As a Hip Hop head who occasionally dips my toes in Reggae and House music, Jungle had always popped up on the periphery of my musical radar, but in all honesty I hadn’t dedicated much attention to this genre…until now. So, after putting an open call out on Twitter for some recommendations (thank you Luke), pestering musician friends for their jungle collections and digging around on the internet for a while, here’s what I heard when I dedicated my listening time to this genre.
Firstly, without meaning to get too post-modernist; I do believe that there is no single ‘right’ way of listening to a piece of music- every listener brings their own experience to how they interpret and feel about a particular piece music. And I say that, to say this: when I listened to Jungle, I couldn’t help but connect it to other genres I am more familiar with. That is not to say that Jungle is not a genre in its own right, it clearly is- but it also has wide spread roots both musically and culturally, and these connections are what I picked up on.
Jungle, of all the other genres I’ve encountered seems dominated by DJ’s and producers as opposed to performers and egos. The techniques used in jungle tracks, heavily employ the use of samplers and sequencers with smart variations on drum patterns- however, what seems to differentiate it from House music is the heavy reliance on breakbeats which are jerky and interrupt establish rhythms in much the same way as they do on Hip Hop tracks (albeit at a slower tempo). Jungle music for me was laced with Hip Hop influences- from the spotlight on junglist MC’s and producers through the content of the tracks; the emphasis on urban city life and use of street slang on the vocals. This connection is perhaps best highlighted by the track “Danger” by Special K, which begins as what could be a typical Hip Hop track with a looped breakbeat interjected with a keyboard riff- however after two minutes an up-tempo sub bass kicks in and the breakbeat doubles in speed:
This leads me to be curious about the production of Hip Hop and Jungle tracks- as an open question to any producers out there: If you slowed down the breakbeat on a Jungle track, would it be heard (or at least mimic) a Hip Hop beat? But I digress… however I should stop and point out that I am aware that breakbeats in themselves cannot even be taken as the sole defining characteristic of Hip Hop. Again, this goes back to my earlier point- in no way am I suggesting that Jungle is a sub-genre of Hip Hop. Perhaps the discernible breakbeats in Jungle are much older that Hip Hop itself- the sampled reconstructions of looped and fragmented rhythms can be found in jazz recordings, Brazilian and Afro-Caribbean music, and even the trance like repetitions in Sufi performances. Maybe this is why I heard so many diverse layers of musical influence when listening to Jungle. Jungle was such a rich genre to listen to- there was the Latin percussions in the classic club banger; Bambaata by Shy FX (a tribute to the hip-hop DJ Afrika Bambaata- a further illustration of the close relationship between these two genres) :
The interplay between variations of tempo and styles within the Jungle genre meant that possibilities of reggae and house where continually oscillating in the tracks. The music of General Levy provided distinct representations of ragga and reggae, whilst the likes of Grooverider and Ed Rush presented much more rave inspired numbers, diverse still, Jazz and Funk influences were most evident on tracks by Roni Size and Reprazent.
Have a listen for yourself and note the diversity in sound from reggae through to Jazz/Funk :
M Beat feat General Levy –Incredible
This was the biggest learning for me when I ventured into Jungle music- I hadn’t anticipated the rich diversity that existed in this genre. Whilst acknowledging it as musical genre in its own right, I had made a deliberate effort to avoid defining it- a task I am neither qualified to do, nor do I believe this is possible. With the rich evolutions happening in this genre, I do believe that Hip Hop will continue to be core influencer (or maybe I’m just more sensitive to this style) however, it is exciting how other styles are being incorporated to produce a gentrification of styles to produce off-shoots such as ambient jungle, drum ‘n’ bass and trip-hop. I, for one now have dedicated “Junglist” playlist now- feel free to help me populate this!