How Jungle Music defined London for teens in the 90s

Main pictureImage by Junglist (Repeater, 2021)

It’s a coming-of-age story from the end of the 20th century as old as time: roaming the roads in an old Fiesta, pressed against each other while trying to strip off, arguing over the tunes to put on. For many, these road trips, these connections, are the defining days of their formative years, the blissful purgatory between adolescence and adulthood. Nothing to fear, nothing to do.

Junglist was written in 1994 by 20 year olds André Vert and Eddie Otcher, who used the pseudonyms Two Fingas and James T Kirk, respectively. The fictional story takes place over a long weekend, following the characters Meth, Biggie, Q and Craig as they make their way through South London, drinking weed in a Ford Cortina, talking about girls and going to the jungle raves; a crew of four young men in the process of meeting each other.

The book is a captivating artefact of mid-90s city life in the British capital, weaving a tower tapestry that looks as precise as any documentary, a story of teenage rebellion burning brightly among the ashes of Thatcher’s reign . But above all – and arguably because it was written by post-adolescent writers – it captures the undeniable freedom of youth that nothing can contain or restrict, no matter how claustrophobic the city is. Junglist not only lets you hear the sound of a subculture through its pages, it begs you to to feel he.

Jungle exploded in London in the summer of 1994, an incredibly raw, alien, and sample-laden sound that reflected the tumultuous uncertainty of the times, spawning a generation of amateur machinists pushing their Ataris and Akai samplers to what looked like a breaking point, selling them saves cash in car trunks, delusional in an abandoned space. The Jungle was a multicultural movement but undoubtedly Afrofuturist in its essence and black in its roots, the tunes living as time capsules of downtown life, downtown pressure in London at the end of the millennium. “By fusing elements of science fiction and horror, the jungle has built its own Afrofuturist and cyber-gothic sound fiction, taking place in the abandoned arcades of a near future populated by millennial rastas, cyberspace cowboys , voodoo loa and malignant entities with changing forms. ” wrote cultural theorist Mark Fisher in 2011. The first sentence of Junglist describes the sound as “a transformer banging his head against a wall”.

Green and Otchere grew up in the consulting fields at Vauxhall and became friends at Hammersmith University, bonding with comics, films and music. They started writing for the late Black lifestyle magazine To touch because they thought it was the best way to get free music and clothes (not bad). An editor called Jake Lingwood had started commissioning a series of Romance-length subculture explorations called Alleys, and called the duo to ask if they would consider writing one. Despite the fact that they were certainly not novelists – Otchere wasn’t even sure he had read an entire book from start to finish – emboldened by the arrogance of youth, they agreed to do so.

Junglist was not a commercial success, selling poorly, although according to the book’s foreword, written by Sukhdev Sandhu, it was deemed to be the most stolen book in the London prison system. Green made a career in television, Otchere became a leading hip-hop photographer, taking iconic portraits of stars such as Biggie, Aaliyah and RZA. The two are still close friends. In anticipation of Junglist ‘Reprinted over 25 years later by Repeater Books, I spoke with Otchere about all things jungle, a genre the couple described as “the lifeblood of the city, an attitude, a way of life. , a people ”.

Thomas Gorton: What do you think attracted you and so many other kids in London to the jungle at that time?

Eddie Otchere: I think it was that industrial sound, something that’s a little closer to our urban experience and a little more technical, more edgy. I didn’t go to a church where there was great music. I just heard the sirens and the Concorde fly overhead and felt like it reflected that industrial experience.

TG: It’s unusual to co-write fiction. It does happen, but it’s still unusual. I am interested in the process – how Junglist come together?

EO: Andrew and I had worked together before, writing the junglist column for To touch. We often teamed up together – I took pictures, he shot. But eventually we were sitting there making up stories.

And so, when the commission of Junglist I went to a book publisher, sold pictures and insisted on writing a book. I knew from that point on, when I walked out of the publisher’s house and called Andrew, “okay, we’ve got a book to do, the contracts will come up in a minute, can you deliver us some thousands of words by the end of next week? ” … I knew he could because Andrew writes all the time. My job was basically to be an editor and put it back together, whether that made sense or not. We made our weaknesses a strength in that neither of us had studied grammar at all, we felt grammar was some kind of authoritarian system there to oppress our language. So we didn’t learn this shit. So, in the end, we were free in our way of writing or approaching things.

Andrew wrote most of it, I wrote in chopped chunks, which kind of drifted off and left space in it. My ultimate influence at that time would have been Sun Ra’s poetry. This is what prompted me to write.

From my perspective, I could write more poetry and just free form – get high and write. With instrumental music, in particular, once your mind gets into it and digs into the groove, you naturally start putting words into it, start picking up the vibrations of the color or its vibrations. When I first started writing I used to see streams of consciousness opening up in my mind and then you would come home that night and just hammer on a keyboard.

It’s really a case where we both experience the same things in different ways. Most of the stories you see in there, we were both in these buildings at the same time. The people we speak of are mutual friends of ours, and the stories of how we used to go wild back then, and the cars and conversations of our mothers in the kitchens. We were there to structure it together in this outing context, to try to find the next rave and not look to pay, because you want to be on the guest list.

TG: Even if it took off in the 90s, the jungle still seems futuristic and cyberpunk to me …

EO: I always hear jungle in so much post-jungle music – it’s dubstep, garage, great drums and bass. It’s a beautiful thing to hear when it comes out of the studios, because you remember the connections we had – the radio stations, the dubplates, the cutting houses, following some DJs some nights, just to hear the new sounds. live in this future. If I find the right flow, I can tap into something new that is coming from another group of kids today.

In the book, you can see where our influences are coming from. It’s as much about Star Trek as it is frenzy and hip hop, with the characters called Q, who is a character from Star Trek Next Generation, and an author called James T Kirk, who is from Captain Kirk.

TG: You’ve had a great career as a photographer, photographing some of the biggest names in music. Did growing up on the jungle scene help you with that?

EO: I was browsing the contact sheets from the set of Aaliyah the first time we met Aaliyah – Andrew was writing the story and I was doing the filming because we were both like ‘fuck yeah that’s Aaliyah innit’. We did and it’s lovely, there’s a beautiful portrayal of Andrew and Aaliyah together – Andrew makes a face and Aaliyah is just amazing.

It was a wonderful thing to have these ambitions, to have these desires to be a writer, filmmaker, photographer and to grow together.

After meeting Andrew, I went to New York with him in the summer. It’s like in 1992 in Flatbush, sleeping in the basement. It kind of cemented our ambitions. We knew we had to get there and coming from London, especially central London, once you can survive London you can survive anywhere in an urban world. London is no different from New York to Berlin to Paris, it’s the same mindset.

We really embraced that, we felt like ‘this is who we are’. And not only do we come to America, like ‘yo America this is amazing’, but we come with our own strength, our own mixtapes. We get to put our music in their machines and hit play, turn up the volume and hurt them with it.

TG: How many are Junglistthe characters of Q, Biggie, Meth and Craig based on your childhood?

EO: Basically it’s us, yeah. Myself, Andrew, and a combination of two or three other friends from that time. We are all still friends to this day. There’s an upcoming wedding at the end of this month and it’s going to be hilarious because when we get back together we’re still 17 years old. We always come back to that time, where we just tried to score, get in a car and try to find a party.

TG: What do you miss most about mid-90s London?

EO: I miss space, abandoned space, escape spaces. London in 1994 was grayer and darker. But this whole space was my playground. From my childhood in Brixton, there were still bombed out buildings that you could just run around in. And then when they were built, when I was in school, there were still underground arches that you could play in And I feel like the thing that is missing the most – that space and that freedom to play. ‘arrive somewhere and find a couch and dance or not to dance, chat or not. This is what I miss.

Pre-order a copy of Junglist by Two Fingas and James T Kirk (Andrew Green and Eddie Otchere) on Gross trade.


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