I could have been anywhere but of course it would be Shoreditch. If anywhere epitomises the chase for the taste and the life that the city might afford those who would conquer it, the place would be here. I had a recent conversation about it, and we didn’t even have to break it down. If you know, you must have feasted your eyes on the wanton displays of the artful and ambitious in hopes of ‘making it’ with or without the rain that is sure to fall on the hopeless. Every shore that safe guards the dreams of the eternally green hearted and young, knows the way to the ditch. Not bitter. Possibly high. Yet still determined as all Alexanders are fated to be in the lies of greatness.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
– Bob Marley
I was not meditating but there are times when I tap into a peace that bounces back up in the abstract of sounds and colours. In this captured moment I put on my Sci-Fi music and reached for my guitar just to see what might happen. Sometimes I like to work out ideas on just one or two strings. Not chords. Single notes. Purples and reds at the bottom of the neck. One note can be everything. It can tell the whole story if placed and timed right. Not to say that it necessarily comes down to the semantics of right and wrong in the creative playground of imagination. It is as much a percussion instrument as anything that hands and feet can hit. The lower E string is home. It gave me my first guitar child, Love Never Fails, but I don’t always arrive at something of permanence. I had an old tape of home made jungle music that I dabbled in for a little while, trying to learn some modern production techniques in 1999 when I got my first computer. I was just throwing ideas out into the ether to see what might happen at a particular bpm. I had also read Octavia E Butler’s Mind Of Mind in my local library within that period or maybe a bit earlier and the images and ideas I got from the Afro-Futurist world of her novel aligned with the sounds and colours I didn’t know I was searching for. Fast forward to a few years ago, and I was now hearing something else in that old jungle music. I started to employ techniques pioneered by the late great Lee Scratch Perry, to strip down and make new out of the old. Just to see what might happen. I dared myself.
Jungle is a true school London sound which had faded out of counter-cultural relevance before the turn of the century but still held up low end sonic value owing much to Black America as most popular music does, and the polyrhythmic continent that we associate with the groove of life. In an ideal world of parity and fairness, The Amen break should have provided financial compensation for drummer, Gregory Coleman, and his bandmates in The Winstons for they and their heirs lifetime. Not to trivialise, but it is no less than the Henrietta Lacks of music samples, perhaps only matched in equivalent significance by Clyde Stubblefield’s Funky Drummer break. A similarly glorious and tragic story. I say this respectfully and without exaggeration. It is a cornerstone of recorded music over the last 30 years. Though Jungle music never truly crossed over, it had its moment in the zeitgeist. And its cult heroes. Goldie whose album, Timeless, marked its emergence from the underground into the homes of taste makers and gatekeepers of perceived cool in the era of Brit-Pop, has been a part of the institution of British music for many years. A purist? I couldn’t say. Whatever that means and for whatever that’s worth. What I do know is that the power of Jungle is visceral and almost indescribable.
I remember going to a Jungle music basement party in Camden with my friend, Beru Tessema (just for the record, this is not a false memory), long after its heyday. The hardcore massive as we would say, were out and they were mostly youngsters. Kids in late adolescence. They didn’t live those years of its come up and scene. Not that I did either. They would likely have been in their primary school years during its peak in the mid nineties and some in infancy. It found them or vice versa before the playlist era. There were mantra like moments when the DJ would mix out the drums and turn up the wobbling, squelching, soul curling bass. Alien textures that was felt. Colours of mystical sounds wildly spraying over everyone like lighter fluid in a sprinkler. Then the drums would come back in and planets in orbit collided or so it seemed. In that heaving space packed with substance fueled low gravity bodies, the intensity was overwhelming. Sweat dripping and filthy. The bass was that dirty and heavy all night. Sexual pummelling of the sensory. All the air was sucked out dry. Flesh watered by sound, and wet as the greatest sex ever consummated in a standing position. Possibly. Perspiration photographs life and holds mysteries by the hand too.
Openings. Portals for longing’s quest. Finesse the eyes that hunger to see a world dressed to the nines in grace. Love lives in tales of bowler hats on sweethearts leaning loafer smooth, to peddle footsteps like silk on skin. Peeled awake. Thoughts tie down arms that hold down the city’s doubts. Soon to fly through clouds that pillow the noise of your mind’s traffic.
This Roman city has been my stomping ground for all my life, and like a woman, it remains a mystery to me. A beautiful and sometimes infuriating mystery. And with all its challenges and failings, it has a beating heart that dares you to embrace it. Its old architecture and industry built from the profits of the slave trade, colonialism and the far reaches of the British Empire are part of London’s legacy. As a post colonial descendant, I am able to harness the history of London as both a symbol and witness of the city’s possibilities. The immigrant blood that upholds the NHS and that has permeated its way into the life and culture of Londoners is only one of many ways in which the history contends with the present. I try to see the beauty, resilience and hope that escapes into the polluted London air. I see the London of the Arts. I think of the fact that London can claim Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye as former residents. Its been the city of visionaries like William Blake. It gave the world the genius pathos of Charlie Chaplin. Its the city of Shakespeare and boasts the world’s greatest theatre scene and tradition. Charles Dickens did not hide the ugliness and brutality of London. Neither did Dizzee Rascal. As reflected in the Grime and Drill music, London has a screw face too. Knives and young lives have not been kind to eachother. But I’ll always be grateful to London because its where I found the great love of my life. She knows who she is. I hope that we will enjoy this city together again someday. A man can dream. I love London.