Friday, March 20, 2009

Melody Maker April 3 1993

by Simon Reynolds

One of my favourite sleights of sampling sorcery last year occurred on a nameless techno track. Suddenly, an all-too-familiar snarl careened out of the mix: “D’ya know where you are??!!”. It was Axl Rose, from G’N’R’s urban paranoia anthem “Welcome to the Jungle”, gloating at your disorientation. Not only did the sample fit perfectly with the track’s frenzy, it was a nice joke, because this was “junglist” techno, and the people dancing almost certainly were so out of it that they didn’t know where they were.

I don’t know where the term “junglist” (hardcore techno’s dominant style for almost a year) originates. Probably from the churning polyrhythms that define the genre (hip hop breakbeats hyped-up to twice their proper pace), which sound like sheer voodoo. But I imagine it’s also got something to do with a feeling that “it’s getting like a jungle out there”, that in hard times only the hard(core) survive. Recently, junglist techno has developed something akin to a cult of the criminal. A vaguely nefarious aura hangs around the newer pirate stations like Don FM, Index and Lightning. Listen to the MC’s coded patter, and you might assume illicit transactions are being conducted. MCs send out shouts to “all the wrong ’uns” and “liberty-takers”; sometimes, you hear requests being played for blokes banged up in Pentonville.

Although it’s still mostly instrumental, the criminal-minded vibe is seeping into the music, with a spate of tracks with "bad boy” themes. A big source is ragga, reggae’s equivalent to gangsta rap, with its brash insolence and “rude boy” postures. Junglist is desperate music for desperate times, which is why its two themes are oblivion and crime. British youth want to get out of “it” (dead-end reality), either by taking drugs or by selling them. The sad fact is, that for many kids, the only way they can afford to participate in rave culture at all is to become dealers. And so junglism has become the soundtrack of Britain’s underclass. It’s sort of appropriate that the sampling aesthetic (taking liberties with other people’s musical property) should have fallen into the light-fingered hands of delinquents.

What’s weird about junglist is that, having started as a form of Techno, it’s devolving, inexplicably, into a hyperactive cousin of early US rap. It’s not just the breakbeats and outlaw imagery that recall hip hop. Hardcore’s cult of bass and spliff as the route to blissful stupor is reminiscent of mid-Eighties rap’s “get a little stupid and pump that bass” ethos (before rap got righteous and aware with Public Enemy, etc). Junglism has even revived scratching and other forms of turntable-manipulating mayhem, long since abandoned by US hip hoppers. Pirate MCs speed-rap self-celebratory gibberish over their cut’n’mix uproar, just like the earliest rappers.

As the ghetto-isation of Britain’s inner city estates worsens, as more and more of the young come to depend on the black economy and petty villainy to survive, it could be that junglist will developed into something more than just party music, just as US rap evolved from its ghetto origins to become a culture. It’s even conceivable that it could be politicized, if Tory tyranny extends itself towards the new millennium. But, at the moment, junglist is an anti-culture, locked in a here-and-now time-frame, seeing no further than the weekend (and whatever quick killings are necessary to pay for its costly kicks).

No discourse surrounds this music, because even the dance media recoil in horror, cloaking a class-bound snobbery behind talk of a return to “pure techno” (all electronics, no breakbeats, no squeaky 78 rpm voices). Combining Oi!’s uncouthness, Mantronix’s sampladelic absurdism, Mod’s speed-freak intensity and avant-funk’s eeriness, junglist is a mighty peculiar mutant.

Who knows what it might evolve into?

What counts is that, for better or worse, it reflects what’s going on in this country right now. It’s the exhilarating, scary sound of a generation going nowhere at hyper-speed.

2009 FOOTNOTE: A piece about jungle so early it wasn’t even called “jungle” yet. Well, that’s my get-out clause for “junglist”! These things will happen when you're only in the UK for two and half of months out of an entire year, as I was in 1993.Actually, it’s true: things were semantically cloudy at that point, pirate MCs were still chating about “junglistic hardcore” or “jungle techno”, it was a flavour not a genre, an adjective or add-on. Also the original word was “junglist”, because it came from a shout-out captured on Jamaican sound system tapes that then reached the UK, on which dancehall MCs shouted out to youth from Arnette Gardens, a Kingston community known as “Concrete Jungle”. (In the original Energy Flash, I have the garbled etymology given me by MC Navigator: he said the junglists came from Tivoli Gardens, but I found out later those gangs were called "gardenists". Doesn't have quite the same ring, eh?) The "alla tha junglists" shouts on these "yard tapes" were sampled by early ragga-techno producers and "junglist" led to "junglizm" led to "jungle."

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