Death in the Jungle?

By the

March 15, 2001

Rock journalists are the morticians and coroners of the music world. Just as quickly as they invent new genres, they pronounce others dead. Witness: “techno,” “trip-hop,” “ambient” and “ska-punk”??all popular forms five years ago??now grace headstones in the rock music graveyard.

At the moment, another genre is in danger of getting the death sentence at the hands of the music press. In dark corners of smoke-filled rooms, the literati are making the case that drum’n’bass (or jungle) has seen its day, and that its death is imminent.

It seems like such a short time ago that drum’n’bass had become the “it” style, influencing everyone from Soul Coughing to Jay-Z. The sound had emerged in the UK in the early 1990s and quickly became a mainstay on dance floors, with a more aggressive, pounding sound than the other genres that rose from the ashes of techno’s death. Eventually, the new direction that it signaled in music crossed the Atlantic, not only in its original form but altered as other American genres. Hip hop music adopted the syncopated irregularities of d’n’b, and through artists like Missy Elliot and Aaliyah, producer Timbaland created the sound that would overwhelm hip hop music in the late 1990s. Even rock bands like the aforementioned Soul Coughing incorporated the beat structures that had defined jungle.

By the mid-1990s, drum’n’bass was well-established in the UK. In 1995, UK DJ/producer Goldie had released Timeless, one of the first LPs in the otherwise single-driven jungle world. The album met with huge critical acclaim and was hailed as a huge step forward for d’n’b musically. Others began viewing jungle as the high-brow form of electronic music, as its fast polyrhythms and breakbeats made it more intricate than its groove-based cousins like house and trance. In 1997, however, drum’n’bass reached its apogee: the Bristol-based Reprazent crew released New Forms.

Reprazent was an ensemble of musicians put together by drum’n’bass wizard Roni Size, who helmed the project. It established jungle as a legitimate form of music off the dance floor, and the album won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize that year for the best British album. Drawing heavily from jazz and hip hop, New Forms was a more sophisticated picture of what jungle could be: it is to this day the biggest crossover success for the genre.

But by 2001, critics began to openly question the jungle movement. Four years after the release of its landmark album, the genre had failed, in some respects, to move forward. The style was co-opted, not only by American rock and hip hop musicians, but also by advertising executives. Jungle became associated with technological progress and ultra-modernity and all of those things that fascinate the public. Toned-down, “drum’n’bass-lite” could be heard in television ads, on Sportscenter, and in Urban Outfitters across the country. The vitality of the “new form” began to disappear.

Roni Size rode valiantly back into the fray last year with In The Mode, but his attempts at resuscitating the genre proved unsuccessful. The album was strong on its merits, perhaps, but coming from the man who had taken d’n’b to such heights in 1997, it seemed a disappointment.

Regardless, the Reprazent crew is taking another shot at restoring jungle to its former glory. Size et al. will be at the 9:30 Club on Monday night, with perhaps the most dynamic live show in electronic music. Along with DJs Krush and Die, Size will man the synthesizers for the night, accompanying live musicians. Perhaps this will be a chance for the Bristol crew to recapture the glory of New Forms and bring people back to “the rhythm of a different nature”. If not, drum’n’bass’ days may be numbered.

Roni Size/Reprazent at the 9:30 on Monday

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