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"Big Tings Ah Gwan": Junglist Music Takes Centre Stage

An Introduction to Jungle Music And An Enquiry Into Its Impact On The London Jazz Scene

Andrew Missingham

Last year's winners of the prestigious Mercury Music Prize were Roni Size and Reprazent with their album "New Forms". Previous winners Primal Scream, Portishead and Pulp have all pointed to where the British recording industry thinks current musical trends are heading, so the conferring of this award upon a group at the cutting edge of the Junglist movement surely announced this music scene's final coming of age.

Reading through the mainstream music press in the weeks before the award ceremony, particularly "Music Week" who published a survey of industry insiders views of who would most likely win the prize, I was struck by the fact that no one thought that Size was a front runner or even considered him a contender. So what is this music they call Jungle? Where has it come from, and why has it had to sneak into the public consciousness and hit the music establishment squarely in the face before they sat up and took notice of it?

The purpose of this paper is to offer an introduction to the Jungle music scene that spawned Roni Size and artists like him. I will try and unRavel some of the music forms that have fed into the evolution of Jungle music and then attempt to draw some conclusions regarding what I perceive is Jungle's strong influence on the London jazz scene. I was a musician active in London through the early 1990s and watched and participated in Jungle music's increasing adoption by many of the capital's most respected jazz musicians. It was a very exciting time to be playing and recording. I feel that enough time has passed, and Jungle music has evolved to such an extent, that some analysis of the style is legitimate.

Jungle has its roots in British dance music culture. Its roots are deep enough to ensure it will be with us for many years to come. Although we can trace some parallel development in Bristol, Jungle largely emerged from the clubs of East London and Essex in 1992 and has steadily evolved since then. It is a particularly British phenomenon, and like London's jazz scene it seems to have as many white and black exponents. GRP recording artist Mat Cooper, reflects the views of many:

Ultimately I'm very happy that I'm living and working in London. Here you can mix a lot of styles and people, racially speaking. I don't think that Jungle music could ever have emerged from America. It's unique to London because it combines a very black element with a very white element. You have your typical South London white kid in his bedroom, ex-Raver, acid house kind of thing and then your dub element, the Jamaican thing. Jungle is respected not only because of the music but because it unites cultures.[1]

Recording artist and producer, Goldie, with a little less subtlety, comes to a similar conclusion:

...People can't say Jungle's a black thing, they can't say it's a white thing. I could play you 20 fucking tunes and ask you which colour person made it, and you wouldn't be able to tell me.[2]

Jungle's move into the mainstream has been mirrored by its assimilation into the fabric of our musical environment. Popular culture's usual barometers of mainstream acceptability (advertising and TV themes) have been quick to embraced the music form while every dance arm of British record companies have jostled to sign the leading exponents of the genre, with acts like Photek, Alex Reece, Adam F, 4Hero and Goldie all offered substantial and favourable contracts. Arbiters of popular taste know instinctively that Jungle music has something unique, and has resonances which can touch the heart of urban British youth, however a lot of mystery surrounds the creation of this music form.

As with many artistic movements at in early stages of their development, Junglists delineate themselves within various distinct sub-groups that strive to stay one step ahead of the pack. There are various subtle variations in the Jungle music style within its broader genre definition. From "Hardstep" through "Dark" to "Intelligent" each with slightly different musical priorities. Perhaps the most influential strand of the Jungle scene has been "Drum 'n' Bass". This is the form of Jungle that I will be focusing on for this paper because it is the form where the most clearly discernible jazz influence lies. The term "Drum 'n' Bass" has become so ubiquitous that it is now seen as synonymous with "Jungle". For the purposes of this paper though, I will use the broader term "Jungle", because it is clearer to explain and draw together the various elements which have fed into the evolution of this music form if we look at the scene as a whole. However, I acknowledge that to many the term "Drum 'n' Bass" would be more favourable, or even fashionable.

There are three main music strands that feed into Jungle as far as I can discern: Techno, Hip-hop and Ragga. These are all nightclub based dance music forms with very different characteristics.

1. Techno

The first influence, Techno, was the soundtrack to the well-documented "Rave" subculture and was a predominantly white dance music form that had its roots in house and Electro music. I use this past tense purposely because, although still a relatively recent phenomenon, underground dance culture moves at such a rate, that the Rave scene is now generally regarded as moribund and out-of-date. Techno music is characterised by heavy "4 on the floor" bass drum patterns surrounded by short drum ostinati (the infamous "repetitive beats"), and highly synthesised backing tracks. The most predominant tempi for Techno are around 135 to 150 beats per minute. As we shall see, the other influences feeding into Jungle have augmented Techno's rather simplistic rhythmic backdrop, a point that artist and producer Goldie recognises. However, Goldie is also quick to acknowledge the debt that Jungle owes the Techno/Rave scene and he refines the definition of its influence further:

You wouldn't have breakbeat [Junglist] culture if it wasn't for Rave and anybody who says different is so fucking new school he's wearing diapers...People forget that Rave was the bastard child of Detroit Techno. Detroit Techno was fucking cutting edge. It was one of those genres of suppressed music that became a subculture. Detroit Techno has soul; soul that you can't get out of European Techno because it's [limited by] four-on-the-floor.[3]

This addition of a new sub-genre into the equation (Detroit Techno) was a common theme in my research. The further I delved into the evolution of the music, the more subtly different music forms I found within the three broader strands which exponents of Jungle felt contributed to the evolution of Jungle itself.

2. Hip-Hop

The second element: Hip-hop, has been with us since the late 1970s. Its style is well enough known not to need explanation here, however its influence on Jungle music is not that straightforward. Hip-hop is a particularly American music form. Attempts to create our own homegrown version in the UK have had only sporadic success.

UK Hip-Hop has always suffered from an identity crisis. To me, one of the main attractions of Hip-Hop is rap. Rap removes the artifice of melody from the lyric and can be compared to Berthold Brecht's use of "Sprechgesang" (speech-song). If you are rapping (as opposed to singing) there is no melody, heavily laden with cultural baggage to get in the way of the meaning and intention of the lyric. An early hit in the Hip-Hop form was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's 1982 single "The Message". This song is a good example of how effective this direct approach could be. This rap told the story of what it was like living in the projects of New York in the late 1970s in stark detail. Much rap music follows this pattern as the experience of the rapper, told through their rap, communicates more directly to the listener. UK rappers have often looked so closely to the US for their inspiration, that they have ended up imitating the vocal style and inflection of American rappers, replacing the artifice of melody with that of unfamiliar accent! Although this phenomenon is widespread in music (just listen to Elton John's pronounced Southern drawl) it is perhaps more incongruous in rap music which, by its very nature, demands more honesty and sincerity. Surely it is impossible to speak sincerely of one's urban experiences if you are pretending to have lived your life somewhere where you may not even have visited.

Consequently the instrumental side of Hip-Hop (break-beats and Electro drum machine patterns) have always been the more successful creation of the British Hip-Hop scene. This is so much the case that arguably we have our own indigenous instrumental Hip-Hop form in the Trip-Hop of Mo' Wax Records, Pussyfoot Records et al. Roni Size recognises this connection:

I remember making music and then people calling it Jungle then Drum 'n' Bass. You used to have English rap groups trying to identify with American groups but that wasn't for me. I used to like the beats, but when it came to the lyrics I wasn't into none of it, so I moved into instrumental music.[4]

As an aside: one direct way that Hip-Hop has fed into Jungle music is that in the early days of Jungle DJs would sometimes play 33rpm break-beats at 45rpm to create faster beats. However, more generally, Hip-Hop has had a great impact on the mind-set of most Junglists. The immersion in DJ culture, drum break-beats and the attitude towards musical priorities (rhythm and texture) are overriding influences.

Speaking specifically about one song by Talkin' Loud recording artists "4Hero" ("Mr Kirk's Nightmare") Goldie clearly links these first two elements that he thinks fed into Jungle:

It was marrying Hip-Hop break culture with Rave/Techno culture. It was a mixture of Technology and street rawness.[5]

3. Ragga

The third constituent strand that I have identified is Ragga. Ragga is a Jamaican music form which draws on reggae and dub and has been a feature of the black British music scene since the early 1980s. It is characterised by heavy bass lines (often tracked so low as to be subsonic) and complex programmed drum lines which incorporate at their heart an Afro-Caribbean one bar clave pattern. This is overlaid with "toasting" (a Jamaican rap form) and "bubbling" (another rap form, but double-time so as to make it indecipherable to all but those fluent in West Indian patois). The tempo of Ragga is far more flexible than Techno ranging from 70 to 125 beats per minute.

The evolution of Techno music has been marked by a gradual acceleration of the tempo over the last ten years until it came to the point where Techno tracks had become so fast that they could be overlaid with musical elements played at half their tempo (for instance an 80b.p.m bass line from a piece of Ragga or dub). The resultant metric tension is the heart of Jungle music: beats of around 160 beats per minute with vocals and bass lines of half that.

These three musical styles (Techno, Hip-hop and Ragga) are acknowledged by Roni Size as essential ingredients in Jungle:

I liked reggae and I used to like the warmth of the bass, so I took the breaks from Hip-Hop and the bass from reggae and sped the Rave up, so you come up with a different formula, and then it became English.[6]

4. Other Contributory Musical Factors

Attempts to define the appeal and musical influences of Jungle, beyond these three main strands have led to other observations. Paul Bennun, interviewing Steve Williamson, in Straight No Chaser magazine in 1995 has called it "The ultimate inner city blues".[7] Bennun refers to the textural soundscapes that are used, which tend toward dark, atonal string pads and minor modal vocal lines (for instance the seminal "Inner City Life" from Goldie's 1995 "Timeless" album). Of course, much of this harmonic complexity arises from the fact that many of the leading exponents of the genre aren't traditionally schooled musicians. However, this is not to say that the textures are either arbitrary or unintended. Many synthesiser sounds have musical intervals built into them. For instance, one key may play the tonic and dominant of a chord together, so when played in triads these keyboard sounds give rise to many rich, parallel chords. When choosing a sound from a synthesiser module, often with upwards of 500 sounds within it, one can be very specific about the texture that you use and therefore the emotional resonance which you hope to elicit.

Jungle has also been referred to as "21st. Century Bossa Nova"[8] in 4th and Broadway's biography of Alex Reece. This is partly because of the rhythmic make up of a lot of Jungle music. It is similar in rhythmic complexity and variation to this Brazilian form. Both styles often comprise four dotted quavers and a crotchet pulse to make a bar of 4/4. The most common method of dividing these elements in Bossa Nova is into the so-called "Brazilian Clave". However, in both music forms the crotchet pulse can be placed anywhere in the bar to break up the other four equal elements, even sometimes breaking the crotchet into two split quaver pulses which then become Ragga's Afro-Cuban clave played double time. Unlike Bossa Nova however, Jungle adds other elements unique to programmed drum patterns: altering the pitch and speed of the sounds and sometimes playing the sounds in reverse or distorting them with heavy time-stretching.

5. DJ and Nightclub Culture

The most common way into music making for Jungle's early creators was via DJing. I do not think that this should be viewed as a non-musical route, but be viewed as a route through an instrument in its own right. Although the status of DJs and record decks as musical instruments is not the subject of this research, we will consider them as such for the sake of this paper, attributing to them enough creative and expressional possibilities to view them as comparable to a conventional musical instrument.

DJs have various techniques which they must learn, particularly scratching (the creation of a new sound by pulling the record deck's stylus over the same short portion of a record's surface), mixing and cutting between records. These have always been a staple of the Hip-Hop music scene. It is worth pausing here to explain in a little more detail a concept which has been mentioned in passing in this paper: the breakbeat. The "breakbeat", or "break" is the portion of a song where the melodic and harmonic components of the song drop out, leaving the rhythm section to take centre stage. These breaks normally lasted either 8 or 16 bars and were to DJs the most important part of the song. However, for dance music purposes these breakbeats were often too short. Before the release of the Akai S900 in 1986 which brought affordable samplers within many DJs grasp, the only way to make the breaks longer was to buy two records and repeat the breakbeat by crossfading from the first record deck to the second and when the section had finished, crossfading back again. This is a technique that DJs still employ. To do this requires a great deal of dexterity, timing, and a keen rhythmic ear.

Even the Musicians Union are starting to acknowledge the status of DJs, and are currently actively encouraging club DJs to join their organisation. In their magazine "Musician" their conclusion is that:

Where being a musician starts and that of a DJ... ends is now a fluid boundary with the numerous creative, essential and accepted aspects of contemporary music.[9]

Expert DJs (for instance the Japanese DJ Krush) are some of the most musical people that I have ever worked with. They have a highly refined sense of what "works" and what doesn't. On a tour of Japan that I was involved with in 1993, Krush took a 16 bar 'solo' feature in one of the songs of our set. In each performance he would hone this solo to better fit the musical context that it was in, and decide on its content and dynamic, based on how the rest of the musicians were playing. This spontaneity and immersion in the idea of collage is part of the reason for the diversity of influence within Jungle music. Creators of contemporary dance music (Jungle, Techno etc.) try not to put parameters around their scope of influence. They will take their cues from a wide range of music forms and popular cultural references.

6. Jazz Influences on Jungle; Jungle's influences on Jazz

Finally this brings us to Jungle music's influence on jazz in London. Although primarily a studio based, programmed music form, musicians (primarily jazz musicians) have attempted to transfer Jungle music into a live context and it was the London jazz scene that most enthusiastically championed Jungle music. The London based magazine Straight No Chaser (the self-styled "magazine of world jazz-jive") has followed its development closely. Gilles Peterson, the jazz DJ, co-founder of Jazz FM and head of Talkin' Loud Records (who have signed both Roni Size and Jungle production team 4Hero), commented on his first encounter with Jungle:

Not since the days of the Electric Ballroom have I had such a rush. Then I was playing jazz on the edge of the Electro/Hip-Hop revolution. Today, with Jungle, it's a genuine encounter with 'Rave culture', and working with a DJ like Fabio [a popular Jungle DJ] feels totally natural. It's the flipside to the introspection of the past period and it's really just beginning.[10]

Jazz musicians like Courtney Pine have been quick to acknowledge the skill and expertise of Jungle programmers:

We talk about guys like 4Hero as musicians and, in years to come they will be seen as such because that's the new gig. When Steve Lacy and Coltrane played soprano sax that was a new thing, just as this is a new thing, and unless musicians tap in they're going to be left behind.[11]

From a Junglist point of view, Rupert Parkes (a.k.a. Photek) acknowledges dancefloor jazz as an influence on his creation of Jungle music (Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayres, Donald Byrd etc.) but he specifically cites the music of John Coltrane as the inspiration to take up his first instrument, the saxophone:

I tried to copy all his solos and play along to the records. But it was a waste of time because I wasn't interested in reading music, but in playing and hearing the sound.[12]

This interest in the sound of an instrument, as opposed to specific melodies played on them, is an enduring theme in London's music scene, so much so that our music has seemed to suffer from a mania as we search for "The Sound", at the expense of lyric and melody. Perhaps what this really points to is the sophistication with which the modern music listener (and producer) consumes music. Lyrics that didactically state the narrative of the song give a clear and often unequivocal sign of the songwriter's intention. Without lyrics the emotional content of the "sound" of the music can be a lot more ambiguous. The onus is on the listener to divine meaning. As we saw with Hip-Hop earlier, the sound of the music, stripped of the artifice of melody, which pulls the emotional strings by suggesting other cultural resonances often referred to by other melodies, is freer to connect with the listener, and perhaps better able to suggest or draw on subconscious emotional references. Photek again:

I am more interested in beats than music. I'd rather listen to drum patterns than a piece of music with no beats.[13]

So where does this leave jazz? The two priorities in jazz would seem to be melodic improvisation and harmonic and rhythmic exploration. In Jungle the priorities are rhythmic and textural exploration. The melodic and harmonic components are a poor second. Why then have so many jazz artists in London latched on Jungle music as the obvious outlet for their music? That they have is undeniable. Courtney Pine, Steve Williamson, Cleveland Watkiss, Mat Cooper, Chris Bowden, etc., have all made music in collaboration with Jungle programmers, and have even, to a greater or lesser extent, incorporated Jungle into their live and recorded performances. There are a number of other links between Jungle and jazz that draw creators of each form to one another.

Texturally the link between 70s jazz-fusion and Jungle is clear, from Weather Report to Herbie Hancock. Gerald Simpson (aka A Guy Called Gerald) gives one insight into the link between programmed Jungle music and jazz fusion:

The Electronic fusion that Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea were doing - some people said it was really cold music, all blips, beeps and squeaks but to me that was about freedom and self-expression. That's how I've come to see machines - if it's made to perform a particular function then you've got to fuck with it and make it do something else.[14]

This Technological aspect of Jungle is also an aspect which has clear resonances with post-bop jazz. The rhythmic complexity of sampler based music of A Guy Called Gerald with its many levels of extraction, abstraction and magnification can be compared to New York's M-base scene of Steve Coleman and Greg Osby. Peter Shapiro, interviewing Gerald Simpson also points out the compositional possibilities that Jungle has inherent in it; possibilities that do not appear in 'live' music:

Creative samplers like A Guy Called Gerald are indoctrinating a cult of infinitesimal musical detail. As this re-ordering of past music plays with memory and structure, drum 'n' bass (sic) has the potential to alter the experience of time in a manner more fundamental than simply speeding up breakbeats.[15]

London jazz musicians have very often tried to subvert jazz styles to inject a little more indigenous London flavour. They have added other influence in an attempt to make it more their own. Thus Cleveland Watkiss and Courtney Pine have fused their jazz with reggae music forms, Chris Bowden has called on classical music and orchestrated film-scores and Steve Williamson has explored Hip-Hop's shared ancestry with jazz. I would argue that until the emergence of Jungle music, London jazz musicians only had borrowed clothes with which to dress their creativity. They had to take from other musical forms (and never really found a voice of their own) to give their music a contemporary London context.

What seemed to attract many young London players to jazz music was the mystique, the competitive edge of be-bop, its association with drugs and drug culture, its frenetic pace. Be-bop was nightclub music. Jazz was "cool". Similarly, the energy and forward thinking of jazz has attracted Jungle's creators. The 'attitude' of jazz particularly appeals to Roni Size:

To me jazz isn't a music, jazz is a progression and we're always progressing. We never use the same sound twice.[16]

Jungle music could be said to have many of the same attractions that jazz has to young musicians: the mystique, its frenetic pace, its rooting in nightclub life and resultant association with drugs and drug culture. Added to this Jungle is new and Jungle is "ours". I cannot count the amount of jazz jams that I have been to where lines of horn players have waited to play their 32 bar impression of a dead American jazz legend. I love jazz music, but I went to these jams to try and hear what excited me about jazz. Instead, more often than not, I would come away disappointed that the music did not seem to connect with me emotionally, and only partly had the ability to articulate emotions in the language that the audience could understand. With Jungle music we now have a musical language with which we can create and communicate with the audience (in other words, ourselves) more coherently.

This ability to communicate clearly with urban British youth is ultimately the reason why Jungle will endure. It is also a reason why it is perhaps more exciting to young jazz musicians and jazz listeners alike. Of course there will always be a jazz scene in London, however, I would argue that many of its attractions to young musicians are better served by Jungle music. Many players who would have gravitated towards jazz will instead be pulled towards playing Jungle (or a jazz inflected version of the music form). To the popular perception jazz has either meant Acker Bilk tootling on Radio 2 or Charlie Parker blowing to a select few in a smoky bar. Some of Jungle's attraction is the way it seems to answer these prejudices. We can directly compare the "introspection" of London's jazz scene that Gilles Peterson speaks of above, with the optimism with which musicians speak of Jungle. In Jungle, jazz musicians now have a musical framework that is popular, even populist. It has the mystique without the elitism, the energy without the obscurity and the complexity without the convolution. Jungle music is ready to break into the mainstream. Mark Clair from 4Hero has an upbeat and optimistic view of Jungle's importance in music today:

People used to ask: what's music going to sound like in the year 2000? Well, we're lucky enough to be responsible for making it.[17]

However, the last word must go to Roni Size after winning his Mercury Award:

I'm a Junglist, and Jungle is the future.[18]


[1] Telephone interview with author, July 1997.

[2] Goldie interviewed by Julie Taraska, "Invisible Jukebox: Goldie" The Wire Magazine pp. 40-41(Feb 1996).

[3] Julie Taraska, op. cit.

[4] Roni Size. Interview by Phil Johnson. "Breakbeat Science" (p. 57) 1996.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Roni Size. Interview with Phil Johnson. Op. cit.

[7] Paul Bennun. Straight No Chaser Magazine p. 32 (Winter 1995).

[8] Author unknown. (Accessed March 1998).

[9] Ian Stewart "Turning the Tables" Musician Magazine. p.47 (March 1998).

[10] Gilles Peterson. "Digital Revolution" Straight No Chaser Magazine p.3 (Winter 1995).

[11] Courtney Pine interviewed by Paul Bradshaw. Straight No Chaser Magazine p.25 (Spring 1996).

[12] Rupert Parkes interviewed by Richard Jordan. Straight No Chaser Magazine p.25 (Spring/Summer 1996).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Gerald Simpson interviewed by Matt Anthony Straight No Chaser Magazine p.31 (Winter 1996).

[15] Gerald Simpson, interviewed by Peter Shapiro "Nubian Sound Systems" The Wire Magazine p.28 (Oct 1996).

[16] Roni Size. Interview with Phil Johnson. Op. cit. (p.59).

[17] Mark Clair, interviewed by Chris Sharp "Invisible Jukebox: 4Hero" The Wire Magazine p.51 (Nov 1997).

[18] Roni Size, interviewer unknown, "The Brits" BBCTV November 1997.