Brixton is one of the few places in London where you can still just about believe the punk/reggae love-in actually once happened. If Brixton virgins still look aghast when having to run the gauntlet of skunk dealers, used travelcard-hawkers and general loonies after they’re coughed out at the end of the Victoria line, while at the same time die-hard Brixton lefties grumble about gentrification, then the truth is probably somewhere in between—as evidenced by a few pints on Saturday evening in South London’s finest pub, the Effra Hall Tavern, where old Jamaican dudes mingle happily with students, hipsters, wideboys, rudeboys and mostly just super laidback ordinary folk. Brixton may not have the art-slum cachet of Hackney or Peckham, and it didn’t even invent dubstep even although its musical history suggests it should have (that honour goes to Croydon, the new frontier, five miles south). But Brixton is the chrysalis in which Kevin Martin—one-time industrial jazz-noise provocateur with GOD and Techno Animal —metamorphisised into The Bug
The Bug’s first releases were fearsome digital ragga bassquakes underpinning old dancehall acappellas, latterly replaced by the righteous MCing of muses like Warrior Queen. The first time I saw him live it was at a dubstep night at Mass, with Flow Dan from Roll Deep MCing, and frankly between the pair of them they made the likes of Loefah and Mala look very tame indeed. Kevin’s a big dubstep champion, though, and I’ve him seen him at various scene nights in his bomber jacket, black hoodie, and slightly demonic goatee, looking at once both out of place and fitting in perfectly. By all accounts he’s a top fellow.
Saturday marked the launch party for The Bug’s new album London Zoo at Third Base—the room below Mass, in fact.Third Base is in Brixton’s St Matthew’s Church, a building which also houses Mass, a bar/restaurant (previously called The Bug Bar, how nicely apt), and amazingly, a functioning church. It’s such an important Brixton landmark that the clubs have even got their own road sign outside Lambeth Town Hall. Judging by the last time I saw The Bug in Brixton I was expecting a dedicated crowd of DMZ regulars, ruffnecks and dubstep nerds but the place was roadblocked. There were even some girls there, plus a disconcerting posse of Clapham types in rugby shirts. Dubstep must be seriously poshing up. I was expressing my surprise at this turn of an events to a genial American chap for about two minutes before I realised I was talking to Flying Lotus. Also, if I ever ventured the opinion before that Kode 9 was a bit clinical and dull, I take it back. His set with The Spaceape was awesome.
However soon after that things started to go tits up.The venue had defaulted on their promise to provide the kind of richter-scale sound system that full appreciation of The Bug’s music requires, and after an attempt to carry on with an overdriven amp, a clearly upset Kevin Martin himself came on the mic to apologise and the music was halted while they tried and failed to negotiate a satisfactory solution. It didn’t help that the bouncers started threatening to kill people.
The Bug has generously resolved to return, although not, obviously, to Third Base. If you want to replicate my experience on Saturday, listen to this sample minimix from the excellent London Zoo through your computer speakers on full volume and then stand around looking confused for 20 minutes when it ends, before buggering off round your mate’s house to play Tekken badly. That is the only other thing about Brixton. It will let you down as often as it pleasantly surprises you.