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A London Sound: The Evolution Of Jungle Music

28 Jun 2024

Exploding onto the UK dance music scene in the early 90s, jungle’s evolution can be traced back to early reggae sound system culture and the blossoming European rave movement. From hardcore and breakbeat to early drum and bass, here’s our take on the rise of jungle.

Musical Roots

As is the case with any art form, music doesn’t emerge from a vacuum; genres exist as a reflection, reinterpretation or resistance of those that came before. As such, no discussion of jungle (or any modern dance music) would be complete without acknowledging the cultures from which it came. An amalgamation of roots, dancehall, reggae, dub and hip-hop, jungle exists as a continuation of the sound system culture nurtured by Black communities in London and around the world. 

From the soundsystem culture of the 1970s and 80s emerged a community of music lovers and dubplate connoisseurs, eager to bring new music to crowds and dancefloors. London-based systems such as Fatman Hifi, Coxsone and King Tubby’s were the point of reference for new sounds, playing the freshest pressings from around the world out of bass-heavy rigs; simultaneously informing and reflecting people’s love for the genres.

Breakbeat Hardcore

By the late 1980s, dub, reggae and ska were largely usurped by house music, a genre championed by Chicago’s Queer and Black communities. However, as the genre became increasingly commercial, it was only a matter of time before the underground made way for a new scene; enter rave and breakbeat hardcore.

The early 90s saw breakbeat hardcore rise to prominence, blending elements from the happy hardcore, hip-hop, breakbeat and techno being exported from Europe and America. This sample-heavy genre was characterised by meticulously chopped breaks (commonly lifted from hip-hop, funk and soul records), four-to-the-floor kicks and acid basslines synonymous with hardware such as the Roland TB-303. As we’ll get onto a little later, this scene was tied to the illegal raves taking place all over the UK.

As is often the case with grass underground movements, hardcore’s light burned brightly but was somewhat short-lived in comparison to its house and techno counterparts. By the early 1990s, the incandescent flame of hardcore began to flicker. Tied to media controversy and illegal raves, the genre retreated underground and a metamorphosis began.

Early Iterations

While the exact moment of inception is subject to debate amongst junglists even today, the track ‘We Are IE’ by Lenny Dee Ice is often cited as the first to collate all elements of the genre. Released in 1991, the track blends simplistic amen break cuts with hypnotic vocals and a deep sub-bass. That said, with a slower tempo of 136bpm, it is often labelled as breakbeat, hardcore or proto-jungle. 

Regardless of classification, Lenny Dee Ice’s track mirrored a transformation occurring on a wider scale; dance music had once again escaped the clasp of major labels and returned to the place from which it came: the people. The seeds of jungle were sewn, and they were big, bad and heavy. 

As the genre emerged, the terms “jungle techno” and “hardcore jungle” became popular to describe the transition from breakbeat hardcore to jungle music. This sound made its name through club nights such as A.W.O.L, Roast and Telepathy, championed by artists such as DJ Ron, DJ Hype, Mickey Finn, DJ Dextrous, and Kenny Ken.

The Junglist Massive: Records, Radio & Raves 

Described as Britain’s answer to US hip-hop, jungle was born and raised in home studios, pirate stations and warehouse raves. The latter of which played a crucial role in the mysticism and excitement associated with the genre. As the music gained popularity among ravers up and down the country, a number of pirate radio stations and DIY record labels emerged, championing the sound and shedding light on a new generation of musicians and producers. 

Labels such as Reinforced, Suburban Base, Moving Shadow and Basement Records pressed the latest and greatest from producers and MCs all over, providing DJs with dubplates (one-of-a-kind, unreleased vinyl pressings) and igniting dancefloors. Meanwhile, pirate radio stations (DIY studios, often situated in disused flats with crudely assembled antennae) such as Kool FM were broadcasting the sound throughout London, alerting ravers as to the location of raves and providing a space in which the boundaries of the genre could be expanded. 

Classification & Characteristics

So what makes a jungle track? Ask this question at a record store or rave, and you’ll be swarmed by audiophiles desperate to give their two cents on the matter. ‘It’s all in the bpm’. ‘It’s the way the breaks are cut’. ‘It’s the samples’. ‘It’s a feeling!’. The truth is that there are a number of unifying traits that can be found throughout the genre. The consensus is generally as follows: 


Typically, jungle sits around the 160-170bpm mark, though earlier, post-breakbeat tracks started out as slow as 150-155bpm during the genre’s inception. 


Without breakbeats, there would be no jungle. The genre’s loose, energetic sound can be credited to the sampling and resampling of first and second generation funk, soul and hip-hop breaks. Drum breaks from records such as ‘Amen, Brother’ by the Winstons, Lyn Collins’ ‘Think (About It)’ and ‘Funky Drummer’ by James Brown were sampled, pitched, sped and chopped to form rhythmic patterns synonymous with jungle.


Jungle’s richness and diversity is due to the sample-heavy process through which the tracks are produced. Everything from Reggae, Ska and Dub to Hip-Hop, Techno, Jazz and Soul was recontextualised by rolling breaks and guerilla sampling techniques. Be it rave stabs, pianos, vocals, orchestras or film dialogue, jungle is a genre rooted in experimentation and amalgamation.

Take, for example, ‘Burial’ by Leviticus. This 1994 jungle anthem samples the opening four bars of ‘Mademoiselle’ by Foxy, released in 1978. Likewise, ‘Valley of the Shadows’ by Original Unknown lifted a section of speech from the 1988 BBC documentary ‘Glimpses of Death’.

Production Techniques

Integral to the music is the means through which it is produced. A genre born in low-budget bedroom studios on easily accessible gear, jungle owes its distinctive crunch and bass to the hardware and equipment available in the early 1990s. 12-bit samplers such as the Akai S950 were coupled with sequencing software such as Cubase to chop, cut, layer and arrange samples and breaks into club-rumbling rhythms. Most notably, the S950 was famed for its ‘time-stretch’ feature, a form of sample elongation with a distinctive alien-esque sound that became a staple of the genre. 
Here at ACM, we understand the importance of looking back in order to step forward. With a deep understanding of genres’ rich histories, we keep our sights set firmly on the future, encouraging non-linear innovation and experimentation to ensure that our students are equipped with the transferable skillset required to thrive in modern industry. Discover our range of courses and kickstart your journey today.