Friday, March 27, 2009
Rough and Fast
The Wire, 1995
by Simon Reynolds
All my anxieties about jungle's upwardly-mobile drift towards dubious concepts like 'musicality' and 'maturity' seem to be on the verge of becoming horrendous reality. You've got artists utilising 'real' musicians, punters who (ap)praise tracks in terms of how 'clean' their production is, and a burgeoning mutual admiration pact between the Mo' Wax posse and the drum & bass intelligentsia. All the new styles in what must now be termed 'post-jungle' are ultra-smooth and mellifluously mellow--from hardstep, with its fussy hi-hat shuffle-beats and tastefully restrained soul-diva passion, to the fusion-tinged serenity and long sustained synth-tones of the LTJ Bukem school. Don't get me wrong, these developments are still generating astonishing music. But sometimes you've got to wonder: whither jungle's mania, madness, ruffness?
For that, you might look to the UK's happy hardcore scene, which has back-lashed to 92 in order to follow a different path than that taken by drum & bass, i.e. fixating
on staccato synth-stabs, rush-activating piano riffs, helium-shrill vocals and stomping 4/4 beats. Or you might check out Germany's small but fervent breakbeat scene, as represented on Rough and Fast. Based around a handful of labels,
Germanic jungle has more of an explicitly political edge than its British cousin. Key figure Alec Empire of agit-tekno combo Atari Teenage Riot released a jungle track called "Hunt Down the Nazis" (appropriate given that jungle is all about
musical miscegenation and post-colonial cultural hybridity).
Doubtless by necessity, German jungle is less polished and fluent than current UK fare, but in a way that only adds to its raw appeal--there's a fierce inflexibility, an un-swinging rigour, to the drum programming that's curiously invigorating at a time when so much UK drum & bass verges on fuzak-with-breakbeats. Much of this comp harks back to jungle's under-rated dark phase of early 1993, when hardcore producers were first messing with fucked up rhythms but the music still retained some relation to techno (Joey Beltram/Belgian brutalism style as opposed to trance). And so DJ Moonraker's "Lion King" and Space Cube's "Dark Dive" both let rip bass-blast synth-riffs, redolent of the Frankfurt-based PCP label's brand of stormtrooper tekno,
amidst the jittery, shimmery breaks, while Roland 303 aciiied-squiggles are woven into the hyper-syncopated bustle of Sonic Subjunkies' "Djungelstadt" and Dr Echo & DJ
Reverend's "Fine Style". And on Doc Tom's "Moskito" there's a terrific ear-searing synth-noise that, yup, sounds like a squadron of mosquitos dive-bombing upon your flesh.
As with most non-Anglophone appropriations of Brit-pop there's something slightly wrong-sounding about the results: just check those names--Doc Tom, Sonic Subjunkies, Mental Bombin, DJ Reverend. But the best tracks here--the itchy'n'scratchy insectoid scrabble of Biobreaks' "May The Funk Be With You", the prehensile rhythmic intricacies and gamelan-textured percussion-rolls of Da Captains of Phuture's
"Legendary Flight"--suggest not just that the Krauts may soon catch but with their UK forebears, but that jungle's next and most interesting phase will involve regional hybrids across the globe: G-funk junglism, Miami Bass'n'drum, Latin-
breakbeat, Scandinavian new complexity ardkore....