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Worries In The Dance: The death and resurrection of ragga jungle

Incredible, Original Nuttah, Burial, Fire. The list of anthems with ragga vocals from 1994-95 is endless. Ganja Man, The License, Dred Bass and Warning were guaranteed a rewind every time. Top Cat’s voice was being sampled everywhere, and the biggest reggae labels and artists were plundering their catalogues and offering up jungle remixes left right and centre. Then from 1996 onwards, ragga jungle was all but obsolete for the next 10 years or so, save for Congo Natty and a few smaller (often non-UK based) labels. So, what happened?

There doesn’t seem to be anything to suggest the popularity of reggae-based tracks had diminished amongst ravers, although it might have started to seem a bit cliched and passé by the more forward-thinking artists and listeners particularly those wanting to distance themselves from the mainstream success of M-Beat and Shy FX.

Mixmag Jungle cover

“Whether we like it or not, it changed the whole vibe at the parties, and not for the better. It became dangerous for DJs to go out and play their sets” – T Power

There is also the issue of the crowd trouble and problems that were a regular occurrence at jungle raves in the mid-90s. As the sound increased in popularity, it inevitably attracted a wider audience, some of whom might not have been on a night out solely for the love of the music. Jungle was street music and with that demographic inevitably came street problems. Factor in unexperienced promoters trying their hand at cashing in on the flavour of the month, and often cutting costs with equally inexperienced security and the results gave the media a stick with which to beat the latest form of Black music.

Like UK garage, grime and drill music that followed jungle, and even with hip hop in the 80s, there has always been instances of genres being demonised in some way. Although it’s obviously not solely down to the type of music at the same time those working in the jungle scene did appear to acknowledge that things needed to change and move in a different direction.

“All the DJs got together and decided they weren’t going to play vocal tracks anymore because it was bringing the wrong crowd into the raves.” – Errol Gordon (DRS)

1996 saw the music begin to incorporate more hip-hop flavours. By this time the standard D&B tempo was double the speed of the contemporary rap music of the era, so the beats slotted together nicely with half speed intros becoming common and the likes of DJ Zinc sampling Redman and Wu-Tang for his jump-up anthems, and Urban Takeover being commissioned for official remixes for the Jungle Brothers and the Luniz. There was also the flourishing Metalheadz camp and No U-Turn developing their techstep sound.

Things were moving quickly, production techniques becoming more advanced, and you couldn’t get away with just throwing a reggae vocal over a breakbeat with some sirens anymore. By 1997 it seemed like the only DJs regularly playing ragga jungle at big events would be Hype and Nicky Blackmarket, who you could be sure would always drop a couple of Congo Natty dubplates in their sets.

At the same time UK Garage comes along and the crowd that had become disillusioned with a lack of vocal jungle tunes and thought it had become too deep or dark, gravitated towards the new Speed Garage nights that were popping up everywhere. With that jungle aesthetic of fresh clothes and champagne, and tunes sampling R&B and old jungle records, it was much more female-friendly and where the ladies go, the men tend to follow. UK Garage had the “urban” (ugh) audience locked down for the next few years and although the crowds at D&B events didn’t get any smaller – as anyone queuing around the block to get into The End for a True Playaz or Full Cycle night can attest – the type of people in attendance definitely changed.

“A lot of people from that time say drum n bass died when garage came along, but I think that was just in their world. It turned into more of a student crowd, and the violent bad boy crowd moved on” – Optical

Even with a brief commercial resurgence in the early 00s with LK and Shake Ur Body crossing over and hitting the Top 40, ragga jungle had been out of favour for nearly 10 years before it made a resurgence. Perhaps coincidentally, it occurred at the same time as the term “bass music” became prevalent, off the back of the emergence of dubstep, and cross-genre events where you were likely to find DJs like David Rodigan, Benga and Randall on the same line-up.

The convenience of digital formats allowed DJs to be a bit more adventurous in their sets rather than rigorously sticking one type of music, and there was a lot of talk about “sound system culture” and the acknowledgement of the role of reggae being the foundation of the current wave of dance music. A perfect time for the original jungle sound to make a comeback then. Shy FX and T Power launched Digital Soundboy and collaborated with Top Cat, a then up and coming Chase & Status dropped Duppy Man with Capleton and Rebel MC’s Congo Natty label (who it should be noted had never stopped) reintroduced their classics to a new audience with some fresh Serial Killaz remixes of Junglist and Code Red.

Alongside the full-on vocal tunes, was a new breed of producers such as Marcus Visionary and Red Eyes utilising dubbier elements in more of a liquid D&B style, perhaps inspired by Calibre’s reggae-tinged collaborations with ST Files (Red Light) and High Contrast (Mr Majestic).

Strangely, this time around there was no spike in trouble in the raves. You can probably draw your own conclusions as to why that might be, but this time around it seemed like all sides of the D&B community were a lot more comfortable with their respective positions and didn’t feel the need to rally against any particular sub-genre. Even General Levy was eventually welcomed back into the fold. It was a worldwide thing by now and the internet had created enough space for everyone to do their thing as they saw fit.

Artist quotes taken from Who Say Reload. Thanks to Tobie Scopes for the assistance with this. If this has put you in the mood for some reggae vibes, check out Disorda’s recent Kane FM show, showcasing the reggae records that were sampled on some golden era jungle tunes.