650. British Music: Jungle (with James)

An in-depth episode all about an innovative British form of dance music from the 90s: Jungle (aka Drum & Bass). Includes discussion with James about the origins of the music, how it sounds, its position in UK culture and a few anecdotes too. Notes & music playlists available on the website.

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Hello dear listeners, how are you today? I hope you are well. Here is another episode about British Music with James. This one is about jungle – a form of dance music. 

We did this one in response to a request from a listener who wrote a comment on the website. While recording the episode we couldn’t remember the name of that listener but I have checked and found his name and his message and it goes like this.

Kirill Hannolainen • 2 months ago (January 2020)
Dear Luke,
I have already told you how amazing your podcast is in general and how particularly moving those episodes are in which you speak to James about music. They are just brilliant. That’s when the magic happens.

Is there any chance I could suggest a new topic for discussion with James – Electronic music developed in England. I mean your country brought the world irreplaceable genres of music, such as jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, big beat, ambient and stuff like that, and I think these ones are just a few examples.
I grew up in the nineties in Saint Petersburg listening to jungle music made by DJ Aphrodite and drum ‘n’ bass provided by Goldie. We had some good times.

Now I’m really into ambient music from the early 1990s – artists such as the Orb, Aphex Twin and the KLF.

I would be over the moon if you could make an episode on this subject. I’m more than sure James and you know a thing or two to tell us about.
Thank you in advance.

I’d also like to wish you and your beautiful family Happy New Year! Best wishes for peace and prosperity in 2020.

Thanks Kirill!

We’d been meaning to make an episode about jungle music for a while, even before we got this comment, and James has lots of the old tunes on vinyl. So here it is. This is our attempt to explain this music, where it comes from, what influenced it and more. You’ll also hear little bits of music during this episode, not just jungle music but also other types of music that have inspired it.

You’ll see that this episode is long, but it’s as long as it needed to be for us to cover the subject properly.

The music won’t be for everyone. It’s not to everybody’s taste. I know this is quite a specific topic, but hopefully you can learn things from it and even if you don’t like the music, I hope you can still enjoy listening to the two of us explaining and describing this subject.

This episode is accompanied by detailed notes, links and music on the page for this episode on teacherluke.co.uk, including YouTube videos for almost all the tunes that we talk about, a Spotify playlist and a special jungle mix done by James, especially for you, on his decks using vinyl records in his collection.

We hope you enjoy it. Here we go.


James & Luke start talking together (about 4m30seconds into the episode)

Episode notes used while recording this conversation

THE INTRODUCTION

Hello, we’re going to talk about a British genre of music called Jungle.

What follows is a music documentary of sorts. We will be dipping into James’ vinyl collection as we go through this in order to play you little samples of the music we’re talking about as we continue.

So this is a history of a certain musical genre from England in the 90s: Jungle. Both James and I were really into jungle at that time and it’s also a good example of a uniquely form of British music that doesn’t get talked about much.

The period of time we’re talking about is from around the mid to late eighties to the mid to late nineties, so while the Berlin wall was coming down and so many other changes were going on in the world, this is one of the things that was happening in the UK at the time.

It won’t be for everyone! But I have had requests for this I promise! UK jungle or drum & bass, like UK EDM is pretty big around the world. We usually talk about guitar music on this podcast but this is uniquely British music from a different genre and background.

What is jungle music?

Jungle is a form of dance music that evolved out of the rave scene in the UK (more in a bit) which is personified by fast, intense, looped breakbeats over the top of deep reggae style bass lines with atmospheric sound effects, some vocals (often sampled) and maybe MCing over the top.

Complex drum patterns, and sub bass.

It evolved in the UK in the early to mid 1990s.

It was a really interesting and original new kind of music that was exciting because it kept changing and became really sophisticated and original quite quickly, and went from being a form of music that was considered the lowest of the low to being much more critically accepted by the mainstream.

The music is really intense. We’ll play you some. Listen to this, it’ll blow your socks off.

An example of a jungle track from James’ collection

River Niger – Nookie 

When did you get this record?
How did it get that scratch?
Why have we chosen this one?
– Atmosphere
– Nice stuff
– Heavy stuff
– Not an obvious anthem

Why do you want to talk about this on LEP?
– Personal connection to it (LEP has always been personal)
– Uniquely British (we always talk about British stuff)

It’s not the kind of thing that usually gets talked about and analysed – when you talk about British music from the 90s it’s always Britpop, Blur and Oasis but we weren’t really listening to that. Jungle gets overlooked.

Not understood by the music press originally, which was into guitar music.

They didn’t know how to review it.

Do all British people listen to jungle music?
– No

Underground music
Criminal music
Black music (to an extent)

How did you first get into it? Can you tell the story?

Mystery track (1993/4)

Luke:
I heard jungle or rave stuff and always thought it was not for me. It was overheard from cars driven by very dodgy geezers. The compilations were on sale in record shops. It was associated with the slightly scary underground rave scene.

But I was into electronic music like ambient and stuff.

We listened to guitar music and funk from the 70s and Stone Roses and some hip hop.

Matt and Eggy – our friends who were into heavy metal and stuff like that. They were in a car and listened to this tape for a laugh and decided it was amazing and played it to us.

How did we used to get jungle music? How did we have access to it?

Tapes found in small record shops or handed round and copied.

It was mysterious – it was word of mouth, or by discovering them on tapes. You didn’t know what they were called. They were anonymous. It wasn’t like in pop music where there was an image and press, there was really no information about it beyond maybe a weird name.

When/how do you listen to jungle music?
– Clubs (although we never really went to the proper jungle and hardcore raves in the early to mid nineties)
– Walkman
– Travelling
– Listening in different contexts (You’re listening to a big rave and you’re on the bus in the countryside, listening in a car with big bass speakers)
– DJing
– Mixing at home
(You need speakers with good bass)

What is the origin of this music?

THE INGREDIENTS 

American stuff – techno and hip hop (1980s)

Chicago and Detroit techno, based on Kraftwerk and other influences.

Can you feel it? – Mr Fingers (aka Larry Heard) – Chicago (86)

Rhythim is Rhythim (the dance) – Derrick May – Detroit – 1987

NYC hip hop (samples)
Run DMC 1990
House
Euro techno

DJs in the UK were mixing up everything – techno, hip hop, breakbeats, other obscure stuff, diverse influences

UK hip hop / breaks

20 Seconds to Comply – Silver Bullet (1990) ~including samples from Robocop

Bring Forth The Guillotine – Silver Bullet (B side)

Breakbeats (what are they?) – Luke’s Breakbeat Lecture

A break in the music where the drummer plays alone for a bit – maybe does a solo but probably just keeps the music going. James Brown used them, lots of others too.

Also, musically they are dance beats played with some syncopation.

The drummer uses ghost notes to add extra little beats to help it skip along in a way that you can dance to. I suppose the origins of that skipping breakbeat in funk music goes back to things like jazz, latin influences, R&B and the general shift towards syncopated dance beats that have a pattern which starts and concludes on the first beat of the bar.

Apache – Incredible Bongo Band

Think About It – Lynn Collins

Amen Brother – The Winstons

Hip Hop DJs sampled these drum breaks, often looping them in crude ways with tape machines, or mixing them on decks.

Jungle DJs also created their own breakbeats by chopping them up, and often creating amazingly complex beats that sometimes sound like a jazz drummer chopping it up.

This was the great change that happened in hip hop – where anything and everything became fair game, as long as it had the kind of break that you could rap and dance to, it was ok, with weird stuff being sampled that you wouldn’t expect.

But new music was being made directly using old music. A weird post-modern form of inward cultural appropriation.

Over in the UK – Acid, rave, hardcore

Break beats, techno, pianos = acid / rave / hardcore

A typical mix of UK hardcore from 1992

V cheap, naive, basic, simple, unsophisticated! (but also great in its own way)

Using samples, early computers like Ataris and Amigas, some hardware like bassline generators or drum machines.

Considered the nasties, lowest, crappiest, low class music listened to by criminals and low level scumbags in cars.

The breakbeat samples get all mixed up – several generations of people sampling and then being sampled.

The sound becomes more and more compressed, The texture changes from speeding it up and adding other drum samples on the top. This was heard in a lot of hip hop and dance music at the time. The same samples being used by everyone and often several samples at the same time.

So in the UK also had a sort of hip hop dance craze that involved sampling breakbeats.

There was also this very nasty music called acid house, rave or hardcore which was very electronic, fast, had some nasty synth sounds and bleepy squidgy noises and stuff. It had an awful reputation. More on that later.

Reggae influence

Also in the UK because of the carribean communities particularly around London and the West Midlands.

Reggae / Dub – deep sub bass, atmospheric sound effects, echo, delay, reverb.

King Tubby – Good Time Dub

White Rum – Sly & The Revolutionaries

Scientist mix (1980)

Reggae sound systems, toasting, MCing, ragga

This was actually hip hop before hip hop.
– Big sound systems
– Sub bass
– MCs toasting over the top of music
– People dancing

2nd gen black/carribean kids

Not American – a uniquely UK thing (a multicultural mix)

Eclectic rather than purist

Led by DJs trying to get the right reaction on the dancefloor

Acid / Rave / Hardcore

Jungle came out of a scene called hardcore, which came from rave, which came from acid.

What were raves?
Warehouse raves
Moral panic
Drugs

Generally it was seen as a lawless threat and a disturbance to public peace, and maybe they had a point to an extent.

Before it gained any acceptability it was on the fringes and underground.

Later the raves became legal and took place in clubs and this was all part of how the music became more accepted, ultimately.

1993/1994 – Jungle

Inner City Life – Goldie

This is when jungle started appearing in the mainstream and fully established itself as a genre of music in its own right.

Also there were other forms of music coming from the same origins. It wasn’t a single narrative. (Techno continued, happy hardcore, big beat, “trip hop”, ambient, etc)

Musical differences & features compared to acid, rave, hardcore…

DA FLAVA

What does jungle actually sound like?

What are the distinguishing features, musically?

– 150-170 BPM (James says 168BPM specifically!)
– No 4×4 bass drum
– Sampled drums from funk records looped and sped up, sometimes re-sequenced and chopped up
– Multiple break beats from different samples layered over the top
– Gives a sort of jungle feel because
– Everything is v compressed, sped up which raises the tone of the drum track – this emphasises the higher frequencies and leaves the mid range quite open and empty and then there are deep sub basslines a bit like reggae basslines
– This feeling of space and echo with a deep soft layer at the bottom and a canopy of sound at the top creates this feeling of being in a tropical jungle – quiet a deep and heated atmosphere – like in a rainforest. Sometimes there are the sounds of tropical birds or a drop of water.
– Then spacey sounds like synth pads, possibly piano lines, some soulful vocals but plenty of space and sparseness – a bit like in dub reggae
– Fast but slow
– Fast upper rhythm in double time to a reggae bassline played at half speed
– Things come in more slowly with slower patterns
– Losing the beat
– It can sound like a drum kit falling down the stairs
– It might sound like total chaos

What would our Mum think if she listened to it?

Dead Dred – Dred Bass (1994)

Babylon – Splash (1994)

The Spectrum – Wax Doctor (1995)

The Lighter – Sound of the Future

LTJ BUKEM & MC CONRAD “Chrome” Live in Leamington Spa 1995 (this is the tape I used to listen to all the time)

Different types of Jungle

A lot of people disagree about the names etc

Luke: two types → Harder, darker stuff and then the lighter more atmospheric stuff.

– Progressive jungle
– Intelligent jungle (or whatever it’s called)
– Drum & Bass
– Liquid Drum & Bass
– Jump-up jungle
– Two-step
– Ragga Jungle

It went mainstream and then moved on

Started appearing in adverts and other people’s music

Roni Size win the Mercury Music Prize in 1997 (but it should have been won by Goldie who wasn’t even nominated in 1994)

Heroes – Roni Size (1997)

Little Wonder – David Bowie (1997)

Big DJs and names

– Dillinga
– Goldie (didn’t win the Mercury prize in 94)
– Grooverider
– LTJ Bukem & MC Conrad
– Fabio
– DJ Rap
– Jumping Jack Frost
– DJ Hype
– DJ Randall
– DJ SS
– Kenny Ken
– Aphrodite
Tons of others

Source Direct interview


Ending

I won’t add anything else here really. I don’t want this to be ridiculously long.

All I’ll say is that I sincerely hope you enjoyed this episode. James and I put our heart and soul into this episode so I hope it comes across. It’s a bit ambitious because this music is never going to appeal to everyone, but I hope you’ve got something from this in any case.

If you like some of the things you’ve heard and you’d like to hear more, or if you’d just like to listen again to any of the stuff we’ve been talking about then you should head over to the page for this episode on teacherluke.co.uk where you will find a plethora of music for your ears, including…

  • YouTube videos or Soundcloud links for almost all the music in this episode – all the tracks, and even some full length mixes 
  • A jungle mix by James, with actual vinyl records (scratches and all) made especially for listeners of this episode (includes some pirate radio MCing by James) uploaded to my Mixcloud page 
  • A Spotify playlist that I’ve made featuring some of the tunes in this episode (it’s called LEP Jungle if you want to find it on Spotify on your phone)
  • All the notes we used while recording (so you can check some words that you might want to spell)

Thank you for listening, and I’ll speak to you again on the podcast soon.


Spotify playlist for this episode

James’ LEP Jungle mix

For more music mixes (various genres), check out James’ Mixcloud page here

…and my Mixcloud page here