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HomeMusicKevin Richard Martin: Black - Album Review & Interview Part II

Kevin Richard Martin: Black – Album Review & Interview Part II

Kevin Richard Martin: Black

Intracranial Recordings


Out 17th May 2024

Pre-order vinyl here

Less homage as textural expansion and frayed, ambient tapestry to the memory of Amy Winehouse, yet more an experiment to mount the spectropoetic sublayers of a person that eternally haunts the future as one would unspool a strip of film once removed from its rightful cannister, Black is Kevin Richard Martin’s heaviest album to date. Part II Interview by Ryan Walker.

Black Swallowing The Black: Atropos

”So many forms of art statements offered a way of understanding the chaos around me. I guess that may even be an artist’s role, to probe the outer limits of their audience’s mindsets, and see where it takes them”
-Kevin Richard Martin

With the Bug, he’s predominantly known as a sonic practitioner, an auteur who inverted the power of volume and soundtracked Dante’s Inferno at various locations across the globe, someone who can harness and readily manipulate the brain-penetrating, bone-bending bass frequencies of a Siemens-brand Magnetom Sola MRI scanner, creating a smouldering vortex in the terrains his merciless onslaught of insanely amplified bass sadism and intense rhythmic tattoo guns are transported to and in turn- take us along for the ride with.

As Kevin Richard Martin, and on this new LP, Black – a new definition of ‘heavy’ is developed, but still with the same approach throughout, a burning kernel that keeps the lips wet, the fingertips calloused, the mind ever-curious as to what the capabilities of ‘heavy’, of darkness, of volume, of texture, of rhythm, of ambience, of bass, can be stretched to and possibly snapped when realised.

A devil’s horn. A wasp nest. A dog’s eye. Black is obsessional. It isn’t afraid to touch the white-hot stove at its borders. It appears devout to the aura of the original work. All the more because of how Kevin, equipped with his own ignorance but sharper in his curiosity when emotionally mining for ore in the catalogue (and subconscious draws, decided to remove the original samples broadcast at various sites across the album to create an effect he calls ‘an original ghosting’ in favour of the more attractive (and legally-cleaner) way of presenting the Winehouse geist dominating the fertility of the birthplace where this eerie foundation sprouts its roots upwards, and across, the album’s apparitional integrity. There are no white borders.

In musicological, and hauntological terms, the ‘original ghosting’ of those ‘art statements’ that he refers to one could argue shares a commonality with the idea of ‘conjuration’ put forth by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his Spectres of Marx text from 1993. Conjuration, states Derrida, can be understood in two ways. It can be viewed as the ”conspiracy’’ (Verschwörung), a secret swearing of an oath together (Schwur) to ”struggle against a superior power’’. The superior power here, the apparition, is Winehouse. Encased in the memory of a bittersweet past that ravaged her, spellbound in a spotlight, ancient ruins that this record, the shining detritus of a tsunami of what failed her, provides a temporal gateway into resurrecting.

In addition to the spectre of Amy, as best articulated musicologically by starving the soundscapes of much, if any, familiarity to the original works by feeling the whole expanse ripple across time and space just by inserting one, little finger into the whole pool with momentum depth, conjuration too signifies, ”the magical incantation destined to evoke, to bring forth with the voice, to convoke a charm or a spirit’’.

Found in the following years, points of reference dissolve, they are pulled apart and something new occupies the space their essence once radiated on top of.

It’s in this album, one that excavates the negative spaces of the ghost of Winehouse that confirms it as being an experiment in hauntological exploration, one that cannot be ignored, for the charm, the spirit of Amy, will continue to haunt futures, that makes what is not known…known: ”The appeal that causes to come forth with the voice and thus it makes come…what is not there at the present moment of the appeal’’.

Signifers gone, Black is an album of scratches, scars, traces, footnotes and marks. It is the sonic recapitulation of a voice not known to us initially (on Black to Black from 2006), yet still calls us from whatever corners it haunts at a very different dimensions or stages of presence, one that extracts the echoes, the snatches and sentiments from the original slides, and flips them into new, reconfigured contexts, disjointed, disconnected, yet still plugged into and pulsating through the apparent playback reality of now.

Camden Crawling slithers across the floor and a serpent emerges from a corner smothered in cigarette smoke. All sonorous, double bass drones played by fierce, old-school razor-cats in claustrophobic jazz clubs projected against the brick walls of the city via a hologram. Sleepwalking party members shuffle to a sacred, demonic jukebox musical groove. The bassline dipping in and out of focus but still infectiously flirts between different sites of the entire drama whilst dripping in infectious rhythm, red snapper skank and glide, inhaling all it touches. Black as strips of celluloid. Black as televisions turned off.

Belgrade Meltdown sends shivers down one’s spine as it struts across one’s shoulders. All haunted tenor sax stalking the silhouettes of the night.
Meanwhile, To Disappear soundtracks the final footsteps into total obscurity as it teeters down the stone steps of the riverbank – a dark tide of noise washes up against the foot of a great lighthouse, a predatory pulse, something travelling fast, back and forth in a big black pipe underneath the coast and an intimate, tambourine rattle adds an unnerving, captivating climax to the whole noir episode. A hypnotic requiem to what rasps and clatters against the windows, approaching a cliff, oblivion only inches away.

Moreover, for hauntological pioneer, philosopher and k-punk blogger Mark Fisher, two predominant features are intrinsic to its concept: ”the no longer’’ and ”the not yet’’. Winehouse of the ”no longer’’ is one that continues to influence, or ”haunt’’ our present lives from the past. Her moment may have gone, yet there is still the sense of a presence making itself felt in the shape of a record for example, one that keeps on compulsively desiring to be played, songs on the radio, reissues on the shelves, anniversaries that enjoin fanfare based on the same, repeated tales by the same cast of extras on some inescapable film set: effective as a virtuality’’ states Fisher.
Whereas the Winehouse of ”the not yet’’ is one that haunts our present from the future, from the perspective of a broken promise, unfulfilled fishes, anointed with false honesty and companionship yet…may still be able to acquire the level of fulfilment taken from them when they were with us (biopics, posthumous acclaim, regrets). Both, however, assure that the impact of this entity is felt through the present: ”already effective as a virtuality’’.

The past refuses not to have some bearing on the present, to take bites out of it in disruptive ways. In this way, the present is not addicted to the past, but the past is addicted to the future. It takes to it like the West takes to oil. Like the mainstream takes to the hip underground. But its immense size will continue to wash greater reminders (remains) onto the shores, that sonic hauntologists, such as, in this case – Kevin Richard Martin, will mine for with all their innovative impulsivity, chronic anxiety, obsessive overthinker, and pioneering significance as an artistic outlier.

”Yeah, I don’t believe in ghosts per se, as in spooky entities to be seen in haunted houses or dressed up in white sheets…lol…But I believe the spirits of others can and do haunt you psychologically, and that another person’s afterlife can so deeply impact your present life. The spirits of those passed can sometimes never leave in both good or in the worst cases, bad ways’’ Kevin says. ”Like anyone else who devoted their life to music, I had dreams and aspirations that had little to do with reality, and more to do with the absolute need to create relentlessly and endlessly. Probably like so many others, I was always fascinated by documentaries on artists, musicians, authors, directors etc I would see as a kid greedily digesting incredible TV series like Arena or even the South Bank Show. These documentaries were portals of escape, a way of transcending banality or the pains of life, into a parallel world where creativity could be studied and made real’’.

”And often it was via the haunting documentary tales of others’ battles and downfalls in their effort to make great art, that I would immerse myself in as a teenager” adds Kevin. ”At best, the finest documentaries offered hallucinatory time travel and a passport to new worlds that could tantalise and seduce me. And just as my father was a ghost in my life, drifting in, but more often out of focus, when I needed him most, I guess that such a sense of loss resonated deeply with me, as I watched Amy’’.

Speaking of Cobain, does Kevin remember the impact Cobain’s death had on him? Can he draw some sort of parallel between Cobain and Winehouse in terms of what they meant (or to be more precise – didn’t initially mean) concerning Kevin’s life when the icons responsible not just for writing songs, but also for being unwitting martyrs for an entire generation’s mentality collective pop mentality to be modelled upon buckle under the pressure of being required to serve up ambitions and agendas for something, for someone, and millions of them, that you fail to find a sense of genuine connection to anymore. Yet we will always find a connection to them, shocked despite not even realising the connection was there when the bucket is kicked.

”The first, and only time, I saw Kurt Cobain in real life, I walked out of a Nirvana concert at the Lyceum, after just four songs, thinking it was wack MTV fodder…(I went there as GODFLESH had supported them and blew Nirvana off the stage imho on that night….lol). Again, during his life, I had no interest whatsoever in Cobain…Neither in him or his music. But the day he died I remember randomly hearing a news bulletin on the radio, and it was weird how totally unpredictably, the news of his demise affected me. It just felt so very very sad, that someone in that position with the world at his feet potentially, had chosen to end his life in such a violent, isolated manner’’ Kevin states. ”And it raised so many questions in my mind about how or why it could happen. It stunned me, and to this day I have no idea why it struck a chord with me. Many people die every day, but yet this guy’s passing seemed so desperately depressing. It was only years later whilst on tour in Europe in some anonymous hotel room, I ended up watching Nirvana’s appearance on MTV Unplugged and realising that he was really a great singer and a very charismatic front person. Such a shame that he could only see the one option off this planet, so soon’’.

Recently, in Manchester, a Kurt Cobain mural (by the same artists who did an Ian Curtis on Manchester’s Star & Garter (again) and Keith Flint one in aid of the text-based mental health charity Shout 82528) was announced and painted on Manchester’s Bread Shed. They’re specific people with specific triggers, traumas, and troubles. But more broadly function as symbols and beacons for an entire diaspora of people around the world who experience similar their own psychological torture chambers.

”Of the three you mention, Ian Curtis’s life, music and death had the most impact, as I was deeply into his and Joy Division’s musical world when he took his life. And the shock was intense’’ Kevin explains. ”Whereas like so many others I guess, Cobain and Winehouse’s passing was more distanced, because they were stadium scale in their out-of-reachness. Yet the impact of their deaths still remained direct and intense’’.

It just so happens the aforementioned triptych of figures (and there are dozens more) just happen to be the ones who stand in the spotlight, armed with their hearts, their words, and their worldview on display, unintentional spokespeople responsible for carrying the battles, the additions, the conflicts of those people upon their shoulders. Harbours of secondary trauma.

The same could be said for Winehouse. There’s a resonant, universal theme there that people pick at. The unfortunate crux of her character (and where that character ends and Winehouse begins is anybody’s guess) is a vulnerability, but a fierce power that people use as their own private crutches to put up with the shitstorms that Amy had a poignant penchant for pouring into her work: ‘Gone too soon, departed too young’. Why does Kevin think artists are susceptible to this fate?

“So many musicians I have known and of my generation were misfits and turned to music as therapy… I think Curtis/Cobain/Winehouse, and stars of that scale had their faults magnified in public and attracted damaged folks who recognised and even projected their problems onto the lives of others, in particular these aforementioned troubled icons” Kevin says. “I think there is a temptation to push stars or true artists to go further than you could or would be prepared to go yourself, to just not suffer for their art, but at its most extreme to die for it, and for all those sufferers who need sacrificial artistic lambs to release them from their torment in some strange way”.
“These stars are so often savants who more often than not seem to be at the mercy of their own self-destructive impulses” he adds. “I think there will always be a place for troubled stars to shine, ascend and then descend in full public scrutiny, as it offers a form of exorcism for those in the front row, who wouldn’t or couldn’t go so far”.

Rest In Pieces sounds like all the time in the world folding back on itself, occasionally the tarmac phantasms perforate the textural, rhythmic wheels and grow human hands that slide across sticky, slow-motion jazz scales and transmogrify them into amorphous globules of inky liquid that twists freely in the air. Contortions and jerks in the murky water. Blurred. Palms pulling the wires upwards with the force of uprooting an old oak tree. Slowly the bellowing notes smear themselves across the composition to unsettling clicks and hisses of electric guitars, wheezing lamentations of doomy synths rumble away as everything else sways to the inevitability of their own demise yet, are destined to belong somewhere the horizon is dragged across as a blackout curtain would block off any opportunity for daylight to reveal the opium den’s dust particles in one slim beam.

As someone both inside and outside of an industry, from an artist’s point of view, does Kevin still think there’s an absence of a support network for people despite the plethora of options to get support? Have things changed?

”I think it’s better than it was, in the way certain topics can be discussed more freely, and publicly, BUT, the downside is the net is so open to be abused and to hurl abuse without recrimination” he states. ”I think for all the possibility of gaining support there is an equal or even disproportionate amount of people who will basically fuck with you, once you are in the public sphere, and often take great delight in plotting your downfall or humiliating you in any way possible publically to bring you down hard or at worst fatally”.
”It’s great that mental disease can now be openly discussed with less stigma, but often the compassion can be missing and individual mental illness becomes another form of cheap voyeurism for audiences, or even more distastefully, sometimes just a poor sales pitch from artist or label” he concludes.

Not one for slowing down, not now, not ever (a new dub poet collaborator for the Bug, as well undisclosed label interest in pressing his regular Machine EP series – is this the first of many KRM and other projects to come on Intracranial?
”The idea of collaboration appealed to new KRM material. Having gone so far into my own head for so many releases in such a short time, it felt like the right time to escape my own solitary thought patterns and utilise my own sonic vocabulary that I had crafted over the past 4 years to form a bond with other artists that I felt an affinity towards. So there is a new album collab with KMRU about to drop on Phantom Limb, and also there is a new Hatis Noit collab album I am trying to finish the mixdowns for, which will appear on Erased Tapes.

From doomgaze, to dubnoise, to dancehall – in the lexicon of either KRM, or the arsenal of pressure weapons of the Bug, there’s more than one way to express ‘heavy’. ‘Heavy’ in a way that lingers behind the eyes like days of dehydration and cheap substance dependency. ‘Heavy’ in a way like traffic jams in the sun. ‘Heavy’ in a way that lets us levitate through a static room of passing particles of dust and light. ‘Heavy’ like anaesthesia. Heavy like a church bell. ‘Heavy’ like boots in wet mud. ‘Heavy’ like clothes that feel like chainmail after rainfall.

Black is all we need to find comfort in our musical voices without slicing them into scapegoats, into warriors, into revenants, into paragons into artefacts of the future, either endlessly freezing or thawing, ambushed by the past. A way to experience the strange space where the spectre of their memory is liberated from this exploitative, mortal coil and finally- they can be free.

For Kevin Richard Martin, there’s more than one shade of black to paint that point, and puts that point into practice. But the enemy, as always – is time.

If that’s not heavy, it might just take his version of Closer to indicate what the fuck is. But until then- all we have is Black, and that’s plenty.

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Main image photo by Jun Sato ©

Words by Ryan Walker

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