Through mic duty with The Bug,
Miss Red unleashes her sonic power
It’s Liberty Day in Tel Aviv, Israel.
A crew of local promoters hustle Kevin Martin, the don of forward-thinking UK dub, into playing a surprise set in a small downtown bar. Meanwhile, following a 12-hour shift at her second job as a bartender, a “drunk as fuck” 20-year-old enters the rammed party. Enraptured by the bassweight vibrations and emboldened by a surge of pure exaltation, she grabs the mic.
Fast-forward two years, and that woman is sharing a stage at Glastonbury alongside the ferocious grime MC Flowdan as part of The Bug’s explosive live show. Meet Miss Red.
A few weeks before the release of her debut solo mixtape Murder, I arrange to meet Miss Red – who currently remains a somewhat enigmatic figure despite her now regular performances with The Bug. On an empty side street in Neukölln, the pint-sized MC, real name Sharon Stern, is draped in an oversized vintage fur coat. She raises her eyes from under carelessly laid red curls, lifts up her headphones as the sounds of Billy Boyo’s Iron Woman muffle out, and smiles. Modest but sure of herself, she speaks with a softly drawling Israeli accent, touched every now and again with a subtle patois hint. We head to the furthest corner of a dingy snooker bar where she nonchalantly rolls a spliff and nurtures it as we ease into an easy conversational flow.
You may not have heard of Miss Red. Hailing from the sleepy seaside town of Haifa, in the past three years she has gripped the attention of the dub cognoscenti with her ferocious stage presence as well as the authentic Hebrew twist she adds to a distinct Jamaican patois. Due to that one fateful night of Dutch courage in Tel Aviv, Stern has now featured on a string of releases from The Bug, most recently the heavy, hypnotic track Mi Lost from 2014’s masterpiece Angels & Devils, a release illustrating her knack for swinging from softly sung melody to high-pitched chatter that brims with sass.
Haifa’s population generally lived in harmony until the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, which left the city in turmoil. “My parents didn’t allow me to go anywhere, my aunt was dying, I was depressed, hardcore depressed,” she says gravely. “When you live in this environment the last thing you want to be involved [with] for the rest of your life is politics… I used to always run away and make issues for my family and everybody.” It was her rebellious head-on clashes with her father that she credits for her gift of ‘chatting’. “When me and my father fought the whole street would know about it,” she says, laughing.
It was during the declining days of the war that she was introduced to Easy Rider, the dominating sound system in Haifa. “I was blown away by all the reggae,” she remembers. “I kept on coming, but I never thought of grabbing the mic, ever. It never entered my head to sing.”
It wasn’t until Stern turned 17 that her boyfriend at the time convinced her to sing over a tune and her innate talent as an MC was realised. Once heard by the Easy Rider crew, they immediately took her under their wing. From here, Stern would immerse herself into a deep dub education, mentored by the sounds of Sister Ruby, Sister Nancy, Lady Anne and Sister Charmaine.
“I was blown away with what Kevin Martin was playing, it was beyond anything I’d heard so far"
But at 18, Stern was faced with mandatory military service. “If you didn’t join the army you had to go to jail,” she explains. “What could I do?’’ In a desperate bid to escape her duties, she weighed up her options. “Either I can say I’m mentally ill or I can try out for the band… if I get in, I get in. If I don’t, I’m mental, it will be ok, I can always say I’m mental.” Given that only a tiny percentage of applicants get accepted into the army band, she thought her chances were slim, but as it turns out, she spent the next few years as a “very drunk soldier.”
Making the six-hour drive from her home to the army base daily, the “humiliating performances” proved too much for her as they toured the bases. “I couldn’t handle it,” she recoils. “What is the worst thing you could do to an artist? Make them make shit art. It was really painful. I tried to make it good, but it was the fucking army, I had to carry a gun, it wasn’t me. I am sensitive too, I couldn’t go there and be cool about it.” After moving to Tel Aviv, she resentfully trudged through her final year in service.
But this rebellious spirit and outsider mentality was what gave Stern the courage to rush the stage at The Bug’s surprise Tel Aviv set and to establish herself as Miss Red. “I was blown away with what he was playing,” she says, recounting that night. “It was beyond anything I’d heard so far. I was thinking for a half hour like ‘should I do it, should I not? I can rock this shit.’ I got so excited.”
And she was right. As fate would have it, a baffled and bemused Kevin Martin was stupefied by the young firebomb’s rhymes and her unique sense of melody. With Miss Red “hungover as fuck” the next morning, they headed straight for the studio. What resulted was 2012’s Diss Mi Army, booming acid ragga heralding the arrival of her signature sonorous force. And with Martin at the helm of Miss Red’s new mixtape Murder, it seems that the rise of the fiery haired MC has just begun.
Murder is available for free download here