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cosmos-3.21.2014

A mea culpa: I have been doubly guilty of maintaining the false dichotomy at the heart of jungle / drum’n’bass.

As a teenage techno-lover in 1993, I at first resisted the riotous cascades of Amens, rewinds, gunshots and sirens that filled my friends’ rave tapes, hearing nothing but a slightly scary mess in their lunatic layers. My conversion, when it came, was thanks to the chords, melodies and experimentalism of Omni Trio, 4 Hero and A Guy Called Gerald – but within a matter of months I’d done a 180º snobbery-inversion, and was making snotty comments about others who only liked the “wafty” stuff, looking down from a moral high ground on top of a pile of “authentic” Shy FX, Potential Badboy and Kemet Crew 12”s.

Point being, both attitudes were basically ignorant. As we all know by now, the idea that warm, melodious, jazzy, soulful stuff was “intelligent jungle” was laughable, given the obvious sophistication and power of the tear-out ragga stuff. But equally pernicious, and rather more abiding, is the fallacy that the other side of jungle/d’n’b was separate and somehow less authentic. Of course it’s understandable, because by 1996, every advert sound bed, every shiny new “pre-club bar” and every boutique was awash with floaty pads, sighing vocals and skittery breakbeats. But just because it was easily appropriated doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a) a true part of the grassroots movement and b) musically frequently amazing.

The veneration of the tear-out jungle that’s happened increasingly through the 2000s and 2010s is great – it’s music that has retained amazing power – but it’s led all too often to slightly warped view of history that fetishises signifiers of violence and confrontation over those of smoothness and sophistication. The simple narrative now tends to be that hardcore begat jungle, the urban power of which was then diluted as drum’n’bass emerged. But from the very beginning, jungle contained smooth soul, the most ecstatic of Detroit techno, ambient electronica, b-boy electro, piano house, funk and – yes – jazz, as much as it contained ragga, rave and rap. The people right at the very heart of it insisted on that.

When I interviewed Goldie recently he was at pains to point out that the most hardcore and blackest of London jungle nights were rinsing Alex Reece ‘Basic Principles’ at the start of ’94. Lemon D and Dillinja, now associated with the brutality of their Valve sound, were soulboys at heart and it shows. Metalheadz, Reinforced, Moving Shadow, even Suburban Base and Labello Blanco: all of these rolled out smooth, slick, sexy tracks. And labels emerging from the jazz-funk world like Talkin’ Loud, Mo Wax and Dorado were in on the act from early on. Ragga-jungle WAS the authentic sound of London and other cities in those magical few years, but so were all the other variants.

As much as I was snooty about people who only bought Logical Progression compilations, I enjoyed the sounds too, and looking back, it’s incredible how many of the records made in that short period of white-hot creativity still sound blissful and brilliant. These were records for the dancefloor as much as for kicking back, and they are still shot through with rave’s original strangeness, psychedelia, sauciness. Some of them are strung out and out-there, some of them gorgeously familiar and embracing, and the sheer variety among them is dizzying. With dBridge, Om Unit, Machinedrum and even Doc Scott currently reminding us that drum’n’bass is a genre of sensuality as much as teeth-gritted lunacy, it seems a good time to remind ourself that it has always been thus.

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LTJ BUKEM
‘Demon’s Theme’
(1992)

Right there at the very beginning, woven into the basic fabric of what jungle could be, here it is: a proper eyes-roll-back E tune, full of lush musicality derived from soul and Detroit techno, the kind of thing that will still reduce hard men to tears in the right circumstances.

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MANIX
‘Headin’ to the Light’
(1993)

Again, still full of the ecstasies of rave (to which Marc Mac aka Manix has returned recently on his Living in the Past album), and with more of rave’s rough-and-ready home-built quality to the production than the Bukem tune – but the structural ambition of this track is immense, and it sets the tone for so much that was to follow (not least Timeless which Mac’s 4 Hero partner Dego would co-produce).

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RONI SIZE
‘Det-strumental’
(1993)

The original roller?

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DJ CRYSTL
‘Meditation’
(1993)

If there’s one track that shows there was never a real division between jungle’s wildness and its smooth side, this is the one. The way that first bass tone just slides in at 1’26”! THOSE BREAKS!

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FOUL PLAY
‘Open Your Mind’
(1993)

The genius that is Steve Gurley on beats. At a point when soul/R&B samples were generally sped up to a speed-rush shriek, here the Sahara and Kleer vocals – while still pitched up – are there to sooth and caress.

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4 HERO
‘Universal Love’
(1994)

The Parallel Universe album was probably the turning point for a lot of people that had turned their noses up at jungle before, and here is its full on spiritual jazz moment – saxophones, messages of love and all.

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TEK 9
‘A London Sumtin’
(1994)

And from the other half of 4 Hero, a sign of just how fast things were moving – the technique on these beats is a quantum leap further on again from Parallel Universe.

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2 BAD MICE
‘Shooby Corner’
(1994)

Moving Shadow’s 2 On 1 set of split 12”s were hotbeds of odd and unique experiments – like this subdued, freaky stepper that feels futuristic even now.

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ALEX REECE
‘Basic Principles’
(1994)

So simple, so deadly. This (along with Peshay’s ‘Psychosis’) was the start of an unstoppable run of stripped back sounds for Metalheadz.

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OMNI TRIO
‘Soul Promenade (Nookie Remix)’
(1994)

“YES YES”. Obviously ‘Renegade Snares’ was the big one, but if anything this is even better. As affirmative and loved-up a jungle / d’n’b tune as has ever been made.

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RENEGADE
‘Something I Feel’
(1994)

From the man like Ray Keith, on the flip of the better-known and more tearing goth piano monster ‘Terrorist’. Crisp, strange, deep, and it’s got flutes in it.

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FLYNN & FLORA
‘Dream of You’
(1994)

From Bristol, another like the DJ Crystl tune that allows the soulful, ecstatic elements to wash over the tear-out breaks, providing contrasting layers of physical and emotional experience. A co-production with Rob Smith and samples Smith & Mighty’s ‘Anyone’.

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BLAME & JUSTICE
‘Nemesis’
(1994)

Another from the 2 on 1 series, and in contrast to the subdued 2 Bad Mice one, this one completely cuts loose. Oddly, also sounds really good slowed down to 33rpm.

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E-Z ROLLERS
‘Rolled into 1’
(1994)

One of the best ever for beautiful tension and no release – an absolutely heartbreaking track.

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SPRING HEEL JACK
‘The Sea Lettuce’
(1994)

The duo were one of the few outside experimentalists to really “get” jungle early, to do ambitious structures without patronising the form, and to get played by jungle insiders too. The alien signal sine-wave tones at 2’31” are a bravura turn.

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D’CRUZE
‘Lonely’
(1994)

At the same time Suburban Base were putting out stuff like ‘Limb By Limb’ and ‘RIP’, they were dropping works of staggering beauty like this.

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DJ RAP
‘Spiritual Aura’
(1994)

Yes, those were the days when tracks could be called things like ‘Spiritual Aura’ and still send arenas full of raging nutbars absolutely mental.

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PFM
‘One & Only’
(1995)

Now, Bukem’s Good Lookin’ Records were as responsible as anyone for locking the mellower side of d’n’b into a formula, and this record is kind of the sound of that happening – but listen to it out of that context, and it’s still SO good.

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SOURCE DIRECT
‘A Made Up Sound’
(1995)

Metalheadz just kept rolling them out. And how this one rolls.

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THE BALLISTIC BROTHERS
‘I’ll Fly Away’
(1995)

Balearic boys turning their hands to jungle, and getting it right? Stranger things have happened…

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T.POWER VS. MK ULTRA
‘Mutant Jazz’
(1995)

This one was everywhere in summer ’95. Absolutely everywhere.

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2 PLAYER
‘Extreme Possibilities (Wagon Christ Mix)’
(1995)

The Aphex / Squarepusher tendency of beat complexification never quite captured the spirit of jungle, though it created its own kind of derangement in the process. Of all that axis, though, Luke Vibert (as Plug and Wagon Christ) was the one who came closest to nailing the beat edits, and this was one of his best.

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NORTHERN CONNEXION
‘For Fabio’
(1995)

Back 2 Basics – out of Derby – was one of the very finest labels of the time, proving that it wasn’t all a “London sumting”… although they still had to pay tribute to a Londoner in the title.

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LEMON D
‘Urban Style Music’
(1995)

It almost feels like Lemon D is having a joke here about the increasing rigidity and regularity of d’n’b’s rhythms – the way the simple, relentless opening break is woven into the downright flowery jazz-funk excursions of the rest of the tune is quite something. Metalheadz at its jazziest.

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B.L.I.M.
‘Jeamland’
(1995)

This one feels kind of like an archetype of the long, indulgent ambient jungle excursion, but THAT BASS! Also funny that this emerged on the S.O.U.R. label, which would very shortly after be responsible for some of the gnarliest techstep.

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WAX DOCTOR
‘Atmospheric Funk’
(1995)

Gilles Peterson in on the act, with this on his Talkin’ Loud label. And yes, if there was ever a track to make you turn to camera like The Fast Show’s Jazz Club man and say “niiiiice”, this is it.

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PROJECT 23
’23’
(1996)

But this is where it gets really jazzy. Set up by UK jazz vets Marques Gilmore and Cleveland Watkiss (who hosted Metalheadz’ Blue Note Sessions), Project 23 was a fantastic indulgence just as the mainstream’s eyes were really starting to turn onto the sound – perhaps too indulgent to really succeed, in fact. But look past the “hey guys” cheesiness of the intro, once this settles down it’s a strange and wonderful record.

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PHOTEK
‘T-Raenon’
(1996)

You don’t get much better jazzy-arty-electronica credentials than a co-sign from Kirk DeGiorgio who signed this to his Op-ART label. And it happens to be one of Photek’s best. Yes, as good as ‘Rings Around Saturn’ OR ‘Water Margin’.

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DJ KRUSH
‘Meiso (4 Hero Luscious Mix)’
(1996)

Mo Wax had an extremely impressive number of great d’n’b releases starting with Roni Size’s remix of Palmskin Productions ‘The Beast’ in 1994. But this was the most jazztastic.

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MYSTIC MOODS
‘Music is the Basis of All Life’
(1996)

AKA Jack’n’Phil, proper rave veterans, and unsung heroes of the scene – and, yes, by 1996 they were making mystical excursions in seven parts. This is the kind of thing it’d be easy to mock as the prog rock of rave, if it wasn’t so damned lush.

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ART OF NOISE
‘Island (Seiji Remix)’
(1997)

Before broken beat, Seiji was a Reinforced stalwart and awesome breakbeat-wrangler. This, on a Art Of Noise remix compilation, might be one of the most melancholy d’n’b tracks ever.

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KRUST
‘True Stories’
(1998)

It was all starting to go a bit wrong by now, with techstep taking over, simple 1-2 rhythms the order of the day, and the art of the roller all but forgotten – but Krust was one of the few maintaining constant inventiveness, and this sad and suspenseful little stepper is in its way one of the greatest tracks the genre ever produced.

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ADAM F
‘Music in my Mind (Blame’s Astral Mix)
(1998)

What better way to end than by disappearing into deep space?

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