Punk may have invented the independent label but the rave scene, and in particular Jungle/D&B, took punks independence and a DIY ethic to the next level.
Despite sounding worlds apart Jungle/D&B and Punk have more in common than you might think, namely a spirit of fierce independence and a strong DIY ethic which is a result of how, where, and when they were born. Punk and Jungle/D&B emerged from different youth cultures and scenes. Angry, rebellious, out of work youth with a lot of time on their hands gave rise to the UK punk scene (punk also simultaneously emerged in the US, in New York) during the late 70s. While in the UK the rave scene was a big part of the youth culture that gave rise to Jungle/D&B in the late 80’s.
Jungle/D&B’s musical origins can be traced back to Bleep & Bass (Bleep Techno, or just Bleep) was a short lived genre, from around ‘88 until ‘91. Despite being short lived Bleep & Bass was seminal for laying down the blue print for Jungle/D&B. Bleep & Bass artists and producers had an obsession with the low end of the sound spectrum which they inherited, courtesy of the Windrush generation (people arriving in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands), from Reggae and sound system culture.
Like Punk Jungle/D&B (and the rave scene in general) was was largely a youth movement. It was young people making the music they wanted to hear, building scenes that they wanted to be a part of, and throwing the parties they wanted to go to. DJs and artist/producers in the rave scene weren’t backed by major record labels like rock or pop artists were. Rave was by the people for the people, the people that were making the music and building the scene were from a working class background. The rave scene and the genres of music that it gave birth to were very much an underground grass roots development so the DJs, MCs, producers, promoters and people that made up the scene had no other choice but to be independent and do it themselves. One of the ways that Jungle/D&B grew was through Pirate radio which was already well established, having been around for as long as radio itself, by the time Jungle/D&B emerged.
Although the internet had already existed for some time, the web (not to be confused with the internet) had only just been invented by Tim Berners-Lee, it was still young and relatively inaccessible to the average person, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube et al just didn’t exist yet when Bleep & Bass, Jungle/D&B were born.
Pirate radio was the social media of the 90s, it’s how you caught the latest releases, the best DJs and MCs, found out about parties, and connected with people in the scene. Pirate radio was broadcasting the development of new music and the Jungle/D&B scene as it happened. Like the rave scene pirate radio was run by the people for the people, it was playing the music that people wanted to hear because commercial radio wasn’t, at least not initially, so people had to do it themselves and pirate radio was how they did it.
Jungle/D&B DJs and Producers knew that pirate radio was the best way to get the exposure they needed to grow the scene and they used this to their advantage. Pirate radio stations were the key to breaking DJs and producers. Stations like Pulse, Rush, Rave, Fantasy, Kool (A.K.A. Kool London), and Kiss hosted some of the founders of Jungle/D&B like Bryan Gee, Kenny Ken, Jumpin Jack Frost, DJ Rap, Aphrodite, Mickey Finn, Fabio & Grooverider and many others.
It’s no exaggeration to say that DJs were running things in the early days of Jungle/D&B which caused some friction between DJs and producers since a DJ could make or break a track. The dispute between artist/producers and DJ’s revolved around dub plates. Pioneered by reggae sound systems dub plates (a one off test pressing of a track, usually on a ten inch record) would become hugely important in the Jungle/D&B scene. Producers would cut a dub plate and give it to a DJ to play so they could gauge if their latest track was going to blowup or bomb before they released it, if they released it at all. Sometimes DJs would sit on dub plates for months which pissed off producers, this lead producers to establish their own record labels so they could have more control over their tracks and releases.
Just like it did in the Punk scene independent DIY record labels played a big role in the Jungle/D&B scene, in fact a large number of Jungle/D&B record labels are artist owned and run. Dbridge started Exit Records, Doc Scott has 31 Recordings, Signature is Calibre’s label, Ed Rush & Optical started Virus so they could release their own tracks, Digital has Function Records UK, CIA (Computer Integrated Audio) is Total Science’s label, there is Tony Colman’s Hospital Records, Marcus Intalex had Soul:r, Andy C & Ant Miles started RAM Records (And C’s sister designed the logo for the label), Jacky Murda, Tuffist, Max Powa and Aries have Chopstick Dubplate, DSCI4 Records is DJ Trace’s label, DJ Rap (along with Kemistry & Storm, and DJ Wildchild was one of the first ladies of Jungle/D&B) started Proppa Talent, then there is the seminal Metalheadz label founded by Kemistry & Storm and Goldie. And that’s only a few of the many artist owned and run record labels. Artists are still establishing new record labels to champion forward looking Jungle/D&B, like Alix Pirez’s 1985 Music, Lenzman’s The North Quater, Aries and Kelvin 373’s Born On Road label.
There was a brief period where Jungle/D&B flirted with major record labels. Some DJs and producers even signed on with major labels like DJ Rap and Groovrider to Sony, Alex Reece and Peshay to Island Records, Roni Size to Talkin Loud, Photek and Source Direct to Virgin, Goldie to London Records. Some lived to tell the story while others burned out or were abused by a major label.
Goldie’s signing to London Records was probably the most successful deal any Jungle/D&B artist ever cut with a major record label. The deal was forged entirely on Goldie’s terms which included total artistic control over the choice of singles, cover artwork, videos, and a compilation for his Metalheadz label. Goldie survived being signed to a major label better than most, retaining his artistic integrity while staying true to himself and the spirit of Jungle/D&B which is no mean feat.
The Jungle/D&B scene even developed it’s own business infrastructure with distribution networks emerging around record shops like Ibiza, Da Underground, Vinyl Mania, Lucky Spin, Unity, Razor, Blackmarket, and many more. DJ agencies like Groove Connection, Unique, UMC, and Jungle Fever also developed to support DJs and MCs in the scene. Punk wasn’t the only scene that had fanzines, there were even a few Jungle/D&B fanzines like Atmosphere, and Knowledge dedicated to championing the sound of Jungle/D&B.
Doing it yourself isn’t always easy there are good times and bad times and Jungle certainly had a few bad times but the bad times only served to make the scene stronger.
In the summer of ‘94 things were getting out of control. The Jungle scene had a number of concerns beyond violence at some raves. Jungle was under threat from Ragga Jungle which was threatening to steal Jungles crown. The scene had grown to a point where major record labels started getting interested in Jungle. Some people were experiencing Déjà vu when major record labels started showing commercial interest in Jungle, they had visions of commercial record labels ruining Jungle the way they ruined Acid House and Hardcore. Some major labels had already abused major players in the scene. There were issues with the media, some in the scene mistrusted journalists who had painted unfaltering pictures of the scene. In addition there were also concerns that the scene was starting to become artist based rather than being DJ led. And then there was M-Beat’s Incredible featuring General Levy which was blowing up in the charts and taking Jungle from it’s underground roots overground, into the mainstream.
With all the issues piling up on Jungle something had to break sooner or later. The breaking point came when, in an interview for The Face, General Levy claimed that “I’m running jungle. Big time”.
The reaction from some of Jungles original founders was to form a committee in order to mediate between the scene and the media to gain some control over the direction of the scene. Some people saw the committee as a paranoid and childish act born of jealousy of General Levy’s success and refused to take part. But a number of people that did take part in the committee felt like they had to take action against General Levy which resulted in a boycott of Incredible from DJ sets. Anyone seen to be supporting Levy in any way would be ostracised from the scene. This was a problem for some promoters because at the time there were a bunch of General Levy shows that were supposed to happen. The shows still went ahead but that just prompted the Committee to ban anyone from playing for the promoters that put the General Levy shows on.
In a way the issues were growing pains for a scene that was maturing and starting to face the facts of business. It was a hard way to learn about business but despite being seemingly petty in hindsight the committee was essential to growing the scene and illustrates just how staunch some people were about protecting a scene they had helped build.
After the whole Jungle Committee thing fizzled out by the end of ‘94 Jungle went back underground because it had to if it was going to survive which it did. From Jungle a new genre with a distinctive more technical sound emerged: D&B which inherited a strong independent spirit and DIY ethic. That was over 25 years ago and Jungle/D&B is still going strong today.
Jungle/D&B really is the number one champion sound.
- Join The Future Bleep Techno And The Birth Of British Bass Music – by Matt Annis
- State Of Bass The Origins Of Jungle/Drum & Bass – by Martin James
- All Crews – by Brian Belle-Fortune
- How Punk Rock Kickstarted the Do-It-Yourself Record Revolution – by Kevin Dunn