Shanghaiist sat down with Jason “Motet” Hicks, Matt Lord, Cliff Scott and Leo Taylor of the Bugz crew, plus Andy Richardson (DJ Hobbes), yesterday for a quick chat – Hannah Vasanth and Carleen Graham will join them onstage tonight – and also snuck in a quick one with Brad Baloo of The Nextmen. We’d introduce them further, but this writer has already exhausted her reserve of Bugz copy (and is starting to feel like their local PR agent).
So without further ado…
SHist: So you guys landed this morning. First impressions? What have you done so far?
CS: Not much, really. We got a little bit of sleep and we ate…
SHist: Chinese food?
CS: Yup, yup…
SHist: What’d you have?
ML: No we didn’t! [They didn’t – they went to M on the Bund.] That’s tonight.
SHist: Ahh, so Cliff is a liar?
ML: Yeah, he’s a liar. Don’t listen to anything he says.
JH: The drive in from the airport was pretty crazy, just seeing all the skyscrapers. I came in at night and I was half awake, and I thought I’d been transported into the future or something. Shanghai has some mad skyscrapers!
SHist: Cross of Star Wars and Chicago?
JH: Exactly! And that’s exactly what you want from a city. Cross Star Wars and Chicago and you’ve nailed it – it’s brilliant.
SHist: Now, in China, it’s very hard to get your music. People basically either have to download it, or they have to buy a shitty pirated version for less than a pound…
LT: [perks up] You can get pirated copies of us here?
SHist: Uhh, I don’t know about you guys per se. There’s a lot of 90s fluff a la Celine Dion and Backstreet Boys…
JH: Oh, man…we’re not bootlegged here. [frowns] You’re no one til you’re bootlegged!
SHist: But what are your thoughts on that on that? Tomorrow night, the crowd will be comprised of either foreigners that knew your music before, or locals that have downloaded your music illegally.
CS: It doesn’t really bother us, to be honest. I mean, it doesn’t help industry but it’s at least getting our music out there. And they wouldn’t come to see us if they didn’t pirate our music. But hopefully the pirated copies aren’t that good quality and they’ll still buy our album when it eventually gets here.
JH: And the way the music industry’s going – it’s just changed so much especially in America with the Internet and the downloading, it’s envitable. I think that a lot of people were thinking that the Asian market and the Chinese market would come closer to the old-style, American model – ie. buying records in shops and stuff – but I think it’s actually happening the other way round. The Western side of things is moving closer to the bootleg side of things and that’s something you just have to deal with.
LT: But the live show itself. That is something that you can’t bootleg.
SHist: Yeah, we heard you guys exclaiming to MTV that it was going to be the “best show in the galaxy”?
SHist: The Bugz are a modest bunch as well…
JH: It’s true though! We’re sticking to that, we’re sticking to it…
ML: You’ll never have seen such a show. Best show in the galaxy. For real!
LT: Going back to the pirating though, for me, if I download a copy of something that’s rare or illegal or hasn’t come out yet or whatever and I like it, I’ll go buy it. And I think that’s true for most people. I think if they really want to support something, they’ll go out and buy it. And even if our music comes through an illegal source, it’s still promotion. At least it gets there.
CS: People won’t buy something they don’t know. And I guess if that’s the first step to them hearing it, then so be it. Hopefully they’ll like it and they’ll say ‘alright, second time around’ I’ll buy it. You need to make fans of them first to have them support you. So it kind of feeds back into it.
SHist: Now, Leo, excuse our ignorance, but when did you get involved with the Bugz?
LT: I got involved last year when they went live after doing the album. They were touring live and I was called in. It’s a project that I’ve always wanted to do though.
ML: He’s a bad boy drummer. Killer drummer. The best drummer ever.
LT: [laughs] I’ve had affiliations with the scene before that though. Playing with New Sector Movements, Bembe Segue and such, so I’ve been affiliated for a while now. And then I did the Gene Harris remix, I played drums for that, and that was the first time I played drums for Bugz. So, yeah, it’s been three years on and off, but for the live show, it’s the first time I’ve been properly with the group.
SHist: Speaking of which, for this trip, you guys have assembled kind of an oddball crew.
JH: Are you looking at me?
SHist: Well, sort of… It’s true though – it’s an eclectic mix on tour right now. A lot of frequent collaborators, but only really two of the core Bugz crew. How did that work out? Was it planned or just what happened due to members’ schedules and personal projects?
ML: Well, with the live show it’s really whoever’s interested in doing the different elements. Like some of us DJ – personally I don’t DJ, that’s not really my thing – but when it comes to live playing, that’s something I really love doing; so that’s when I like getting really involved, taking part in the live show. That’s the great thing about us – with eight of us, a few people can take the ball and run with it at certain times, others can take a backseat. It always changes.
CS: All the Bugz are producers. We all play, we all dabble with our musical instruments. But most of us are DJs, yes, so when it came to taking it fully live, we wanted the drums to be really good, so we had to bring in a professional, hence Leo. And Motet’s sort of always been in the family anyway, and we’ve always been close to Motet’s crew (Uprock) so it was a natural thing to bring Jason in as we needed someone to just be up there and vibing it up.
JH: Going back to what Leo said, we’re all an extended family. What’s going on at home, it’s all kind of linked. Everyone works with each other, we’re all kind of connected, and that’s how I got involved and connected with the Bugz. And I was asked to come in now because I was doing parties with them before. They were DJing and I was MCing over it, and that whole street soundsystem sort of flex was kind of how the scene developed back home, out of that. And that was my contribution to it. So now we’re trying to transfer that to the live show. We’re trying to do it with the music, but still keeping the raw essence of what it’s all about and where it’s come from.
CS: And with the live band, it’s not just a concept that we’ve suddenly said “bang – there it is”. It’s something we’ve built over five years. First it was a DJ; then it was a DJ and an MC; then we did a DJ, MC and a PA; and we’ve building and building it. And the icing on the cake was bringing Matt Lord in, and Leo Taylor, and Hannah Vasanth just to finish it up basically. And we can still expand – it’s endless. We want to bring live brass into it…
LT: Maybe a harmonica?
CS: [laughs] Yeah, sure!
JH: Oh, mate! Do you even know about us and the cowbell? It’s mad! Bugz is all about the cowbell.
ML: It is essential to our sound!
JH: Everyone needs a cowbell. In fact, we may soon expand to getting a real cow. You know that “mooo mooo” sound?
SHist: We’ll look forward to that on the next album. Speaking of which, when can we expect the next one? It took you guys 10 years to release your first full-length studio effort, is number two another decade away?
CS: The thing to keep in mind is that we’ve all done a lot of separate stuff and other albums.
ML: Yeah, between the Bugz, we’ve probably produced 30 to 40 albums.
CS: Agent K, Neon Fusion, Seiji’s album, there’s a lot of stuff being put out.
AR: Then there’s all the labels as well. Bitasweet’s been busy.
CS: Yeah exactly. It did take a long time, though, we’ll admit that.
SHist: Was Bugz, then, seen as more of a side project for everybody from the outset?
CS: It was just too much going on, really, with the remixes and other people’s albums. We did put a certain amount of tracks aside for our album, but things just get in the way, but it was a long time coming. The next one won’t take another 10 years.
ML: We’ve sort of done things the other way around. Most people do an album first, then go on to do remixes, then solo projects, etc. We started with all these solo things, then did remixes, then 10 years down the line, we were ready to do our debut thing and say, “Yeah, this is us.”
SHist: Since the album has been released, and with all the touring and press for it, have your personal projects and commitments shifted?
ML: We’ve all got commitments to lots of different projects that are ongoing, and they will always be there. And we will never exclusively do Bugz, it’s just not going to happen like that, but it was a lot of hard work to do the album, it took a lot of energy…
SHist: Why did it take almost a year to record?
ML: It took a long time because we have eight different characters, eight strong characters all with strong opinions on music, and we had to work through that and get an album we were all happy with. So I think we learnt a lot from doing it and hopefully the next one will be easier. We actually had 90-odd demos for the album that we’d picked out…
SHist: Oh yeah? Internet hearsay differs on that, from a couple dozen to hundreds littering the cutting room floor.
ML: It was 90, uhh…96. Yup. 96.
JH: You’ve got an exclusive. You heard it here first!
SHist: What’s on the horizon for Bitasweet?
ML: The label’s taken a bit of a backseat lately.
CS: There will definitely be more stuff coming out on Bitasweet, we’re not putting it to bed just yet, but we have a few things lined up and we’re not sure when they’re going to be coming out. There’s a lot of stuff that didn’t make the album. For me, personally, a lot of the stuff that sounded more true to the Bugz sound didn’t make the album, so I think a lot of it will come out on Bitasweet.
JH: The thing about the material that was chosen for the album is that it is accessible for those that are new to the sound, it’s exciting for those that were kind of on the cusp and knew a little but weren’t die-hards, and there’s enough on there for the die-hards. I think it’s an amazing feat for an album because the sound is still fairly underground. But there are the real strong die-hard contingency who are very possessive and protective about the sound so to do an album that pleases them as well as brings in a lot of new people is an amazing feat. I think it has opened the door for us. For the next time or for future projects, we can push the boat out a bit more.
SHist: Were you guys surprised when received an invitation from China?
CS: Yeah, pretty surprised. We’ve always wanted to do an Asia tour and we’d been hearing some good things from Japan – people like our stuff there – and I’ve visited Thailand a bunch, and people like our stuff there. But China did come as a bit of a surprise. But we’re just happy to be here.
SHist: Who’s on your radar lately music-wise? Who are you digging lately?
ML: We all really love old music, that’s the thing that really drives us all. We love soul music, jazz music. So we listen to a lot of that but, really, we listen to loads of stuff.
AR: Robert Strauss of Earth Corporation Enterprises is great.
JH: At the moment, I’m listening to a lot of Brazilian music. And music from El Salvador. That’s kind of what’s rocking my boat at the moment. A lot of James Brown, too, kind of digging deep there. Hearing James in classics that I’d never heard before is just immense – it’s all coming to the surface now, there was so much material that was just buried…
JH: 4Hero’s just done a wicked album too…
ML: And J Dilla for me. [Enthusiastic cheers from all members.] For the last five, six, seven years that’s been like 70 percent of what I listen to. Blatant.
And Shanghaiist also sneaked in one quickie with Brad Baloo of The Nextmen.
SHist: In 1997, The Nextmen remixed London Posse’s “Style” and it ended up being a hugely popular remix. You, Brad, however, have said that it was the third worst remix of all time. What were number one and two?
BB: Oh, that was just an expression…
SHist: Are you just trying to be diplomatic? Don’t want “Brad Baloo hates UNKLE remix” splashed all over Chinese headlines tomorrow?
BB: No, no, our remix was just absolutely, horrifically bad. It was one of the first pieces of music we had ever played together. We made it in Dom’s bedroom at his mum’s house. We basically – don’t know if you get them here, but in the UK you can get wine in a box with a thing that you pour it out of – so, yeah, basically we got loads of that, no equipment at all, and made it up really badly. But it got played on Radio 1 lots. And if you listen to the record, at the beginning of the record, there is a sound, sort of a clicking sound. And that was because we forgot to put on of pieces of equipment, we forgot to plug it in. But people still liked it. I don’t know why…
Bacardi Sino Sessions presents Bugz in the Attic (with The Lab, Nextmen and DJ Hobbes). Thursday, March 15 at Absolute House (Bldg 6, X2 Creative, 20 Chaling Lu near Xietu Lu). RMB 80 advance (60 for students), 120 at the door (includes one Bacardi drink). Tickets at 5108 6789 or [email protected]
Note: Doors are at 8:00pm, and the order is The Lab, Bugz in the Attic, The Nextmen, and DJ Hobbes to close. Shanghaiist suspects early start times – you have been warned.