On 23 July, after a three-year absence, one of the UK’s best-loved and longest-running raves returns to the capital, unleashing the spirit of old school jungle at Electric Brixton in south London.
The new look Jungle Fever has been approximately 18 months in the making, according to Uncle Dugs, who’ll be DJing on the night, accompanied by MCs Navigator, Ragga Twins and Cogee. That’s partly down to the fact that finding the right venue for Jungle Fever’s loyal and discerning community – who are used to basking in crowds numbering between 1,500 and 3,000 – is no easy task given the capital’s ever-shrinking venue circuit. It’s also down to Eastman, Jungle Fever’s notoriously particular co-founder. “Some promoters use raves as a cash cow,” Dugs says. “Eastman’s not like that. If the venue isn’t right for the brand, he won’t do it.”
It is such values that have made Jungle Fever an institution among ravers, and a trusted byword since 1993, when their inaugural shindig sold out a vast warehouse in east London. What had started as smaller, block-rocking raves hosted by Eastman’s pirate radio station Kool FM (now online as Kool London), rapidly bloomed into sizeable, in-demand occasions deserving a standalone handle.
“The name Jungle Fever came from the Spike Lee film,” Eastman told Vice magazine last year. “The film’s about mixed relationships, about black and white, which I thought was fitting, as rave culture was doing more for race relations in the UK at the time than anything else.”
Eastman and co weren’t the only crew galvanising jungle, but they stood out for their dedication to the music – a hybrid style with roots in UK hardcore and West Indian sound system culture, that borrowed from ragga, soul, rap and even jazz. “There were other parties at the time, other people doing things, but they played a bit of this and a bit of that. Jungle Fever was always a main-room event, one of the first to use jungle in the title and to play it from start to finish, all night.”
Jungle was the sound of street life and urban dance culture in swaggering, dutty-wining synthesis, police sirens and rave whistles ricocheting across agile, earthy basslines. It knitted a rhythm from the extremes of council estate life: menacing and jubilant, radiant and knife-cold; boisterously human thanks to its wild, patois-cockney MCs but also eerily alien, awash with icy, brutalist synths and turbo snares. It was music for “warriors in the dance”; for gangstas and lovers, champions and soundclashers; for heads seeking brock-out vibes and transcendental passes to higher planes.
Eastman and co were the first to export this unique London sound out of London – to the Edge in Coventry, the Sanctuary in Milton Keynes, to Stevenage Ice Ball. After that, they had European dates in Germany, Holland, Greece. They’ve been staging Jungle Fever on and off ever since, with the last few events finding a home in Heaven in central London and the Coronet in south London – another venue that will soon close its doors.
Venues may be struggling but ticket sales for the forthcoming event are proof that jungle – the respected, dred statesman to grime and dubstep’s younglings – lives on. “Making this event happen has been a long, hard slog, but we’re almost there,” Dugs says. “I can’t wait for Saturday. We’re really happy with the venue. It’s got a big stage, a lovely balcony that overlooks the main dance floor. Jungle Fever raves were always known for their stage shows – Eastman always put a lot of money into those things. So we’ve got huge props, pyrotechnics, fire-eaters and stilt walkers, angle-grinding performers, massive light and laser shows. We decided if we’re gonna do it, let’s do it big, properly.”
If all goes well, Dugs says, Saturday’s blow-out should mark the return of regular Jungle Fever raves – the old-school heads who attended those original, scene-binding gatherings – and attract a younger generation of Rudimental-loving millennials who are discovering pirate radio culture meta-style, thanks to the People Just Do Nothing crew – DIY YouTube jokers turned BBC3 stars who’ve moved from TV screens to festival stages under their Kurupt FM moniker. “I remember watching their videos a while back,” chuckles Dugs, “before they got famous, and thinking: ‘They’ve absolutely nailed it. They’ve got all the characters down to a T.’”
Dugs, who has played a number of Kurupt FM’s Champagne Steam Room events, has built a formidable career out of old-school devotion, becoming a staple at Rinse FM, Fabric and festivals around the world. “I’m in the thick of youth culture, playing 90s music. You drop Original Nuttah or Incredible and they’ll sing the words back to you, every time. Skepta, Wiley, Dizzee – artists that are super popular with the youth crowd – they all grew up loving jungle, so that influence has filtered through their music. The truth is, it’s 2016 and its never gonna be 94 again, we know that. But some music is like wine: it gets better with age. A good vibe never gets old.”