“Part of me wishes there had been a grand plan for the whole thing. I probably would have been able to manage the whole thing a lot better!”
In an information-saturated world, there aren’t many things that are more frustratingly enticing than a hidden identity. Enter Jungle, the soul-saturated London collective responsible for monster hits The Heat and Busy Earnin’, and the music video with that six-year-old breakdancing whirlwind.
Despite their viral status, Jungle spent their first year under a cloud of anonymity, without anybody knowing their real names or even what they looked like. Inscrutable press photos compounded the intrigue, suggesting there might be two people in Jungle or there might be 30. A couple of slots at Glastonbury and SxSW, an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and a knockout debut album, and we can finally put a face to the music.
Jungle’s calculated exposure seems rather like a grand master plan, the perfect publicity recipe. “Part of me wishes there had been a grand plan for the whole thing,” laughs founding member T (the whole anonymous thing hasn’t completely worn off, but we’re down to initials now). “I probably would have been able to manage the whole thing a lot better! Everything has just happened so quickly. It all just keeps coming at us left, right and centre, so we’ve just had to take it as it comes.”
Sitting comfortably at the forefront of Brit super-label XL – which has everyone from Thom Yorke to King Krule under its umbrella – Jungle’s future is looking pretty bright. They’ve been playing all around the world this year, from Mexico to an explosive show at Splendour in The Grass. Performing live has been a steep learning curve for former bedroom producer T and his offsider J, more accustomed to lamplights than strobe lights. But they’ve taken to the stage like fish to water, getting a killer band together and delivering a vibrant live show. Nowadays, the expanded seven-piece live band keeps swapping instruments, reworking songs on the fly, and generally getting better and better. T likens the education to keeping your whiskers neat.
“You just learn your craft,” he says. “It’s like shaving, in a way – if you play 30 festivals over a summer, you learn a lot from that. I guess Glastonbury was the first, ‘Woah, this is bigger than we could have possibly imagined’ moment, but everything is going pretty relatively. The great thing about festivals is that so many people don’t know who you are and don’t know your music, so it’s your job to go out there and smash an incredible performance, and make people’s eyes open up to you.”
Jungle’s approach to their apprenticeship has landed them a string of accolades, premium gigs on the festival circuit and a tour with California girls, Haim. But it’s not just the wild performances. There’s something about Jungle’s sound that’s hard to pin down – it’s been labelled everything from P-funk to neo-soul, a capricious cocktail that throws you into nostalgic spasms. In a digital culture that relentlessly presses forward, there’s always the slight risk that delving into retro styles and genres is a surefire way of getting left behind. Everyone remembers MGMT’s dazzling fall from the spotlight after Oracular Spectacular. But T seems unfazed by the suggestion.
“The trick is not to think about it too much. You just go with your instincts, what you think is fun, what you think sounds good. Our main thing is that we are really keen to make sounds that people have never heard before. In terms of production, we want to be at the head of the game, doing things that haven’t been done before. But in terms of songwriting, it comes very naturally to us through our influence, so we try to blend our nostalgic songwriting style with our production.”
Production is the name of the game for Jungle, the thing that separates them from the others. A tapestry of synths, foley samples and explosive percussion pushes their songwriting into a whole other plane that’s hard to emulate. T is pretty relaxed with the secrets of Jungle’s production. “A lot of the snare drums are made out of throwing keys on the table or recording yourself eating a crisp,” he says. It’s a mindfuck re-listening to the album for creaking doors and surreptitious dial tones. And the angelic falsetto that floats in and out of Jungle’s tracks? “It changes,” says T. “For three or four tracks I sing and then J takes over. It just depends on whose voice is better in the studio that day.”
Jungle’s approach to their music is as holistic as it comes. Their music sounds wistfully like a time before the digital age, but their videos, which have stormed the web, are as much a part of their identity as their instruments are. For T and J, the music is just one part of creating a larger visual soundscape that takes you off to a certain place, memory or image. Escapism is the key.
“The great thing about music and film is that it really adds to the drama of a landscape,” says T. “For me growing up, music was something that I always had when I was travelling, even just catching the train or walking through the streets.”