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Event DetailsFunk-indebted acts characterized by lazing rhythms, falsetto vocals, and commercial aspirations were scarce in 2014, when Jungle capitalized upon their breakthrough single "Busy Earnin'" with a self-titled album that hit the U.K. Top Ten. By the time the band had been nominated for a Mercury Prize and released the first singles from their follow-up full-length, the novelty tag had worn off and they had become fixtures of the revered XL Recordings label. Led by childhood friends Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, musicians originally identified as J and T, Jungle formed in early 2013 and wasted little time. Connected with the Chess Club label, they released their first singles -- the hypnotic and relaxed dance grooves "Platoon" and "The Heat" -- that July and October. The striking accompanying videos, featuring only the moves of six-year-old B-girl Terra in the former, and a roller-breaking duo in the latter, racked up millions of plays.
Jungle expanded to a seven-piece band for live performances, as Lloyd-Watson and McFarland did not want to simply play the music from their laptops in concert. Instantly a major draw, tickets for the first London performance -- which was followed shortly thereafter by additional gigs in the U.K. and elsewhere -- reportedly sold out within 24 hours of going on sale. Selected for the long list of the BBC Sound of 2014 poll and signed to XL, the band responded that year with their biggest single and video yet, "Busy Earnin'" -- a number 19 hit on the U.K. indie chart -- and a self-titled debut LP that reached the Top Ten of the main album chart. The band maintained a busy touring schedule, playing festivals such as England's Glastonbury and Belgium's Dour Festival, and sold-out large venues such as London's Brixton Academy. In early 2018, shortly after they performed at Mexico's Trópico festival, they released the drifting "House in L.A." and grooving "Happy Man" as the first singles off their second album.
This is where Jungle want to take you. An infinite holiday, a place called bliss, a great escape from the grey and the everyday – because, as aesthetes from Oscar Wilde to Pharrell Williams knew, there is nothing so serious as fun and nothing as subversive as happiness.
There is no blueprint to Jungle's irresistible, life-enhancing, report-to-the-dancefloor sound but there are many ingredients. It's P-Funk and 'Grand Theft Auto', it's Curtis Mayfield and 'Tron', it's the Beach Boys and Joy Division and Marvin Gaye and Can, all cut up and refracted in a London neighbourhood where anything can happen.
Those with long memories might detect a resurrection of A Certain Ratio or Chakk's fractured funk here. But for most of Jungle's growing and increasingly fanatical crowd it's not about the history. It's about a remedy for overstuffed pop and bloated stadium house and dull social realist rock. It's about getting back to the groove.
And behind the rising buzz – the BBC Sound of 2014 nomination, the 4 millions plus plays of the 'Platoon' video, the US tour that sold out on the back of their SXSW appearance before Jungle even had an official record out in America – it's a DIY story. Working from their home studio in Shepherd's Bush, the core Jungle duo known only as J and T set out their store long before they came on any label's radar with a brace of handmade mini-classics. A couple of singles – 'The Heat''s supple 4am soul snap, the ice-cold search-and-destroy beats of 'Platoon' – connected 2014 and 1974, London with Rio and New York, the feet with the unconscious mind.
Adding to the buzz and mystique were game-changing videos, made by the band and their mates, featuring skaters the High Rollaz and a stunning 6-year old breakdancer called Terra. They racked up major views on YouTube and spread the word far beyond the music hardcore that here was something different. Inscrutable press photos compounded the intrigue, suggesting that there might be two people in Jungle or there might be thirty. Who could tell? Like their sonic ancestors Public Enemy or The Art Of Noise, Jungle were a delicious riddle, an enigma with attitude.
Now perhaps some explanation is in order. We can reveal that J and T are a pair of sound obsessives called Josh and Tom, sharp and meticulous West Londoners who each play "pretty much everything" and tend to finish each other's sentences too. "The initials weren't a big deal, they're just our nicknames," explains T. "We weren't trying to hide ourselves, but we didn't want the whole thing to be about us. We wanted it to be about at the music. "
They've known each other they were ten years old, when J moved in next door to T's house in Shepherd's Bush back in 2000. T lived a mere stone's throw from the legendary Townhouse Studios where (omens ahoy) everyone from ABC to Frank Zappa recorded. J climbed over T's back garden wall and they've stayed friends ever since, from the time he tried to sell T his first guitar for £20 (Tom: "it was broken") through roller-skating to sharing music – Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jehst, Braintax – to their first experiments with making their own.
"You know what it's like," says J. "You get a guitar and a busted old PC, then you find a bit of software on the Internet and suddenly you're actually doing it. Even when we were kids the idea was, Yeah, we can do that. You don't need a label or expensive equipment to make music. You just need to have a go." Their interest in sound became an obsession. At school T spent a year dissecting Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' and the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds' until he knew them inside out, two records he still adores for their marriage of recording technology with pure joyous emotion.
Shepherd's Bush gave them a musical identity before they even knew they wanted one – that stew of hip hop, rock, electronica, soul and reggae that comes from a true culture collision. "We love it round there," says T. "All of our mates are there. It's one of those parts of London that's kept its identity."
A brief spell in a mate's band confirmed that the worn-out strictures of indie rock weren't for them. Specifically it made them realise that if you're going to make music at all, it'd better be your own – something that you can pour your heart and soul into, something that you can up stand for, something you're proud of. "Jungle brought us closer together," says J. "It made us realise why we're best friends, and why we wanted to make music that's fun and honest and true to itself."
So they threw themselves into finding a sound that only they could make. Something epic and rhythmic, euphoric and sexual. "It's always been visual for us," explains the enthusiastic J. "We want the feel of a video game or a cartoon landscape, a hyperreal, colourful, surreal place. We want everything to be realer than real."
Half recorded at home and finished in the studios of their new label XL, where The xx made their own first album, Jungle's intoxicating self-titled debut delivers all that and more. There's technique and care in these seemingly weightless tracks but above all it feels effortless, a breath of fragrant fresh air, a touch of psychedelic sweetness for sour times.
Meanwhile things are gathering pace for Jungle. They're hearing covers of their stuff, rappers rhyming over 'The Heat'. The shows get bigger. They had to break off recording for a quick tour with Haim, and the expanded seven-piece Jungle live band keeps swapping instruments, reworking songs on the fly, getting better and better.
"When people come to see us we want to shock them and surprise them," says T. "Getting people's hips and bodies moving is what music should be about."
"This stuff started out as escapism for us," adds J. "Now anyone can escape into it."
Damn right they can. Get your swimsuit together, lose those grey urban perspectives and begone, dull care. Underneath the pavement, the infinite beach of the mind awaits. And you know who's playing there – tonight, and every night.