10 essential jungle drum & bass documentaries to watch online now
Julia Toppin selects 10 essential documentaries that paint a portrait of 30 years of jungle drum & bass, charting the stories of its origins to the present day. With additional research by Jacob Tucker
When compared to other UK dance music genres, the documentary coverage of jungle drum & bass is remarkably thin on the ground, largely limited to a few news series episodes, retrospective histories and lots of artist or label focused features with a narrow lens.
As you will see by watching the list below, jungle is a sound born in the early ‘90s in London, which took elements of genres including reggae, hip-hop, soul, jazz, and rare groove and blended them with techno, rave, hardcore, and samples from popular culture. Jungle’s whirlwind popularity caught the attention of the media and the major labels in a few short years, and as jungle produced an increased quantity of Black ravers, the media, music press, and police attached racist connotations of danger to the scene. The solution was a rebrand, led by mainstream labels and music press, to the allegedly more palatable term drum & bass. This rebrand came with a significant amount of white washing where certain sounds and artists were actively promoted over others. Whilst jungle has experienced a resurgence in popularity in the last few years, the mixed audiences in terms of race and gender are, unfortunately, not what they used to be. That said, some great work is being done to balance out the scene. Using the term jungle drum & bass is a way of acknowledging previous misdemeanors and reuniting a scene.
This selection of 10 documentaries seeks to tell a clear and comprehensive story of the sound. Whilst there are other documentaries, these 10 provide an enlightening, educating and entertaining narrative when viewed in order. Together they paint a portrait of 30 years of jungle, or, if you like, jungle, then drum & bass, then jungle drum & bass. For some the terms are interchangeable. For others they are not.
“Is jungle like ragga and rave, yeah?”
The first of two definitive documentaries which looked at the emerging new cultural phenomenon of jungle, All Junglists takes a comprehensive look at the whole scene by talking to DJs, MCs, producers, ravers, promoters and agents. Probably the most well-known of all the available jungle documentaries, with All Junglists you really feel like you’re capturing the energy of the jungle scene in the early ‘90s. There is a sense that something special is happening with the music, and with the communities around music. The narrator (Robbie Gee) stated at the end of the show that jungle would influence popular music for the years to come. They were not wrong.
A great variety of people from the jungle drum & bass scene are featured from Mickey Finn, LTJ Bukem, Navigator and the Ragga Twinz to Paul Ibiza, and Paul and Kingsley from Roast.
Issues around race and class are not skirted around. While it is acknowledged that jungle is bringing Black and white communities together — “we are all under one roof raving, laughing and joking together,” Kenny Ken says in the documentary — it is also acknowledged that Black ravers are also being denied access to events. We learn what Congo Natty means when he asserts that “jungle is the ragamuffin of house”.
A great introduction to what jungle was, and how it captured the hearts of the nation’s young in such a way that it caught the eye of the mainstream media. If you had to pick one documentary to represent the emergence of jungle, this would be it.
Watch it here.
Sharp Image Productions Ltd for Channel 4
Director — Rachel Seely
Producer — Jo Wiser
Duration — 26 minutes
"Jungle, ‘cos it’s from England, I can really relate to it.”
The second of these two definitive jungle documentaries, filmed at the height of jungle’s popularity in 1994, focuses more on those responsible for jungle’s biggest hits. You follow UK Apache around the streets of Tooting Broadway, General Levy signing jackets at Leicester Square, and Shy FX cooking up bangers in his bedroom. Importantly, you get a sense of jungle’s significance for Black British identity as well as for the identity of second- and third- generation immigrants such as UK Apache.
Technology is another key topic. As LTJ Bukem points out, “Without people being able to go out and spend a grand on a computer and a sampler, then there’s no other way of laying down the music.” The DIY approach to technology in the jungle scene is beautifully captured in the footage of MC Gunsmoke toasting in Shy FX’s bedroom studio.
The documentary does not shy away from the issues troubling the scene at the time either. In particular, major labels were beginning to realise jungle’s commercial potential. You hear DJ Trace lamenting jungle’s potential crossover from the underground to the mainstream. General Levy is more positive on this topic and argues that larger audiences can only be a good thing for jungle.
A fascinating look at the cultural and political aspects of jungle which has retrospectively become an important reminder of jungle’s connections to identity as the first Black British music.
Produced for BBC2
Series Producer — Yasmin Anwar
Producer — Lucy Pilkington
Lead Camera — Ian Watts
Duration — 20 minutes
Sounds of the West takes jungle out of its London origins and begins to show the influence of the sound beyond the capital’s borders, in a city rich with its own music culture like Bristol. Jungle is embraced into the welcoming arms of their underground scene, and the more relaxed vibe of everyday Bristol life influences the sound there.
When people talk about jungle not being “a Black thing or a white thing but a music thing” you can actually see the coming together of Black and white working class in the Bristol raves.
A pre-‘New Forms’ Roni Size and Krust are featured alongside the Ruffneck Ting Crew: Mark, MC Jakes and DJ Dazee. Label owners Flynn and Flora, singer-songwriter Virginia Lynch and DJ Die are also featured in this overview of the Bristol scene. Interestingly, though, writer Phil Johnson discusses his theory regarding Roni Size not having a mainstream hit despite producing great music due to a lack of a recognisable song structure. They clearly paid attention...
Series Editor — Abigail Davies
Producer/director — Howard Johnson
Duration — 25 minutes
“This is drum & bass, this is not jungle, that goes wah wah waaah and that’s complete and utter beats and no music and no lyrics to it.”
An entertaining, fly-on-the-wall style production following the travels, trials, and tribulations of LTJ Bukem and the Good Looking Records team. Bukem is joined on his Logical Progression tour by MC Conrad and Blame, and all are watched over by the beady eyes of Tony and Sonia Fordham, who try to keep things running smoothly.
The voices of the ravers are also included, many of whom celebrate the “intelligence” and “beauty” of Bukem’s music. Throughout the documentary, the lusciousness of this music is contrasted with the nitty gritty realities of touring life. Although focused on the legendary DJ and producer, it is really his partner and team manager Tony Fordham who steals the limelight. You get access to a series of high-level meetings in Japan where Tony is trying to secure deals with major labels. In Canada, Sonia tries to help Bukem blag his way through immigration by arranging a fake girlfriend to pick him up from the airport. Modern Times is an entertaining documentary with a glimpse into how drum & bass became an international commercial enterprise.
Windfall Films for BBC
Series Editor — Stephen Lambert
Producer/director — Robert Davies
Duration — 49 minutes
"This is Dillinja. Dillinja loves bass. Dillinja hates techno."
This documentary focuses on Dillinja, Lemon D and their soundsystem called Valve. It is a great introduction into the technical side of jungle drum & bass, and an example of why the music is best experienced in a live music setting.
Dillinja explains the soundsystem origins of jungle, and how he set about creating a setup of his own that would amplify bass frequencies exactly the way he wanted them to sound. Thus, the bone shaking, heart vibrating bass Valve Sound System was born. They even made their own speaker cabinets.
Dillija and fellow bass bandit Lemon D also talk through the tracks on their upcoming album, ‘The Killa Hertz’, where they explain how they want to put the bass back in drum & bass as they are not happy with what they describe as the noisy smashing techno influence beats of the late ‘90s.
Bryan Gee, Andy C, Rodney P and DJ Clark also add some commentary, however this is a Dillinja affair. The main rave footage comes from a Valve night at the Coronet in South London, which includes two technicians discussing the challenges of setting up such a bombastic soundsystem. This documentary will make you want to put your head near a giant speaker so you can feel that bass moving through you once more.
UMN/Valve for Channel 4
Producer/director — Goetz Werner
Duration — 35 minutes
DJ, producer and for this magical night, presenter, TeeBone interviews almost everyone from jungle drum & bass about what it means to be 20 years deep in the scene.
Veterans of the sound, Jumping Jack Frost, Mickey Finn and Flinty Badman of the Ragga Twinz, all explain why they think jungle has survived in the UK dance music scene as long as it has. Kenny Ken states that “jungle is a vibe”, Remarc states that jungle has “soul”, and GQ reminisces how jungle “brought a lot of people together”.
Jungle memories and favourite tracks are blended next to footage of the event, which includes a live set by M Beat featuring live PAs from General Levy (‘Incredible’, of course) and Reena May (‘Sweet Love’). There are some solid interviews with MCs GQ, Navigator, Det, Moose and Shabba D — we don’t get to hear from them often enough.
It’s great to see how the music is still revered after all this time, and amusing to hear Remarc wax lyrical about how young producers need to stop asking to remix old tunes and make some new music. You’ll also wish you were at Kool FM’s 3rd Birthday Bash at the Astoria...
Club Definition/Creative Wrkz for Jungle Mania
Producer/director — IKON
Duration — 1 hour, 25 minutes
“This is where the history lesson begins” — DJ Hype
Jungle Fever is a tight documentary that takes you on a whirlwind journey through the history of jungle drum & bass. A fond look back in time with PJ and Smiley from Shut Up and Dance, Ragga Twinz, Slipmatt, Billy Bunter, Fabio and Grooverider, Kenny Ken, Brockie, Nicky Blackmarket and Joe from the legendary Labyrinth nightclub. Jungle Fever also covers the musical foundations of house, hardcore, rave, techno and reggae soundsystem well. It is interesting to see the locations that gave birth to the music, and hear (one version of) how the music got its name.
Important, and previously scarcely covered, aspects of the jungle drum & bass scene like dancing and fashion are given some attention, while watching people dance in half tempo to the bassline or try to keep up with bpm is great. As is Saul from Chase & Status showing us his Moschino shirt collection. The ravers are also given a well-deserved focus as they were critical to creating a vibe that has been remembered for decades.
Different faces in this film include Outrage, Clockwork, and Uncle Dugs, who discuss the importance of Kool FM and how pirate radio stations were run from the tower blocks of Hackney, East London. Ray Keith and Nicky Blackmarket explain how Blackmarket Records and other record shops were critical to the jungle drum & bass ecosystem. Hype, Fabio and Grooverider discuss the reception to Goldie’s ‘Timeless’. And see how many cars you can remember as Skibadee toasts through a list of classic boy racer vehicles, while driving, the way only Skibadee can.
Dazed Productions for Channel 4
Director — Ollie Evans
Producer — Tai Thittichai
Duration — 23 minutes
“I guess with most cultures as well, especially music culture, defining it is also defined by the technology of the time” — Goldie
A polished and comprehensive documentary that covers the history of drum & bass spanning 20 years from 1996 to 2016. Drum & Bass: The Movement interviews multiple veterans of the scene, taking their stories to weave a rich tapestry of the evolution of drum & bass from an underground upstart, having brief dalliances with the mainstream success of the industrial pop machine, to an international phenomenon capable of filling stadium after stadium. This is a history of drum & bass... not jungle drum & bass, as the history of jungle is not covered here. This is fine, as every documentary needs a focus. Moreover, others have already covered that ground, and covered it well.
There is so much rich detail about the growth of drum & bass. Anecdotes from Ed Rush and Optical, El Hornet from Pendulum, Calyx and TeeBee, Flight, Chase & Status, Spirit (RIP) and others are woven into a timeline of key moments. It is fascinating to see how the evolving technology of sound and communication changes the capabilities of not only who can produce drum & bass, but the sounds their artistry can create. The timeline occasionally gives way to themes like dubplates vs CDs, the underground vs the mainstream, the advent of international producers, the decline of vinyl, and inclusivity. These vignettes round out the timeline, providing some interesting food for thought. Hype’s musings on the “underground infrastructure” of drum & bass that has fueled the sound’s longevity over genres like garage and dubstep strikes a chord. As does London Elektricity’s note of caution for d&b producers who aim straight for the mainstream.
One thing is clear though, the underground popularity of drum & bass (including a rediscovered love of jungle) does not look like it is going anywhere.
AEI for Drum & Bass Arena
Producer — Craig Haynes
Director — Bailey Hyatt
Duration — 1 hour, 24 minutes
Up Another Level focuses on the drum & bass supergroup SASASAS, and is a great visual primer for the dizzying heights that drum & bass has reached. SASASAS, for the uninitiated, consists of four MCs: Shabba D, Harry Shotta, Skibadee and Stormin (RIP), and two DJs: Phantasy and Mackie Gee — all established artists in the drum & bass scene. The group formed in 2014 for an event and discovered that together they were much more than the sum of their parts. Over the course of recording some tracks at Erb n Dub’s studio we learn (sort of) how the group formed, hear each member’s origin story and join them on tour. This film is full of the fun banter that you would expect from a group that contains four MCs and a smooth-talking DJ with an excellent head for business. The rave footage illustrates the electric atmosphere, and you can see exactly why this band of drum & bass brothers works so well.
In July 2016, during the making of Up Another Level, formidable grime and drum & bass MC Shaun Lewis, aka Stormin MC, was diagnosed with skin cancer. To say that Stormin refused to allow this awful disease to dictate the terms of his last few years on this earth is the understatement of the decade. Hype Master is a heartbreaking yet inspiring film which follows Stormin’s life from his award-winning turn at the tender age of 12 in a Kool FM MC competition, to his days as a member of the pioneering grime ensemble Nasty Crew, and ultimately his time as a drum & bass legend on the scene with Shabba D and then as a member of SASASAS. This film is a raw yet melancholy celebration of Stormin’s life. It is best watched before Up Another Level because you will cry.
SASASAS/Drum and Bass Arena
Producer — Isaac Reeder and Alex Brawley
Director — Alex Brawley and Isaac Reeder
Duration — 59 minutes / 40 minutes
“To me, jungle is the synthesis of all culture, music and art that came before” — Mac (Konkrete Jungle)
Jungle drum & bass culture has grown and thrived far beyond the borders of the UK. American Jungle is testament to this growth and vitality, giving a different perspective on the history of jungle drum & bass, and not only the sheer size of the American scene, but also how long it’s been active for.
This comprehensive and accomplished production examines the scene in three parts. Part one talks to the US artists in the scene. They tell their stories of discovering jungle drum & bass and the impact it had on their lives. Question Mark, Phantom 45, Spectr, Fury, Reid Speed and Diesel Boy are among those who recount their memories. Part two digs deeper into the influences around jungle drum & bass, taking a good look at soundsystem culture, punk, and hip-hop. Hype, Remarc and Andy C are on hand to add commentary with Freaky Flow, Arsenic, Pinwheel Cartel and others. Part three then looks at the different flavours of the scene around the country like GRS? and APX1 from LA, Taz and Quest from San Diego, and Syrous in Canada.
A different take on the jungle vs drum and bass theme, the sub genres, and the need to build a scene to survive adds nuance to this really entertaining work. It appears there is no issue with the term jungle in the US, which is why it has thrived. American Jungle also deserves an award for the sheer number of artists involved — it will leave you with a lot of artists to look up on Bandcamp.
Lesson Learned Productions
Producer/director — Joshua (Phenetic) Freeman and Jeremy (Onket) Ballard
Duration — 1 hour, 48 minutes
Want more? Read our recent feature on the LGBTQ+ club nights fighting for diversity in drum & bass. Another jungle drum & bass documentary, 'AKO Beatz...25 Years In The Jungle', will be released on Christmas Day
Julia Toppin is a freelance writer and academic. You can follow her on Twitter @Miss_Toppin
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.