Riding on an early career marked by unsurprising hype and a guise of anonymity, UK electro-funk sensation Jungle could certainly be said to be making waves. The release of their debut album is less than a month away, yet somehow, what NME is calling “the UK’s most mysterious act” has been raising eyebrows and questions left and right. What we do know is that the two front men are lifelong friends named T and J (the J stands for Josh; the T can be left to your imagination), and are not in fact Black, as one would presume with Jungle’s music videos and promotional pictures in mind. They aspire to mystery and have crafted a musical experience that in many ways succeeds fellow British white-funk and R&B superstars, Average White Band, without forgoing a discernible sonic identity of their own and most importantly, being fluent in the universal language that is the power to make a crowd dance.
Probably the most common critique of Jungle is the homogeneity of their musical vocabulary, and I’ll admit that they might just chalk up to be a one or two trick pony. At last night’s show at Union Transfer, the second part to “The Heat” borrowed rhythms and chord structures from their previously-released single, “Platoon”, though the latter was infused with expectable encore gusto, and percolated into a contrafact medley of songs played earlier in the evening. In a sense, what is described as homogeneity by many is in fact a deliberate unity that speaks not to a lack of creativity on the part of T and J, but to the presence of a well-groomed harmonic recipe that takes into account with striking clarity the R&B and funk artists of the 1970s that inspired them.
Opening for Jungle was Beat Connection, the Seattle-based combo that fuses the rhythms of Afro-Cuban jazz with the sounds of the dance floor. Though slightly less in-the-pocket than the headliners, the group was a win in my book, and their live sound was an unexpected departure from that of their records. As for Jungle, I was thoroughly impressed. The criticism of their music being rather samey is real. The underlying question of race with regards to their videos and photos is an interesting one, albeit irrelevant for our purposes. But here’s the thing: who cares about all of that when the music is smart, groovy, and makes everybody in the room abandon any inkling of self-consciousness and dance? And dance they did.