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The return of jungle

Born in the UK in the early ‘90s, during a period of explosive creativity, the freeform breakbeats of jungle became the soundtrack to many producers’ formative years before taking a backseat to more formulaic ideas. Recently, however, a new wave of talent has been on the rise, feeding their junglist sensibilities into all corners of the dance...

An avalanche of snare drums, sub-bass that pulverises your rib-cage, possessed divas wailing from the abyss; fragments of funk, shards of techno, dabs of dancehall, broadsides of polyrhythm: these are just some of the ingredients of jungle, a style of d&b that is enjoying a remarkable revival of late. Heard through a club system, jungle remains the most exhilarating UK dance sound.

First made in the early ‘90s, it’s exciting a new generation. There’s a large influx of fresh artists, DJs and record labels magnetised by the breakbeats, atmospherics and sense of space in the genre.

Rather than stick to the restricting rhythm structures of modern d&b, artists such as Djinn, Tim Reaper, Outer Heaven, Mantra, Coco Bryce, Forest Drive West, Kid Lib, Sully, Homemade Weapons and Dead Man’s Chest are forging beats with booming 808 bass, a blizzard of drum chops and influences from all over. It’s not the clean clinical mix-downs of current d&b that excite them, but the rugged and raw vibe of the mid ‘90s, when artists from Remarc, Dillinja and D’Cruze to Source Direct, Splash and Photek first pushed atmosphere, low-end and drum edits to their limit.

“One of the reasons I went towards the jungle side of things was down to aesthetics,” says Dead Man’s Chest – real name Alex Eveson. “In d&b, the sound over time had cleaned up a lot and it was becoming sterile, lacking texture. Texture was something I looked to in my music. There came a point when the standardisation of mixdowns in drum & bass wasn’t doing it for me.”

Previously known as Eveson, the Bristol-based producer changed his artist name to disassociate himself from the smoother ‘liquid’ sound. “It was because of pigeonholing,” he says. “I was looking to do something a little different and I thought I should come back with a new alias, as it would be taken as a fresh thing from the off rather than people having any preconceptions.” Releasing through Ingredients and his own Western Lore label, Dead Man’s Chest has quickly generated a considerable fan following with his jungle adaptations.

‘High Noon In Cotham’ tumbles through metallic time-stretched breaks, vocal samples and ice floe pads, before delivering a coup de grâce with brutal hardcore stabs reminiscent of Q Project classic ‘Champion Sound’. ‘Just 4’, meanwhile, has bittersweet synth nostalgia, crackly production and a four-four kick, before dropping into a cavernous expanse of dub space and Amen breakbeat surgery. People outside the immediate d&b scene are listening too: Alex has just remixed Otik’s ‘Hunga’ for the bass-heavy Dext label.

Dead Man’s Chest is just one of many artists whose rise has been helped by labels fiercely dedicated to the cause. While great outlets such as Ingredients, Esoteric, Metalheadz, Astrophonica and Samurai Music have continued to pepper their catalogues with jungle releases over the years, a host of newer labels have emerged whose sole quest is to deliver those addictive splintered beats. Green Bay Wax, Repertoire, AKO Beatz, Stand Firm Hi-Fi, UVB-76 and Rupture LDN (whose club-night has been key to the jungle revival) dedicate their discographies to crisp cuts from mostly new artists.

“The past few years, with this kind of darker more chaotic edge that has consumed world affairs, I think jungle is a perfect soundtrack to that” – Dead Man’s Chest

“It’s so amazing to see so many quality labels releasing jungle, with loads of new producers coming through,” says Mantra – real name Indi Khera – of Rupture LDN. “I guess once you catch a vibe, it can be infectious, and it’s just spread!” Repertoire, run by Ricky Law (who’s behind the excellent site), has released music from super sharp shooters Tim Reaper, Overlook and Artilect, plus many others. ‘Lost’, from Artilect’s ‘Something Else’ EP, meshes dark cyborg drones and eerie vocal effects with rigorously chopped breakbeats, while ‘Evolution’ pivots on stop-start kick-drums and techno-soul pads for an invigorating — and genuinely new — rhythm.

Jungle, unlike many other styles of d&b, has an emphasis on endlessly shifting rhythms designed to delight dancers and stimulate brains. Creative drum patterns — as long as they retain a vital groove factor — are highly prized, and are part of the reason Law loves the sound. Though he enjoys other genres, he feels that the return of jungle is due to producers getting tired of mechanical rhythms, and wanting the freedom to experiment again with something more organic in texture. “Some of us got bored with the same identikit drum samples, the same quantised robotic feel to some tracks,” he says. “I’m down with two-step, so long as it has a groove. Drum & bass is about drums and bass, right? The clue is in the title — get busy with your drums, people!”

For Law, the upsurge in jungle’s popularity is palpable, and exciting. “This sound certainly wasn’t as popular back in 2009 when I first launched Repertoire,” Law says. “It’s probably a case of lots of little things coming together, like the unexpected resurgence of vinyl across all genres, the rise of the Rupture nights at Corsica Studios, and producers from other genres getting across that jungle style in their productions, from Special Request to Raime. Jungle is cool again, I think.”

No scene can thrive without the physical manifestation of a club-night, where scene denizens can meet, spark ideas and hear the latest iterations of their sound among like-minded ravers. Manchester’s Formless, Bristol’s Jungle Syndicate and London’s AKO all fly the flag, but Rupture, held primarily at Corsica Studios in Elephant & Castle, London, is the nucleus around which the jungle revival has formed. Run by Mantra and Double O (David Henry), the club has gradually become a key rallying-point for the movement.

“Rupture has been going for nearly 12 years now, and the nights are as busy as ever — there’s a real community feel,” Mantra says.“Rupture is like going to church,”  adds Law. At the club, both vintage beats and brand-new sounds are aired, which young producer Tim Reaper – real name Ed Alloh – reckons has been a key reason for the rise in jungle’s popularity. “Rupture has been really good at being the one night in London that everyone flocks to for the best of drum & bass and old school,” he says. “It has also been really good for allowing people into one style to find out a bit more about the others they present, when Rupture cover both old and new in both rooms of Corsica Studios.”

Tim Reaper is emblematic of jungle’s new generation. His studio expertise and micro-shredded breaks indicate an appreciation for the heritage material of jungle’s heyday, but heard from a considerable distance in time. “I found jungle from being into drum & bass and then stumbling onto a fake DJ Hype profile on MySpace, which had ‘Dred Bass’ by Dead Dred and ‘Super Sharp Shooter’ by DJ Zinc uploaded to the page,” he says. “I didn’t know that it was called jungle, and that it was of a different style to the drum & bass I had been listening to prior to that, but I found myself listening to those two tracks more so than anything else I knew.

“It’s so amazing to see so many quality labels releasing jungle, with loads of new producers coming through. I guess once you catch a vibe, it can be infectious, and it’s just spread!” – Mantra

“Through the friendly folks on the Drum & Bass Arena forum and some of the YouTube channels that had been uploading hundreds of old jungle and hardcore tunes, I was able to build up an understanding and knowledge of all the artists, labels and DJs that formed the scene back in the day using a mixture of YouTube, Discogs and Rolldabeats.”

Drawing from all eras and sounds in the spectrum, plus newer iterations, he creates some unexpected and fresh amalgams. While tunes such as ‘Give Me More’ time-slip between spacious pads and heavy Reese basslines, new track ‘Welcome To Globex Corp’ is a headlong rush into ferocious four-four jungle techno, a genre last explored in detail in the early ’90s as hardcore was crystallising into the early forms of jungle.

“It was only after I felt like I’d heard all the ‘94-‘96 tracks that I decided to delve into the earlier stuff,” Alloh says. “I realised how foolish I was to have been ignoring those years as a whole. Labels like Sound Entity, Liquid Wax, Formation, Dark Horse, Basement – to name a few – were all putting out either these dark rolling pieces or these techno-influenced breakbeat stompers, and I started slipping those into my DJ sets, and then wanting to make tunes that I could play alongside those.

“There weren’t many labels putting out this kind of style,” he continues, “until I met Simon who runs 7th Storey Projects, who seemed keener than most on the tracks I’d been doing in this style. After I had two tracks on his label, he wanted an EP from me, and I decided I’d get Dwarde involved as he’s on the same tip as me, with the taste in ‘92-‘93 and onwards.”

The fusion of jungle and techno that Tim Reaper has recently explored is getting others hyped too. Próximo is a club event in London at the Victoria pub in Dalston, run by Luke Hansbury. Its aim is to unite disparate club crowds by putting techno and jungle DJs on the same bill, plus selectors who straddle the genre divide. At previous parties, Dead Man’s Chest has shared the bill with Whities fusionist Minor Science, while Forest Drive West, who has made electro and techno as well as new school jungle for Rupture LDN, shared the bill with breakbeat fiend West Norwood Cassette Library at the launch.

“I wanted to bring something different and fresh to London’s clubbing landscape,” says Hansbury. “I’ve always been a big fan of nights where you hear a wide variety of styles all mashed up on one dancefloor; it allows people to get a window on sounds and scenes they might not have been involved in before. At our last party we had proper junglists hearing Basic Channel and acid house alongside dyed-in-the-wool techno fans shocking out to Amens, it was so great to see different scenes converge.”

One reason jungle has begun to explode again is the new openness to those who put their own spin on the genre. Norwich DJ/producer Sully – real name Jack Stevens – has been one of the UK’s most important artists in bass music over the last decade, creating mutated dubstep and garage on labels such as Keysound, Astrophonica and Black Acre. More recently, he’s been experimenting with jungle, adding elements not typically associated with the genre. On ‘X Plus Y’ from his 2017 Keysound album ‘Escape’, drum fragments form an integral part of the harmony, sliding up and down the scale to complement the melodic blips and dub FX.

Beyond the time-stretched beats of original jungle, Sully takes classic features and rearranges them in a way that would only be possible with modern technology. Similarly, ‘Vanta’ from the same record arranges micro-spliced breaks around eerie synth and sound design you’d more readily associate with experimental sound art. “I work a lot with synths and I like to paint moods rather than just pure bass and attack on the drums,” Sully says. “That’s probably my main way of approaching it, treating drums as a melodic instrument as well. Using the snare drum to create melodies. It’s not something other people do quite so much, I don’t think. Pitching the drum hits, using phasing to make them sound like they’re notes, really getting into the detail of each hit so you can eke something more out of it than you would do with a normal drum-kit.”

When he began making jungle, Sully was unsure how his unorthodox tracks would be perceived. “I think my early releases were an unusual take and I expected a few people to kick back against it, but it’s not been the case at all. As long as you do something with passion and it’s not tokenistic, not a hackneyed parody of the sound, people will appreciate that.”

“There’s been a fresh reappraisal of the incredible music that was made back in the ’90s, and how amazingly upfront and intense it can be. There are a whole host of producers and DJs who are really taking that energy, that technicality in the production, and pushing it to the next level” – Luke Hansbury

Less conventional, more abstract new forms of jungle are beginning to proliferate. Dead Man’s Chest talks about some of the material he’s been sent for consideration for his Western Lore imprint. “I got stuff through from Response, who’s started sending me these slower experimental things, and I’ve got these 10-15 minute tracks from him. Threshold is another artist — when you talk about sound design, this guy is the master of it. He’s taken that artiness to science levels.”

Today’s jungle scene encompasses the genre fusions of artists such as Fracture or Om Unit, who mix footwork into their breakbeat concoctions, or Pessimist, who injects an oppressive Berlin techno aura into his musical chimeras. It’s welcoming to those who make other styles — the only requirement is that the jungle they produce is authentic. “There are no rules,” says Double O. “You can mix and blend all different genres into it. If you know what you’re doing, you can still make it sound like jungle.”

“Producers are influenced by all sorts,” Mantra adds. “Sully’s album had loads of grime/140 tracks, Forest Drive West makes amazing techno with Livity Sound and you can hear their influences within the d&b they’re currently making. That’s what keeps it fresh — producers taking inspiration from wherever they find it. That’s what makes their sound unique.”

Rings Around Saturn (from Melbourne, Australia) and DJ Seinfeld (Swedish but based in Barcelona, Spain) have been creating jungle under other monikers, and there is a sense that this new jungle movement is global. One of its most prominent artists is Coco Bryce, whose refreshing and real sound comes from a surprising source: Breda in the Netherlands, more typically associated with chart-topping trance DJs. He’s taken inspiration from the DIY lo-fi movement and put his own spin on it. Meanwhile, Enjoy, whose killer ‘Just A Vibe’ release was out last year on AKO Beatz, is based in Udine, Italy. The online jungle community has helped foster the revivified movement, and geography no longer presents a problem in our age of connectivity. “In terms of promoting and networking,” says Double O, “everyone is so easily accessible, so we feed off each other and keep the inspiration levels high.”

Facebook group Long Live Beautifully Crafted Jungle is just one agent of dissemination, which acts as a forum for original heads and a place where younger fans can discover classic and newer material. “It reminds people who were there at the time that there’s still an appreciation and a curiosity for the old school style, as well as providing a portal into an older sound for people who were not there at the time,” says Tim Reaper.

For Manchester DJ/producer Djinn (Hannah Garvey), who co-runs the Formless club-night and has released a succession of lethal jungle cuts through Subdepth and Foundation X, jungle offered something deeper and more engrossing than what she used to play. “I started playing breaks first,” she says, “but something drew me to jungle. I find it works on a different level. It’s thought-provoking and emotive. I really like the Amen break. It just sounds bad. Also, that whole 808 bass jungle sound, and cinematic elements, influenced by Photek and Source Direct — that sci-fi sound effect-type vibe.”

“As long as you do something with passion and it’s not tokenistic, not a hackneyed parody of the sound, people will appreciate that” – Sully

Her tracks such as ‘Dark Reference’ match an ominous dubwise feeling with splintered breaks, while ghostly samples of jungle’s past — such as ‘Mentasm’ hoover sounds — lurk in the gloom.

When her Formless night started in 2015, there wasn’t much else going on in Manchester jungle-wise, but she’s noticed that starting to change. “That’s the reason that night came about, because there was not really a lot of that sound here,” she says. “There was a lot of dubstep on, that I liked, but not much really in the way of drum & bass. But I think a lot of people must feel that as well, because they seem to be really getting it and thinking it’s a good thing for the area.”

The popularity of any established genre tends to wax and wane, and just now, as the ‘90s become ripe for discovery for young listeners (helped along by YouTube, Discogs and Spotify), and as older music obsessives assess the treasures of the recent past, it’s jungle’s turn.“

I think there’s been a fresh reappraisal of the incredible music that was made back in the ’90s, and how amazingly upfront and intense it can be,” Luke Hansbury says. “There are a whole host of producers and DJs who are really taking that energy, that technicality in the production, and pushing it to the next level.”

All the people that DJ Mag talks to for this feature agree that the rhythmic complexity and extreme possibilities afforded by jungle make it appealing. Breakbeat music in all forms is becoming ever more viable for those bored of straight house and techno four-fours, and jungle is its most expressive variant.

“For me it was about the energy and rawness that jungle had which no other sound could match,” Tim Reaper says. “The layering and chopping of the breakbeats, the really hard-hitting 808 and Reese basslines paired up with the chaotic sampling of any and every other kind of genre was just the perfect formula, a real melting pot of sounds and styles that formed an amazing and unique combination.”

“I really like the Amen break. It just sounds bad. Also that whole 808 bass jungle sound, and cinematic elements, influenced by Photek and Source Direct — that sci-fi sound effect-type vibe” – Djinn

Dead Man’s Chest first encountered jungle through cassette tape-pack mixes, and its grittiness when experienced through that medium has haunted him ever since. “The way I consumed it via mixtapes, it wasn’t about one tune, I didn’t know where one tune started and the next one ended, it was this huge collage of different sounds thrown together,” he says. “The way it sounded wasn’t just from a producer’s desk, it was out of a set of turntables recorded at a gig on a DAT, then recorded to tape, and after I got the tape, there was this distance. That was part of the make-up of the music for me.”

He reckons that the music’s sense of space and uncluttered sound stage allows far more room for experimentation than other forms of d&b. “In drum & bass everybody started layering stuff, and you’re kind of getting the impact out of the drums. With jungle there was less emphasis on that, the drums sounded more natural. They left more space for the subs and for the music to be wrapped around. For me personally, it’s slowing down to that tempo and then having more space around the drums, having them set back and not punch you in the face. It does open up a lot of space musically, and I’ve found arrangements and being more experimental with the music a lot easier in that setting.”

Jungle was first created in multi-ethnic London. It was a product of black British soundsystem culture, drawing influence from Jamaican musical styles such as dub, roots reggae and dancehall, but also American hip-hop in its breakbeats and sampling, early European rave (Belgian new beat particularly), and the UK acid house scene that shifted into hardcore. Made and played by a mix of races and cultures, it quickly spread from its London base to Essex, Hertfordshire, Bristol, Manchester and beyond, morphing quickly through ragga jungle (with a strong dancehall influence in its MCs) through versions inspired by techno, ambient and jazz.

The hugely influential 1995 ‘Pulp Fiction’ track by Alex Reece (a classic, though vilified by some for shifting the beat structure of the genre) nullified the polyrhythmic roll of jungle, at least temporarily, making the d&b beat a regimented two-step boom-clack. Nevertheless, the looser groove of jungle has continued to crop up, with tunes such as Danny Byrd’s ‘Shock Out’, Breakage’s ‘Clarendon’ and High Contrast’s ‘Ghost Of Jungle Past’ just a tiny fraction of the many jungle tunes released in the intervening years before the current revival. It feels particularly pertinent that now, at a time when musical tribalism is less pervasive than ever and listeners can pick and mix from any styles of music they want thanks to its online accessibility, jungle has returned. It’s the ultimate mixture of genres, a musical Esperanto that transcends borders.

“The one thing I can say is different about the ‘old school’ stuff made now is that rather than producers coming from the angle of ‘I want to do just ragga stuff’ or ‘I want to do atmospheric/deeper bits’, everyone’s doing a bit of every kind of style, which means there’s quite a bit of range to play around with,” Tim Reaper says. “Nobody’s really focusing on just one kind of style, people have seen the avenues that were formed back in the day and are dabbling in bits of everything, which I think helps to keep things exciting.”

Jungle, though occasionally peppered with funk, reggae and euphoric rave samples, tends to be moody and dark. By contrast with more uplifting styles of d&b such as liquid or (some) jump-up, it’s a heads-down sound that revels in hypnotic or sometimes fearful vibes. That it should be back at the fore when America is run by a bigoted businessman and political uncertainty reigns across the globe, propagated by duplicitous governments through social media, makes a certain kind of sense, reckons Dead Man’s Chest. “The way the world is, and our perception of it now, is incredibly chaotic,” he says.

“Is it a movement? For sure. We are all united and working together to push the sound we love further” – Mantra

“Back in the 2000s there was a funky vibe about [drum & bass]. There was still a positive outlook, and I remember the music being upbeat. The past few years, with this kind of darker more chaotic edge that has consumed world affairs, I think jungle is a perfect soundtrack to that. I feel like writing jungle now anyway. It’s something about today, it feels quite apt.”

That jungle is rolling out again is beyond doubt, and that’s set to continue. Dead Man’s Chest is preparing a new compilation of like-minded artists on his Western Lore label; Rupture LDN has its own compilation dropping featuring Seba, Nucleus, Sully, Dead Man’s Chest, Forest Drive West and Digital; Sully is launching his own label, plus prepping material for Foxy Jangle and a remix of 2 Bad Mice; Djinn is releasing a new collaborative EP with Mantra on AKO Beatz; Repertoire is prepping releases from Ricky Force, Eusebeia and Acid Lab; and Tim Reaper has got material lined up for a bewildering array of labels.

“Is it a movement?” signs off Mantra. “For sure. We are all united and working together to push the sound we love further.”

Want more? Sully’s remix of Sam Binga & Warrior Queen’s ‘Wasted Days’ came in at no. 5 in our remixes of 2017 countdown. Check out the full list.

Ben Murphy is a freelance journalist, and jungle fanatic. Follow him on Twitter here.