Championing Scenes: The Rebirth of Jungle Music
Ahead of Hennessy’s Championing Scenes Award as part of the Music Photography Awards we spotlight the rising force of Jungle – connecting the roots to the present.
History has a knack for repeating itself.
The same sentiment holds true when reflecting on the evolution of dance and electronic music – consistently open to interpretation and reinterpretation, the genre remains an ever changing soundtrack to a community of underground musicians striving to build things bigger, better and bolder than ever before.
Each generation plays with the notion of a ‘variation upon a theme’.
House music became Garage as a result of the circumstances under which it evolved – pitched up records soundtracked the after hours / early morning pubs and clubs; the pace faster to reflect the headspace of the punter’s mental predicament.
Garage then in turn became Dubstep as 2-step and Broken Beat were slowly depreciated to create a dense, ominous textural undertone reminiscent of the more threatening side of rave culture in the 90s. Smoke filled the air, the clubs were cloudy and hooded figures shuffled in the dark all alone.
Now, back to the present, a new generation of musicians, dancers, DJs, ravers and producers are exploring the narrative and re-contextualising Jungle in a world just as chaotic and clumsy as it was when the sound first emerged.
It’s important to understand the circumstances under which Jungle first originated. Make no mistake about it, Jungle is Black music and without key cultural innovators the genre simply wouldn’t exist.
This was a scene championed by grassroots pioneers who sought to reinvigorate rave culture for the Black youth of Britain who had previously been left out in the cold. Whilst the Hardcore movement was mostly welcoming and inclusive, the music in and of itself began to draw less and less influence from its Black origins. What was once a genre inspired by the House music of Chicago and the Techno of Detroit became increasingly white and lost a degree of connection to the sounds and ethos upon which it was first popularised.
From a social and cultural perspective, whilst Jamaica had Ragga and America had Hip Hop, the UK didn’t have a sound as of yet that the Black youth could identify with; something they could call their own; a scene that they could champion – the result of this was Jungle.
For the uninitiated, Jungle music produced and released in the 1990s was created predominantly through sampling. This was essential to the development and evolution of the sound as it acted as a means to connect the music of the past with that of the present. It was key in establishing the identity of the sound, lending a nod to the greats of Funk, Soul, Reggae and Jazz through the process of production. In this 1994 documentary MC Lenny reflects on the crucial role sampling plays. (2:50)
“Jungle is about samples, believe me. It’s about the samples of the Reggae artists that are in the music. I’m going to show you a thing by Buju Banton – it’s on Jungle Hits Volume One. It doesn’t have to be just Ragga, just Reggae. It can also be Soul – as you can see this is the sound of Anita Baker. This is Soul. I’m just giving you a taste that it’s not about anything else, it’s about the samples, whether Soul, whether Reggae. It’s still Black influenced – that’s why the boys are onto this thing here.”
Sampling was essential to the development and progression of the sound and afforded producers the chance to capture the essence of the music that they were raised on, channelling the sounds of the past into something more apt for the fast paced, hectic lifestyles of the British youth.
The end result was dynamic, rough, ready and reckless in parts with a no-holds-barred approach to wild drum programming, distorted dusty loops and deep brooding basslines designed to rumble bass bins.
“Jungle is about samples, believe me. It’s still Black influenced – that’s why the boys are onto this thing here.” – MC Lenny
Those who connected with the sound were hugely impassioned and found a deep rooted sense of connectivity with the genre, which to this day remains relatively unrivalled in UK dance and electronic music culture as Lorna Clarke, formerly of Kiss FM, reflects upon. (3:18)
“The people are very active when it comes to their listening habits for Jungle. I mean, often it’s quite rare for a listener of a radio station to write in and say I regularly listen to your show and I listen to all the tracks and it’s brilliant. We get people writing in to Jungle shows. We have a rotation of DJs so that we can cover all of the DJs out there that are playing Jungle. We have people writing in before they’ve even gone on and done their show. Two weeks before Dj Rap, two weeks before Fabio & Grooverider were gonna’ do their shows – we had sack loads of people writing in.”
This passion remains key to the progression and legacy of Jungle music in the UK. When looking back on what some might call the ‘golden era’ of the sound there are fond memories.
However, like all good things, Jungle music went into decline following heavy police and political pressure resulting in the crackdowns on clubs, raves and pirate radio stations.
“The people are very active when it comes to their listening habits for Jungle.” – Lorna Clarke, Kiss FM
And so the cycle repeats…
For this reason, it’s special to see a new generation of musicians attempting to breathe life back into the genre.
In true testament to the relentless independence of Jungle music, a new wave of artists have worked tirelessly to reinvigorate the sound, bringing with it the same energy and ethos from which it first blossomed.
Artists such as Tim Reaper, Sherelle, Angel D’lite, Mantra, Coco Bryce, Sully, Mixtress, NAINA and Dwarde are just a handful of names revitalising the Jungle sounds of the 90s – bringing with them their own take and sense of perspective in a much changed musical landscape. Whilst none of these musicians would necessarily consider themselves strictly bound to Jungle alone, they have each contributed hugely in the rebirth of the genre, spreading the music far and wide whilst supporting like-minded artists to do the same.
Since the early noughties the popularisation of dance music culture has resulted in a degree of commercialisation, whilst not all negative, the result has meant that at times the music policies of clubs and festivals has definitely become ‘safer’ and increasingly limited by financial partnerships and corporate constraints.
The music was slower, less geared towards the dynamism of rave and more toward that which soundtracks cocktail sipping, people watching and posing.
This has never been what Jungle was about.
One prime example of this retained sensibility and connection to the working class underground comes in the form of longstanding party and record label, Rupture.
The party was founded way back in 2006 at a time when Jungle might have been deemed stereotypically “uncool” by those who had transcended into the ‘sleek’ and ‘sexy’ world of Minimal or Tech House. The rougher sounds were a deterrent to those who were into dance and electronic music for all the wrong reasons.
Perhaps this is why the party has proven to be so pivotal and distinctive over the years. Having attracted a wise enough crowd of friends, heads and ravers from off the beaten track, the party grew in scale and scope leading to founders Double O & Mantra being able to launch a record label as an offshoot of the successful club night.
Since then Rupture has gone on to release cutting edge music from the likes of Coco Bryce, Mani Festo and Forest Drive West. It continues to inspire a fresh-faced generation of ravers and artists but, in true testament to the ethos of the genre, it never forgets to pay homage to those who have come before with the likes of Digital, Fabio, Remarc, Equinox and Paradox all having featured at the party in recent years.
Paradox remains a pivotal figure in the continued evolution of Jungle in the present. A wizard when it comes to beat sequencing and drum programming, he has been active since the 80s and continues to push the sound forward in the present via his own record label. A keen sampler, even as technology has evolved, he continues to innovate using samples deeply rooted in the music that Jungle originated from.
The commitment and continued perseverance of prolific figures to keep the spirit and sound of Jungle alive has been a key driving force in the resurgence of a new wave of record labels and producers. These artists owe as much to the legacy that those who came before paved – even if they might choose to adopt new techniques and approaches to production or dance music more broadly.
A self proclaimed “testing ground” for the “newskool Jungle scene”, Tim Reaper has spearheaded a fresh take on jungle with his Future Retro imprint. Its DIY approach is symbolic of the genre’s ethos; Tim’s own attitude is geared towards the evolution and continued progression of Jungle music in its purest form. The label has acted as an outlet for key figures and developing names alike, connecting the past to the present with fierce resolve.
Hooversound Recordings is a record label founded by Sherelle and NAINA. It’s become an outlet for them to release music by friends and associates who share their vision of a progressive future which puts Jungle, Hardcore and footwork firmly back at the forefront of clubland. They’ve released heavy hitting material by the likes of Special Request & Tim Reaper, Prayer and Deft and have individually established themselves as key DJs on both the UK and global circuits.
This is perhaps the most exciting development. A genre and sound that was once deemed “too aggressive” or “too fast” has now been adopted more popularly.
In 2020 Sherelle’s BBC Essential Mix was voted the best of the year facing off stiff competition from the likes of Jamie XX, Carl Cox, Caribou and other big names from the broad remit of dance music culture.
It was a moment which firmly cemented the place of Jungle back at the forefront of underground music culture in the UK and redefined the direction of dance music in the present. In the aftermath of her win she posted on Instagram emphasising the importance of the win, not only to herself but the communities she’s a part of …
“It’s… For the black queers. For the scene. For the people m8.”
It’s this ideology which could be said to define Jungle best – a grassroots movement built upon the inspiration and love of definitive Black music across decades. A sound that the working class youth of Britain were once able to express themselves through – at parties, on the airwaves, at the record shops and in the raves.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the sound first emerged in the early nineties and dance music has come a long way since then. However, it’s quite possible that Jungle music remains the most true, the most connected and the most humble in its origins, having managed to capture the same spirit and ethos in the present as it did all those years ago.
There’s a new generation of musicians now forging a fresh path for Jungle and that can only be a good thing. They bring with them a set of principles grounded in the very essence of why music is important. Way back then it was described as the sound of the future – now that time has come.