This week I’ve gone all junglist and recorded a load of rare (ish) Renk Records tracks for you. The label was first started in '91 by Junior Hart – at first he was putting out rough sounding hardcore, with a fair few releases coming from Mental & Dangerous, the alias of prolific producer Michael King (who some years later knocked out this truly immense slab of speed garage).
Then, in 1992, Junior released 'Creation', the first track from his then 17 year old brother Marlon’s M-Beat project. Marlon was only getting started, and by the end of ’92 Renk had pretty much become a one man show, going on to release around 25 classic M-Beat 12”s in less than 2 years - all before Marlon had turned 20. As you’d expect, M Beat’s ’92 output still falls into the hardcore camp – it may be laced with bashment vocals & reggae basslines, and shot through with the kind of scattershot sampling that would become a feature of jungle, but the breaks are still packed, running round 140 bpm+ and built to clatter. You can here how quickly Marlon was developing his sound in the space between ‘92’s Booyaka and the following years 24/7 EP – both the tracks on 24/7 have a tighter production, with deeper subs and sharper sample cuts, even if they haven’t quite broken through to the jungle sound that would make his name.
Come '94, Marlon hit his stride in a big way. On 'Rumble', included below in a remix form, he nailed a fusion of ragga and jungle that made perfect sense in the heart of East London, and was part of something really special. Check the sample near the beginning calling for a "new style"... there was a self awareness to the early junglists that it was time to sweep out the hardcore and introduce something incredible -
This was as new as it got, the first sound born entirely in London since Music Hall. I'd argue that these early ragga jungle tracks constitute an authentic British folk sound, made by and for the people, with sirens, dog barks, gun shots and bashment chat a narrative rendition of the day to day sound effects of inner city London. Tbh I don't expect many folk fans to agree with me for at least another 50 years...
Marlon followed with a string of near perfect ragga jungle tracks, until, halfway through '94 he hit gold and everything went wrong.
From some angles, it seems that M-Beat was just too good. In the summer of ’94, he made the biggest hit jungle has ever seen– in fact probably one of the biggest of UK rave full stop, and in doing so pretty much fucked his career. He'd teamed up with UK reggae toaster General Levy, linked by a girl that Levy was seeing at the time who had been at school with Hart. Levy was based in North West London where reggae soundsystems still ruled the day, whilst M Beat was over in East in the heart of the bubbling jungle scene. Together they produced ‘Incredible’, a tune that was perfectly placed for success. At first the jungle scene loved ‘Incredible’, with contemporary tape packs showing it cropping up in sets from the likes of Dr S Gatchet and Kenny Ken. As the hype behind it grew and grew, Incredible burst out of the jungle scene, securing Radio 1 play and a sudden attack on the pop charts. M Beat and Levy found themselves on Top of the Pops, beaming in the sound of immigrant kids shacking out straight into a million bewildered homes -
Levy then made (or was reported to have made) some pretty dumb comments to The Face magazine, telling journalists that he ‘ran jungle’. The producers and DJs who'd been steadily building the scene were disgusted - Levy was a pop star in the mainstream and the enemy in the jungle scene. M Beat was tarnished by association, with DJs refusing to play his tunes in raves. His production post 'Incredible' dropped off dramatically, so we can only wonder at what the rage did for his confidence. To give an insight into the sentiment of the day, here's a clip of MC Five-o raging at Levy at a '94 Roast party -
It's understandable how much Levy's comments would have pissed off the jungle scene, and the protectionist attitude of the original junglists definitely enabled them to establish their own eco-system outside of the mainstream that still pays the bills of MCs like Five-O today. The loss of M Beat as a producer is a great tragedy though - who knows where he would have gone on to if he hadn't been so roundly ostricised by a scene that he (regardless of Levy) had empahtically paid his dues in. After 'Incredible' he went on to produce a handful of tracks - only around 4 - and by '96 he was done, presumably aged 21. Since then there was a 12" in 2002 with Glamma Kid (an EZ rollers style jazzy D&B affair that's very much of it's time), and that's it. :(
As a final reminder of what could have been, here's a little heard remix of 'Incredible' (second track, second side of one of the Renk 12" releases) and the full 12" mix of another M Beat classic - 'Sweet Love'
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