by Oliver Walkden
"For me, jungle was the point where Black people in the UK came together and rose into prominence. Black culture was taking its true place.”
Mark Fisher, who co-founded Repeater Books with Tariq Goddard in 2014, was enthralled by jungle. It “sounded like the future rushing in”, propelled at frenetic speed by mercurial breakbeats instead of house’s hackneyed 4/4 metric.
That’s not to say it offered a chronological linearity or telos. It scrambled matters with perplexing transmutations of rhythm and bass, abducting the listener’s mind into “temporal delirium”.
In doing so, it challenged the times in which it was made, picking up the baton from dub-reggae to violently reject Babylon's (post)colonialist power system of racism, capitalism and surveillance. It was the soundtrack to the more chaotic and crazed parts of Fisher's intellect - the Tasmanian devil to pop music’s Bugs Bunny.
Despite being constituted by 60s soul samples like the famous Amen Break, and now a nostalgic, “retro” genre of its own, jungle still complements Repeater’s dedication to “the creation of a new reality”.
Its head-splitting beats and foundation-fucking subs live on through artists such as Sherrelle, Faouzia, Tim Reaper and DJRUM, who mix the original style with new-school productions and US imports such as footwork and juke.
Drum and bass was not about trying to lose yourself on the weekend and erase the memories of the week. You were just really excited to go and dance to the music”, says Andrew Green, aka Two Fingas, who co-authored the novel Junglist with drum and bass photographer Eddie Otchere in the ‘90s. “And we didn’t just save it for the weekend. We listened to it constantly.”
In a lesser known way, it lives on in the written word, in the subterranean narratives of Black British literature. Junglist, newly reissued by Repeater, captures the genre's fiery genesis in mid-90s South London.
It was originally published as part of Jake Lingwood’s cult series of pulp novels, Backstreets, which commissioned active party-goers to splurge streams of (sub)consciousness onto paper.
It captures the genre's fiery genesis in mid-90s South London, but it’s not about raving, hedonism and escaping from reality, as you might expect. It addresses a harsh Black experience in London, and the embracing of a “junglist” identity.
The city it describes is a wilderness, humid with police presence and poverty, but elevated by the joyfulness of Black sounds. For the novel’s teen narrators, militant jungle music is not a Lethean tonic for a painful life. It hardens them to the pain, trains them for battle and, in a flat, concrete world, giving them feeling and resonance.
“What’s interesting is that the book was written with no irony whatsoever. It was heartfelt. We just wrote about what we loved, whereas modern society seems to be based on being ironic and not loving anything.” More than anything, Junglist is a coming of age novel that fizzes and swells with teenage desire.
One narrator seeks steamy confluence with the music and women in his life and, in a particularly racy chapter, he practically makes love to a vinyl record. His world is painfully “throbbing with the sound”, trapped in puberty’s fleshy maze. (Imagine Catcher In The Rye set in the 1990s Brixton rave scene).
During our Zoom chat, Andrew’s infant boy joins him on his lap. How will this young lad’s coming of age compare to that of the Junglist’s? And what will be the soundtrack to his youth? “Part of the joy of being Black in the UK is that music is everywhere”, says Green, “and there’s always going to be a music of choice for people entering teenagedom.”
“Jungle couldn’t have come from anywhere else”, says Green. “House and techno had been Black music, but it got co-opted and taken over. For me, jungle was the point where Black people in the UK came together and rose into prominence. Black culture was taking its true place.”
Green is slowly working on more writing, but is primarily focused on his day job as a short film and commercial director. A few years above him in a West London college was another director, Steve McQueen.
His recent BBC series, Small Axe, prefigures jungle, particularly with its “blues” parties. Green was raised going to these events: “It would just be darkness, speakers, a DJ and a heaving mass of people. As an immigrant culture, lots of places suitable for parties wouldn’t have us, so we just used the spaces we had.”
To read more about Junglist, and plenty of other great radical texts, visit Repeater's website.
This article was originally published in ISSUE #8: PRECIPICE. Get your copy
Oliver Walkden is a freelance writer, DJ, and founding member of Leeds collective Brudenell Groove and the Reel Long Overdub record label. Check out their work.