By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
It all started with an offhand display of funkiness. A minor gospel R&B band called the Winstons went into a studio in 1969 to record a single, and the drummer cut a solo percussion break in the middle of the negligible B-side, an instrumental called "Amen, My Brother." It was a driving, slip surge of snare and ride cymbal, totally perfunctory--the kind of thing the drummer had probably done a thousand times in a thousand different ways. The A-side was a hit, but it was the Winstons' only chart grab. And if, 23 years later, that forgotten break hadn't gone on to underpin an entire genre, we wouldn't be talking about the Winstons at all.
The "Amen" break was jungle's great unifier: Both hook and rhythm, instantly recognizable, and nearly impossible to call up from memory, it was reworked into hundreds (maybe thousands) of tracks by nearly every jungle producer. Too fast for hip hop, and not even terribly funky, it was transformed by jungle's greatest practitioners from a snippet that barely lasted 10 seconds into a collapsible/expandable landscape, a rhythmic carnival.
There's been something of a mini-renaissance in old-skool jungle this year, with IDM labels like U-Ziq's Planet Mu paying back the implied debt from borrowing the genre's vocabulary for so long. Sound Murderer is a single-producer retrospective from Remarc, one of the "Amen" break's most athletic reinterpreters, and it's about as exciting as music gets. Drums run roughshod--exploding, imploding, rising, falling, punching, skittering--and obese basslines rumble along with the obligatory ragga chants, hip-hop samples, gunshots, and rewinds. Probably the murkiest ragga jungle track ever, "R.I.P." drowns the wood pecker "Amen" snares and a Cutty Ranks boast in a thick pea soup bass. Compared to the future bear-fart distortion of techstep, however, it's positively frisky.
Early jungle was all about physical release (in common parlance, "brocking out") and translating hip hop's beat science and dancehall's low-end into an endless powerpill Pac-Man chase around the dance floor. The title track expresses nothing but pure energy with its rat-a-tat "Amen," fizzy disco strings, and the high-noon whistle from Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It's totally generic in the best possible sense: Hundreds of tracks have followed a similar format, and that format set the basis for music that evolved to encompass nearly any sound an artist wanted. So where are the Bay B Kane, Bizzy B, Noise Factory, Kemet Crew, and Marvellous Cain collections, already?