JUNGLE EMERGES: A Flashback to 1993
director's cut of a piece written six years later, Spin, 1999
by Simon Reynolds
before Roni Size and LTJ Bukem became international hipster favorites,
jungle was banished from the media limelight. To identify yourself as a
"junglist" in 1993 meant you belonged to an outcast tribe, a scene
feared by most London clubbers as a sinister underworld populated by
speed-freaks and baby-gangstas. Born out of rave's Ecstasy-fuelled
fervor, the music had mutated, under the influence of bad drugs and the
desperation of the recession-wracked early Nineties, until it was too
hard, too dark, and too black for most people to handle.
emergence of jungle has everything to do with drugs. Its frantic
breakbeat rhythms evolved because ravers buzzing on too many E pills and
amphetamine wraps craved beats as hectic and hyper as their own
overdriven metabolisms. The music's bad-trippy aura and disorientating
FX simultaneously reflected and exacerbated the paranoia induced by
long-term stimulant abuse. 1993 was the year of "darkside", a crucial
transitional phase between hardcore rave's hands-in-the-air euphoria and
jungle's guns-in-the-air menace.
"The production played tricks on your mind, " enthuses Two Fingers, author of the pulp novel Junglist,
talking about twilight-zone jungle classics like Boogie Time Tribe's
"Dark Stranger" and Origin Unknown's "Valley of the Shadows". "Darkside
freaked out a lot of people, especially those still in the Ecstasy
haze--because on E there's no distance between you and the music.
Darkside was just evil, evil music--and that was good. Cos it got rid of
the lightweights, to be honest".
One of the first
all-jungle-DJs raves, Jungle Fever, went out of its way to scare off
fans of happy rave and fluffy house, theming the venue with tombstones,
coffins, and Gothic statuary. But the classic darkside moment in jungle
mythology is an infamous inccident at a rave called Telepathy, where DJ
Rap unwittingly played 4 Hero's "Mr. Kirk's Nightmare"---a song in which
a father is informed about his son's fatal overdose--just seconds after
a boy was knifed on the dancefloor.
muggings, friction and tension.... Many blamed the shift from rave's
smiley-face glee to jungle's skrewface scowl on another drug: crack.
After all, who else but rock-smoking fiends could possibly enjoy such
insanely frenetic beats? Joe Wieczorek, owner of the hardcore rave club
Labrynth, claims "the early dark jungle, you might as well call it crack
music. There's nothing worse for a raver than being somewhere he
doesn't feel safe, and if there's fifty rock-heads in the club, it's
going to frighten the life out of you." But although there was a spate
of anti-crack tunes like DJ Ron's "Crackman On the Line" in 1993, others
reject the linking of jungle and crack as a crypto-racist slur based on
the fact that the dancefloor was anywhere from 50 to 80 percent black.
If any substance has a claim to be the true
junglist's drug, it's marijuana-- especially the hydroponically-grown
ultra-strong weed known as skunk. An archetypal tableau in any jungle
club is a group of boys stood in a huddle "building and burning." One
youth clasps his hands together, fingers interlocked, and upturns the
palms to form a flat surface for his friend to build a massive spliff
on; in a crowded, jostling club, it's the only way to roll. Another
friend leans close to block off the sight-lines of any security guard in
the vicinity. "Burning"... well, that's self-explanatory. Marijuana is
the reason jungle basslines started to run at reggae tempo, exactly half
the speed of the accelerated breakbeats, thereby allowing dancers to
skank rather than rave. And marijuana is why the nudge-nudge wink-wink
references to E in tracks were gradually replaced by roots reggae
samples exalting ganja, sensimilla and herb.
wouldn't exist without two black musics that also worship sub-bass and
the chronic that intensifies the low-end boom: hip hop and reggae. The
life arc of DJ Hype, founder of the labels Ganja and True Playaz, is
typical. A white working class boy from the desolate East London borough
of Hackney, Hype spent the Eighties playing on a reggae sound-system
and competing in hip hop cut'n'mix contests. By 1990, he was spinning
house on pirate station Fantasy FM and recording brutal Euro-techno
anthems as The Scientist. Jungle is the only-in-London amalgam of all
these different imported sounds, and crucially it was a collective
invention. " I always say, we are the foundation, because there's no one record, no single DJ, no specific club, where jungle started," Hype declares.
you wanted to pinpoint the emergence of jungle, though, one contender
is the moment at the end of 1992 when tracks like Bodysnatch's "Just 4 U
London" and Code 071's "London Sumting" hit the pirate radio airwaves.
"That it's-a-London-thing stance, I always took as this-is-a-black-thing,
y'know," says Two Fingers. "London has the biggest black population in
Britain". It was black fashion that shaped jungle's style spectrum,
which ranged from hip hop-influenced "ruffneck soldier" minimalism
(puffy MA1 and MA2 flight-jackets, namebrand sneakers, baggy pants) to
dancehall-reggae derived ghetto fabulous flashiness. At the
ragga-dominated raves like Sunday Roast and Desert Storm, the 80 percent
black British crowd "larged it" VIP style--the men flaunting Versace
and Moschino, gold sovereign rings and bottles of champagne; the women
flexin' their abdomens and winin' their waists in their skin-tight
"batty rider" shorts, micro-skirts, bustiers, and thigh-high boots.
well as changing the way people moved on the dancefloor, the ragga
influence was decisive in another area that sealed jungle's break with
house and techno: the crucial role of the MC. "Girls sticking their
asses in the air and a MC really working the crowd, getting them to hold
their lighters up and blow their horns to get the DJ to rewind the
track." is how Lee Billingham, aka DJ Bo!ne, recalls his first encounter
with jungle at the South London club Lazerdrome. "I loved the whole
'selector! wheel-and-come-again!' , rewind thing," says Two Fingers,
another Lazerdrome regular. The democratic way in which the audience
controlled the DJ via the MC, he argues, is part of jungle's renegade
blackness--its participatory, call-and-response ethos. "As the jungle
MCs like GQ, Det, 5-0 and Moose took on the Jamaican patois thing, they
became more than crowd motivators, they were vocalizing what the massive
was feeling, connecting you with the music more intensely, and adding a
lyrical element to this largely instrumental music. There's an
ephemeral, magical quality to the MC chants--especially on the pirate
radio stations, they'd just go off on one, creating stuff on the fly."
the pirate radio stations that are the real heroes of jungle's
story--they kept the vibe alive in the scene's early, pre-breakthrough
phase. London has dozens of these illegal radio collectives, gangstas of
the airwaves who broadcast from the top of towering apartment blocks
and engage in a constant, quasi-military struggle to survive not just
governmental suppression but the skullduggery of rival stations who'll
gladly steal their pirate brethren's transmitters. Legend has it that
one outfit, Rush FM, turned the derelict upper floors of an East London
block into a fortress so impregnable that the DJ's had to rappel up the
side of the building to reach the studio. They sealed the stairwell
entrance with concrete, hollow metal tubes pumped with ammonia gas, and a
wire connected to the electrical supply. When local government
officials attempted to drill through the barricade, they hit the live
wire and an electric spark ignited the gas, exploding the concrete and
showering the workmen with shrapnel.
Yet for all its
militancy and moodiness, jungle seethed with "a fierce, fierce joy", as
convert Bjork put it. The speed of the music was crucial, as if you
could somehow ride its future-rush, achieve escape velocity, and smash
through to a brighter tomorrow.
"The breakbeats were
so fast and chopped up, your body wanted to be pulled in twenty
different directions at once," recalls DJ Bo!ne of his baptismal
experience at Lazerdome. "Me and my mates just looked at each other,
jaws dropped, and were, like, 'This is mental!!!!"."
Two Fingers: "Anyone can be a junglist, but for me, it's part of having
a black spirit. Jungle is about getting sweaty and having a religious
experience on the dancefloor. It can feel like the Holy Spirit is moving
BONUS BEATS: A FLASHBACK TO 93!
A London Sometin' Dis
A Jungle Documentary filmed in 1993
another one, this from 1996
Lost In Music