Words: Jane Headon
Photos from Jungle Fever: Donovan
Published in Mixmag April 1994
With the precision of a wire cutter, jungle music has divided the rave scene down the middle. People’s feelings are set down in two camps. Thereʼs those who claim that jungle is keeping dance music alive and that, without it, the entire rave scene would have collapsed. And there’s those who argue that jungle music is a nasty business, too mixed in with hard drugs, violence and bad vibes, killing the scene without mercy.
It has been around, like most dance music forms, since the beginning. After the ’88/’89 summers of love, when house started dividing itself up like an amoeba, one of the sub-genres was heavily reggae inﬂuenced tracks. Black kids stole back their tech and chucked deep baselines and frantic breakbeats under it. Shut Up And Dance started toasting over bass heavy hardcore.
Then in 1991 Rebel MC put out his ‘Black Meaning Goodʼ LP. Suddenly the unlikely bed fellows of ragga and techno became a respected marriage. It was described by many as ‘noise free’ music. Everyone got into it, from The Prodigy to SL2 whose poppy ʻOn A Ragga Tip’ sold 200,000 copies. Techno opened up the scene. Rave became legal, harder and less elitist.
So the pro-junglists are right. Without hardcore the scene wouldn’t be what it is today. Around ’91 and ’92 it was exhorted by ravers for being a truly multi-racial form of music. In 1994, says Gerald Bailey, promoter of Quest in Wolverhampton, a hardcore session that’s been pulling in 1,000 a week for two and a half years now, if you want to fill the club, you play jungle.
But there is another side to hardcore music. Having fought its way to open up the scene, it decided to close it down again about a year ago. This was the ‘darkside’ time. Jungle music got very hard, very heavy and was frequently dubbed over with horror noises. Darkish music was not happy or uplifting but moody and inward-looking.
Ravers have been writing to Mixmag complaining that jungle is killing rave’s happy vibes. “A lot of it is quite moody,” admits Bailey, “it doesn’t promote hand shaking and sharing bottles to water.” But jungle still dominates. Quest nights always include a techno and happy house element, and recently advertised an “Out Of The Darkness Into The Light”, happier vibes night. It was their lowest turnout ever. The following week they advertised a “Darkish” night over a thousand packed themselves in.
While Quest is pretty much trouble free, there are reports of jungle clubs that are much rougher. Where people get attacked and where crack is openly used. This happened to me at a jungle night: Two 15 year olds spotted my friend’s little hash pipe and asked it they could use it. A moment later there was an unpleasant sweetish smell. “What are you smoking?” he asked. “Snood,” they replied, giggling inanely. “Snood?” “Yeah, snood, you know, snood, crack. You want some?”
Others argue that crack is seeping into all kinds of clubs – and that includes happy house venues. They argue that crack is targeted at black communities, that a lot to black kids go to jungle venues. That the ruffneck image of jungle is perhaps more likely to attract those involved in crack.
And while some complain that moody old jungle killed the happy vibes, others see it as the ultimate in street level sounds. Names for jungle nights like Ruffneck Ting abound because this is a ruffneck, inner city music and it demonstrates all the razor’s edge creativity that an inner city sound can.
But why did the rave scene suddenly go dark? DJ SS, the leading hardcore DJ and man behind Formation Records, explains it was initially a reaction to the scene, a going back to basics.
“Most of the DJs thought that the scene was getting too commercial. They wanted to deepen the music. They basically went too far but the idea was that the true raver would stick with it and the commercial people – the fakers – would fade out of it. But people took it too far and they forgot. It went too deep for too long.”
Matt Wood, hardcore DJ and review for our sister weekly reviews mag Update, agrees.
“When hardcore split into tech and breakbeat things went very dark almost as a reaction. Things did get very dark, the menacing tones involved did go to an extreme. There were clubs that were 100% dark, it was boring – you do need music.”
“A lot of the bad boys started jumping on the bandwagon,” DJ SS goes on. “All kinds of things were going on at raves. People were getting attacked and all kind of silliness. The happy raves weren’t going on and the numbers dropped.”
“The trouble is down to the bouncers not doing their job properly,” explains Wood. There’s very often a very happy atmosphere but the trouble is with the dealers. I’ve heard gangs mugging but it’s like taking sweets from children when you’ve got a lot of little kiddies off their heads. It also depends on what drugs people are taking. It there’s coke or crack that can lead to trouble. If youʼre talking about kids on Eʼs, thereʼs no trouble.”
“It’s down to the individual at the end of the day,” agrees the Godfather Of Hardcore, Grooverider. “It’s all crap to me ‘cos I don’t take drugs, I donʼt know how they feel. At the end of the day music’s music. For a normal person listening – what’s it going to do to you? How’s anything going to make you violent?”
Richard is the promoter for Jungle Fever, a big all-nighter in Milton Keynes that concentrates solely on jungle. He sees it as a trouble-free zone.
“We attract all the bad boys and all your normal people. What happens is that they all have a night off. None of them are up to anything they might get up to any other time.”
Richard admits that there has been trouble in the past but attributes it more to choosing the wrong area to hold his rave in than to drugs or ‘Darkside’ related violence. He organised a night at London’s Linford St Studios in South London and ran it under the guise of a private party. 2,000 tickets were sold for an 800 capacity venue.
“At the end of the day we were in the wrong area. We had to use their security and they didnʼt let people in quickly enough. The police had to turn away 1,000 people and there was aggravation and hassle.”
600 police were called out. They were prepared to let more people in as long as the crowd quietened down. They didn’t, gunshots (allegedly from a starter pistol) were ﬁred, the door was ripped off the club, three police cars were trashed and the event made national news. Linford Studios lost its license. A 4,000 capacity Christmas event at Crystal Palace was subsequently cancelled.
Richard says that he has learned his lesson from that experience and will now only go to licensed venues.
It’s Friday midnight in Milton Keynes and the Sanctuary is teaming. There are a few hundred people gathered on the spacious main floor. The air is reefer thick.
People are jumping up and down on the spot with no discernible arm movement. Dave stops jumping to tell me that “jungle is coming back. It stopped playing in most clubs ʻcos of the atmosphere. It got too tense and there were loads of scufﬂes. That’s just the way the music sends you.” He resumes jumping.
Most people seem to disagree. “The music makes me feel good, makes me want to jump up,” Vicki tells me. “I don’t need drugs for this music. There’s never been trouble. People come to enjoy themselves and the music.” Her friend Emma tells me that she used to be a regular friend of E until she got into cutting her own jungle tracks under the name of Eternal Bass, and now takes it rarely.
By 1am it’s a much livlier place. The music playing is the lighter side of jungle but it’s still a moody music: fast breakbeats and heavy dubbing. Upstairs is a smaller dancefloor, decked out to give the feel of a shipwreck on a tropical island. Fishing net material hangs from the ceilings, there are wobbly fake coconut palms everywhere and the DJ’s booth is made out of bamboo canes and adorned with tribal looking masks.
The dancing is taken more sensually up here and it appears to be an individual throng. Very few people dance together. It is a posturing, a gesturing, a solitary display of yogi prowess rather than the letting go that tends to happen with house. People are dressed up. A bald black man is decked out to look like a Roman soldier. By 3am the place is packed and jumping with an older crowd.
The people involved are enthusiastic about the future of jungle, Matt Wood cites LTJ Bukem’s material as being “very light and breezy, not cheesy but with an uplifting feel to it.” And DJ SS feels that “people are putting the music back into hardcore. If it had gone any worse last year weʼd have gone. But the future looks OK.”
Grooverider too is optimistic. “It’s gone underground but we’re just building up the numbers again and we’re resurfacing. This breakbeat thing, after two years it’s still young. Thereʻs no big raves happening, itʼs all clubs now, much more intimate. You’ve got to be a proper DJ. We’ve gone back, done some regrouping and we’re coming back. It’s a rebirth.”
While the jury is still out on the whole ‘darkside’ business, it is a business that’s now over. Hard drugs and violence can and do happen wherever there is a large crowd and clubs like Wolverhampton’s weekly Quest have run jungle sessions for eons with no real trouble.
On the plus side it is a scene with potential big time appeal and for all the arguments over the term jungle – whether it is a racist label or a label that captures the tribal appeal of the music perfectly – it is a mixed thing. Jungle is a music form that appears to appeal to black and white clubbers equally. “It’s not a black thing. It’s not a white thing,” says Richard, “it’s a British thing.”