Sunday, April 04, 2004
I sympathise with Gareth re Remarc's deification - it's not that the guy isn't deserving (far from it) but you have to wonder, "why him in particular?" At least with all of jungle's other over-elevated heroes you can kinda see why they were singled out by an auteur-hungry press, but by celebrating Remarc's anonymous genius we're sort of perpetuating a fetishistic contradiction - "I know that this sort of jungle wasn't about auteurs, but..." As Gareth notes, what might be more useful would be compilations that consciously cherrypick the excellent but now-forgotten tracks from any number of producers, many of whom were often only responsible for one or two classic tracks (such is the logic of "scenius" - how many of my favourite 2-step tracks and remixes came from soon-to-be-forgotten mercenaries? Heaps! Remind me to do a special on the now-forgotten classics of 2-step at some stage).

I was thinking of Gareth when I picked up a '94 jungle comp the other day - Strictly Hardcore Records Presents Jungle Soundclash 1 - primarily because it's from Romford, Essex. You don't hear much about Strictly Hardcore these days, and about all that I've been able to gather is that they acted as a cd compiler for feeder labels like 3rd Party/Ibiza (any info here would be appreciated!) but they evidently banged out a lot of cd compilations a lot earlier than almost anyone else, and this one at least is fantasitc. In fact it's right up there with some of my other personal favourites: Grooverider Presents Hardstep Selection II, History of Hardcore Part 2 etc. etc. Most of the tracks are unknown to me even my name (the Generation Ecstasy discography was largely silent as well), so I'm not sure about whether this represents a particular scene or collective of producers, but what unites most of these tracks is an astonishing focus on polyrhythmic density. If I've said previously that the complexity of mash-ups can be overrated sometimes, I should clarify my position: complex breakbeat arrangements are certainly not essential to crafting a great jungle track. Having said that, of the tunes from '94 - far and way my favourite year for jungle - my favourites are invariably incredibly overstuffed with rhythmic detail. I guess I'd argue that multi-accented polyrhythmic arrangements are one technique by which you can achieve the primary diachronic function of jungle ("rhythmic danger"), and that this technique had a synchronic dominance and superiority in '94 - perhaps not coincidentally also the moment when rhythmic danger was most universally preferenced and celebrated by producers.

Anyway, I count several absolute hands down classic tracks here: the opening A-Sides track "My Mind" (not the Noise Factory track of the same name) is one of those kinda scary epic tracks that Moby attempted to homage with "Unloved Symphony": eerie submerged synthesiser sighs, malevolently glowing bass and an astonishing, violently ricocheting groove of tiny but impossibly sharp beat shards, like a hundred bullets fired inside a steel room. Urban Jungle's "Back in the Daze" is a lovely vocal track that delineates perfectly the pre-"Inner City Life" function of female vocals in jungle: not to facilitate an epic artistic statement but to let the party simmer down a bit, get some girls singing on the dancefloor and boost the good vibes (see the Urban Takeover mix of "Wishing on a Star", and what's that great track that's based around Chaka Khan's "Sweet Thing" again?). I love this sort of stuff not least because it reminds me of how open and all-embracing jungle once was or maybe could have been - in alternate history UK garage didn't need to happen; there's no reason why "feminine pressure" couldn't have found ample expression in jungle had the conditions allowed for it. Crucially, not only is "Back in the Daze" sweet and lush, it also has a wonderfully crisp juddering groove to rival any hardstep or jump-up track, and the way the tune oscillates between soothing vocal sessions and breakbeat onslaughts perfectly captures the sweet'n'sour vibe I'm trying to isolate here (funny too how the function of these tunes seems to have been almost exactly replicated by grimette stuff like Terra Danja's "So Sure").

Closer to the bad vibes corner there's the jittery post-darkcore of Noise Factory's "The Future" and especially Uncle 22's "Six Million Ways To Die", whose menacing atmospherics and almost mechanical grooves marks it out as almost proto-techstep. Even better is Dub Wize's "Jungle Techno (Exclusive VIP Mix)" which combines orchestral fanfare, insane timestretched beats and burbling synthesiser backdrops in a manner that simultaneously reminds me of Acen, A Guy Called Gerald and even drill&bass, and yet despite the last reference point the groove is utterly physically compulsive. The beats seem to writhe like an octopus thrashing its limbs, little rhythmic filligrees flying out in all directions in a frenzied gymnastic display. It sounds so distinct, so idiosyncratic, and yet its title is so obstinately generic! If anything demonstrates jungle's anti-auteurist tendency towards casual, even unwitting brilliance, this is it.

"Jungle Techno" may be my favourite track on the album, but if it's not then the honour goes to Radical Sound's "What Is Love (Exclusive VIP Mix)". Compared to the former track's kitchen sink maximalism, "What Is Love" is a tad more subtle, but it likewise shares that wilful disregard for stylistic demarcations or moods, happily taking in moments of black menace and synth-laden existential crisis alongside sparkling joyful effervescence (Foul Play-brand squiggly little synth eruptions) and almost rueful-sounding reggae breakdowns. Most of all though this track needs to be heard for its mindblowing central groove, a murderous procession of deadly booming kicks and stuttering snares that should be the soundtrack for one of those particularly complex magical combination moves in streetfighter-style arcade games. I'm hardpressed to think of many jungle tracks with such a flat-out amazing rhythmic construction, a groove that is as demolishing as it is anthemic as it is virtuoso. Unfortunately there are no writing credits on the comp (and the net is failing me something shocking), but with the frequent samples of the phrase "dubwise" in the latter track, I wouldn't be surprised if both "Jungle Techno" and "What Is Love" were by the same producer; if so, (s)he'll have earned a place in my (yes, very fetishistic) personal pantheon. And not only does (s)he not have a retrospective CD out - I don't even know the producer's name!


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