Dear Friends in Music,
If there’s one thing I’m as obsessive about as poetry, it’s non-dual ecological awareness, and if there’s one thing I’m as obsessive about as both of those, it’s music. So, as promised, I’m putting together a series of compilations on various genres of music that likely run under most people’s radars. My hope is to expose newbies to music you might fall in love with, to expose pre-existing converts to underrated gems, and to offer everyone a little aural medicine while we undergo a spiritual test unlike any other in our time. First up is jungle, with a little story to set the stage.
I used to own a small jungle record label, and was once known as one of the dustiest-fingered crate-diggers around. Crate-digger is slang for someone who spends his evenings and weekends traipsing to record stores, basements and attics, flipping through vinyl in search of his next musical high. His eyes glaze over, his fingers chafe and his back hurts, but his ears teach Mozart’s ghost a thousand things about the gradations of mediocrity and, if he’s lucky, one amazing thing each dig about discovery and joy.
In all the genres and genre-less genies that ever entered my ears, jungle was my true love, a form of electronic music developed in the UK between 1993-1996, an explosive genre that saw upwards of ten-thousand releases ushered into existence in a few short years. Giving birth to a genre is no small task and seems to happen as much by magic as by intention. It’s as much about putting together the right ingredients as being in the right place in the right time. The place where those ingredients can co-exist and consciousness can comprehend the links between them. It’s a momentous occasion, and whenever I look back, I’m reminded of how novel it was for the Brits to take elements from hip-hop, house, techno, funk, reggae, ambient and virtually every other genre, and fuse them into something uniquely distinct from all others.
It was also a bridging of cultures and backgrounds into a shared experience that drew crowds by the thousands to raves, drove crafty enthusiasts to create their own pirate radio stations, and pushed addicts like me to amass giant troves. Like hip-hop, jungle became both a music and a culture, and one thing that drew me in was its sense of unity, how it welcomed and sampled all sources, utilizing emerging technology to make something new, something bursting with energy, a joyful music to which everyone from crowd-pleasers to loners could belong and take part.
Was there a barrier to entry in terms of finding the music accessible? Possibly. It’s drum-heavy, fast, often played loud, full of influences likely outside of one’s usual fare, but the vast terrain it covered also offered many inroads into the sound. And truly, it has its own sound: there are many styles of jungle, just as there are many styles of jazz, but any junglist could tell within a few seconds whether a song belongs to the tribe. How? The beat.
Jungle is first and foremost about the beat, the thumping heart of the tune, then the bassline, the spiritual hum that invigorates the body. Then, with those two elements in place, you can do as you please: make it a soulful tune borrowing from reggae and rare groove; an atmospheric tune borrowing from ambient and classical; a funky tune, borrowing from funk and jazz. Make it a lo-fi gritty tune that eschews clinical precision or a tune so exacting even the sound of a drum-hit can be said to have its own shape. You can even do all of these things together. The one rule: do something new. Push the sound in a particular direction further than it had been pushed before.
As a reader, I think you can imagine how addictive such a music could be. How addictive music research itself can be. Once you’re on the hook, you can dig through everything you can find and never get tired. On the contrary, the process is enlivening—endlessly searching, refining your taste, discovering new artists and songs, passing along your discoveries, trading secrets with fellow addicts, all for the aim of increasing pleasure in this world. One of the best highs I know in life is the discovery of an obscure or under-appreciated tune that immediately cements itself into your album of favorites, then you carry it like a glowing ember toward others you know are sure to be ignited and set ablaze.
Music research amongst crate-diggers is like setting a botanist in the Amazon. Throughout my twenties and early thirties, I spent over thirty grand on vinyl and CDs, and that wasn’t a tenth of my exposure. With the advent of the internet, research also meant scouring web pages, Ebay listings, listservs and peer-to-peer sharing networks in search of fellow enthusiasts who carried specimens I hadn’t heard before. Money aside, I also spent six to eight hours a day, at least five days a week, researching jungle online, downloading and plowing my way through everything in sight. Listening hours equaled waking hours. Gigabytes per day, a few new records in the mail per week. (Nowadays Discogs users just have to search a database!)
And then, when you knew the landscape of the genre like the back of your hand, and you knew the tunes like voices in your mind, the arc of a mix could begin to take shape in you—your inner deejay could enter the stage. His task? To assemble and test the blend, reassemble and test the blend, going through countless cycles of trial and error to figure out which tunes complement which others, and in what order, painstakingly crafting a journey through the music to create new soundscapes that didn’t exist before. A soundscape pulled from the ether for his ears and the ears of those who were able to hear the synchronicities he found between the records. It’s a little bit of luck, a lot of tenacity, a godly amount of patience. But if it’s done right, it gives you shivers and tingles, makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. More than that, it gives back to the music something beautiful in honor of what you have received. It’s an act of reciprocity and a contribution.
This is how I approached mix making, which, sadly, I can no longer do. I went so far into jungle that at some point, the Universe said too far. I developed hyperacusis, a painful sensitivity to certain frequencies of sound that has rendered me unable to listen to most forms of music, jungle included. Was it because I played it too loud, listened too long, pushed my ears past the limits of their endurance? Probably. Would I take it back if I could? I don’t know. The loss of those experiences sounds an awful lot like a darkening of the soul, and I don’t think I’d want that. Without that enrichment, I might never have come to see all phenomena as notes in the score of existence, each of us as instruments contributing our brief riffs to the symphony that only nature and God can hear. A little pain and sorrow in exchange for learning to hear the music we’re made of? Yes, I’ll take that deal, every day of the week.
Now that I’ve gotten way off track, back to the task at hand. Since I can’t create mixes any more, I thought the least I could do is create a compilation of my journeys in jungle and offer it to you lovely people. So, here they are, seventy-five tracks, one sound, split into five groups of fifteen, each group representing a different chapter in my exploration and a different realm in the sound. It’s the digital equivalent of a 5-CD album offering a deep dive into the genre. There are classics, obscurities and oddities, something for the jungle neophyte and the crate-diggers whose ears, God save them, allowed them to go even deeper than I did. (Though, at the deepest levels, it’s mostly overlap and very thin strips of intrigue).
The five legs of the journey are: 1) The Funk, 2) The Dirt, 3) Atmospheres, 4) Emcees, and 5) Top Shelf. The first leg is full of funky, jazzy tunes, the mellowest side of jungle for those new to the genre, all non-amen tunes full of intricate beat patterns for the experts. The second leg is where things get a little rough around the edges and the tunes have what I call a dirty or gritty quality to the beats, something from an era before professional polish sanitized the music. The third leg is where we pick up our legs and soar, full of ambient, ethereal noises that remind us to use our wings. (This, in my opinion, is the secret heart of the genre.) The fourth leg plants us back in our bodies, where the human voice complements the drums, drawing from reggae, hip-hop and soulful styles of elocution. The fifth leg is where we sit back at the end of the day and sip the finest whiskey, full of tunes that always seem to rise above the pack with that little something extra.
If I could still make mixes, I’d make these five, but perhaps it’s better this way: better for you to hear the tunes in all their glory; better for you to be able to find the synchronicities between them yourself; better for you to begin your own ever-deepening Journeys in Jungle.
There might be more in the future, but that’s all for now.
Big up all crew—one love,
PS: I owe scores of people thanks for improving my taste and my ability as a researcher, deejay and junglist over the years, but this is already too dang long, so, to all of you: thank you, this journey would’ve been lonely and not nearly as fulfilling as it was if I didn’t have you to light the way. And thanks to J.Decker for the kick-ass artwork! (Seriously, engage this man for your logos, art and album covers: https://jdecker.net/) And I owe thanks to the Earth and the Universe for these bodies and ears and sounds and abilities, without which none of this would exist—may my every gesture be one of gratitude. And I owe a thanks in advance to you listeners, for the love you’ll show the music when it moves you. No one gets rich in jungle. I think everyone in some way or another operates at a loss, and produces or mixes or shares out of love. So if you like what you hear, please reach out and tell the producers, buy their tunes and records; download everything and become a better critic; reach out to the DJs and talk about the genius in their mixes. Let the artists know how much their years of work has benefited your life. And lastly, when you have the opportunity to spread the word, whether the word is jungle, jazz or a scrap of hard-won wisdom: do it—the pleasure and joy perpetuate by one simple act: the passing of the torch.
101 Boqus – Noktorno.mp3
102 Yellow Note – How It Goes.mp3
103 Squarepusher – Squarepusher Theme.mp3
104 T.Power vs. MK-Ultra – Mutant Jazz.mp3
105 D’Cruze – All Night Long.mp3
106 Ellis Dee ft. The Specialist – Ooh Boy (Bad Boy Mix).mp3
107 The Clifford Gilberto Rhythm Combination – Deliver the Weird.mp3
108 Squarepusher – Square Rave.mp3
109 The Shooter – 9mm.mp3
110 Citadel of Kaos – Ceasefire.mp3
111 Rinca – This World (Bass Rub Mix).mp3
112 Children of the Jungle – Don’t Make Me Wait.mp3
113 Headhunter – Latin Flute.mp3
114 Naruhisa Matsuoka – The Japanese Skylark.mp3
115 Yellow Note – Thumbelina.mp3
201 Slam Collective & MC Olive – Heaven ‘n Hell.mp3
202 Tora Tora Tories – Maxwell’s Wallet.mp3
203 DJ Dance – Indi Bass.mp3
204 Unknown Artist (ASTO-1) – Untitled (Mix 1).mp3
205 Fusion – Burn It down.mp3
206 Time Square – Gangster.mp3
207 The DJ Atom – Energy Sauce (Remix).mp3
208 N-Zo & DJ Invincible – Funky Sensation.mp3
209 G-Flex & The Bandit – Party AK47.mp3
210 Baby D – I Need Your Loving (Operator & Limey Remix).mp3
211 DJ Rosencrantz & MC Philistine – The Ghost of Eleanor Rigby (A Lonely Graveyard Calling Dub).mp3
212 W. Wilson – The Juice.mp3
213 Ron Tom – Revelation Chapter 1.mp3
214 Under Rhythm – Feel the Passion.mp3
215 Unknown Artist (MZN3841) – Untitled A2.mp3
301 Universal Love – Deeply (Original Mix).mp3
302 Jason Jinx – 13thunlucky.mp3
303 Oska – Leviathin.mp3
304 Artificial Intelligence – The Vision.mp3
305 DJ Redoo – Rise & Shine (Remix).mp3
306 Bionic – Ultra Blue.mp3
307 Forensic – Tiny Circles.mp3
308 DJ Levi – Majestic Intelligence.mp3
309 Neil Trix & Danny Mills – Brief Visit.mp3
310 Three The Hardway – Tropical Storm.mp3
311 Timeline – Projection (Amen Mix).mp3
312 The Imposter – Joys of Life.mp3
313 Mr. Monik – Atmosphere.mp3
314 Sunship – Original Sun.mp3
315 B.L.I.M. – Their Culture.mp3
401 Plutonik – Sitting On Top of the World.mp3
402 Bay B Kane – The Breeze.mp3
403 Booyaka Crew ft. MC Det – Junglist Massive.mp3
404 Dub Culture ft. Mikey Brooks – When the Party’s Over.mp3
405 Overseer – Signing On.mp3
406 Ellis Dee – Big Up Your Chest (Remix).mp3
407 Studio II – Entertainment.mp3
408 Booyaka Crew – Ghetto Youth.mp3
409 Ron Tom – Pirates.mp3
410 DJ Hype & Ganja Max ft. DJ Daddy & MC Fats – Rinse Out.mp3
411 Fusion – Love for the World (Remix).mp3
412 Code K – Ryde ‘n Slyde.mp3
413 Jonny L – I Want You.mp3
414 E.P.S. Man – Shockout.mp3
415 Demolition Man, Frisky Dan & Terry Tee – Latest Craze.mp3
501 T.Power – Amber.mp3
502 Beats R Us – Clear & Present Danger.mp3
503 DJ Dub Rush – Crazy.mp3
504 Ruf Intelligence – Sax ‘n Ting (Mix 1).mp3
505 The Dominion – Fusion (Cool Like This Mix).mp3
506 Megashira – Mental Strength.mp3
507 Jason Mouse – Ruff Note.mp3
508 DJ Demo & Mickey Skeedale – Hustlers in Hardcore.mp3
509 Hopa & Bones ft. MC Fats – Tings Could Be Better.mp3
510 Mind Therapy – What Goes Around.mp3
511 Missing – A Stitch In Time.mp3
512 Militia – Dread.mp3
513 Mr. Monik – Pressure.mp3
514 Rinca – Children of the Ghetto.mp3
515 Wagon Christ – King’s Lyn.mp3