Sometimes musicians take themselves way too seriously. If they’re not fervently musing about a utopian industry where music is the closest thing to the Aids cure, they’re flogging their master plan to save ignorant consumers from the fatal nature of commercial music.
It’s something of joy then, that Bugz in the Attic isn’t that kind of group. Orin ‘Afronaught’ Walters, Paul ‘Seiji’ Dolby, Kaidi Tatham, Daz-I-Kue, Alex Phountzi, Cliff Scott, Mark Force and Matt Lord certainly create tunes that make an audacious statement, but behind their mighty façade is a bunch of nonchalant, occasionally chaotic musicians with a natural knack for producing quality dance music.
2004’s ‘Booty La La’ may have well been an accidental hit. It could have been that joint chilling in the basement or maybe a passing joke about a Teletubbies arse. Truth is, members Kaidi, Daz and vocalist Mpho Skeef whipped the rascal together to add a hint of originality to their 2004 retrospective remix collection, ‘Got The Bug’ and no one anticipated the single was destined to become an overground smash.
“None of us ever expected it to do what it ended up doing,” admits Orin. “It was just to promote the remix album! It sort of hit home when we had to do a video for it. None of us anticipated being in a video for a single we had done.”
The track was an outright stomper, pumped with smutty bass, rude synths and Mpho’s quirky chops that delivered the memorable “la la” hook superbly. In typical Bugz fashion, “Booty La La” put a new twist to dance music and its commercial acclaim jump-started the group’ plans to put down their first, and arguably overdue, studio album. “The album had always been something we talked about, and the success of Booty La La gave us the confidence to say we don’t have to make music that’s a particular style,” adds Seiji. “It meant that it’s possible just to make good, dance music.”
Their long-awaited debut, ‘Back In The Dog House’ is just that – exciting and vibrant, unique yet universal, and dazzling with a brazenness that alternates between the downright dutty and the positively sweet. Then there are the charming arrangements, the arrogant b-lines, and the vocal superstars, which altogether form something that’s too damn good to be labelled. And such is the ambiguity of this fine record that even the title’s a little baffling.
Legend has it that the Dog House is a mythical place far, far away, where the Bugz seek sanctuary from the outside world, currently inhabited by one particular Bug (who’ll remain nameless) on a long-term basis. As Orin explains: “Back in the Dog House is basically just a term we use when we’re rocking with the other artists and everything’s gone a bit wobbly. Or you’re in the bad books with your girlfriend or your partner or whatever. So the studio is called the dog house. It’s our little cave where we can go away and escape.”
There were minor flirtations with other titles. “Sounds Like…” was a little cliché, and the hilarious “Blood, Snot and Tears” almost looked like a winner, seeing as it perfectly summed up the recording process that needlessly took over a year. “Some people can do an album in three weeks. Bugz In the Attic can’t,” says Seiji. “A lot of the time when we’re recording, it’s total chaos, but somehow we get through it. It’s the messiest process you can imagine, with so many people involved, all the different personalities involved, and everybody feeling like it’s their record. There are definitely a lot of chefs in the kitchen. But the album turned out amazingly well, considering what a painful process it was.”
“Really, this album could have been the end of us,” explains Daz-I-Kue. “A lot of times as individuals we don’t want to compromise.”
Alex agrees. “Being in Bugz gets very stressful and there’s a lot of arguments. There are a lot of disagreements – shouting at each other, people storming out the room – but no fist fights yet though. Up until now we’ve always managed to hold it all together.” If they didn’t, things just wouldn’t be the same. Each Bug, who’ve all carved reputations in their own right, brings something to the Dog House that collectively works a treat. For starters, the album’s sound is a result of the group’s diverse tastes. “We’re all from various musical backgrounds,” says Alex. “I loved jungle, Orin comes from house, Kaidi comes from a jazz, funk, soul background and Daz comes from, well everything.”
Orin elaborates on their roles further. “We have Mark the joker, Daz is the chief recorder, and I’m a programmer; Matt Lord as well. Seiji and G Force mainly do the electronic stuff, Kaidi is obviously a musical all-rounder. He does all the music, the majority of the writing, and the arranging. Myself, Alex, Cliff – we’re all producers.”
It’s no wonder that the album’s 15 tracks are as varied as they come. “Random, like the gyal dem!” jokes Orin. “Random, random, random. We wanted to do a dance album, but that’s quite a challenge in itself. Only some people can pull it off successfully. But we didn’t want to do something completely generic. There’s a contemporary sort of theme running through it. We’ve got a bit of everything up there. There’s a few conscious tracks, escapist tracks, love tracks, radio-friendly and even pop tracks.”
The perfect primer is first single ‘Move Aside’, an unbridled funk jam with a frantic b-boy quality that gets better with every spin. Tender vocalist Bembe Segue run the proceedings, also making further appearances on the spontaneous ‘I’m Gonna Letcha’, ‘Once Twice’, ‘Redhanded’ and ‘Consequence’, a slick throwback to 80’s boogie.
Other guests who pass through this spirited affair are Reel People’s Vanessa Freeman (‘Inna Row’), singer/songwriter Michelle Escoffrey (‘No More’), Basement Jaxx singer Vula (‘It Don’t Work Like That’), original Bugz chick Yolande (‘Happy Days, Once Twice’) and long-term collaborator Don Ricardo (‘Worla Hurt, Redhanded’) who represent some of the finest collaborators on the underground scene. The album’s highlights include the ear popping ‘Don’t Stop’, a revamp of the 1981 Yarbrough & Peoples original, ‘Don’t Stop the Music’, sung with crazy finesse by Sharlene Hector. A hit of it’s time, the Bug boys give it an incredible new lease of life, fitting for 2006.
Ironically, it was exactly ten years ago that Bugz in the Attic first formed. Hanging out in Orin’s attic studio in Richmond, six assorted musical misfits, joined by their common love of dance music, took on the title Bugz In the Attic thanks to leading beats-king Phil Asher who granted them the title. To make a long story short, a dead fly happened to be on Phil’s mixing desk in his studio – which later became Orin’s – and a passing comment would eventually become the name of the most distinctive crew in the country.
Soon after Bugz further established themselves by stamping remixes on popular club tracks. “We though we want to be at the forefront of that, doing the more accessible, wider audience stuff,” says Orin. “As well as doing our individual stuff, we thought that when we come together, we can concentrate on doing remixes for the more mainstream artists, but bring it back to our audience level. So we concentrated on that for a long time, and it eventually sort of paid off.”
They set up their own label, Bitasweet Records, a production company and expanded the crew to include the acclaimed Mark Force, and Matt Lord, while regular night Co-Op at London’s Plastic People also worked to help their cause. But it was a remix of 4Hero’s ‘Hold It Down’ that was an indication of Bugz’s greater dancefloor potential, and since then, the group has steadily reached the tipping point where superstardom is now within their reach.
“We’ve managed to weather the ups and downs of the music business, and the changing climates of music as a group,” says Seiji of the last 10 years. “The whole experience of Bugz in the Attic has been a real experience, a real learning curve about people, and about how they interact, and it’s been a maturing process.” They’re now concerned with translating all their musical goodness into a monster stage show that has already thrust Kaidi and Daz into the forefront of the performance to triple-encore-effect. Back In The Dog House is the album that proves the Bugz have finally arrived. And not before time