Rumble in the Jungle (the rise of drum 'n' bass) (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 3, 1995)

POP MUSIC: Rumble in the Jungle: There’s a furious battle being waged over the soul--and future--of that electronic music with the breakbeat drive train. Is it street-tough enough to survive?

DEC. 3, 1995 12 AM

Take a good look at Goldie’s face: muscular and tense, with a mouthful of gold incisors and leering eyes that have seen both the streets and the sound studios.

It could be the musical face of the future.

“Urban breakbeat has become the mood of the ‘90s,” says Goldie in a sneering cockney accent, “like rap was in the ‘80s.”

The similarities between Goldie’s new sound and the rise of rap are haunting. The 30-year-old electronic musician from London is the leader in a genre of music being hailed as the hip-hop of Britain--a genre that is finding its way onto the British charts and slowly seeping into America.

Goldie may call it urban breakbeat, but most simply say it’s “jungle.”

And if you think he’s just tooting his own horn when he compares it to hip-hop’s ascent, listen to what others have to say: It’s “the most soul-harrowing, futuristic music being made on the planet right now,” according to the British weekly Melody Maker. Jason Bentley, weeknight deejay on Santa Monica’s KCRW-FM (89.9), describes jungle as “the most enthralling and interesting music movement that’s out there today.” Pop singer Bjork labels it “a fierce joy.” Rapper Ice-T is also a fan.

“Jungle” is an umbrella term for electronic music with a breakbeat drive train--that is, a rhythm track composed of super-fast hip-hop loops (one fan describes it as “Buddy Rich on speed”). Over that you’ll find dancehall toasting (reggae rapping) and real-time ragga bass lines. It is an approach so street-tough--rhythmically--that the “hard” aesthetic of American gangsta rap seems quite soft in comparison.

Lyrically, toasters often talk of “murderation,” “Uzi"-toting and being an “original gangsta.” Some of the dark songs feature machine-gun blasts. And the bass frequencies are often so low that average car stereo speakers rattle with pain.

It is an apocalyptic sound.

“If you took jungle and put it with our freeways and our stereo systems,” says Raymond Roker, publisher of L.A-based Urb magazine, “fools wouldn’t know what hit ‘em.”

Although some in the British press seem to have attempted to put an end to this underground sound by associating it with racial fissure, drug scenes and violence (“gangsta rave,” they call it), it is thriving.

In fact, it is already battling with the downside of success: charges of selling out.

“Jungle compilations are selling in mall stores, which is a sign that it is really tweaking into our consciousness,” says Steve Levy, owner of L.A. record label Moonshine Music.

Goldie’s debut, “Timeless,” on the FFRR label, represents jungle’s widest and most fitting American introduction. ( See review, Page 92 .) It is an album that takes jungle in a new direction, shunning gangsterism and adding jazzy textures.

“The euphoria this music can make is massive,” Goldie says.


Breakbeat rhythm--the foundation of the jungle genre--has been around probably as long as people have used two sticks to make sound. It is simply a syncopated beat that breaks against the one-two-three-four rhythm yet keeps time. The term probably stems from the jazz “break"--a short drum solo.

Jungle is a product of the early-'90s rave scene, an outgrowth of what was once known as “breakbeat techno” or “hard-core.” Early breakbeat used whistle samples, piano bridges and grating synthesizer chords. The first-wave artists of ’91 included Human Resource, SL2, the Prodigy, Acen, 2 Bad Mice and the Ragga Twins.

Many of the “junglists” of the time, including Goldie, were of Jamaican descent (as were early hip-hoppers, such as deejay Kool Herc). In fact, the term “jungle,” by most accounts, refers to the Kingston ghetto where Bob Marley was raised.

But the sound began to take on a comical, happy-go-lucky feel as it went pop in Europe in the early ‘90s. Vocal samples at breakneck speeds sounded like the Chipmunks. And then came novelty songs that made the movement seem shallow. It was Smart E’s 1992 hit “Sesame’s Treet"--the “Sesame Street” theme set to breakbeats--that many blame for the downfall of the first wave of jungle.

The music became the soundtrack for cheerleader competitions--literally. And, as with hip-hop a decade before, it was largely demonized in the press. England’s influential dance music magazine Mixmag said that the genre was the death of rave culture. The scene retreated underground for two years and resurfaced last year with a compelling street edge--a gangsta vibe borrowed from dancehall (not from American gangsta rap).

Learning the lessons of its own demise, jungle now has expansive boundaries and a sincere ethic to keep the sound underground--or at least in the hands of those who know and care about it. Jungle in many ways is like gangsta rap--a genre with artists who genuinely speak from the street.

“It’s a slow-burning fuse,” Goldie says. " . . . Junglists have something to say about the social situation.”

B ut jungle, barely 5 years old, is already grappling with some of the same issues that American gangsta rap has dealt with: carpetbagging, greedy record executives and an often hostile media.

“We control our own industry,” Goldie insists.

Indeed, the jungle scene is tight-knit--based in the ghettos of East London. Artists cut DAT recordings and hand them out to their favorite club deejays, who then pay to have them pressed on a single record--a “dubplate” or “acetate.” Sometimes a dubplate is so popular that fans will come from miles around to patronize the one deejay who has a copy. It’s a system that bypasses the music industry, commercial radio and the media.

“The days of record companies dictating formulas,” Goldie says, “are out the window.”

But then there are people like General Levy, who had a Top 10 hit in England with “Incredible.” He is loathed in the jungle scene, for he was a floundering dancehall artist who crossed over to find commercial success with jungle. It didn’t help his cause much when he was quoted in the British press as saying, “I run jungle at the moment.”

Goldie calls Levy’s style of jungle “commercial [b.s.]”

Nonetheless, “jungle is the word on every record company executive’s lips” in England, says one newspaper. And jungle remixes are becoming de rigueur for American artists--Snoop Doggy Dogg, Ice Cube and Jodeci are but three--who want to break through to the British market.

It’s also beginning to infiltrate America:

Goldie was on tour this fall with Bjork. Organizers of the annual Circa New Year’s rave at L.A.'s Grand Olympic Auditorium are planning an all-star jungle lineup for this year’s event. And Moonshine Music has been distributing jungle compilations in the United States since 1992--to the tune of almost 250,000 units--and this year began distributing England’s best-known jungle record label, Suburban Base. America’s Profile records has also put out a compilation--and other domestic labels have done fusion compilations of jungle mixed with Indian bhangra and jungle mixed with the similar, breakbeat-driven sound of Miami bass (the sound produced by 2 Live Crew, 95 South and Tag Team).

"[Jungle] has a soul that techno and house music don’t,” says Neil Harris, director of artists and repertoire for London Records and FFRR. “Goldie could be the one who makes it translate to an American audience.”

In New York, the club Concrete Jungle provides a weekly forum for the genre. It has also found scenes in Chicago, Toronto, Baltimore and Orlando, Fla. In Los Angeles, a small group of deejays including R.A.W., Josh Swissman and Selecter have introduced jungle to a young crowd that includes Latinos and whites. It is often played at Eastside raves, mixed in with Dutch “hard-core” or “gabber"--an unsyncopated sound that races at a compatible 160-plus beats a minute.

M eanwhile, critics are praising Goldie’s album as “intelli gent jungle"--a term he loathes.

Goldie gets emotional about this as he huddles in the hotel restaurant at the Mondrian on Sunset--in town recently to open for Bjork at the Hollywood Palladium. He wears shell-toe Adidas and loose-fitting Stussy gear. He accentuates his passion for jungle with the hand gestures of a rapper, his gold rings serving as the punctuation.

“The music I make is for the inner city,” he says, “and the over-ground deems it intelligent?” He says the term suggests, incorrectly, that other jungle genres are stupid.

Other critics charge that Goldie and artists like him who have toned down jungle’s gangsta element have gone soft.

But all told, Goldie has earned the right to veer from stereotypical jungle. He knows the street, having written graffiti in his younger years in London, New York and Miami (his graffiti art was eventually praised and earned him a gallery show).

“Where I come from,” he says, “I know white boys that will take you out in a minute.”

And he knows jungle, having been an artist in the scene since ’91 and having co-founded one of its most respected labels, Metalheads.

That’s why he wants jungle to maintain its tough edge:

“The machinery of the music industry is that you put something into it and it could be chewed up.

” . . . I don’t want this music to be too far detached,” he says, adding that he wants it to be “popular but not pop.”

He sees jungle as the culmination of a long line of popular music created by people of African descent: blues, jazz, reggae, hip-hop and techno (with rock falling under the blues category).

“If you have a respect for those five genres,” Goldie says, “jungle becomes a more powerful beast.”

Does it have a chance stateside?

“Let the youth culture decide,” he says.


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