Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Disorganised thoughts on jungle and pop-cultural time. Mentasms has two really quite brilliant new posts about being a junglist out of time. Being, like myself, too young to have properly been there in 1994 when the relentless forward motion and futurism of jungle might have seemed like it would change music for good, the observations are rather poignant, and combined nicely with a critique of the staggeringly prosaic architecture of the 'Celtic Tiger' economy. The annoyance at having missed the boat with jungle is one I totally sympathise with. As a geeky 13 year old in '94 I absent-mindedly liked 'Incredible' and (the still utterly astonishing) 'Original Nuttah' but a year later when I was actually into music, in the sense of buying the music press, spending scarce pocket money on cassette singles and listening (forgive me) to the Radio 1 Evening Session, jungle was something that mostly passed me by. One of the two local gangs in Southampton, the 'Jungle Posse' was made up of Punjabi junglists from the inner-city district of St Marys - they were slightly less scary, but also less geographically proximate than the white hick members of the Bassett Boys, but as I was a tad out of place at that age I was never exactly going to be considered for initiation. I recall once someone handing me his headphones while slacking during a science lesson to hear his pirate tape. I briefly thought 'blimey' and then probably carried on reading an interview with Echobelly.

More biography: by 1997-8, lots of my friends stopped listening to Weezer and started going to old school jungle & hardcore nights - the fact it had old school nights that quickly says something very peculiar about 1990s cultural temporality. I ended up having my First Pill (of very few, and bear in mind that this is a rite of passage for everyone born in the 80s, whether you listened to Bizzy B or Belle & Sebastian) at a Drum & Bass night at Fabric in 1999. It wasn't much fun. My actual, proper, obsessive conversion to jungle came about 5 or so years later, and that was by listening to the 93-5 stuff rather than the increasingly dull Drum & Bass my friends were listening to - and totally without any connection with actual raves, but more a mediated tracing of the 'nuum backwards, after I fell for grime at the point it was morphing out of garage - and by this time, jungle unavoidably evoked the background noise of my own adolescence. So I, at least, have a feeling of generational resentment here, due to narrowly missing out on properly experiencing - while being aware of! - the most avant-garde popular music in history. Mentasms has a dissimilar but also temporally 'wrong' perspective, in finding jungle and falling in love with it in a period of alleged decline, when it had already become just another option on the stylistic menu - but writes beautifully about how it still offered 'a narrow alley of evasion'.

In this context, the unearthing (at History is Made at Night) of a Mark K-Punk piece on jungle from 1995 written in the full fervour of the moment is especially historically and temporally interesting, particularly alongside the haunted sobriety of his recent(ish) Rufige Kru retrospective. Reading a couple of recent dissensus threads on such matters you could come to the conclusion that the futurist, delirious rhetoric of junglist theory worked because the music hadn't had the chance to become just another style - it was the style, an apparent pinnacle, summation and repudiation of all previous electronic musics to the point where it doesn't sound rhetorical or exaggerated to ask 'how can you make a record like that and the world keeps turning?' That a culture can reach a peak like this and it has no effect, and everything carries on as before if not worse, with the sound living on only as memory (no matter how poignant, intractable and anti-nostalgic that memory might be) suggests something sobering about the essential uselessness of even the most powerful, radical musics.


Blogger Culla said...

Great pieces from Mentasm and nice reflection, Owen. I didn't have age to excuse my passing on peak period jungle - i had 'done' breakbeat hardcore in a short intense year and a half and now I placed myself away from further developments in the rush by moving away from the south up north. And of course in the continuous present you always think there will be other times, weekends to come when you will decide to stop talking about indie-rock or NME approved techno and actually go to the rave. And then you look around and it has mutated again, so new perceptions necessary. Remember also the pre-iPod longer discovery period getting into new sounds and the queasy fear about new and great musics - it's so exciting you're actually uneasy about getting on it.

8:26 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Mmm, I assumed it wasn't a big thing up North - that apparently being part of the 'euro-core 'nuum' (which perhaps makes the north with its hard house and such closer to europe than london, curiously)

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11:30 pm  

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