Rumble in the Jungle

Last Thursday I managed to catch Jungle at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Due to a mix up of tickets involving my sister’s boyfriend’s friend’s girlfriend, I found myself in possession of an elusive ticket to the sold out show. I seized at the opportunity, replying to the text within a few seconds. There is a certain hype surrounding Jungle, hype which probably influenced my swift reactions, but at the same time, I was confident this would be a worthwhile gig to make the extended trip across London via the Central Line.

Put your phone away! Oh wait…

The last time I went to Shepherd’s Bush Empire was 2 years ago to see The XX perform just after the release of their second album “Coexist”. They have since gone on to conquer the world, emerging from the off-centre to then become somewhat centralised and easily one of the biggest understated acts of the last 5 year with their hushed stripped back compositions. Shepherd’s Bush is the kind of venue bands play after a strong debut album for example, but also the last sort of intimate venue before they roll onto the subsequent festival and the arena-sized bookings, provided they aren’t just a two trick pony. Such is the trajectory of a successful career these days, the venue size acting a barometer of success – at least in terms of LIVE acts. Indeed, The XX have gone on to play huge festival and have a third album in the pipeline…

Before the gig, then, I was wondering whether Jungle might also end up succumbing to the pull of the mainstream, after breaking through from mysterious obscurity much like The XX. Other similarities exist; they are both signed to XL Recordings (as is Jamie XX in his solo exploits), a big label that tends to popularise these, let’s say, more “obscure”, but successful artists.

The first Jungle song I ever heard was “The Heat”, which you’ve probably heard by now. So, here is Joy Orbison’s pressure cooker of a remix.

You should recognise the vocals, Joy O hardly altered them in what feels a bit like a lazy remix. I’ve heard a lot of people comment that it needs to heard on a big system, but maybe that’s a sign of its overall weakness, ironically.

Anyhow, I think “Busy Earnin'” was the next song I heard. It is the perfect example of their modern fusion of soul, funk and suave disco sounds that clocked in just at the right time, considering disco’s recent revival. The brass is defiant in their celebratory mood and complement the dancers in the video – no one is going to throw their super cool synchronisation off kilter. Fittingly, Jungle played this as their encore.

I think this video is great. The hovering camera with its slow sideways strafing movements like those of a helicopter, or maybe even a drone, matches the dancers’ gliding swaggers and sways. I was fully hoping, but only half expecting the said dancing troupe to file out on stage. This didn’t happen much to my disappointment. Instead I was left jostling with a group of middle-aged women who were making use of the “not-so-accidental-bump-and-grind” moves that comes with attending gigs. Aurally, I struggled to hear the band’s singers over their shrill renditions. In fact, most people around me knew every single word to every single song. Those who know me will know I have never been a great memoriser of lyrics so it was belittling to hear whole verses belted out by the crowd.

There was actually only one more song of theirs that I knew beforehand called “Drops” first played to me at work. It has a subtle swing that keeps the momentum in an otherwise laid back song. Pure soul vibes.

In truth, I had forgotten what it was like to be at a gig to an extent. The difference between soundsystems of a club and a gig venue are stark. It’s almost as if people are there just for the live element even if they are hard pressed to hear the singer’s voice. I even pondered whether I would have enjoyed more listening to the album at home on a set of crisp monitors than those muffled stacks. I guess the experience confirmed my appreciation for clubs with good soundsystems. Enveloping and immersive. Not necessarily the oft cited Funktion One’s, but just the way the speakers are EQ’d is so drastically different. Didn’t stop this nutter though.

Bit early to be rocking the Xmas jumper?

So it remains to be seen whether Jungle will grow into the stature of a popular act. It would be unfair to call their music “pop” music – nor would I say The XX make “pop” – but judging by the amount of fans in Shepherd’s Bush who knew the words, it is certainly popular music and larger shows await. Expect to hear a lot more music coming from (the) Jungle.

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