December 10th, 2013. Just yards away from the final destination of the 488 bus and Homerton University Hospital’s distant glow stands Chats Palace. Inside, a small group of onlookers await the arrival of a group they can’t even put a face to.
See, up until this point, anonymity has anchored the existence of Jungle – the soul-swamped outfit responsible for donating tracks like ‘Platoon’ and ‘The Heat’ to the ears of the Internet faithful.
Shrouded by superfluous amounts of smoke, due to a broken machine, the band’s debut appearance kicks into motion. Seven members sway and shimmy in the mist. At this point, the fog is so thick that the keyboardist is hunched right over, so as to find the correct chords. The lead vocals, an oddly synthesised melange of bluesy tones and Marvin Gaye’s ghost, tear through tracks that can only result in dance. See, regardless of their identities, these brothers (and sisters) know how to groove.
A gazillion blog posts, two further tracks made public and a year later, Jungle’s founding members, Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, are sitting comfortably at XL Recordings, their chosen label home. Gone are the days when this funk-flecked ensemble were enigmatically masked behind the faces of others. Today, it’s almost laughable to these musicians that their incognito beginnings continues to characterise them.
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Let’s come straight off the bat and talk about anonymity. During the embryonic stages of Jungle, your identities weren’t revealed. How would you describe what those early moments meant to you?
J: I don’t think anonymous is the right term for what actually happened. We’re just as shocked about the whole thing as everyone else is. We put the [‘Platoon’] video out and then the photo just because we’d put so much work into those things. Our manager said that we needed a photo, so we decided to go with the one from the room with B-Girl [Terra, the then six-year-old breakdancer in the ‘Platoon’ video]. That room was made up of things we own and we just put it out, not thinking if we don’t put ourselves out, what that could actually link together and mean. At the time we were just in the studio, and we don’t really read much about ourselves.
It’s only now, looking back on it, you begin to think about it. It’s the same with the High Rollaz [the roller skating dance duo featured in the video for ‘The Heat’], where they’re very much a representation of the music. We’re producers, bedroom producers, and before that [Chats Palace] gig, for example, our manager spoke to us and said there had to be a way to do this live. Then suddenly, going from our room and having fun, you’re at the front of something that you’re not necessarily ready to be at the front of. I suppose maybe we just had our heads buried in the sand a bit when just putting out all this art. I don’t think the anonymity was something that was forced.
T: There are photos of us playing live on Facebook and everyone has a camera phone so there’s no way we can control that. We’re just concerned with creating really interesting things to look at to make people think, ‘Why have they done that?’
J: Jungle is also so hard to search on Google, so if you type that in, of course you’re not going to get a picture of us.
T: I just think it’s good name.
It’s got a ring to it.
J: Yeah, and I think a combination of those two things end up becoming something else and something that people have written up and made a thing about. I think when you don’t know about something, I suppose you want to know, too.
T: It’s been really interesting to see people’s reactions to it, and have people asking why we’ve done these things. The reason why I’m T and he’s J is because that’s what we call each other. If people dug deep enough, then it’s all there. We want to make who we are unimportant.
J: It just comes back to that thing of putting the videos, music and all the things that you put so much hard effort into at the forefront. Those are the things that will be judged.
T: I think that allows what you do to be judged on its own merit. No one has had to sift through a couple of profile pictures to find what you’ve spent days and days building.
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B-Girl Terra went on Ellen DeGeneres and she got asked what she wants to be when she grows up. She said a mermaid. A mermaid!
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They have a point. In our current info-infatuated world, sometimes the music itself can get lost behind a wall of trivial riffraff. Insignificant particulars like previous bands and Twitter followers can cloud the main goal. The ethos, until very recently, has mirrored that of a similarly camera-shy collective and to good effect.
“It’s a lot like Gorillaz, where the art is at the forefront of it and, just like us, Damon sits behind the scenes,” equates Josh. “Sam – who manages this and probably does as much as we do in that respect – said we should put some music out but, whatever you do, don’t beg people. He just played it to two people and that was it. We just sat back and waited.”
Casually dropping ‘Platoon’ into the blogosphere whirlpool would prove to be the best formula. After all, stats don’t lie, and 3.8million Vimeo views are more than enough to nullify any piped-up naysayer.
But before Snapchat replaced knocking on people’s doors as a means of communication, how did this pair even meet? Simultaneously, the pair breaks into laughter: “Well, I was in my neighbour’s garden playing football and me and my brother had a Game Boy on us,” laughs Tom. Pokémon Red? “Blue. I had the soundtrack on tape.” Joining in the reminiscing, Josh adds: “I remember that Mew was the rarest card, so I made it on Photoshop, printed it out and tried to swap it.”
Oh, the frivolity of youth. In a way, B-Girl Terra’s unrestrained body pops mimic the way that Jungle go about forging their drums. “It’s that same youthful element of just picking stuff up, trying this, trying that. Throwing keys on a table and recording it with a snare,” explains Josh. “That naivety is what we constantly seek to live within. B-Girl Terra is oblivious to what’s happening because she’s six years old. She went on Ellen DeGeneres and she got asked what she wants to be when she grows up. She said a mermaid. A mermaid!”
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Moving on slightly, at what point did Jungle expand into the collective?
T: It was when we realised that we wanted to play live because we didn’t have enough arms. I think we were conscious of what was going on at the moment with how producers are playing in a live environment. We wanted to challenge ourselves, I think. We have the most fun when we’re on stage because there’s so much energy playing with five of your mates around you, enjoying that same moment.
Aside from the potential practicalities of carrying around instruments, it’s odd that more producers aren’t doing more than just standing behind their computers.
J: It’s true, because we do make sacrifices for that. We sacrifice the amount of money we could potentially make, because it costs a shitload to get a band on the road. We try to be as much a part of the audience as possible, to enjoy it. We look at the live show as part of that feeling.
Talking about feelings, it’s not such a ridiculous suggestion that some hearing Jungle for the first time might be reminded of Jamiroquai, no offence intended…
T: I love Jamiroquai. I was watching the ‘Virtual Insanity’ video recently. I really did. What about ‘King For A Day’? I got into that track because it was the first funk that I listened to, I guess. My brother liked the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers and the grunge stuff from Seattle that I never really got into. He then got really into Parliament and P-Funk, George Clinton, and I must have heard Jamiroquai from that. I must have been listening to Virgin in the late-’90s and that album with ‘Deeper Underground’ [‘Synkronized’] was on it.
J: There’s an urban myth that Jay Kay’s house is the castle in the middle of Elephant & Castle roundabout and he’s got a spiral car park underneath where he keeps his Ferraris.
Wouldn’t put that past him.
J: But it’s interesting you say that, because people say different things all the time.
T: That’s probably a testament to the way our influences come into our music. There are so many.
J: I think we wanted to make a hip-hop album, in a weird way. You just take little tiny bits from things. I might hear a Madvillain tune and the way they’ve sampled something and be subtly inspired, or even ‘Happy’ and the way Pharrell made that.
Well, you’re right: music is this massive collage of influences, isn’t it?
J: Yeah. Our influences aren’t all necessarily from music either. It’s very much about a space and time. ‘The Heat’ is very much about a place that doesn’t necessarily have to be real. Some people go super honest with their music, whereas ours is where we want to be: being somewhere else in this space. A lot of it is very cinematic. If you think about Grand Theft Auto, you have to remember the guy that made that was from Scotland.
T: Out in Dumfries, or something (laughs).
J: A lot of the [influences] are these imaginary places that are taken from real influences but are actually like a dream. You make your own little place in your head that the song will be set in. That’s the guise and underneath all that, that’s where the emotions come through in what you’re saying.
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Jungle, ‘The Heat’
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In order to feed that chimerical illusion, the group spent months in the studio not too far from the offices we now occupy. The backbone behind their creative process has been a constant fixation with borrowing and sampling their own stuff. They tell Clash how they’ve bred as much stimulation from their own four-bar draft sessions on Logic as they have from the likes of John Frusciante and Prince’s magic on the fretboard.
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I think we realised that our best songs were just simple drumbeats, then you can allow all the percussion to be the groove element...
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So, how much of the album was the product of personal experience?
T: What’s quite fun about writing lyrics is that with music you can hide meaning inside a bigger picture. I think all the lyrics are personal because they’ve come from us, but the meaning sometimes changes. There are definitely experiences in the last couple of years that have changed the songs. Whether that comes out in the general tone of the song is harder to distinguish.
The track ‘Julia’ certainly springs to mind.
J: That’s the song that we struggled with the most because we wrote it early on and it’s been called a million things and meant a million things. It’s a weird one because it’s almost the track I like least because we’ve battled so much with it emotionally.
T: On one level it’s about meeting this girl for the first time but also…
J: This girl is perfect but you will never meet her.
T: That loneliness.
J: The lyrics, “I don’t know a thing about you”. Ultimately it’s about how both having someone and not having someone can be the loneliest thing in the world.
How did the journey from single to album take form?
T: We’re always making music, whether it’s a remix or making cuts from our own stuff for rappers. It’s a non-stop process. We knew that someone would eventually draw a line in the sand and see what we liked and didn’t like. It seemed quite seamless though.
The whole record is this beautiful meet-and-greet between funk, electronic tendencies and world music.
T: It’s not really something we thought about too much. We love the more modern sound of Radiohead: that glitchy cross-rhythm. But trying not to do it with electronic sounds.
J: Funnily enough, a lot of the rhythms have tended to be quite 4/4, which is something I was initially quite anti to. I think we realised that our best songs were just simple drumbeats, because if you’ve got these complicated drum patterns, you’ve already taken up so much space in the track. If we had a simple drum, like on ‘Busy Earnin’’ or ‘Platoon’, then you can allow all the percussion to be the groove element.
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Jungle, 'Busy Earnin''
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Dance-cajoling vibes engulf every breathing second of the album in one way or another, whether it’s the lamenting yet toe-tapping inclinations of ‘Drops’ or the way ‘Crumbler’ can tempt exuberant body-jerking out of any listener with a limb. So why so much jive? “We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t fun. Whenever it becomes something that isn’t fun anymore you know it’s time to stop doing what you’re doing.” Let’s hope that part of Jungle’s DNA never disappears.
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Words: Errol Anderson
Photographer: Johnny Dufort
Fashion: Lola Chattertton (full fashion credits in issue 95)
This interview is taken from issue 95 of Clash magazine, full details here.
Jungle online. The band's debut album, 'Jungle', is released on July 14th.