"As they worked, Case gradually became aware of the music that pulsed constantly through the cluster. It was called dub, a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast libraries of digitalized pop; it was worship, Molly said, and a sense of community." This quote is taken from William Gibson's Neuromancer, the 1984 novel that founded, in the consciousness of the mainstream, the cyberpunk movement in science fiction and also provided the first popular name for the internet, cyberspace. Case, the hero of the novel, is in a space station, Zion, that was built by construction workers and is now run by Rastas. As the Zion orbits the zone between dark space and earth's blue atmosphere, "bass-heavy" dub music reverberates through the station's crammed compartments, segments, nodes, locks, and docks. When I ever reread or recall this striking passage in Neuromancer, I always try to imagine the sound of this dub. What is it like? What kind of dub do Rastas in the future of the time that the novel was written (the early '80s) listen to?
We can begin the search for this sound with an appreciation of the fact that in the early '80s, the first major dub movement, its golden age, which began in 1976, had entered its twilight. The capital of dub was relocating from Kingston to London, where the new masters would be Mad Professor and Adrian Sherwood. Was this the dub Case heard as he worked and smelled cooked vegetables and ganja smoke in the rotating station? I think not. Kingston's golden-age dub (1976 to 1982) is just not dark enough for this colony of postapocalyptic Rastas who fled Babylon on earth and settled in the afterworld of space. The same is also true, but much less so, for London's silver-age dub (1981 to 1989). Indeed, the third-wave dub (1998 to present) of, say, Alpha and Omega or Jah Warrior is not there yet. The only dub that, in my opinion, adequately captures the mood of this kind of Zion, a Zion at the end of the future, a Zion for posthuman Rastanauts, is that made by the UK-born and Berlin-based producer and musician the Bug.
With the Bug (Kevin Martin), a man who has been experimenting with punk, free jazz, ragga, digital, rock, and hiphop for the past 24 years, we get a dub that is not of or in harmony with our times. His is a dub for a land whose cities burned to the ground long ago, and whose skies are filled with dark clouds, space junk, and the debris from thousands of nuclear explosions. This is where his sound exists; this is the place he revisits in track ("Too Much Pain") after track ("Fat Mac"), album (London Zoo) after album (Angels & Devils), collaboration (with Roger Robinson) after collaboration (with MC Manga). True, it would be unfair not to say that there are several sweet moments and beauty in parts of the Bug's body of work; indeed, all one has to do is listen to his contribution to the lovers postrock band King Midas Sound to find numerous examples of his depth of feeling and sensitivity. KMS's debut, Waiting for You..., even achieved something that seemed impossible: It successfully reanimated for our age of virtual reality and robotic production the broken heart from which the very human Gregory Isaacs (the "Lonely Lover") often suffered and which he expressed during his long recording career (he died in 2010). Not only that, but the Bug explained to an interviewer, Jace Clayton, in BOMB magazine that he was not indifferent to the seductions of a melody. But few can match his fearlessness when it comes to pushing a production far into dub zones that are truly challenging, that are filled with otherworldly dread, with the many gates and caves to hell, with plumes of smoke rising from charred corpses on battlefields. You really feel this awful place, but you are also mesmerized by the sublimity of his end-times.
Though the Bug is, as a whole, unconventional, he keeps surprisingly close to roots reggae and Jamaican pop, much more than most UK post-triphop or dubstep artists of Hyperdub (the label that houses Burial and released a number of the Bug's projects). This is why his sound has a home in Zion. It doesn't break from the Kingston tradition but instead intensifies and expands it on its own terms. For example, the tune "Judgement" on London Zoo (a masterpiece that features Ricky Ranking) has all the horror imagery you can find in, say, the 1981 album Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires—meaning, there is nothing in its content that's terribly new or unknown to the founding moment of dub or the prophetic visions of classical Rastafarianism. It is Judgment Day, angels with the wings of doves are battling devils with the wings of bats, humans fear for their lives, the sun is scorching hot, water and food are hard to find, the wicked must now pay for their sins. The beat, which is slow, spare, and grinding, is like some kind of convoy that's darkly making its way through the streets of a city whose buildings are on fire or reduced to rubble. We see all around us vampires, zombies, and all other monstrous forms of evil that were once human and once the rulers of Babylon—executives of global corporations, political leaders, the managers of financial institutions. We have to traverse this city of greed to reach the new City of God, the capital of the Kingdom of Ends. Some of us may reach this paradise; many will not. Save the addition of a hiphop beat blended with dark-metal angst, nothing in this tune will surprise a Rasta on earth or in the space station Zion.