Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 2 - Orientalism
Log 2 - Orientalism

Rumble in the Jungle
Jonathan Nicol


Set in the late stages of the Vietnam conflict, Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now details a US unit's suicide mission deep behind enemy lines, an allegorical journey into the darkness of their own hearts. The loosely structured narrative of the film captures the viewer up in an imagistic stream of consciousness, a paranoid delerium played out in the heart of a brutal conflict. In the 1990s a similar apocalyptic battlefield aesthetic has emerged in the music and culture of jungle and drum and bass. Set in an Apocalypse Now style hallucinogenic warzone, the mood of jungle hardcore is one of militant individualism.

In his article Wargasm (Frieze, May 1996) Simon Reynolds traces jungle's militarism back to the early days of hardcore rave. From camouflage patterned album sleeves and dance clothing to metaphors of the DJ as artillery-man, Reynolds claims that jungle is saturated with warzone imagery. With sub-sonic landmine bass, and sped up breakbeats exploding like bursts of machine gun fire, the atmosphere of jungle is over-archingly militaristic. The coloured smoke and stroboscopic lighting recall the hallucinogenic fire fights and dawn raids of Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

Apocalypse Now poster

Immersed in this cinematic soundscape the junglist plays the role of the more improvisatory, less regimented soldier that Reynolds suggests will be required for the conflicts of the future - the rogue trooper. Like a one-man-army, hardstepping jungle dancers appear to be fending off invisible enemies with their shadow-boxing style, a barrage of calculated chops and slices. Sensing the constant presence of a hidden enemy, like a conspiracy theorist the junglist is adrift in a paranoid atmosphere of foreboding. Located within the context of late capitalism, the lyrical samples of drum and bass tracks often hint at the omnipotent presence of faceless conspiratorial cabals: "Propaganda. . . They believe in propaganda," "The shadow cast over society by big business."

While Neville Wakefield finds in jungle's forerunner acid house a corollary for Baudrillard's theories of obscenity, a space where there are no secrets, for the junglist hidden agendas abound. However, unlike conventional conspiracy theory, which usually betrays a linear worldview based on discovering the Truth, jungle corresponds more closely to a rhizomatic formation, its half whispered secrets avoiding any orientation toward resolution or culmination.

Perhaps the imagined presence of jungle's massive veiled Other can be understood in relation to its ongoing fascination with the interface between Eastern and Western cultural production. Western in origin, jungle looks to the East (as well as Wu Tang's East Coast) for inspiration, to Akira's neo-Tokyo of the future (see No U Turn record's Torque compilation), to the US military intervention of recent decades, particularly the Vietnam conflict, and to the feudal law of ancient Japan. Filtered through the lens of Western experience, this exoticism of the East is inextricably linked to popular visions of the primitive.

In Apocalypse Now Marlon Brando plays Kurtz, a US colonel turned renegade, waging his own private war deep in the Cambodian jungle. Journeying deeper and deeper into a metaphorical primal past, both Kurtz and his would-be assassinator Willard walk the fine line between revelation and madness. In Apocalypse Now to "go native" is, ultimately, to go insane.

Going native

A similar correlation between primitivism and danger can be identified in the menacing atmospherics of drum and bass. In this sense, to speak of the ominous tunes that currently rule over the jungle scene as `darker' than their forerunners is a telling turn of phrase. It might refer not only to the menacing quality of these tracks, but also to their relative `blackness,' and perhaps these two features are not entirely unrelated, for jungle is at once drawn to and repulsed by the spectre of otherness, be it the guerrilla tactics of Viet Cong soldiers, the alien technologies of Japanese manga, or the urban gangsterism of black US youths. Embodying a simultaneous identification and dread, the music is an exoticising tourism of Western culture's suppressed and negative counterparts: blackness, primativism, madness, nature, the feminine.

Formulating a hyper-individualistic masculinized defence, during their night out the jungle raver braves a perversely pleasurable journey to the "heart of darkness" (the name of the novel on which Apocalypse is loosely based). Ultimately though, like a GI doing their tour of duty the junglist is only a visitor here, their encounter with debased difference a confirmation of their own civility. In Apocalypse Now, and again in Tonic's 1996 track Renegade Fazed, the desire is expressed to "go out like a soldier, standing up, not like some rag-assed renegade."

Jonathan Nicol



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room