Concrete Jungle

Article excerpt

Built in a clay basin, London embodies claustrophobia as a way of life, but once in a while something happens that lets the air in, that makes you see the city in a new way. It happened to me just before Christmas; flipping the FM dial on the car radio, I was hit by a minimal, psychedelic jungle rhythm, over which the DJ was improvising, Jamaican dance-hall style, on the old Shirley Ellis "Name Game" routine: "doggie doggie bodoggie, banana nana bonana...." This went on, in ever more baroque variations, for at least thirty minutes. Instantly hooked, I felt as though I were a character in Jean Cocteau's Orpheus, listening to a transmission from the other side.

Beaming out from Friday to Sunday night in a seamless jungle mix - not so much show as environment - Pressure FM is one among dozens of London pirate radio stations. Like all other broadcast media in the UK, radio is carved up between the BBC and commercial interests; the latter is regulated by the Radio Authority, which, as a sop to the multitude of voices claiming access, has been issuing 28-day trial licenses that are rarely, if ever, renewed. Faced with institutional stasis, many pop culture producers prefer to duck and dive on the interstices of legality.

What you get is a kind of freedom: raw, unsullied by the pathetic "professionalism" so beloved of commercial radio. Transmitting from, at a guess, somewhere in Hackney or Dalston, Pressure FM has a very sure sense of its audience: the constantly modulating rhythms are peppered by adverts for clubs (Telepathy), and local bakeries ("the munchies crew"), and catch-phrases like "junglists," "rave," "intelligent drum and bass," "intellicore." Listening for hours at a stretch - once you lock into the beat, it takes over your neural system - you can hear, not only where jungle is coming from, but what it's saying.

Jungle is Afro-Caribbean at its core. …