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When local promoters and performers the Jungle Vibe Collective talk about drum'n'bass, they see this "revolutionary" music taking over the world. I don't know if I'd go that far; but signs of crossover were sure thick on the sandy ground at the JVC's all-night "drum'n'bass event" ("Don't call it a rave!") two weeks ago in a roomy St. Paul riverbank cave. Milling amongst the 900-plus partyers were plenty of the usual sophisticated club teens. But I also spied a wide-eyed Molly Ringwald wallflower, and four big white jocks in snowmobile jackets wading through the melee. The JVC's diminutive Tom Duron a.k.a. DJ Polter claims that "anybody can relate to at least one form of jungle." But I'd guess a good percentage of the kids showed up because this, suddenly, was the place to be.
Exactly why a drum'n'bass DJ party would be winter '97 youth.cult ground zero has to do with both the JVC and critical mass. The JVC began eight months ago out of frustration: As DJs and devotees of the jittery, bass-flexing breakbeat style initially called jungle, the six young group members were weary of the preponderance of hard techno and house music on the local party scene. "Drum'n'bass was kind of an under-the-covers type thing," says Duron. "No one really wanted to book it, no one ever wanted to play it, and if it was played, it always got second-room gigs at five o'clock in the morning."
"The JVC was a good opportunity to find strength in numbers and turn a scene that was lacking the sound into a scene that desired the sound," notes Andre Bennington, a.k.a. DJ Madkid, a savvy strategist who quotes the Wall Street Journal at me. Last summer, the JVC threw an "event" a month and hired themselves out to birthday parties, house parties, and cabin parties, in a flurry of activity that culminated in October's well-attended "Murderapolis" featuring DJ SS and his crew from England. The cave party, which spotlit U.K. producing legend SHY-FX, has now topped that one, in terms of bodies if not dancing frenzy (note to the crew: sandstone eats sound like a bandit).
Ask the JVC why they think they've grown so successful so fast, and you'll get a barrage of answers: "Whereas other promoters throw an event to make money," drawls David Dean, a.k.a. DJ Capsule, "we do it to expose more people to a certain sound. We try and make our environment friendly for the people and the sound." "We've charged less per ticket than most promoters," Bennington stresses. "Six minds are better than one," boasts Sean Widuch, a.k.a. MC Brace, to group cheers. "People were looking for a way out," Dean concludes.
A way out of what? Well, techno, of course. Despite their swelling audiences, despite more local DJs spinning drum'n'bass, despite jungle's growing influence on both the pop and hip hop worlds, the JVC guys still carry a pretty hefty chip on their shoulders from the days of their discontent. Compared to drum'n'bass' changeable drum patterns and breakbeats, they see techno's "boom-boom-boom" continuity as "robotic" and "boring." Compared to jungle's ever-shifting styles--from raga to rough, intelligent to the hip hop-influenced jump up--techno is "rigid." Jungle encourages dancer self-expression; techno demands conformity. Jungle is inclusive, adaptive; techno, cliqueish and alienating. "Mature" women prefer jungle because it has more feeling (hmmm... ).
Thing is, this mature woman (in age, at least) mostly agrees with them. But don't the JVC feel weird bringing a style born of U.K. soundsystems and Jamaican immigrant toasting, one that's still 99.9 percent British-made, to the Midwest? Paul Miller a.k.a. DJ Para (no relation to Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky) is the JVC's de facto jungle historian. He points out that many prominent techno DJs and producers from Detroit--arguably the birthplace of techno--are experimenting with drum'n'bass rhythms: "They understand that it has to evolve."
The JVC's second MC, Bumpy Screw a.k.a. Gary Lawrence, is a student at Music Tech, and has been working on producing original drum'n'bass tracks with Dean. "Jungle music is a representation of what people see when they're in England, what they're around, their atmosphere," notes the quietly decisive Lawrence, who discovered the music on the Chicago party scene. "Just because we have a different environment here in Minneapolis, and in America in general, it's going to be a different style of drum'n'bass when it does get produced."
It's clearly an article of faith for these believers that jungle, with its sampling base, will always be swallowing mediums and being transformed by them--whether they be hip hop, R&B or MTV. And so, the JVC, unlike almost every underground music connoisseur I can think of, do not fear jungle's wider popularity. Rather, they celebrate, either presciently or prematurely, its coming reign. "The other day I was getting on the bus down at Third and Franklin," recalls Miller with a grin, "and this kid, this little b-boy kid, gets off. He's got a boombox--like it's 1983, or something. He presses play, and it's this jump up jungle track. And I'm like, hey! Something's going on." He shakes his head, bemusedly. "Something's going on."