Mart is a monstrously eclectic musician, producer, label head and music critic, so it’s impossible to tie him down to a single genre. Still, his relevance to the original post-rock scene is undeniable. It’s a simple historical fact: his God, Ice and Techno Animal projects were among the first musical endeavours to be lumped into the nascent post-rock genre. At a deeper level, his music has always been saturated with the questing, barrier-breaking spirit of the original UK post-rock.
Aside from that, the main hallmark of Kevin Martin’s diverse discography is his trademark intensity. While his current work might reasonably be seen as an offshoot of post-acid-house electronic dance music, he got his start at the most extreme fringes of avant rock and metal. The deep, dark intensity of his early work is still very much present in his current work. Even the recent Kind Midas Sound album – easily Martin’s most accessible LP to date – is loaded with oppressively heavy bass detonations, from start to finish.
It’s an inspirational story, really. Kevin Martin, the Bubblegum Cage III salutes you! As a tribute of sorts, this here blog would like to present a quick guide to the great man’s best (or at least, his most significant) albums. So, without further ado…
God – The Anatomy of Addiction (1994)
The project that first brought Kevin Martin to public notice in the early ’90s was God, a jazz-metal behemoth with a membership often pushing double figures. Notably, this line-up included Martin’s long-term collaborator, Justin Broadrick, of Godflesh infamy.
Whereas early God releases were highly organic and chaotic, The Anatomy of Addiction, saw Martin experimenting with digital editing techniques to create dense payloads of cathartic fire-power. The multi-part “Body Horror” is a superb show-piece of this post-production-as-composition approach.
Anatomy is far darker, heavier and more intense than any of the other classic British post-rock albums (even Scorn’s Evanescence) and yet it is still definitively post-rock in terms of the specific influences and techniques it encompasses. The dub-rock pulse of “Bloodstream” should be enough to convince you of that.
Techno Animal – Re-Entry (1995)
One of Martin’s more long-term projects, Techno Animal was a studio-centric duo with Broadrick. This project represented a move away from God’s rock-band format, to something more purely electronic. And with it’s mix of slowed down hip-hop beats, spooky samples, dub FX and mind-evacuating noise Re-Entry is perhaps K Mart’s most definitively post-rock project.
In its own way, this album is just as intense as Anatomy. Stretched across two CDs, Re-Entry is weighted down by its monomaniacal commitment to hypnotic monotony. All of the tracks on CD1 are heavy, repetitive and long, long, long – culminating in the mind-blowing 19 minutes and 15 seconds of “Demodex Invasion”. CD2 delves deep into the dark ambient sound that Martin helped to define when he compiled the legendary Isolationism compilation for Virgin in ’94.
Ice – Bad Blood (1998)
The Ice project existed in a middle ground somewhere between God and Techno Animal – mixing live instruments with electronics and – crucially – dubwise mixology. Martin made his obsession with dub reggae explicit when he compiled two volumes of Macro Dub Infection compilations for Virgin. Both volumes explored at length the influence of dub on mid ’90s avant rock and electronica, with K Mart’s own contributions being among the most convincing.
It’s the dub influence that really makes this album work. An apparently failed experiment in mixing hip-hop vocals with industrial rock aesthetics (guests range from Blixa Bargeld to Priest from Antipop Consortium), Bad Blood isn’t generally considered to be one of Martin’s better albums. Many people would point to Techno Animal’s The Brotherhood of the Bomb as a more successful mix of the same elements. However, where Brotherhood relies overly on sheer heaviness, Bad Blood uses dub magic to open a portal into a more spacious realm – a realm that K Mart has moved into rather more comfortably with his recent work.
“X-1”, featuring Nosaj from the underrated New Kingdom, is a pretty thrilling opener but things really peak with “Trapped in Three Dimensions” featuring the then-relatively-unknown El-P. Bad Blood is patchy but it’s definitely worth hearing, partly as a precursor to Martin’s more popular recent work but mainly because its peaks reach as high as anything in Martin’s mountainous discography.
The Bug – Pressure (2003)
Pressure was K Mart’s real commercial/critical breakthrough. At the time, one might have assumed that Martin was a mere relic from a little-loved era of British avant rock. However, taste-makers like the Aphex Twin and Kid 606 were fans, which was enough to get Pressure prominent releases on both sides of the Atlantic.
The album itself applies Martin’s trademark hardcore sonics to the template of dancehall reggae and ragga. The results are absolutely explosive, especially when Daddy Freddy steps up to the mic for “Run the Place Red”. Oh and “Killer” is pretty aptly named – as one-supposes is the track’s guest vocalist, He-Man.
Pressure is as concise as Anatomy, as unrelenting as Re-Entry and as spacious as Bad Blood but rather more accessible than any of those albums. A winning formula, all round.
King Midas Sound – Waiting for You (2009)
It has been noted many times that contemporary dubstep explores a great deal of the same sonic terrain as the dark-side of UK post-rock – particularly the work of Scorn and Techno Animal. Martin (like Scorn’s Mick Harris) has shown himself to be very comfortable sharing this common ground. King Midas Sound is, broadly speaking, K Mart’s dubstep project and Waiting for You is possibly the best thing he’s done since the Anatomy of Addiction.
In most senses, tracks like “Lost” and “Meltdown” could hardly be more different from the likes of “Body Horror”. Waiting for You is as influenced by early-’80s UK lovers rock as it is by dubstep and almost all of the tracks are fairly straightforward love songs. But there’s a common thread linking Waiting to Martin’s mid-’90s creative heyday.
In those days, K Mart worked closely with Justin Broadrick under any number of guises. Most of his more recent projects have seen him working solo, with guest vocalists dropping in. One of his regular vocalists, Trinidad-born poet Roger Robinson, has essentially become the lead singer of KMS and seems to be taking up the position vacated by Broadrick in the late ’90s. While Martin and Robinson are, on the surface, ridiculously different characters, they are clearly very much of one mind. Reading the interview they gave for FACT magazine last year, you get the impression that they’re at the finishing-each other’s-sentences stage of friendship and artistic collaboration.
As previously mentioned, the other thing linking Waiting to Martin’s old work is his continued commitment to heaviosity – although, in this case, the heavy weight is located entirely in the bass range. Turn this bastard up loud and it’ll make the foundations shake. The vocals, the samples, the beats even… they’re all just tiny boats tossed hither and thither on a titanic ocean of BASS. Apparently, the world at large is finally ready for this level of turbulence.
That’s what you get if you stick to your guns.