ESSAY: Amen: preservation, revisionism and revivalism of jungle and drum n’ bass music

May 23, 2023

THE LONG VIEW/A SPECIAL ESSAY BY ANDREW C. KIDD AND ROSS PERRY

The four-bar amen drum break has defined jungle and drum n’ bass music for the past three decades. In this essay, we seek to showcase the present-day preservationists, revisionists and revivalists who serve to uphold the eclectic standards of these energetic and soulful sub-genres. Through their innovation, jungle and drum n’ bass remains as heterogeneous as it did when it was first introduced.

“You can compile your own orchestra out of one module”, LTJ Bukem

The focus of the fantastically produced BBC documentary Modern TimesLTJ Bukem was Daniel Williamson, better known by his alias LTJ Bukem, and his trip to Japan with his enigmatic manager Tony Fordham in 1997. It offered some wonderful insights into drum n’ bass production. Sounds were spliced through vinyl manipulation, breaks were chopped, and rhythms were crafted. This is the beauty of do-it-yourself production: it encourages innovation. And innovation there was aplenty in the mid-to-late 1990s. Take the tribalism and 45-rpm-isms of Witchman and early Photek (himself a Good Looking Records label mate of Williamson – he was known as Aquarius then). There was the scale-climbing and shuffling two-step of Terraforming by 4Hero (on the Parallel Universe LP on Reinforced in 1994) – perhaps the first example of the footwork musical sub-genre? Moments of comedy were delivered by Plug in Drum’n’Bass For Papa, released on Blue Angel in 1996, which has been proffered in small measures in recent times by Coco Bryce whose work features heavily on the Breda-based label Myor. His sound is an eclectic and innovative one: listen to the handcrafted approach of A Cherry Riddim (released on 3rd May 2022) and the variety performance of Grand Larceny (Bootlegs 2012 – 2022, released 15th November 2022).

“We are I.E / let me hear you scream”, Lennie De-Ice

A detailed purview of the evolution of jungle and drum n’ bass is beyond the scope of this essay. For a comprehensive commentary, read Martin James’ insightful book State of Bass: Jungle – The Story So Far [1]. Strictly speaking, drum n’ bass has evolved from jungle. Drum n’ bass has less amen loops and ragga influences but more synths and organic beats. Drum n’ bass is two-step-heavy whereas jungle cycled around chopped breakbeats at a higher beats per minute. Some argue that drum n’ bass was refinement in the jungle sound. The liquid drum n’ bass scene provides some weight to that argument. Others cite political differences with drum n’ bass moving away from the protestations and political origins of jungle and its precursor, (proto)jungle and its fusion of breakbeat, rap and soul. Lennie De-Ice’s We Are I.E has been credited as the seminal work in jungle (released by Reel 2 Reel Productions in 1991). Like all formulae of new musical sub-genres, its heterogeneous elements coalesce into a homogenized constant. Jungle, the compound of breakbeat hardcore, reggae, dub, dancehall and hip-hop, had one constant: the amen break. This simple drum loop was taken from a Winstons’ single B- side titled Amen, Brother (Color Him Father, released on Metromedia in 1969). Jungle’s origins can be traced back to the social construct of late 1980s Blighty. Sound systems, which had emanated from 1950’s Kingston, were found across cityscapes. Legendary clubs such as Roast and Telepathy showcased the sounds of DJ Ron, DJ Hype and Kenny Ken. Raves became commonplace. Pirate radio was a highly influential communicator of the sound. Raids on underground raves and the digitalisation of music contributed. Some argue that when General Levy brought the sound into the charts with his single Incredible (M-Beat song) on the label Renk in 1994 – jungle’s appearance under the spotlight of the mainstream stage proved too bright and too far removed from the warehouses and underground spaces of this anarchistic sub-culture.

The metallurgist’s metallurgist Clifford Joseph Price, better known as Goldie, released Timeless on the Metalheadz label in 1995. It is a masterpiece in sound. Its eponymous opener is contrapuntal: a canonical layering of vocals and synths. State of Mind is caprice-like. Sea of Tears is a bittersweet fantasia. Adrift is soulful. You & Me is a melodious ballad. Its beautiful piano prelude is joyous. Timeless was the conception of Price, however Rob Playford (of the trailblazing label Moving Shadow) and Dego and Marc Mac (fellow junglists in 4hero) were heavily involved in its production and engineering. It was perhaps overlooked for the Mercury Music Prize shortlist that year, albeit this was deservedly won by Portishead with trip-hop legend Tricky and electronic stalwarts Leftfield making the shortlist. Testament to the musicality of the drum n’ bass genre, New Forms by Roni Size & Reprazent did eventually win the coveted prize in 1997. Recently the Metalheadz label has embraced a behemoth: a 25 Years of Metalheadz project. Part 1 opened with John B and a remastering of his Up All Night in January 2021 (the original was released in 2001). Part 9 dropped on 17th March 2023. As alluded to, Timeless and orchestral composition have similitude. The Heritage Orchestra version of Sea of Tears is telling in this regard. Goldie has experimented with classical elements to great effect (watch Classic Goldie, a two-part BBC documentary in 2009 where Price composes a piece of classical music which is played by the BBC Concert Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Choir). The string sections on his albums are reminiscent of the ambience of Edward Elgar, especially the soft chords of the larghetto from his second symphony, and the drama of Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes.

Logical Progression, a compilation album released by the venerable and aforementioned LTJ Bukem in 1996, was a further landmark in the genre. Its fusion of ragga and dancehall elements from the earliest days of jungle and the progression of the amen break into mathematical convolutions remains lauded to this day; for example, Cassini’s Dream by Theory, released as recently as 7th October 2022 on the RuptureLDN label, is referential. However, the sound that had come to define the drum n’ bass of the mid-1990s fizzled out in the early 2000s like the corked champagne proffered by the ‘theme park’ UK garage scene (2-step garage is not included this reference), and eventually completely following the denouement of speed garage and its frustrating one-dimensionality (Groove Armada did give it a popular send-off with Superstylin’ on Pepper/Jive Electro in the early noughties). Although it vacated the mainstream arena, jungle and drum n’ bass did not disappear. Artists like Andy F continued to evolve the sound (listen to Colours on F-Jams in 1997). High Society by High Contrast, released by Hospital Record in 2004, was probably the last hurrah of the mid-1990s aesthetic. Artists such as Luke Vibert, particularly his mid-noughties throwback-jungle work under the alias Amen Andrews, and the liquid drum n’ bass purist Calibre continued to make forays out in the open, reminding the general populace that the sound was alive somewhere. Calibre’s Second Sun LP, released on Signature Recordings in 2005 with Diane Charlemagne (who sung on Timeless) featuring on the track Bullets is one of the finest amalgams of soul and drum n’ bass. Artists like Pendulum and Chase & Status and the drum n’ bass super group Bad Company (members: dBridge, Fresh and Vegas) were releasing albums in the mid-noughties, marking the end of the second heyday of drum n’ bass (in the mainstream electronic sense). The sound had been commercialised again: it was liquid-sound predominant – music for the masses. However, unlike its 1994 metamorphosis, the shelf-life of drum n’ bass was more pronounced: dubstep had completely supplanted it.

Preservation, noun, prezəˈveɪʃn: keeping something in its original state [2]

Jungle and drum n’ bass long plays, extended plays, split sides, compilations and singles are as abundant in 2023 as they ever have been. Take the Future Retro London label and their roster, which boasts the likes of Phineus II and Ricky Force alongside drum n’ bass ‘lifers’ Kloke and Tim Reaper. Their ragga sample-heavy outputs would not sound out of place if one had stumbled into Helter Skelter or Voodoo Magic in the early 1990s (the sci-fi explorative Nebula’s The Future, released on 7th April 2023, is an avant-garde exception in some respect). So where does Future Retro’s output sit? Testimonial? – no; revivalist? – probably not; yet, they reference and reclaim the iconic elements of jungle. Are they preservationists? – yes. A sonic time capsule self-propagating within itself. Sub Code Records also carefully serve to preserve the genre with ragga samples spliced around space age synth effects. Take the pentatonic sub-bass lines on Cream by Freegroove (released on 6th April 2020) and Badboy Bloodclaat by Lavery (7th September 2020) and the rapid breaks on Run It… Cos Dis Is How We Roll by Krave (15th November 2018) and Juice-E’s Golly Gosh (31st July 2019). Janaway’s Sensi Lover (17th March 2023), Bow Street Runner’s The Fear (31st January 2023) and Millie’s Back 2 Life / So High (30th January 2019) slam the gear stick into reverse with a high-octanereturn to the breakbeat hardcore of yore. Hands across chests, each track kneels to In Effect byDJ Red Alert and Mike Slammer (released on Slammin’ Vinyl in 1993). Returning to jungle, the ironically-named South Korean Jungle Fatigue Records also seeks to preserve the amen break (listen to their two recently release mixtapes Jungle Fatigue Volumes 1and 2; Volume 2 dropped as recently as 4th April 2023). Heavier drum-work is offered by fellow preservationists Kid Drama and DJ Trace and their collaborative project Nine Windows: their cosmic, LTJ- inspired (and befittingly titled) track Looking Back on the Rules of Thirds LP dropped on 15th March 2023.

Revision, noun, rɪˈvɪʒn: a change or set of changes to something [3]

Those producing jungle and drum n’ bass music have always cut down their listeners with swash-buckling snares and the bombast of bassy sub-rhythms, yet this aural onslaught has always been offset somewhat by its soft-gloved atmospheric edge. The sustained pads and symphonic influences of these sub-genres are synonymous with LTJ Bukem. He alluded to this when discussing his own approach to track composition in a XLR8R interview, considering tracks to have multiple sections with amen-less intros and breakdowns [4]. He also highlighted the importance of narrative in composition. The finest example of narrative in drum n’ bass is Goldie’s sixty-minute matriarchal masterpiece and opener to Saturnz Return, released by Metalheadz in 1998. Mother offered otherworldly glimpses into what was possible when an ambient approach was taken. The ambient opening four-minutes of the seminal Self Evident Truth of an Intuitive Mind by T.Power (released on SOUR in 1995) was pioneering. T.Power is worthy of his own article – the reviewers’ lens would be focused firmly on the synthetic string sections of Trapezium that appear and re-appear like sunlight that bathe the listener in warmth. There was the slightly lower-rpm of Black Street Technology by A Guy Called Gerald (released on Juicebox in 1995) and the lof-fi synth-wash and distorted guitars of Semtex by Third Eye Foundation (Linda’s Strange Vacation, 1995). The latter builds into the same intensity as a spaceship cockpit that tears through the mesosphere. In more times, on his Pool LP released on Ilian Tape on 7th May 2021, the trailblazing multi-disciplinarian Skee Mask infused ambience into his jungle track Testo BC Mashup. Its snare-heavy amen cuts splinteroff from dark atmospherics; this junglist tour de force continues into the lustrous Dolan Tours:the foot pedal kicks away in hypnotic cyclism – 170+rpm snares pop and pull the listener around a gentle synth melody.

Ludvig Cimbrelius, better known under his alias Illuvia, inhabits these sand-land fringes, producing an entirely ambient drum n’ bass album. Iridescence of Clouds was released on A Strangely Isolated Place on 25th January 2021. It is truly symphonic. From the opening allegro of Iridescence to the andante of the sub-bass meditations of Veil of Mist, and the syncopated and choppy scherzo of Wanderer to the concluding sonata of Sky Beyond Sky. It is as if Illuvia listened to Goldie’s Sea of Tears and decided to make a full-length album homage. A broad theme of water percolates this release. From the swathes of synths and droplets of quietly playing piano notes on Iridescence to the tear-dropping emotions of Veil of Mist and its piano flurries that cut through the sub-bass and pads to glint like sun glitter. Nirmala II is the most rhythmically complex of the movements, flitting between low-frequency breaks and higher frequency snare-driven cuts. Illuvia maintains a steady hand on the faders and holds a balanced attack ratio. The vocal samples filter through at different intervals: high-sub-bass calls personify this. It is an uplifting listen, for example, the major key melody that plays throughout Sky Beyond Sky. The rhythm has evaporated by this point. Those mid-range, personified bong- boings make a further and final appearance.

Truly innovative works such as Iridescence of Clouds are golden apples grown from the revisionist tree rather than the revivalist’s soil. Pizza Hotline dropped similar fruit in their Level Select release on Cityman Productions on 1st January 2022. This had liquid influences (EMOTION ENGINE), sustained string sections akin to 808 State (DREAMSHELL) and amen-heavy breaks (SHADOW MOSES). The latter track also features the fusion of see-sawing synths which were very typical of breakbeat of the earliest jungle. One of the album highlights is LOW POLY ROMANCE with its melodic gaming bleeps and strobing synths. The remix that accompanies the release (JAPAN NOVELTY‘S CHEAP LUXURY MIX) is very listenable. Demonic off-key synth splinter as if Noise Factory had been sedated (listen to their track My Mind released on 3rd Party in 1992); synths shimmer rather than strobe; the darkcore of sawing black keys offset a soulful influence (think Right Before by 1st Project released on Fokus UK in 1992). On revisiting ‘97 Energy by DJ Javascript, which was released on 20th February 2022, it has an incredibly erratic flow: every odd track is revivalist drum n’ bass, and the even tracks are a grab-bag of lo-fi house, techno and dubstep. He is undeniably talented and quite adept at weaving the synths, samples and breaks together to build some satisfying soundscapes. Highlights are Drifting Away and Forward Motion, both capturing Good Looking-era drum n’ bass well.

There are others who lionise the high-rpm amen in the temple of jungle yet build annexes. Perhaps this was inevitable. After the first waves of drum n’ bass came dubstep in the early-to- mid noughties. Works from Horsepower Productions, Benga and Skream were early incarnations of dubstep, likewise the sounds showcased by igneous rock-hewing labels such as Big Apple, Tempa, Amunition and Skull Disco (the latter introduced us to Shackleton and Appleblim). The Hyperdub label brought us Burial and his landmark release Untrue in 2007. Burial has since dug deeper and resides somewhere in the ambient and inky black badger-set of the ambient sub-genre (listen to the gossamer Streetlands released on the label on 21st October 2022). Djrum infuses drum n’ bass with turntablism and UK bass in releases such as Seven Lies (released on 2nd Drop Records in 2013) and Portrait With Firewood (released on the mighty R&S Records in 2018). Over the last two-years Lan Party dropped the What U Want EP, somewhat reviving an even more niche UK jungle music sub-genre: breaks. Further recent examples of this ‘in-betweenism’ are Imy From The Fruit Farm on Artificial Red’s Mystics, released on 19th November 2021 (its rhythm and bass are undoubtably jungle, yet the undeniable haze of vaporwave fumigates) and Andrea’s Due in Color, released on Ilian Tape on 23rd March 2023, which carefully crafts drum backroom rhythms that boom throughout (the granular live instrumentation is reminiscent of Spring Heel Jack’s masterful jazz-suffused Disappeared which dropped on Thirsty Ear in 2000). Nia Archives is another revisionist. Her debut LP, titled Forbidden Feelingz, released on 9th March 2022, is a totem to the soulfulness of the amen break. Ode 2 Maya Angelou is a juxtaposition of bass-heavy sub-melodies and psychedelic synths. There is Roni Size & Reprazent circa New Forms within this. She samples Angelou’s poem Still I Rise: “Up from a past rooted in pain, I rise / I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide / Welding and swelling, I bear in the tide”. The infective breakbeat rhythm and unmistakable reggae bass on 18 & Over are fused with heavily-sampled gaming effects, effortlessly, and to wonderful effect – jungle revisionism at its finest.

Revival, noun, rɪˈvaɪvl: something becoming or being made popular again [5]

Revivalism can take many forms; ultimately, it should inspire, and renew. Astrophonica, the London-based “cosmic electronic music label” spearheaded by Fracture and Neptune circa 2009, have offered two of the most exciting revivalist releases over the last few months: 0860 by Fracture on 18th November 2022 and After Life on 24th March 2023. Both are thumping shoves; but firstly, a note on Astrophonica who are unarguably at the forefront of the genre. Their lauded 2011 release Retrospect – A Decade Of Fracture & Neptune, particularly the track Colemanism, showcased the duo’s adroitness and aphorism for jungle music. They clearly have an ear for those who serve to preserve and advance the genre. They had the prolific Sully on their roster in 2015 whose track Flock was also included in APHA20 on 20th January 2020, a release, which celebrated the label’s first 20 EPs. Sully went on to self-release 5ives / Sliding on 3rd December 2021. This was a skirmish between plucked string-acoustics and heavily percussive breaks: a sword fight of the ages. Back to Fracture and 0860. It was inspired by pirate radio and is available as both a LP and mixtape. The focus here will be on the mixtape for two reasons: firstly, the interludes on the mixtape immerse the listener in the world of 1990s jungle in Greater London; secondly, the mixtape track sequence provides superior context and meaning over the LP. 0860 offers simplicity in sound. Many modern jungle-inspired releases windmill around into an electro-melee of uninspired noise (the authors reserve judgement on the false tunnels that the ‘autonomic’ and ‘microfunk’ drum n’ bass dalliances will take you down). An example of how less-is-more is preferred is the track Telepathy on the Side B of the 0860 mixtape. Deep vocal cuts (“telepathyyyyyyyyyyyyy”, drones the frequency-altered voice) work around the boings and tone-shifting bass that anchors the track. The percussive section shuffles liberally around the reverberated guitar cuts and simple two-key synth melody. The high-pitched synth cuts through the piece like white light streaking across a sunset. Having made the journey from dancehalls out west to rave venues across the UK and eventually into the bedrooms of those tuned in to pirate radio, jungle is strongest when it communicates with the listener. This human connection is felt on 0860. Random samples of various media – television, radio, news clips –are scattered throughout The Raid. I can also hear the worn cassette tape of Champion Jungle Sound (Kemet Crew, 1995). The UB40 sample was spotted on All The Massive as was the strange radio presenter’s report of what someone saw outside their front door. “Yeah ‘ello! ELLLO?????” is spoken on the Charlton Crew interlude. The yawning, crowing of cockerelsand banality of modern-day radio is sampled on the second half of mixtape (particularly First Aid Kit) imbuing the slow pace and eventual focus of a Sunday morning. The robotic chatter at the end of the track has resulted in split opinions of the authors, particularly what time-period is being referenced. Has this sound occurred when a voice message is sent to someone in the car but the internet connection fails? Mobile phones had not pervaded everyday communications back in the early-1990s – has this ruined the ‘90s immersion? Or is this a creative composite of the early-1990s source material and twenty-twenties recording? The authors of this essay remain conflicted. There are also fleeting pop-dancehall and reggaeton tracks that float by in the radio static at the end of Buzzing Crew and Booyaka Style. Another time paradox perhaps?

Fracture’s musicianship is evident throughout. Everything is considered. The growling bassline and initial slow beat of Sounds of the Rush rapidly picks up pace and barks orders to kick up your chair. The intentional drop in intensity brings the first half to a close. A similarly deliberate bridge is Alongside, which is used to transition between its preceding track (First Aid Kit) and subsequent track (Bad Traffic), slowly resetting the mood from lush to neutral. Fracture also makes references to the different sub-genres that jungle incorporates. Take the mesmeric First Aid Kit, which is an ode to the finest deep jungle impressed into wax. It could really stand alongside something put out by DJ Trace or anyone on the Good Looking roster. The first half of Kinda Late for a Sunday Night is reminiscent of Miles High by DJ Trace on the Dee Jay Recordings label. Technician on the Case has (proto)jungle and late-rave inspired hooks and cuts (Prodigy or Chrome and Time put out similar sounds in 1992/93). The more menacing side to jungle is evident on All The Massive and Booyaka Style with its sinister breakdown and build-up halfway through. One criticism of the mixtape is that selection of Blaze as its concluding track is somewhat anti-climactic. The LP version gets the sequencing right, concluding with Blaze before From the Very Top and Kinda Late for a Sunday Night. Despite this minor criticism, Fracture pulls off a masterfully crafted ode to the world of 1990s jungle, and even with the sequencing at the end being a little iffy, the authors conclude that the mixtape version offers a better listen than the LP.

After Life by Damian’s Ghost is the truer of the two releases in the junglist sense. Voices opens; it is an immerse listen. Its staggering synths beckons the listener forward. Its vocals are from recent times. Look At The Lights is more technically adept. The lithe synths build and change key. The American-accented vocal cuts harp back to the earliest origins. The beats are punchy (the cut vocals that appear in its later stages are FSOL-inspired). High Places is ambient. Its chiptune melody welcomes its first drop and harks back to Plaid’s chipper and syncopated progression of the earliest hardcore (probably 30-rpm lower) on Anything (Mbuki Mvuki BDP, 1991). 8-bit appears frequently on the Astrophonica label: listen to the futurism of Orbit on Off World Tales by sci-fi spoonerism Philip D. Kick (released on 24th February 2023). Similarly, chiptune is central to DJ Sofa’s Dilemma released on the FFF label on 31st March 2023. The drum cuts and chops come at you quickly; defenceless, the listener can do nothing other than accept the rhythmic onslaught. Perhaps inspired by the snare work of Omni Trio on The Deepest Cut (Candidate Records, 1993), the leading rhythmicity of High Places is placed firmly on the snare. Simplicity once again reigns supreme on Into the Night. The 8-bit resurfaces. Its vocals are less distinct. The synths wash over the listener just like they did on his 26th November 2021 release All I Remember / On The Mist.

0860 and After Life are glass bridges that take us back to the very earliest hallmarks of jungle. They are simple, transparent and composite. They both serve to revive. In the album credits of After Life, Fracture states that Damien’s Ghost is “Vangelis meets Jungle”. This describes his synchronicity. Both Fracture and Damien’s Ghost are champions of jungle of old. They also offer insights into drum n’ bass of the future. Revivalists – yes; but better still: these forward- looking archivists are dynamic. It is this dynamism that will keep jungle and drum n’ bass playing into future times. Amen to that.

References

1. James M. State of Bass: Jungle – The Story So Far. Boxtree: Macmillan; 1997

2. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. Preservation. 2023

3. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. Revision. 2023

4. https://xlr8r.com/features/ask-the-experts-ltj-bukem/

5. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. Revival. 2023

Thanks again to the authors Andrew C. Kidd and Ross Perry.

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