UK drum ‘n’ bass legends Chase and Status are on a mission to inspire a cultural movement.
Will Kennard, Saul Milton and now MC Rage are bringing back the iconic music and fashion of jungle music’s golden years, but they’re also putting a 2019 spin on it.
After a string of documentaries, fashion lines and installations, their new album ‘RETURN II JUNGLE’ – featuring reggae and dancehall figures like General Levy and Burro Banton – embodies this heritage-meets-modern approach.
Inspired by the ‘90s jungle drum ‘n’ bass that first got them into making music, the group spent a week in Jamaica recording a series of original dancehall tracks with a wide variety of artists. They sampled these tracks – in the way the first generation of jungle DJs would have sampled from old Jamaican dancehall records – and cut them with new beats, to build a new jungle drum ‘n’ bass album.
Opening with a distorted public service announcement on the radio – perhaps a nod to pirate radio’s pivotal role in jungle music’s rise – a clipped BBC-style voice acts as an intro to the project, describing how “fast drums and heavy bass” are sweeping across London.
This could be read as either a memory from the past – remembering the first wave of jungle – or a statement of intent: Chase And Status want to help jungle rise again.
"I don’t think jungle’s ever been forgotten and we’ve never left,” reflects Saul. "Sometimes you just want to go back to what it was that inspired you the most and you fell in love with, and is at the core of everything you do. Which for us is basically jungle drum ‘n’ bass. That’s here it all started for us, and where it all comes from.”
Saul is the group member who’s especially interested in the relationship between fashion and music. Last year he put on on an exhibition exploring the fashion, trends and culture surrounding the rave and UK garage movements in the ‘90s and early 2000s, with curator Tory Turk, and collaborated on a line with vintage clothing specialists, Wavey Garms.
He’s fascinated with what he sees as the parallels between now and when UK jungle reigned supreme. "Back then jungle hardcore raves were all born out of social distrust, social downturn, economic downturn, uncertainty in the future. And people found music and fashion – despite the designer labels – as a cheaper or free economy you could get into. If you can hear, you can go out and enjoy music.
“You might not have to buy the latest Moschino but you can go to a second hand store and put things together, make your own style. Fashion and music are always important pivotal things in times of, not crisis but let's say confusion. Raves were the first time you'd see people of all colours and creeds under one roof, everyone coming together. No one really cared about what you were or who you were – you were all there for the same thing.”
With Brexit divisions and a frightening far-right rise, Saul sees plenty of parallels with the past, as well as people's approach to music and culture.
"Young people now don't all want stuff on MP3, they want something to hold and touch, and the fashion has come round – old Moschino, old Versace, old DKNY, old D&G – they want to recreate that vibe, but for now."
He talks about original jungle fashion being UK kids re-appropriating clothes that were meant for the Italian catwalk, adding their own gold chains and big spliffs, "It wasn't mean for that, we took their culture and made it our own,” he explains. “Now kids today are looking back to our style of the ‘90s and are taking it and making it their own – tracksuit trousers with a loud Moschino shirt. For us it's all come full circle.”
But the jungle mission isn’t about basking in nostalgia – it’s about bringing the best bits of one into the present: "But we didn’t want to make an album of tunes that could have come straight out of 1995 – ‘cos that’s where they belong. We wanted to bring that flavour and update it to for the future, a way that would stand up in the clubs and be current.”
A part of that was creating original dancehall tracks to take samples from, rather than going back into old records. To do that, they went to the source: Jamaica’s Big Yard Studios.
The trip wasn’t just to catch a vibe – it was a musical move. "In the ‘90s when people were making jungle they would have been sampling their favourite bashment and reggae records ,” says Saul. “But all those have been sampled to death now, so how are you going to make original-sounding jungle, with stuff that’s been used before? So we wanted to make our own samples.
“We went to Jamaica and basically made a dancehall album, a bashment album, with these artists. Then we used these tracks as our own samples, and treat them as if we'd just found them in a record stop. It made it come full circle, feel like a cohesive project. It’s authentic."
They took that record – full of big hitters and up-and-comers – and turned it into jungle drum n bass."175 bpm all the way," laughs Saul.
Jamaica was a big inspiration for Chase and Status, the atmosphere and the community as much as the artists they worked with. As well as the particular people they’d intended to hook up with – via their ‘fixer’ for the trip, Radio 1Xtra’s Seani B – MCs and singers would just turn up to the studio every day, clamouring to show the group what they could do.
“The whole process – ‘stop that, run it again’ – getting a rewind, getting a reload, people banging on the walls…it's a different vibe,” says Saul. “Everyone we worked with – their attitude was second to none. The work rate was phenomenal."
Back in the UK and with the album complete, the group have been focussing on another aspect to jungle: dubplate culture. "The UK scenes that we're from and that we frequent were built on dubplate culture,” Saul explains. “DJs would have tunes early, then live with them, play them in the clubs, a buzz would build for a few months and then things would happen.
"Today people are so hungry for radio success or commercial success then rather than give it to DJs in the scene they're just giving it to radio DJs for a premier, then it comes out a day later. And that's cool, but what it takes away is shelf life.
The thing about being a DJ is you love having the new bits, showing the crowd this is the new shit, something you're going to get into, hopefully educating people. Organic, you know?
They took this approach and gave most of the album out to DJs early, so lots of the tunes were already getting played out, building a buzz and a vibe, the same way they enjoyed at the jungle drum ’n’ bass dances of their youth. For Chase and Status it’s about helping bring back some of that organic approach.
Must most of all, it’s about the music – regardless of commercial success. As Saul says: “F*** everyone else, it's from us."
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