Law of the Jungle

NEW MUSIC is born of the old. Hip-hop and Rock ‘n’ Roll can be traced back through Delta Blues, field and slave songs back to the spiritual and indigenous folk musics of Africa.

Jungle music is no different. Earlier this year, listening to Gnoua and Joujouka music in Morocco, I discovered two very different types of music indigenous to one country that date back thousands of years. We played for the musicians in Joujouka, a remote mountain village, some tapes we had brought along for the journey – NWA and A Guy Called Gerald – and although it came from a world far removed from theirs there were still elements in it that they could relate to. The constants are universal: the repetition, the rhythms, the drum and the bass.

Britain has always tended to nurture music that was originated in countries other than itself, creating hybrids that have become strongly identified with youth culture: Rock, Rave, Punk, Mod. Jungle too is something identifiably British. It is quite literally a fusion, the drawing together of all types of music.

Jungle, the word and the music is the subject of much discussion and debate within the scene, much like the on-going debate as to what constitutes hip hop and what is the real. It has gone and goes by many names – hardcore, breakbeat, jungle techno, drum ‘n’ bass, hardstep – but Jungle is the one that people outside the scene know it as. The music came first, the labels later. Some people within the scene prefer not to apply the word to their music at all, there are simply too many preconceptions associated with it. DJ Hype plays all types of breakbeat, refusing to categorize himself. “There’s too much emphasis on the word ‘Jungle’, it creates divides. If Jungle died tomorrow it would only be the word that died.” The music and the people around it would progress to the next level. Nevertheless as a word, Jungle has so many rich and varied associations, much like the music itself. Gerald Simpson (aka A Guy Called Gerald) articulates it best:

“There’s so much colour in it. So much rhythm. So much texture. You could go into a jungle and find these things. You could sit there in a pool in the middle of a jungle and there would be flowers, insects, dangerous animals, dangerous plants. But there would be a lot of beauty there an’ all. There would be a lot of sounds. There’d be a lot of insects making beautiful noises. So it’s a mixture.

“That is one concept of it. Another concept is that the whole society that we’re living in now is becoming like a jungle anyway. There’s so much going on. So much being built up. It’s so clustered that it is becoming a jungle.”

Music generally grows out of a particular set of circumstances in a specific time and place. The rave scene in England provided the impetus for the biggest boom in British music since punk. But as it grew in popularity forces gathered to try and contain it.

The music industry, which developed its marketing strategies to package and sell rock acts, has never been able to come to terms with more democratic forms of music. To be accepted (and marketed) rave music had to be formulated – techno with a name, a face and an artist history.

From another front, establishment paranoia at such a burgeoning and powerful youth movement led to large outdoor raves being effectively legislated and policed out of existence (culminating in the repressive Criminal Justice Act, which finally became enshrined in law last year), thereby forcing the music back underground. Consequently when Gerald describes his music he says it is, “designed for someone who is living within the government system. It’s not political but it is in your face that you can’t go a day without thinking about pressures and things that the government throws at you.” The music, it seems, has learned to mutate and survive; taking on new forms to avoid the gaze of the oppressor.

A patrol car rolls past a large brick building on a seemingly deserted industrial estate in North London. All they see is youths coming in and out of the building day and night. There’s nothing remotely illegal going on here though. Behind these walls is the base of Kemet/Third Party, a label run by James and Mark X. Their studio is in the basement but they effectively have free rein over the rest of the building, which is empty. We talk in an office upstairs, Mark and James carefully explain their vision of the music, the work they are doing there and their belief system – both follow the teachings of the Nation of Islam.

“If you want to go really to the origin of it,” James begins, “the music basically came from the Chicago sound of the acid house. When that came over to here we had the acid house parties. From that the German incorporated style with all the techno was brought over, which made it into hardcore.” Mark continues. “Jungle has got to have its hardcore element as well as the ragga elements. Not only ragga, because your soul’s in there, hip-hop’s in there – the black element came into it making it more musical, making it more melodific thus making it spread further because it brought in a lot of black people and a lot of people that had already accepted that type of music. That’s why there’s white people as well, that had accepted the music, as more than just noise. Cause to a lot of people it was just noise at the time.”

“It’s the name that causes the divisions that cause the upset. Now we know it’s got it’s white element, it’s got it’s black element. I mean Japan even love it. You got UK Apachi come in with the Indian style of things. It’s for all who would listen to it, who would love it. “

Now that the music has broken through, Mark and James describe its future as like a tree, the roots strong, the branches reaching out and upwards; encompassing all types of music and creating new ones along the way. James sees parallels with the way hip hop has developed in the US.

“You can see the same history here as with hip hop in America. Starting from Electro with bleeps and noises, it got chatting on top it to give it the rap. Then from there it bust into street hip hop, and now you got ragga hip hop, you got slow jams, you got a wide spectrum of different types of music all from one style of music. It’s the same thing that’s gonna happen in this country. It’s the first time I feel that the British Youth has something that they can call their own.”

James got his break in the scene as in-house producer for the influential Ibiza Records. When he saw how simple it was to make and release a tune he formed his own label, Third Party. (The Kemet side of the label came out of a partnership started with Mark, a friend since childhood.) “Basically I just saw how easy it was to make a tune and put it together. See, these majors, they kept a lot away from us for a long time. They made us feel that what we had to do was make a demo tape and send it to them. When I hooked up with Paul [Johnson at Ibiza] I saw the way that it had to be done. That all you had to do was make your tunes, go over to Music House and get your master. From there you go to the pressing place and get your thousand records. If you got a car that’s your distribution and you’re away. I just really went from there. Like if he can do it, I can do it. That’s basically what we’re trying to show people.”

“If you deny certain knowledge to people, they have to eat somehow, so they’ll go out and do crazy things. We wanna show people the knowledge of how to do certain things. And maybe if they acquired that knowledge they would stop being a fool, get something positive going.”

To this effect, James and Mark do not charge people for use of their studio. It is not an open house but those that come to them who have the hunger and will to make music but not the means or knowledge will be taught.

The name Kemet comes from the name originally given to the land that is now Egypt. “That Mark explains, “that was something that identified it before people came and made the change and started splitting up everything.” A statement that could also be applied to the scene and the on-going battles it has to fight with those who would seek to control and exploit it. James cites one example of this.

“It got to the stage where hardcore raves were being down-trodden by the government, when they stopped having open-air parties and went into the clubs.” The owners of the West-end clubs were happy to make money off the hardcore nights but operated a door policy that prevented any blacks dressed in street clothing from entering. James experienced this first-hand and it cemented his belief in the music he was already making.

“I’ve been to certain raves – gone to rave and not gone to rob nobody or whatever – but because I dress a certain way I’ve been turned away. One particular time one of our tunes was playing when I was standing in the queue! That must have been a sign for me, because ever since that day I remember driving home from that rave, having been turned away, and me and my partner at the time said, ‘Boy, this can’t be real, man. We make the music, and people are raving to our music and we’re being turned away from the clubs.’ We said, well, we’ll jungle it. We’ll jungle it all up. If they’re saying that we can’t get in there because we look a certain way or we’re a certain colour, then we’ll jungle it and create our own thing.”

There are a million and one stories in the jungle, there is no definitive reason for the music’s creation just a set of circumstances. Every person on the scene will have a different story to tell. What can be said is that there were certain groups of individuals, most of them based in North London, whose collective and individual work over a number of years has made the music what it is today.

DJ Hype, another perennial figure on the scene, had a sound system with Shut Up and Dance from the age of 13. As a competition mixer he won the London Mixing Championship in 1989 at a time when he had just come into the rave scene. Playing on pirate station Fantasy FM from 1989, Hype played four shows a week mixing hip-hop instrumentals played at 45 into house, cutting them up on air. He became the in-house co-writer, producer and A&R man at Kickin’ Records and in that capacity co-wrote tracks with The Scientist, whose tunes ‘The Bee’ and ‘The Exorcist’ built the label’s reputation. Hype, who felt he wasn’t getting his dues, left and first started recording under the name Hype for Suburban Base. He has his own label, Ganja Recordings, on which he releases his own material (in limited pressings) under a variety of names, and remixes that others have done of his music. With Pascal (who records as Johnny Jungle) he has just formed G-Line recordings, an amalgamation of Hype’s Ganja and Pascal’s Frontline Recordings.

As Hype sees it no-one person is responsible for the music. “I can name people that have played a part in its progression, it’s development, but no one person can really stand up and say they started jungle.”

Although Hype does cite some names that were seminal in developing the signatures of the music: “Shut Up and Dance were sampling bits of Yard tapes using raw breakbeats and emphasising on basslines. The only thing with them is that they didn’t really chop the beats. But they were like the blueprint for jungle.”

Shut Up and Dance releases were unparalleled at the time. Open to all types of music, they were mixing elements of rave, rap, reggae, rock and soul. The Shut Up and Dance label also released an album by Nicollette, who sings on the latest Massive Attack album, and records by the Ragga Twins. The SUAD label was crippled by a court case over an uncleared sample on the ‘Raving, I’m Raving’ single. Shut Up and Dance are currently recording material for another label.

“Then the next stage,” Hype continues, “was Ibiza Records, in the chopping, and speeding up the tempo, ya get me. But neither one could say he started it! Kool FM didn’t start Jungle but they played a very big part in promoting this music to the level where everyone was accepting it. They used to be playing it all the time on the radio, at a time when the scene was more rave.”

“Everybody plays a part in this scene. It’s not like other scenes where there are a few people at the top that really do play a big part. Here everyone makes good tunes, everyone makes shit tunes and everyone knows each other. I think cause so many artists are all close together – I live up the road from Kemet, Bizzy B is in Walthamstow – we’re all on top of each other and feeding off each other. Changing all the time. No other music does that.”

“I’ve said this for years, this is the British answer to hip-hop. I don’t mean by the music being similar, I just mean the way it is created in the street. When rap music was first about, it wasn’t welcomed with open arms. They were saying, it’s not gonna last, it’s not real music, it’s all samples. Now it’s the biggest selling music in the world! And with Jungle it’s the same thing: all the similar tags that rap and hip-hop got at the start, we’ve got now.”

The difference, as Hype points out, is that hip hop had years to develop as an underground music and culture before the money men moved in, whereas Jungle has been jumped upon before it has had a chance to establish itself properly. Even so the scene has developed a strong network of labels and promoters who support the scene.

The Jungle Fever organization and the people involved in it are as good an indicator as any as to where the music has come from and where it is at. Jungle Fever grew out of Kool FM, the pirate station that supported and promoted the music through the times when few people wanted to know. Kool FM came on air 28th November 1991.

In 1993, Jungle Fever was formed to help supply the demand for more jungle-oriented raves. Their innovation in the scene was the organization of themed events. For their first, the venue was done up like a graveyard, with tombs and gravestones on stage. Fever and other established promoters (like Roast, World Dance, Desert Storm, Desire, Elevation and Innersense) are committed to ensuring the raver gets what and who he paid for, that the rave is promoted and organized properly and the DJs and MCs involved get paid in full. In a scene that has its fair share of bogus promoters the established names act as a guarantee. Jungle Fever even has its own security team that augments security at the venue. The organization also acts as a booking agency for all the DJs and MCs affiliated to it.

Two golden lions with manes flowing like dreadlocks adorn the wall outside the Jungle Fever offices in Hackney, North London. Step inside and you are confronted by a vibrantly coloured, jungle-themed mural in a narrow passageway lit only by a UV lamp.

The offices themselves are a hive of activity and industry. A glass counter displays Fever merchandise, mix tapes and clothing. A display cabinet against the wall holds trophies Fever has been awarded and flyers for Fever events, which are drawn and designed, like the mural, by resident artist, Malcolm. One time I am there, Malcolm is in back intently sketching portraits of Fever DJs and MCs from photographs. The DJs and MCs themselves all hang out at the office, the camaraderie between them is like a tight-knit brotherhood and for good reason.

“We’ve literally grown together,” says MC Co Gee, “We’ve known each other for 18 years plus. We’ve come from reggae sound days together, we’ve come through rare groove, we’ve come from all of it, gelled together, and formed ‘jungle music’.” Co Gee used to run a sound system called BPM with Brockie, a DJ on Kool FM. They later progressed through rare groove and into acid.

Flinty Badman and his brother, Deman Rockers, better known as the Ragga Twins, recorded an album with Shut Up and Dance called ‘Reggae Owes Me Money’ and when SUAD collapsed the Ragga Twins started chatting at raves, bringing their reggae element into the hardcore scene. Of the early days, Flinty B recalls, “Everybody was doing similar things. Different sound systems working. He’s working on one. I’m working on one, my brother’s working on a different one. But we still like close together. We did have a break where we didn’t see each other for a while because everybody was doing different things. But it’s so close that it would come back together again like a figure eight. You know, go one way then come back together again.”

In boisterous mood in the back room of the Fever offices, Brockie, his current partner MC Det, Footloose and Rodney T reminisced about the early days and discussed the state of the scene today. As they recall, it was those North London DJ’s that had come through the sound system days that first started to introduce another flavour to the raves.

Brockie: “When I first used to rave, this was years ago, even then I was playing ragga, I’d play my swing, my rare groove. I used to go to acid and people I had to mostly buck up was guys from round Hackney, Tottenham. Them days, you’d go into a rave and there’d be like 20 black people and about 4,000 white people. But no one gave two shits!”

Det: “Certain different productions started to mix more reggae with some of the beats. That was hardcore beats. Drum ‘n bass been there all the time, but they called it a different thing. They called it Dark Music.

Dark music, or darkcore, used to be associated with doom-laden vocal samples, often with satanic or devilish overtones. Mixed with hardcore beats the music took on a sinister edge. Det has his own explanation for why the scene became ‘dark’.

“After years of a rave scene with just loads and loads of white people in there and a handful of black people all of a sudden they had an influx of black people coming to the raves, or people other than white people. ‘Too much black people in there!’ I remember, man’s used to say that.”

It took a long while for the music to become accepted though as Footloose recalls, “Them times, nuff DJs used to be against the music, and it’s only true man that brought the Jungle in. I remember them times when [Kool FM DJ’s] used to play clubs and they was the only people that was playing that specific style, man. They just kept on no matter what the other DJs say.”

“Even to a couple years ago the promoters didn’t want to hear no Jungle. It was all hardcore and happy house. End of ’92 when man like Goldie and them man come in with ‘Terminator,’ the scene just switched. From the time that tune was made things reached another stage.”

“People started to look on Jungle as the rude boy house music,” Det adds, “The rude boy sound. I don’t even know where Jungle came from. I think people just got bored with calling it hardcore.”

Rodney T. believes that it was familiar influences in the music that brought more people around. “For me personally, I think it comes down to individuals liking certain things in the jungle. I think all the ragga samples are responsible for more black people coming into the scene. It’s something they can relate to, you get me. You got the beat, and they don’t really understand it, but they understand Buju.”

Det continues, “You get drawn into through the soul and the reggae, cause you like those samples that they using. And after a while you’re listening to tunes and tunes and tunes with samples from different artists, and you start to study more than just the lyrics. You start studying the drums. Yeah, the drums are hard. Next thing you know you start studying the bass.”

Det believes that Kool FM’s introduction of rave MC’s every Friday night (not just one but two or three) along with the best rave DJ’s changed people’s perception of the scene.

“We’d just jungle through until whatever time. People were recording those shows and they used to be out on the street in a week. From then on people just wanted to go to a rave where they could get the same jam they were getting through the radio – because the only place they could get that jam was through the radio. That was us.”

“We was all unemployed, everyone was broke. We was just surviving on the radio station. There are certain people who built Jungle, who made it what it is today, they’re not even about now. A lot of people lost faith along the way.”

People started phoning up Kool FM asking when they were going to do a rave. It only happened when a separate party got Kool together with another pirate and organized, Jungle Book, one of the first solely Jungle raves.

“When we saw the turn out it was unbelievable!” enthuses Brockie. Det remembers the buzz. “Everybody who was there knew that with this music, Jungle, something was happening. There were about two thousand people inside and out on the street there was about three thousand people. There were people ranging from eighteen to forty, all ages. The police had never seen anything like it. The people were out there and police turned up with their sticks out, because they didn’t know what was going on. Like, ‘What are three thousand people doing in the middle of the road?’ They started beating people with sticks. You looked out the window you say Sherpa Vans, people running and the police trying to beat them all.’

“Those times the police didn’t even know about the music,” Footloose adds, “The media didn’t even know. They were like, ‘What the fuck are they playing in there?'”

Despite the police reaction and the fact that the promoter absconded with the takings, the event was a huge success and the people at Kool FM decided to form Jungle Fever to further the music. Since then, Jungle Fever and Kool FM have literally grown with the scene but that same growth, Det believes, has changed the music.

“It’s just taken its part alongside all the other music. And that’s the problem, now it’s fixed. Before it weren’t very fixed, it was unpredictable. Now it’s fixed, people want it this way. Now the music industry has come down and said they want it to stay in this form, and they want to shape it and keep it in this shape, so they can market it in this form.

“But before the reason why they never touched the scene and why it was so different is because they couldn’t market it. Because sometimes the tunes had samples that even if a big record company had it they couldn’t clear it. There was no face to the music, no focus. Most of the best tunes were drum ‘n’ bass, which is still the same fact really today.

“They just couldn’t market it – you can’t market a music that hasn’t got a face. And the guys that were making the music were making it from their bedrooms and other places and a lot them didn’t want to go and put their music out, like front it and put their face to it. So there’s nothing for the labels to hold onto. But now it’s opened up a bit more, so a lot more people are willing to represent the music. Some people are being forced to represent the music in a commercial way because they know if they don’t do it then somebody else is going to. So rather than let somebody steal the music and take it away – somebody abroad representing the music that we created – we should start representing ourselves.”

The scene is at a crucial period. Up until now it has run itself without any outside help, but now interest in the music outside the scene is snowballing thereby forcing the music into the mainstream.

The Major labels are currently looking for their piece of the jungle scene. At the moment they are simply doing what they know best, selling: releasing compilations of old tracks and fixing up their artists with Jungle remixes. At the same time they are busy running around waving their chequebooks in the air trying to buy up artists and their catalogues (at time of writing, few artists have actually been signed). Co Gee has seen this happen and he’s having none of it.

“A lot of the big companies they come in with their grands,” he says. “They put it down on the table and they say, ‘Here you go.’ Certain artists, I would say, yeah they see that and they forget where they’ve come from. They’ve forgotten who brought them and the struggle they went through when they were MC-ing on sound systems and not getting paid for that. They’ve forgotten all that and they reach a certain stage now, they’ve just taken the money.”

“We weren’t just born yesterday, we’ve come a long way in this scene and we ain’t gonna let nobody else take it away because its proper tings that’s runnin’. Don’t let no one take it away. No amount of money is going to take this, not this time.”

But at the end of the day, the majors are going to get their piece of the action and a compromise has to be reached, and in that case Flinty Badman sees no reason why artists shouldn’t get paid. “I say, if a major wants to sign you up as a Jungle artist, as long as you know what you’re doing and the music’s right, I don’t see nothing wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong with someone having a top hit. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the music business is all about. Whether it’s jungle, rare groove, soul, hip-hop, it’s about being at the top.’

The British media are a malign and destructive force. They operate on a divide and conquer, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am pimpin’ principle. They have harmed the scene out of an ignorance, a misplaced interest and a slothful attitude. Journalists are zealous in their attempts to associate the scene with crime, drugs or anything that will taint it. A recent cover story on Kemet Crew in DJ Magazine sought to sensationalize and condemn their views and the Nation of Islam. All this is nothing new of course. Street music is traditionally associated with drugs and violence in the media: a strategy designed to deny the power of the youth and the culture that binds them. Neither the scene nor the music need the media and it’s institutionalized racism and conservative moral code.

But the Media needs personalities and stars to sell. If they are not forthcoming, they’ll be invented. Everything has a label in the media and currently Jungle music has to be “intelligent” to have any worth. Their bourgeois conceit considers raving as dirty, unless it is officially sanctioned. Championing “Intelligent Jungle” as the standard bearer for the music, in the same way that “Intelligent Techno” came out of Rave. It’s a class thing. Rave and jungle are essentially working class scenes. The “Intelligent” is a middle class affectation, and a gross affront to the people that have lived the music since its inception. LTJ Bukem, whom i-D magazine thoughtlessly dubbed “The inventor of Intelligent Jungle,” vehemently rebukes the term, “Intelligent is a stupid word! What’s everyone else then, dumb! ‘Dumb music.’ Nah.”

LTJ Bukem is a resident DJ at London club Speed (along with Fabio and Kenistry & Storm). Bukem started as a DJ on the scene in the late 80’s, he had been mixing for years before playing hip hop, jazz and soul on sound systems. He started playing piano at the age of six, and was later taught by a contemporary teacher who turned him on to “jazz, Chick Corea and weird progressions”. Bukem also plays drums and trumpet.

He has two labels, Good Looking (started in 1992) and Looking Good (started this year), on which he releases his own tracks and those by others such as PFM and Aquarius. Bukem’s 1992 track ‘Music’, a slow, seductive jam driven by hypnotic chimes and cooing vocals, is cited by Roni Size and others as highly influential. Bukem believes that one of the strengths of the music is its diversity.

“For me, all influences have been there from Day One. Wherever there’s a group of people making a music or a scene, there’s gonna be different entities within the body. Everyone comes from their own place. and everyone puts that into their music. I grew up listening to everything, the whole lot. I think most people did you know. Most people of my age that have been into raving for ten or twelve years must have been through that; hip hop, house, rare groove, acid. It’s funny how it’s all starting to be accepted now, when it wasn’t before. People weren’t bringing out their influences in the music up until a couple of years ago. People were not really expressing themselves fully I don’t believe; making tunes that they know are going to sell, because that’s what the scene is and that’s how we do it. I’m always anti-that, first I wanna do a tune that makes my hair stand on end.”

DJ Rap’s debut album (with her musical collaborator, Voyager) on her label, Proper Talent, is called “Intelligent.” It is a sly redefinition of the term seeing as the album runs the gamut from drum and bass, reggae licks to techno and soul-influenced tracks. Rap’s tastes are eclectic to say the least. She listens to many things but her main passion are breakbeats, and it was from her insistence on playing hip-hop based rhythms that she got her name. Like others in the scene she got involved by just going to raves then wanting to do more. Some of her hopes for the future lie with the indie-rock band she writes and performs with.

For her everything is in the arrangement of the tunes. “It’s very simple for me, I make my own rules. It’s just the impact of the track that’s important. You can have the most beautiful track in the world, but if it doesn’t drop into hard drum ‘n’ bass your crowd are just bored! You’re competing with all these guys who just know how to make people go BAF! You’ve got to listen to what they’re doing in the arrangement. You’ve got a little intro and then suddenly into your drums. And that’s it! That little lick there is the secret. That will sell your record.

“At the end of the day the scene is about fast changes. If it stayed the same it would be so boring! I like the way it changes constantly every three months with a different lick. I think the music technically has got a lot better. I think there’s a lot more soul in it. Not soul, I hate that word, hold on, I think there’s a lot more feeling, deeper. The strings really get you. For me musically, it’s got much better.”

One reason the music has progressed in such a short space of time is that it already has an in-built structure to promote the music and push it forward: dub-plates. Dub-plates first arrived on this scene around 1990. Bukem remembers when he started cutting dubs. “It was a quite a new thing. Grooverider and Nicky (Black Market) and a few others all used to meet up at JTS or Music House (cutting houses) to basically swap tunes. It was good, man. It was so exciting when that first all started because you had something that no-one else could have.”

Nearly everybody in the scene cuts their dubs at one place, Music House, where artists and DJs meet to swap tunes, and as Hype points out, it is a way of keeping tabs on what sounds everyone is making.

An artist may give his tunes to only a handful of DJs or cut a deal of exclusivity with one DJ who then cuts a dub from a DAT, costing around £30 ($50), and plays it out. Tunes have been known to be on dub-plate for anything up to a year, after that test-pressings are made and the tune is given a proper release, by which time it is almost certain to have built a buzz on the streets.

Roni Size, the Bristol-based DJ and artist, who with partner DJ Krust records for V Recordings and their own Full Cycle and Dope Dragon labels, describes how dub-plates become identified with certain DJs:

“If every DJ went out and played the same tunes, there wouldn’t be much variety. There’s only so much plastic and there’s a lot of DJs. To get yourself a difference some people get certain tunes available to them which no-one else has got. So basically if you want to hear certain tunes you have to choose that DJ, who has those tunes. The importance of dub-plate is in promoting. To me a real classic is Grooverider. He had the ‘Lighter’ tune, it was a good tune anyway, but he did promote that tune to the full and he was the only person that had it. If you wanted to hear it you had to be waiting around for Grooverider.”

Kemistry & Storm, the DJ team who help run Goldie’s Metalheadz label, recall that at Fabio and Grooverider’s legendary Rage club, it was possible to hear new material every week.

Many of the scene’s pioneering DJs and artists have set up their own labels, to exercise more control over their releases and re-invest the money back into their own labels. Most releases are pressed in limited quantities of a few thousand. At some stage there may come a time when they have stretched their own resources to the limit but until then as DJ Rap puts it, “All of us that have got labels, we’re running it. Totally running our own scene. We don’t need anyone else.” Dub-plates provide an unprecedented way for an artist to play their material out to an audience almost the moment it is recorded. Roni Size explains how:

“Let me give you a classic rundown. You wake up, you go to the studio. You get an idea, you make a tune. You finish the tune, you put it onto DAT. You go to London, you cut it. Same night, you play out and get a response from the crowd. That process we have done many times. In the space of five hours we have made the tune, cut it and played it. That to me is pushing it to its limits. As a producer/DJ I believe that is so essential to the progression of the music: to do something in minimum time and play it to a mass!”

The scene thrives on competition. Because everyone knows everyone else and what they are playing, there is a drive for the new to constantly push the music further. The progression of the music so far could even be seen as small units of artists and DJs working together and in friendly competition with each other. Gerald recalls the first time he met Goldie, who he was later to collaborate with on the track ‘Energy’. Gerald had received a call from Goldie, heard some of his early tunes and eventually met him and the group of people working at Reinforced.

“When I first seen him and he says come down and check this out I thought it was just gonna be a spinoff of some kind of rave thing. He played me some little bits and pieces, they just called them ‘breakages’. It was him, Dego [engineer and producer at Reinforced], Markus, and all the guys from Reinforced [including Doc Scott], there was a little unit there. I heard it and it totally blew me away because as soon as I heard it I just knew exactly where they were coming from. I could understand the sounds that were coming off but what they were doing with them was totally unique, totally different. I was definitely on the same wavelength, it’s just that we were in different parts of the country doing the same thing.”

The evolution of the music has been mirrored by the evolution of the breakbeat. Samplers have made it possible to cut through the lines of time. Chopping breaks is something that is unique to this music. Jungle breaks are like nothing that has been heard before, and like nothing that can be played live.

Bukem explains how this works in principle. “You get the break, put it in the sampler. Get the points at which the break sounds nice from, having them on your keyboard in different segments and then just crack on. You take all the different segments and play them in any order you want.” From just one breakbeat there are almost limitless possibilities, permutations and combinations.

This freedom is something that extends to the music itself. As Roni Size exclaims, “In jungle, there are no rules.” The elasticity of the sound and how far producers are willing to stretch it is only matched by the innovators of dub. But producers today are playing around with a whole new set of tools. DJ Storm says sometimes there have been misconceptions as to the role the technology has played in the music.

“We were in Germany recently and this guy thought that the reason why people were using this type of equipment – when the sound quality was bit poor a couple of years ago – was because they thought it was so underground.’ We told them, no it was because people didn’t have the money. This is a scene where you were able to make tunes in your bedroom and put them out and make a little bit of money to make your next tune. That’s how it’s gone really.

“This scene’s gone through its own technology, its own progressions all on its own really. There’s never been anything that’s moved it along. So even though the technology might have seemed slow then, it was because those people just had that limit at that time. They just knew that piece of equipment and they didn’t have much money. Now everyone’s upgrading and now the music is, to me, the most progressive scene of music.”

The scene is truly its own entity. It has grown and survived setback after setback. The music is already going worldwide – many DJ’s get regular work in Germany, Switzerland, Canada and other countries. It can only grow stronger. Last words must rightly come from one of the originators, Flinty Badman of the Ragga Twins: “I can see this music going everywhere, I don’t see why not. It has had a lot of fight and it’s tore through that. All the fighting that Jungle’s had its tore straight through. They’re not stopping it. The kids – four years old, five years old over here – all the kids listen to Jungle. So I don’t see why they’re gonna stop listening to Jungle when they get older. I can’t see it dying.”

© Chris CampionURB, 1995

Leave a Comment