How the Bristol Crew Brought Their Unique Flavour to Jungle
During the early nineties a musical revolution was taking place in the UK. Ripples from the acid house explosion were still being felt years after the genesis of the rave scene. Down in Bristol a small collective embraced this emergent sound, channeling their varied influences and backgrounds into their music, planting the seeds from which a mighty musical tree would grow and sprinkling some of that special Bristol flavour on top to give it that extra bit of magic.
DJ Krust, Roni Size, DJ Die and Suv are the four founders of this crew, that would eventually become known as Full Cycle. A highly creative unit that would become one of the most innovative and influential groups in the drum’n’bass jungle scene. From inspiring the launch of V Records, to smashing dance floors all over the world with their distinct brand of club-focused bangers, to breaking the mould with pioneering live projects and winning the Mercury Music Prize among many other groundbreaking achievements, you really can’t talk about jungle without mentioning these guys.
So we decided to get the lowdown on the West Country trailblazers and the story behind that unbelievably prolific period in the mid-nineties when the Full Cycle clique began to make their mark on the jungle scene…
Before they formed their trailblazing alliance, all four members of the Full Cycle crew were already connected to the Bristol music scene. Krust and Suv were members of the Fresh 4, whose single ‘Wishing On A Star’ (with Lizz. E) hit the Top 10 in the UK charts back in 1989. The group was comprised Krust, his older brother J. Thompson (AKA Flynn), Paul Southey (Suv) and Judge. Roni’s older brother Carl was, and still is, a member of Bristol soundsystem Qualitex and Die had been making music with Smith & Mighty, among others.
Bristol’s history is well documented, with infamous names such as The Wild Bunch, Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead and more, establishing the city’s rich musical background. Roni, Krust, Die and Suv were perfectly positioned to soak it all up, growing up surrounded by the diverse culture of their hometown and immersing themselves in its club scene. At the infamous Dug Out, the Wild Bunch cultivated a unique space, where a wide range of sounds, and people, merged and mingled. Following on from the post-punk scene that thrived in Bristol, thanks to people like Martin Elbourne and The Bristol Recorder, the Dug Out maintained its position as a hub for new music. There The Wild Bunch broke down barriers between genres and cultivated a free zone where anything could, and would, be played. From this, and several other key venues around town including the legendary Trinity and Malcolm X Centre, sprung the new generation of Bristol innovators.
Echoes of what was happening at the Dug Out filtered down to the younger generation. Krust attended at the tail end of the seminal club’s run, but things really began for him at the Moon Club. “All the Bristol guys started playing there; me, Die, Suv, Daddy G would play,” he says. “What was great about Bristol was it had these mash up parties, where anything goes. You’d hear a techno tune next to a reggae next to a pop tune and no one would bat an eyelid. That was the background, the culture that we came through and we brought into jungle, into the Full Cycle sound. People called it jungle but we saw more as ‘punk’ or ‘DIY’, jazz or whatever. It was us trying to recreate these parties and get people to understand, ‘This is where we come from’.”
“There’s a vibe and a culture in Bristol, it’s an important place. There’s something special about that city, maybe if they were in London they wouldn’t have created what they did,” Bryan Gee tells us, acknowledging the importance of the West Country city’s vibrant, laidback vibe in the conception of Full Cycle.
“Bristol’s always had diverse musical styles and influences going on there from the early days,” DJ Die adds. “The Wild Bunch, Smith & Mighty and all of that. Growing up with that music around us laid the foundations.”
“Then the rave thing came along,” he adds. “As a DJ playing soul or funk back, you got left behind if you weren’t playing rave music.”
Locals DJs like Easygroove were pivotal in breaking these new sounds across Bristol. Originally a hip hop and funk specialist, Dennis Easygroove switched to hardcore and rave music in the very early nineties and, for many, changed the game. His dynamic sets incorporated a myriad sounds from that era, high-octane, eclectic and mesmerising. Easygroove was a local selector who was critical to the growth of rave culture in Bristol and whose name remains the stuff of legend to this day.
“He was the first person I heard play “jungle”,” says Die. “And that was in the form of an Ibiza Records tune called ‘Jungle Techno’ and another one called ‘Bad Girl’. He goes to me, ‘This is jungle techno’. When I heard it I was captivated, there was something about it.”
The West Country has always been synonymous with the free party scene, which goes way back beyond the birth of acid house. These illegal gatherings were another key ingredient in the formation of Full Cycle, as Die reconnected with his old acquaintance Krust at one such party, kicking off the chain of events that would lead to the crew coming together. Events like Universe and Tribal Gathering took off and jaunts to huge parties in the fields surrounding Bristol, Bath and beyond became a weekly pursuit.
“In the early nineties we were going everywhere together, up and down the West Country, to London, going to all this illegal parties religiously. We’d get on the road, find the convoy and get out there,” Die explains. “Alchemy was happening at these parties. People were mixing these Belgian techno records from labels like R&S with this new sound from England, which was influenced by reggae basslines and hip hop breaks.”
As hardcore, techno, ragga, hip hop and rave culture clashed, merged and coalesced something new began to emerge and its growth and proliferation was rapid. DJs were blending styles on the fly, finding that breakbeats and percussive breakdowns caused the biggest reactions in the crowd. Of course, we can’t mention any of this without paying the utmost respect to Fabio and Grooverider whose residency at Rage was pivotal in laying down the foundations for this unparalleled period of experimentation. This new style quickly caught favour with DJs across the country, including Die and the crew, who injected some of that experimental breakbeat flavour into their own sets to get the crowd going.
“You were hearing these experimental mixes, and then playing the drum’n’bass breakdowns on the tunes yourself because that’s what made the crowd go mad,” says Die. “We needed the space in the music, that’s how jungle formed… finding the space in the music so the bass could breathe and the drums can do the talking. You don’t have to put lyrics on your track, the drums are telling the story.”
And there we have one of the core catalysts behind the Bristol jungle movement: The breaks.
All four members of the original crew were avid record collectors, storing up stacks of vinyl and avidly searching for breaks to sample. They’d spend days on end experimenting with breaks, cutting them up, staying up all night long to work out how to make new sounds and creating their own arrangements and patterns. “It was disseminating all these drummers, bass players, techno records, house records, punk bands and trying to get it to sound like the experiences we were having in Bristol,” Krust explains.
“From the early days of Fresh 4, Krust and the guys were into their breaks. I’d hear them on pirate radio playing soul, funk and boogie,” Die adds. “Then I was digging into prog rock, and going off into all these other areas to track down new breakbeats - and then we’d cover up the records so no one could see them when we were playing!”
As we find with many cultural movements, the political climate in the UK also had an adverse effect on what was happening across the nation, as youth unemployment went through a sharp rise thanks to 1990s recession. “You’ve got to remember back in the early nineties there was absolutely f*** all going on for young people from the inner city,” Krust says. “We weren’t the classic kids who fit into the school system. We were highly creative, and it just didn’t work for me and most of the people I associated with.”
“So we left disappointed, angry to a degree, and when we saw ‘Wild Style’ that was the outlet. Where I grew up there was nothing close to what we saw happening in that film,” he adds. The 1982 movie ‘Wild Style’, one of the very first films to document hip hop culture, inspired Roni, Krust and many others from that generation to create their own culture modeled on what was depicted in Charlie Ahearn’s cult film. “That film was the bible. It’s the blueprint for everything I’ve done ever since. It laid down the culture, all I’ve ever been doing since then is to recreated that culture in some way or another,” Krust continues.
In past interviews Roni has spoken about this period when all the members were out of work and penniless, explaining that they were all so poor they’d have to make music quickly and efficiently because their electric meter would often run out of money before they had a chance to finish a tune. Out of work and on the dole, the roots of the Full Cycle family were taking hold through their dedication to make something out of nothing.
In Krust’s case he kept trying to find work until he reached the end of his tether. One last ditch attempt to get a menial job failed and he decided to commit his life to music. “What you hear in Full Cycle is that level of commitment,” he explains. “We lived it and breathed it every single day, living in each other’s pockets; I lived at Roni’s house, Roni lived at my house, I lived at Die’s house. We’d spend all our giro on buying breaks in the charity shops. We struggled until we could afford a sampler, a Roland S-760.”
“We were at a loose end, with nothing in our pockets,” explains Die. “We were lucky if we could rub two coins together. We literally had enough money to get to the dance, get an eighth of skunk and half an E, and that would be us for the night.”
Broke, jobless and with nothing else to do they committed their lives to music. All the key ingredients were beginning to meld and fuse together, building a strong foundation for the creative spurt that was about to explode out of Bristol like an Earth-rumbling volcano waking from its slumber. By 1994 the jungle sound had well and truly arrived. General Levy and M-Beat had released ‘Incredible’, the first jungle crossover track, which broke into the UK Top 10, and all hell broke loose.
“Suddenly jungle kicked off, I think it was that General Levy track that really set it off,” Die recalls. “I remember seeing Frost, DJ Ron, Rebel MC and some others, on the cover of this magazine and it was official, it was jungle season. I was living in St. Paul’s at the time and there were raves going on all around my area; at the Malcolm X Centre, The Mill, The Depot, Trinity - all these places doing jungle parties for the inner city crowd.”
“You’d go down there and it was like a movie,” he adds. “Champagne, flame throwers, girls in batty riders. It was ghetto fabulous. It was the real deal. I remember there weren’t very many people of my shade in there, but I’d go up in the corner and hold a Dragon Stout!”