When Jungle came out of the gates in 2014, they were indeed massive. The duo's debut album of the same name was released on XL Recordings and made them the hottest new name of the year thanks to a soul-infused crossover hit called ‘Busy Earnin'’ which made its way from college campuses right the way across to the best doctor’s surgeries in the land: there was no avoiding Jungle in the summer of ’14 and ‘15. But a big Mercury-nominated debut album is a hard thing to beat and their second for XL didn’t hit the same high notes as their first. Thankfully, a new label and a desire to scale the same pop walls means that Jungle are back, back, back in 2021 with their best material since ‘The Heat’ and ‘Accelerate’: a 14-track album titled 'Loving In Stereo'. Opening cut ‘Dry Your Tears’ captures the same carefree spirit we thought they’d lost and songs like ‘Romeo’ with Bas, ‘All Of The Time’ and current single ‘Keep Moving’ are as good as anything they’ve achieved before. Like Goldie and LTJ Bukem at The Blue Note in the mid 90s, Jungle got their groove back. We spoke to Tom McFarland ahead of the new LP…
Lockdown is coming towards an end - did you both use your time wisely? What things did you discover you could do or didn't do before?
J re-discovered his abundant talent for painting, and I tried to cycle a lot but that got trickier as the year got colder. We’ve had a busy start to 2021 though, mixing and mastering the record in January and then shooting a collection of videos to accompany the tracks in February. We actually managed to shoot 14 videos in five days which I still find bonkers. It’s certainly been a time to learn patience, and also a time to reflect on actually how insignificant our own lives are in the wider view of life on this earth. We’ve all grown used to having everything that we want right here and now, which ultimately is a damaging place to be as a human being. Not everything goes your way, the world doesn’t revolve around you and the sooner we all wake up to that then maybe we might get along with each other a bit better. People have had much worse years than me by a long way, so I count my blessings and hope that moving forward we can all be a little kinder and more understanding. It’s good for the human race to get a little slap from nature, just so we’re reminded of who is really in charge here. The arrogance of mankind will ultimately be its downfall.
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Your debut album went Gold in the UK, selling over 100,000 copies: was that always the plan or you were surprised by how far it flew?
We honestly only had one goal back when this all started, and that was to be able to sell out a 70 cap venue in Shepherd's Bush! So to see how far we’ve come and to see our music reaching people like it has is quite a special feeling! I think the lack of any sort of expectations allowed us total creative freedom in the early days. I don’t think anyone can really plan to sell records, especially in the age of streaming, so maybe we were just catching the end of that wave, or maybe we reached a certain audience that still valued the idea of ‘owning’ music. Streaming has really allowed our music to reach places and territories that an old-school physical only release wouldn’t have. We’re so proud of this new record, we can’t wait to share it with the world.
'Keep Moving' sounds like your biggest song since 'Busy Earnin'': aside from soul, what other elements would you say make up the essential DNA of Jungle?
Our third LP feels like our most energetic and free. Soul plays a huge part in all music really, especially if those songs have come from the heart. But we have always been inspired by everything we hear. Groove and rhythm will naturally be a huge part of what we create on record, but for us, the inspiration that surrounds those foundations can come from anywhere. We grew up listening to British hip hop. Artists like Jehst, Braintax, Foreign Beggars and Task Force certainly shaped our teenage years. Unlike rap coming from America, the British scene spoke to us more not only in terms of narrative, but the production style of artists like Harry Love felt more connected to British musical culture that had come before. As we grew up and started exploring the dance music scene, artists like Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers and Groove Armada really caught our imaginations. I think we saw a lot of ourselves in the production duos that inspired us at that time. The idea of being the creators of a whole world that we could escape into became a real driving force.
'All Of The Time' has what sounds like a soul sample underpinning it, where is that from and what's your stance on sampling?
Actually, it’s not a sample! We spent a few weeks in The Church (Paul Epworth’s studio in North London) with a group of friends, singers and players and ‘All Of The Time’ was one of the songs born from that moment in time. So I guess it is a sample but one we made ourselves. We’ve always loved the feeling you get from a sample in a piece of modern music. Whether it’s Justice’s multi-sampling madness or Dilla’s insane cuts. There is a real depth of quality and sonic warmth that you don’t get from fully digital music. We’ve always strived to create those feelings on our records. In an ideal world we’d be recording whole records just so we can sample them ourselves for new tracks, but making a whole record just to cut a few bars from it does seem a little excessive and possibly rather time consuming. I think the culture of sampling is fascinating and often leads you to discovering lesser known artists and their songs. Which I think can only be a good thing. Dom who plays percussion with us on tour is our own personal sample identifier, he can literally pick a sample out of anything and tell you what it’s from. He’s a genius.
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What's the first thing you're going to do when you're allowed out into the world again?
Go and to see QPR! But I’m sure J would choose something less depressing, and I can't blame him. I think we have all felt slightly empty in terms of inspiration. Someone on the radio described it as feeling ‘culturally poor’. So getting to a gig, or a gallery, or the cinema will really feel great just to top up my brain a bit. Stimulation has been hard to come by. Conversations spark ideas and fan the flames of positive change, but I’m terrible at talking on the phone or the dreaded Zoom. I’m essentially just an animal who thrives on being part of a physical community. I feed off other people, so can’t wait to see some mates and have a big hug. Not sure I’m gonna be jumping on the Central Line at 8am in a hurry though….
Let's also talk about 'Romeo' ft. Bas, what is the story behind this song?
We met Bas backstage at a festival in Coney Island and just bonded immediately. When we were at The Church Studios he texted us to say he was in town and so he stopped by and we put the track together there. He’s just a great guy and we’re really grateful that he wanted to collaborate. It’s the first 'feature' we’ve ever had on a record too so it feels like we’re breaking some new ground and that’s exciting. That led us to having the confidence to put the track we made with Priya Ragu on the record too. For so long we were cautious about giving our audience other ‘voices’ on a Jungle record, but ultimately (and thankfully) what we have realised is that, to most of our listeners, Jungle is a feeling, not a voice. So if the track bangs, then it’s immaterial who is singing it. That realisation is really going to free us up going forward. Collaboration is so important to musicians, as it’s really one of the only ways we can learn. Watching other artists work and create in their own ways informs your own process a lot. It also gets you out of your own head, which is really important too.
Jungle's 'Loving In Stereo' comes out on August 13, pre-order it here
Ralph Moore is Mixmag's Music Director, follow him on Twitter
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