How Jungle Mania helped to spread the sound
The year is 1994. After a few years of evolving and growing on the underground, jungle music is peaking. The sound is exploding out of London via pirate radio, clubs, record shops, and a whole world of DJs and producers who have been captivated by this innovative, incendiary breakbeat-driven music. It’s strength lies in its diversity; from ragga samples to cosmic melodies, deep jazzy influences through to hip hop, soul and a myriad UK electronic sounds, jungle’s appeal is widespread. In summertime ‘94, across London, everywhere you go you hear jungle blaring out of car windows, people’s houses, seeping out from their headphones. It’s literally everywhere.
Of course, whenever something gets as hot as jungle did back then, the major labels come looking. Telstar’s Jungle Mania series became seminal release for many during this era alongside several other more ‘commercial’ compilations. The first thing to say is that the main, go-to sources for most junglists in the mid-90s were pirate radio (Weekend Rush, Kool FM etc…), tape packs from the raves, the raves themselves and record shops. Especially if you lived in London, the epicentre of jungle.
However, for people who lived outside the capital, exposure to the music was not always as frequent or easy-access. Likewise for younger junglists, raves were not an option and, unless you had an older sibling, you might not have come across tape packs or gone to record shops. This is where commercial compilations like Jungle Mania managed to spread the word further afield.
“Tape packs and CD packs had an important part play in the growth of the music, and pirate radio too. All of that was very important to the whole scene,” says Nicky Blackmarket, whose infamous Soho shop, Blackmarket Records, was a hub for jungle and drum n bass through the nineties all the way up until its closure in 2015. “People would come from outside of London to stay with family who lived there just to do some ‘pause pushing’ and record some radio shows!,” he adds.
Jungle Mania now has an iconic status to so many fans of the music up and down the UK. You only have to read some of the threads that have been started on online DnB forums, or the comments on YouTube uploads to gauge how many people rinsed the comps back in the day. On an upload of ‘Jungle Mania 2’, one YouTube commenter, named Macca, wrote, “My first ever CD as teenager that got me into music.” While another user, fx omar, says, “My first jungle CD, I was about 10.”
“Just take a look at the comments on YouTube and Discogs at these to see just how many people from different countries got into jungle from getting these CDs,” agrees electronic music artist, and jungle fan, Thomas Ragsdale, who hails from the north of the UK. “Seeing as jungle was such a localised music genre at the time, and obviously pre-internet, we really had to treasure compilations like these and use them as the gateway into the genre. There was no other way!”
For many youngsters from outside the capital, Jungle Mania and other such CDs was their introduction to jungle; perhaps not what the underground would have wanted but, like it or not, the CDs created a whole new army of junglists across the UK.
‘Jungle Mania 94’ came in with some of the biggest tunes of the time, Shy FX & UK Apachi’s ‘Original Nuttah’, Deep Blue with ‘The Helicopter Tune’, DJ Krome & Mr Time’s ‘The Licence’, Leviticus’ (AKA Jumpin’ Jack Frost) massive ‘Burial’, ‘Scotty’, ‘Warning (Powder Mix), ‘Sweet Vibrations’ by Tom & Jerry… the list goes on.
“Those albums probably got to people who wouldn’t have heard the music otherwise, and converted a lot of people” Nicky tells us. His track ‘Geese Tune’ (engineered by Dillinja) was featured on the original ‘Jungle Mania 94’.
“Now that tune (originally called ‘Wild Geese’) came out on a picture disc before they signed it for the compilation,” he explains. “It was a record shop special with us on one side and Lucky Spin Records on the flip. Then it got put on ‘Jungle Mania 94’, which sold so many more copies,” he adds. “In fact, Telstar gave me a gold plaque to mark 100,000 sales. I’ve got it hanging up in the hallway of my house just as you come in the front door.”
Selling that many copies was a sure sign of how big jungle had become. With the combined pressing and distribution power of Sony BMG, the compilation made it into all high-street music retailers - of which there were still many back in the mid-nineties. Kids would get the albums as birthday or Christmas presents. They were out there in front of customers who may not have ever stepped foot in an underground record shop, but in HMV, or Our Price or any of the other well-known music outlets there was a chance they would stumble across Jungle Mania. Ads on the television and radio also helped to raise the profile of the comps and their sales remain impressive even by today’s standards.
In the same way that so-called EDM can often be a gateway for some young music lovers into the deeper side of house, techno and so forth, so too was Jungle Mania a route into the more underground side of the music for some of those who picked up the compilation.
‘Jungle Mania 94’ was quickly followed by ‘Jungle Mania 2’, which again is rated by many now as a classic compilation. The tracklist includes big hitters like DJ SS ‘Rollers Convention’, the timeless ‘Special Dedication (V.I.P Mix)’ by DJ Nut Nut and New Blood’s ‘Worries In The Dance’. Plus the more melodic end of the spectrum with essential cuts like ‘Only You’ by the mighty Nookie and the more esoteric stylings of T.Power with ‘Horny Mutant Jazz’. That same year ‘Jungle Hits: Volume 1’ was released by Jet Star Records, which also pushed the music out to the general public, though with a lot more ragga-influenced tunes than Jungle Mania.
The compilations came under fire from some, who claimed they were commercialising a form of music that occupied a space in the ‘underground’ club world. “There’s a difference between commercialisation and a sound being popular,” says Bryan Gee. “You can have someone who goes into the studio and makes something that’s directed at a pop audience, then call it drum’n’bass. Whereas you can have a good tune that ends up getting played on radio and you’re hearing it in the lift when you’re at your local supermarket. Does that make it commercial? No, it’s just popular. I’d love to hear tunes from my label in the lift at Morrison’s or wherever!”
The legendary ‘Burial’ by Leviticus (AKA Jumpin’ Jack Frost) was released on Bryan and Frost’s label Philly Blunt and featured on ‘Jungle Hits 1’. Like Nicky Blackmarket, Bryan (and all the artists who had their tunes signed to the compilation) also received a notable award from the label Jet Star. “Those albums were the cornerstone for drum’n’bass compilations back then. Listen, I’ve got two gold discs from ‘Jungle Hits’, that’s how many copies they sold. I’m proud when I look at those two. That’s one of my proudest achievements!” Bryan tells us.
“You had ‘Incredible’ by General Levy on there, “Original Nuttah’ by Shy FX, tunes that are still getting smashed now,” he adds. “They were all on those albums, and they became popular because they were great tracks. Compilations like that made it possible for a lot of people to hear those tunes.”
There’s no doubt that Jungle Mania and all of those early compilations were pivotal in the dissemination of the music from its epicentre in London, across the UK and, eventually, the whole world. For that reason we salute the people who made it happen, and we encourage all the jungle massive reading this to have a listen to those classic albums while you explore the rest of this site…