When a concept-laden project comes along as seemingly explicit as Acid Ragga, you can’t help but have some pretty sizable preconceptions about what the music may consist of. Certainly it doesn’t seem like a shock to find out that Kevin ‘Techno Animal’ Martin is the one antagonising the relationship between electronic music and reggae. Since his The Bug moniker first rose to prominence tearing electronica fans a new one via vital Rephlex EPs and albums, Martin has displayed a visceral vision for where the wider possibilities of modern production might take the fundamentals of Jamaican-born sound, without ever losing sight of the all-important roots.
The King Midas Sound album on Hyperdub was further proof that Martin possesses an uncanny gift for knowing how to further expand upon the ethics of reggae, dub and dancehall, this time opting for a sinister, strung-out tone in contrast to the all out sonic violence that was the preferred method for The Bug. With the bold declaration of a new label entitled Acid Ragga, there is always going to be a certain amount of hesitation and assumption about how such a combination might come off, although at least in Martin’s hands there’s not so much worry about just how crass the combination could be (as it no doubt was in the heyday of early 90s house crossovers).
As it happens, any fan of The Bug can forget about any waffle that might come with the announcement of this venture, for as soon as “Can’t Take This No More” is heralded by the throaty croak of Daddy Freddy it’s business as usual. Freddy has always possessed the perfect complement to Martin’s nasty productions, growling and snarling his way between high-register choruses and baritone verses, and he’s on fire here. Likewise, Martin’s riddim has never sounded so urgent, driving forth on clattering beats and the strangely comforting swathes of metal-treated melody that create his jaw-clenching atmospheres. The noticeable switch-up here, and the closest correlation to acid as you might expect it, is the arpeggiating bassline that runs underneath the ragga swagger. It’s hardly revivalist Chicago tropes you’ve heard a thousand times before, but rather an obvious rave signifier re-contextualised in the murky depths of The Bug’s abyss.
In true version form, the riddim stays almost entirely intact for the flip as Hype Williams’ Inga Copeland steps up for “Rise Up”, sounding completely arresting and thoroughly at home in the lo-fi deluge. Compared to the militant scuffing and bothering her voice normally gets in cahoots with Dean Blunt, Martin elicits a more serene and sweet-natured tone from Copeland which cuts through the heaviness of the backing track. True enough her voice is still filtered and fucked with to a gloriously distorted end, but the words are almost discernible and the human behind the sound almost tangible.
It’s hard to predict where Martin might take his new found bent, but on the strength of this single you can be assured that The Bug will still sound resolutely like The Bug, with nothing daring to step to him for fear of an aural battering. Beyond that, the results should be thrilling to keep up with.
1. Can’t Take This No More (feat Daddy Freddy)
2. Rise Up (feat Inga Copeland)