“Any Jungle in Guy?”
After a series of pat downs from the mean-faced bouncers, more than 450 young revellers descend gradually down the long dark stairway into the sweaty, strobe-lit underbelly of Rex Club, one of the French capital’s most prominent dance music venues. It’s a Wednesday night.
Inside, a cacophony of pounding percussion and thunderous basslines brought wide-eyed approval to the crowd. By 23:00, even the stragglers slowly suffocating in the opaque fumoir had made it to the dance floor, as DJ Marky, one of the world’s premier drum and bass producers, was about to begin his set.
Drum and bass, a term often used interchangeably with ‘jungle’, is a genre of electronic music that originated in the UK in the early 1990s. It is characterized by rapid drumbeats of around 178 beats per minute and an emphasis on bass and sub-basslines. Pendulum, one it’s most successful proponents, once likened the sound to the “sonic recreation of the end of the world.”
Attending the DJ Marky gig was Paris-based producer, Edouard, who performs under the alias, Bobby. “I was very excited. This guy [DJ Marky] is one of the trailblazers of what D&B has become today,” he said.
“If you don’t like drum and bass, it’s because you did not hear the right track. The energy that is found in this music is inimitable.”
Although the city is better known for overpriced commercial music and techno nights, Paris’ drum and bass scene has a lot to offer. In September alone, acts such as Andy C, Black Sun Empire, Emperor and DRS played in the capital. Every month, large-scale drum and bass events are organized throughout the city by five major associations: Jungle Juice, Get In Step, Forever DNB, Jump Up Warriors and United.
The organizers of the DJ Marky show, Forever DNB, played at Croatia’s Outlook Festival earlier in September. With its crew members, including Elisa Do Brasil and Raxx, performing at one of the world’s biggest bass music festivals, it would appear that the city’s drum and bass has spread far beyond the périphérique.
The Track Begins
Djamel Nil Berdal, 45, was part of the Junglist Posse, the first drum and bass collective in Paris, consisting also of DJ Science, Willyman and MC Otis. He recalled how they set the record spinning at their first show in 1993.
“Our first big party was on the Quai de la Seine. There was a band called Made In Paris who played hip hop and jazz and after that, at around midnight, we closed the party” he said.
“When people first heard drum and bass, it was crazy. They were more used to techno, trance and house but when jungle came to Paris, there were big breaks and big bass that no one had really heard before…the first thing they did was start jumping and dancing.”
From the 1993 onwards, the Junglist Posse tried to spread the genre however they could. “We tried to spread jungle music to the maximum in Paris. It was a way of life. We would mix all day and all night. We were just in our 20s, and it was all about the passion,” explained Berdal. “At every little club, we tried to introduce jungle.”
“We even had a show on Radio FG. Now it is all mainstream but at the time, it was the first underground radio for electronic music. It was the beginning of the promotion of the rave scene and was important for us.”
Berdal even tried to push the genre while working in and the French electronics store, Fnac, in Bastille. “I tried to introduce some jungle to teach people to listen to it instead of techno,” he recalls.
In the mid 90s, Black Label, Paris’ first exclusively drum and bass record shop was opened on Rue Keller in the 19th arrondissement. The business was seminal in propelling the scene, and put on over 200 huge parties in venues such as Concorde Atlantique in the seventh district.
The Bass Drops
At the turn of the millennium, the scene underwent a process of professionalisation, which Berdal views positively. “Before, it was artisanal but now, in the era of the internet, everyone is connected and it has become an industry,” he said.
“It was hard to maintain our credibility and to say that we are here and we want to stay. Everyone liked jungle music but they thought it would be a passing phase. Now have the same right as techno or house music to exist and develop.”
The internet aided the growth of the genre. “In my time, we were making mixtapes and we would go to record stores to promote them. Now, you just upload a mix on Mixcloud or YouTube and you’re done,” said Berdal. Social networks have also helped promoters to better publicise upcoming events.
The movement’s following grew exponentially and when Black Label ceased to exist in the mid 2000s, smaller crews, which eventually evolved into the five major collectives in the city today, filled the void.
The Break Down
Having risen from obscurity to become a regular fixture of Paris nightlife, the drum and bass movement in the French capital faces a number of challenges that afflict most musical subcultures within the city.
The Report on the Competitiveness of Paris Nightlife, commissioned by the Marie de Paris in 2009, found that the city’s clubbing scene lagged behind rivals such as London, Berlin and Amsterdam. Tracing the origins of nightlife to the emergence of cabarets such as Le Chat Noir and the Moulin Rouge in the 19th century, the report claimed that poor late night transport links, strict entry codes and tough legislation was hampering the city’s clubbing industry.
Bobby echoed these findings. “London clubs have more powerful sound systems because in France, legislation is harder,” he said. “In my opinion, Paris tries to fight against nightlife when other cities understood that clubs are part of their city culture.”
Speaking to Le Monde in April, Jessica Melcher, co-founder of nightlife website, parislanuit.fr, noted that parties were being increasingly driven to the suburbs because, “No matter how, and no matter with whom, we will party.”
Laurent Coqueblin, a French MC and producer known as Youthman explained, “The deals with the clubs are pretty tough if you want to promote a party somewhere, the club owners are pretty greedy. When you want to put on a party, you need to rent the venue, pay for the talent and even then, they take a cut from the door.”
The Record Plays On
Despite these challenges, drum and bass has a bright future in the French capital. “I am definitely optimistic for the future,” said Berdal. “For me it is all about the parties. If people can continue to put on big parties and explain and showing to people something really professional, I think it will go well.”
Meanwhile Youthman added that the city’s promoters remain dedicated. “I can see the passion in their eyes. It is a passionate thing. Not that many people are making money from it.”
At their next event in October, Forever DNB, the organisers of the DJ Marky gig expect over 1000 people to attend.
Aged just ten, Berdal’s son has already been introduced to drum and bass and wants to learn how to mix. Asked whether the little boy would become part of the next generation of junglists, the proud father replied, “I hope so.”
Written by Sam Bradpiece