WE ALL NEED A JUNGLIST’S UTOPIA

by Alex Day

Jungle, for those that don’t know, is a music genre that started in the early 1990s. It’s a combination of reggae and breakbeats – fast, moody and disorientating. This sound has, traditionally, been played in warehouses to pleasure-seeking ravers resistant to authority. 

By 1996, a few years after its inception, the sound evolved, and the era of ‘jungle’ came to a close. Commercialised, disfigured by modern production techniques and stamped out by the 1994 Criminal Justice Act; drum and bass (a faster and more polished version of jungle) took its place. 

Now, over two decades later, jungle music is having a resurgence. Artists like Forest Drive West and Coco Bryce are producing acclaimed jungle. A more diverse roster of DJs, featuring women like CCL and Covco, are playing jungle and thriving. The aesthetic is similarly in demand: Pez, infamous for designing jungle rave flyers, had his artwork used on a billboard in London. The Guardian wrote this year that ‘breaks are firmly back in vogue’. In part, these creations are wistful cultural throwbacks – rose-tinted nostalgia for raving’s heyday. But the sound is also being reimagined, and tweaked, for a contemporary audience. 

A new event in Norwich, called Utopia 4 Junglists, aims to promote the jungle sound. The organisers, Hardline Sounds, are not only celebrating the music. They want to use their platform to ‘document rave culture in Norfolk and East Anglia’, a region they say is ‘steeped in this genre’s history’. In October, the first Utopia 4 Junglists took place at Space Studios; with two local DJs, Imanzi and Sully, on the line up. 

Unperturbed, raving resumed with a hefty bassline underpinning a journey through polyrhythmic snares, euphoric piano, two-step and breakbeats.

Imanzi warmed up with speedy drum and bass, interspersed with slower dub-leaning trip hop. Tom Buckle’s ‘Real Playa’ swung into ‘Triumph Horns’ by Bukkha. Time-stretched vocals came thick and fast – notably General Levy’s ebullient patois: ‘wicked, wicked…jungle is massive’. 

Sully followed. A producer for over 10 years, he has released on Keysound Recordings and started his own label, Uncertain Hour, last year. His set began with a speaker disconnecting, and an unresponsive fader on the mixer.  Briefly, dancing stalled. Unperturbed, raving resumed with a hefty bassline underpinning a journey through polyrhythmic snares, euphoric piano, two-step and breakbeats. Transitions were smooth and the pace steady. The metallic snares of Sully’s remix of ‘Vortex 164’ by Special Request, released this year, warped the crowd. 

The Hardline Sounds residents, DJMC and Moss, capitalised on the raucous energy – spinning confident four-on-the-floor hardcore and bassline for the last hour. The lights came up and ravers stepped to the last song – sweaty and satisfied. 

Utopia 4 Junglists showcased a modern sound palette. Songs diverged from jungle into other strands of UK bass music, for instance garage and drum and bass. Recent productions, slick and unpredictable, roused an enthusiastic crowd.   

The event would benefit from a focus on older jungle records, perhaps intelligent (or ambient) jungle from 1994-5. Artists like Aqualite, Aural Imbalance and Alaska bring euphonious and dreamy elements to the sound. More time exploring the discographies of record labels such as Good Looking Records and Infrared would help this event thoroughly ‘document’ jungle’s back-catalogue. Turntables would also be a nice addition, as jungle has predominantly been released on to vinyl.   

Today, dance music often feels commercial and over-regulated.  […] Our wider political narrative is divisive and conservative. What better relief than hardcore?  

In our politically divided times, this ambition to ‘document rave culture’ feels pertinent.  Jungle was a multi-cultural movement that encouraged unity. Jungle rave flyers were once adorned with anti-racist slogans (at the time when Stephen Lawrence was murdered because his skin colour). DJ Hype made a track called ‘We Must Unite’. Its roots are both Caribbean and European; demonstrating diversity in its making. These sounds allowed disenfranchised youths, in the wake of Thatcherism, to express themselves. 

It is no surprise promoters and producers what to recapture this era. Warehouse parties, such as Dreamscape in Milton Keynes, were renowned for being inclusive and liberating.  In 1992 Castlemorton Common Festival attracted 50,000 people; a combination of ‘travellers, bikers, punks, festival-heads and ravers all partying peacefully together’, according to an attendee. And unless you were calling the party hotline for the location, phones were scarce. The zenith of parties was unfettered by Instagram stories. 

A utopia for junglists, inspired by these parties, is much needed. Today, dance music often feels commercial and over-regulated.  Boiler Room, a media platform, films raves to attract corporate endorsements. Music venues, like Bermuda Bob’s, are impeded by noise complaints. Our wider political narrative is divisive and conservative. What better relief than hardcore?  

Perhaps it is ambitious to create such a utopia at Space Studios, a small but eclectically programmed event space, nestled in the city on Swan Lane. Space Studios is not particularly dark or smoky, nor does it close very late (3 a.m.) – but it provided enough room to dance amongst a considerate crowd. 

In a small way, a glimpse of utopia was realised. Well-practised DJs ramped up the energy to a crowd that danced without phones. To the sound of breakbeats, dancers were lured to the front; all hunched over, arms waving in worship. Utopia 4 Junglists proves it – jungle is alive and skanking.

Featured image: Alex Day


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