Don’t Stop: an interview with Angela Martin of Bugeye

Don’t Stop: an interview with Angela Martin of Bugeye

With their beginnings in the ’90s Bugeye have taken a long road to the release of their first long player Ready Steady Bang this year, but a gestation worth the wait for the blistering blend of disco and punk which is bringing them critical and fan acclaim. 

As part of our Inner World series Popoptica editor Sarah Lay talks to the band’s front person Angela Martin, about music as meditation and her 20 year journey to a debut album. 

Angela Martin of Bugeye on stage taken by Jamie MacMillan

“We’ve all become best mates, the four of us. It’s totally real. We’re super close and I feel completely blessed to be surrounded by such talented and wonderful people.”

Angela Martin, songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and front person of disco-punk band Bugeye, has – like so many of us – had an interesting and challenging 2020. The band were, after two decades, ready to release their debut album, Ready Steady Bang. Produced by Paul Tipler (Idlewild, Elastica, Stereolab) they’d signed with independent label Reckless Yes and were gearing up to reveal the record to the world. Then the global panic ushered in a national lockdown and the music scene, along with every day life, changed. Bugeye – Paula Snow (bass), Kerrie Smith (drums) and Grace Healy (keyboards) – was a saving grace as well as a puzzle to be solved but the friendship proved a safe harbour in which to weather the storms.

Angela Martin of Bugeye on stage playing guitar For Angela the disruption didn’t only shake what she was doing with the band, but as a lynchpin of the underground scene it resonated through work at her label services agency 31 Percent Wool, and meant quickly adapting plans as an artist manager (of indie rock bands Tiger Mimic and Weekend Recovery), and rethinking what would happen with Cro Cro Land, the south London festival she co-founded and curates. And then there was regular life to manage on top  – so many of us will recognise the challenges as creatives this year has given to balance the practical with art, the uncertainty of when things may become possible again or the gut-churning at the thought maybe there isn’t a way back to the live music and established patterns we had before. There is opportunity to be born from the disorder but when your plans and your creative safety nets are pulled away, and normal life leans on you harder, possibilities often reduce down to whatever you can manage in any given moment.

She said, “Lockdown has been a complete mind fuck. I’m someone who is considered and logical, or so I’m told, but lockdown actually sent me into a bit of a meltdown. I had all these plans and suddenly all we could do was put out music when editorial staff and DJs were being furloughed and we couldn’t gig or meet up to make content!

“I was working a full time job and had a 2 year old at home. For the first time ever I found that I had zero hours to be creative. If I wanted to make a music video, I’d have to learn to do it, and get stuck in after [daughter] Beth was asleep but only after I’d caught up on the day job. People wanted us to send pre-recorded ‘live sessions’ for shows which I felt I had to say yes to to promote the band but I had to find the time to edit them all together. I worked flat out and burnt myself out for a moment.

“As for managing, it changed our whole strategy, we were supposed to launch our touring arm of 31 Percent Wool and also Cro Cro Land Festival Year 2 which would see us have a northern date as well as the London festival. This would be a key part of promoting the bands we work with. With all the changes all we’ve been able to do is keep putting music out, looking for editorial and radio wins where we can get them. It’s certainly been a challenging time, but has given me space to think about where my attention should really be focused.”

‘Some people meditate, I write music’

Music has been a constant in Angela’s life since an early age, with weekend music school a feature of her childhood. She and her siblings were sent to the free extra-curricular school in East Ham, she says, ‘mainly to give 4 kids very close in age and full of energy, something to do, and my mum a bit of a break’ but being given a recorder and put in a different class to her sisters didn’t fill her with awe and she spent more time hiding ‘under the chairs in the grand hall, eating gummy bears and daydreaming while the orchestra rehearsed, rather than in the basement classroom.’ Music permeates though and from the weekend recorder classes, and at home, a love started to bloom. 

“My love of music came from my dad. I always loved the old stuff which other kids thought was weird. He would blast out the sounds of his youth. This is one of my first memories of music. Very loud and very rich in sound, in fact, it was the Wall of Sound: The Crystals He’s A Rebel and The Ronettes Be My Baby. My sisters were into pop, and I loved all those records too, so it was all the chart classics of Bangles, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. I didn’t really discover things like New Order and The Cure until much later.”

The love of listening led to wanting to play and that first band came early for Angela. She said, “I was 8 and my sister Rachel was 11. She wanted to form a girl group. She was the lead singer of course and I was the backing singer with two other friends. I can’t quite remember the song, but it was certainly an original.

“I suppose proper music writing kicked in for me when I was 16 and decided to teach myself guitar. My first song was called Sad Song Part 2 and it was all about change and being at the start of a new chapter. I was confused about my sexuality, confused about what I wanted to do with my life, missing the childhood that I had that made me feel safe, but how suddenly those relationships had turned sour.

“I’m proud of that song. Would it be a hit record? Well no, but I’m proud of it as it’s where all this started and music would go on to take me on a whole heap of adventures with highs and lows, heartbreak and recovery. Some people meditate, I write music.”

Bugeye band image


The music journey was begun, and the earliest iterations of Bugeye followed. A phenomenal drive for creating and bringing people together now, Angela recalls the first versions of the band sprung from punk ethics and moved at pace too. She said, “We were just starting out and had barely picked up our instruments. I remember us booking out every day over the Easter Holidays so we could learn to play as we had a gig three weeks later at The Rock Garden in Covent Garden. Fast forward a year to 1999 and we supported the Cranberries at Wembley – also to note on this point was that we were called Monty back then and changed our name to Bugeye not long after. The support slot came from Heart Radio. Yes, Heart Radio and not the indie stations. A full blown pop chart radio station got behind us and gave us this slot.

“We also had Radio X  – called XFM, and not completely licensed at the time – invest in us to record an EP. That was in 2000 which was also the year that Big Brother launched. I remember this as it was at Sugar Mills studio in Stratford. Big Brother was being filmed and we were pretty much their next door neighbours. We played with so many bands at that time. A couple that I think we all know today would be The Lovely Eggs, Electrelane, oh, and a bit later Razorlight at a friend’s squat party.

The underground music scene rallied in London at this time with a surge of new guitar bands. It wouldn’t be long before many of those around were elevated beyond Camden’s streets by the NME who, with a focus on aesthetics, paved the way for the identikit bands of the now somewhat controversial ‘landfill indie’. Then as now whatever the Majors, the press and the mainstream catch on to and co-opt relevancy from takes seed in the underground from a fertile ground of vibrant and determined community. By the time that scene broke out of its local beginnings Bugeye were already on hiatus.

Angela recalls those days and said, “The scene back then was good and bad. Pay-to-Play was still a thing, in roads hard-to-impossible to make. But there was an underground scene that made its own rules. There were squat parties a-plenty, people just setting up their own shows in random places as no one could afford the hire fees of, even the small Camden venues.

“When we started Monty/Bugeye it was as a bunch of mates having fun as kids. We had no idea what would happen. I was trying to hold us all together, but our drummer was lost in shooting up, and I was struggling to protect us against sexist comments and demands and darn straight bullying from a music industry of so-called professionals. It started to resemble school, home, and everything I wanted to avoid in life.

“We split up and me and Paula went from music project to music project like a bad rebound. I worked at a couple of major labels which made me hate music all the more. I needed a break.

“It wasn’t until quite recently when I looked after my mum in her final months of life, and then almost died from IFV going horrendously wrong, that I decided I needed music again. I suppose we should have really called the band something else other than Bugeye. It really isn’t the old Bugeye, but myself and Paula talked about it, and felt that Bugeye was a time we were happy in music and it’s what we wanted again, but a wiser more clued up version.”

Bugeye at Paper Dress Vintage in 2019

Over the last four years the band has grown into their own disco-punk sound, mixing distinctive vocals against pop melodies and rock riffs. Often upbeat, and with an implicit call to come together around the music, thematically their most recent releases are deeply personal and reflective of their own and society’s darker side. It’s a sound which sets them somewhat apart from the burgeoning female-led punk scene musically, while they retain the Riot Grrrl approach of community and mutual support. As a band they are vocal in their support of others, and in creating as much as benefiting from spaces for their and others music to be heard.

Angela reflects on where they find themselves now with creating and releasing music compared to when they started out in the late nineties. She said, “It’s so much easier now. We can all put out records today and create our own way of doing things. The doors are open. Ok, that makes it hard as so many bands are doing the same thing and fighting for attention, but you have the chance now.

“The major record companies were shite at signing bands in the ’90s and they still are today. There were much fewer indie labels around that time too. I think it’s easy to look back and think things were better, but they were actually worse. Thank fuck for the internet and being able to take more control of how we manage our careers.”

‘I am not the latest review of my band’s music’

While music has played throughout her life Angela has flirted with other art forms, and found they satisfy to a greater or lesser degree. She said, “I started out wanting to act. I didn’t know who I was, so pretending to be someone else seemed to make sense to me. As I grew up and became more sure of myself, the acting need fell away and music took hold. I was also shite at acting.

“These days I see music and art as being very connected. Visual art is really important to me and has become more and more part of what we’re doing as a band, which people will discover if we ever get to play live again. I don’t want to conform to what a gig should be anymore. I want to do something different, so watch out for announcements on this.”

Using music as other’s do meditation, and as an exploration as well as intrinsic part of personal identity Angela has learnt how to remain vulnerable and honest in her songwriting, put the truest parts of herself out there, and not be defined by how they are received by others. Creativity is an end unto itself but when you begin to release music, commerciality and critique creep in and it’s not always easy to reveal personal pain, problems, or stories repeatedly for someone else’s entertainment.

Angela said, “I’m an introvert naturally, but through work and music have had to become an extrovert to a degree. I get nervous and which always makes me ramble, but learning to do that confidently has been a bit of a journey for me. My music is a massive part of my identity, but I’ve learnt that doesn’t need to mean that I am judged on how successful my music is or not. That metric is no reflection on who I am or my talents.

“I’ve learnt that I love music in general and that is the part to embrace. My happiness isn’t based on if my band ‘makes it’ or not and that certainty doesn’t define who I am. I just enjoy the creative process of music and look for ways that I can be part of this incredible industry as a band but outside of that too. Celebrating music via our podcast, creating a festival that gives emerging talent a chance etc, that’s who I am, and not the latest review of my band’s music.”

‘If it was any other sector they would all have been fired by now’

Bugeye love to play live, and are well known for the energy they generate on stage charging an atmosphere for all, releasing the music was a considered step that had to reflect the songs and the band. Angela said, “Being able to produce CDs and Vinyl is really important. People who love your music will want to own it, which means something tangible other than just streaming.

“Streaming is here and now, and of course it has changed things and over time it will replace the charts on physical sales for sure, but physical formats will always be a really important part of the music fan experience. Merchandise has become more of  a-must-have for music fans, even those that just stream still want something that’s part of the band, so having a range of things that people feel are special and can own is very important right now.”

The recording of the songs too was something the band wanted to get right and chose to work with producer Paul Tipler on Ready Steady Bang. His list of credits includes many who could be heard as indirect influences on the Bugeye sound from Elastica to Placebo to Stereolab and with a no nonsense approach he was quickly proven to be a tight fit with the band’s drive and determination. Angela said, “I had worked with Paul many moons ago and always remembered his cut to the point attitude of getting things done, being able to make guitars sound huge but also identify with what works and what doesn’t. I know that I can completely trust Paul with my music so it made sense for us to record the album with him. We might not agree on everything but that’s the point. You need someone who will express their opinion and allow you see things in a different light, but who is also open to understanding what you’re trying to achieve.”

The whole process of releasing music and who the band partnered with circled back to the music being personal, more so than a commodity. Lockdown added an extra level to how hands on the band remained even with a team of producer and label around them. With no live shows possible the release may have felt muted but it channeled their creativity toward ways they could still connect with fans and support a record, 20 years in the brewing. The process of releasing may be work, and hard work in a pandemic, but for there is real value and reward for Angela in the start of the whole journey: with the writing of the songs.

Bugeye band image with megaphone

She said, “Normally I can only ever write late at night when the rest of the world seems to be asleep. It’s a private moment that I don’t want anyone to hear at that stage. There’s also something nostalgic and magical when you’re on your own in the wee small hours writing. However, I’ve found it difficult in lockdown to feel that way.

“My ideas come from lots of places. I could read a news story, hear a song that reminds me of something, hear an opening chord from a song that makes me want to pick up a guitar. Life, both good and bad, is inspiring.

“The social climate and environment has really driven a lot of our recent writing and also the need to cleanse my soul from some pretty traumatic experiences. As I said, writing music is like meditation for me. It’s about getting those feelings out and being able to breathe again.”

Part of the reason for the hiatus for the band was the exhaustion and frustration Angela felt at being asked to prove herself, or perform to a type, by a male-dominated industry. Returning more recently she says the underground is embracing the need to do more for diversity but in the wider industry the problems still exist, and have seemingly deepened.

She said, “I think that on a grassroots level we see a good mix of male/female bands and I see that we’re all learning and trying to be more diverse. Grassroots music embracing change is common throughout music history. The problem is further up the chain. This is where the diverse mix doesn’t seem to break though.

“FACT: the major labels have been shrinking in size because they are not moving with the times. Women are not fairly represented. This would not be allowed in any other sector so I’m not sure why it has been allowed to continue as it is. If it was any other business sector they would have all been fired by now for shite business growth and completely ignoring gender equality.”

‘Do it because you love it’

All creativity includes an element of destruction, and from the ruins of 2020 new ideas and new ways will bloom. With some rhythm coming back to the days, settling into feeling unsettled, and album Ready Steady Bang released to critical and fan acclaim it’s time to start looking ahead with hope for the music scene and with fresh eyes on how they do things as Bugeye.

“I think every band has a bucket list. That can be helpful and keep you focused, but I decided long ago that the bucket list should be as follows: Be the best that you can with writing and only put out work that you are proud of, support others, connect with others and see where life takes you. Lastly, be proactive with pushing your music and do it because you love it.

“Nail those things and you’ll be happy. Chasing and never feeling satisfied is no way to live. Too many bands seem to end  up in a green eyed monster mood and nothing they achieve is ever good enough. We all deserve to be happy. Living life feeling insecure and being miserable isn’t not rock n roll. It’s tragic and incredibly sad. Love life, love what you do, support your peers because you love music, surround yourself with good people and the rest will follow.

I learnt a lot from my first outing in music, and don’t feel pressure or won’t allow myself to feel pressure to be anything as such in music. I’m writing because I love it. I’m in a band because I love it. I work hard because I love it, and that is all I need to be.”

Writing for a second album is already underway and the band are looking at innovative ways they can perform live while gigs are still doubtful. Bugeye may have spanned two decades, may not have been active as a band for all that time, but having found a line up who are also best friends they are feeling ready to face whatever challenges music now faces.

Angela said, “I think there’s going to be a bit of a reset with coronavirus, a chance to make things better. Is this the death of the live music scene? Of course it isn’t. There is a demand for live music, so it will always find a way to exist. This is going to sound controversial but there were a lot of really bad venues and promoters out there that robbed bands and treated them like shit, and I really don’t care if they make it through the pandemic or not. But on the flip side there are a lot of venues that are also incredible and deserve to survive. I think we all know who they are and should support them if we can. Support the venues you love and be open to explore new ones too, even if they may seem a little random. 

The switch to live streams and pretending we’re at a gig, it has been hard. Playing live to an audience you can’t see does not compare to the real thing, although we’re grateful for any opportunity we have been given during this time. I suppose at first there was a novelty to the live streams, but that’s shifted now as people just bored with them and want the real thing.

“I think music and being a band will be more exciting than ever. We will be forced to create our own shows and do things a little differently. We’re certainly making a shift with how we do things regardless of social distancing. I think it’s a new chapter for us all and with change comes beautiful things.”

Find Bugeye

Paper Dress Vintage live pictures: Don Blandford

Inner World is our regular feature about creative natures. Through conversations with artists we explore what it means to be a creative, where creativity comes from, and how creatives interact with their inner world and the world around them. If you would like to be featured or have a suggestion for a conversation get in touch.

Disclosure: This conversation was between Angela Martin and Sarah Lay. Bugeye are signed to Reckless Yes, the record label Sarah co-founded. 

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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