Jungle rocketed out of obscurity with a string of memorable music videos, polished artwork, and soulful retro-funk singles. The band first came to prominence when the video for their debut single, “Platoon,” featuring a six-year-old breakdancer went viral. The core duo, known as J and T, then turned out an instant classic with “The Heat,” before signing to XL Recordings to secure their global takeover. Since then, they’ve released their Mercury Prize-nominated debut album.
We sat down with the mysterious London duo on their second pit-stop in Los Angeles, before their sold-out show at El Rey Theatre. There we chatted with Josh and Tom about romanticizing a culture they’re not a part of, their musical identity, and the writing process.
On the name, Jungle:
“Sometimes bands alienate people by having names that mean too much to them, and they find themselves having to explain the name.” - T
“Here’s a big name: Garbage,” J points to a poster on the dressing room wall.
“That’s an incredible name for a band.” - T
“Whereas the Temper Trap is a little more complicated.” - J
On being described as meticulous West Londoners:
“The only thing we can control is what we do on stage, what we do in the studio, our videos, and our art.” - T
On their musical identity forming from subconscious cultural influences:
"Without realizing it, where you grow up and the things you digest culturally, sonically, aurally, with your senses (impact your artistic choices). When you’re younger walking down the market, there’s everything from shops selling bootleg reggae CDs to Indian incense shops.” - T
“You don’t even think about it, it just happens. You just grow up in this place where everything is what it is.” - T
“That’s life to us.” - J
On maintaining artistic anonymity:
“People want to put a face to everything. We’re not part of that selfie generation, we don’t believe in that. We’re creating the art. I hated the idea of taking a photo, then picking the best looking one to give to the world.” - J
On their DIY videos and artwork:
“It all started in our bedrooms -- the trick is to rent a really nice camera -- that’s where it feels right. We ran around with the help of all our friends. That’s the most fun way to do it: have a fun day out, experience things together, grow as friends, as artists, and as creative people. It’s personal. It’s all kind of referenced, but projected by people that can actually dance -- they express themselves in a way that you can’t quite and all the videos have dance as the simplest form of expression.
We’re not doing something new by putting dances in music videos, they’ve been doing that since the 80s. We tried to challenge things a little bit with the presentation in a click-happy generation. There are mistakes in all those videos, and I think the mistakes show a human element to it all.” - J
On an underwhelming story The New York Times ran, “SXSW 2014: Jungle Unmasked, Sort Of” that tossed racial accusations and drew sad, off-base comparisons to the Average White Band:
“He’s so scared of the future. It doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter, who cares? Obviously there are histories you have to be aware of, but not in music, not in art.” - J
“Walking down the street on a daily basis, those are our friends, those are our family. Other people see it so differently, you know.” - T
On how Grand Theft Auto influenced the writing process:
“Grand Theft Auto was written by a Scottish guy who had never been to America before so it’s all done on reference, it’s the most incredible expression of your imagination to dive headlong into this other world.” - T
“What does ‘Busy Earnin’’ sound like when you’re driving in a car over the Brooklyn Bridge? Imagine the radio’s not on, then you turn the radio on -- what track are you hearing? You take inspiration from the cars around you, the people in the cars next door become characters: it just became a more interesting way to write for us.
There’s a track on the record called “Accelerate,” number two, which for us is like driving through Japan on a really fast motorcycle, but you’re in a videogame so you’re going like 250 mph, and if you fall off you’re just going to reappear. It’s that sort of invincibility that then becomes a metaphor for theme of the track.” - J
On their recent signing to XL Recordings:
“If you put things on a pedestal in your mind, you start to act differently. You gotta kinda take it as it comes. It is what it is.” - J
“It’s also about having realistic expectations: here today, gone tomorrow. You can’t stop working because you reached a small milestone, or a big milestone perhaps, in your career.” - T
Jungle’s self-titled debut album is out now.
Additional reporting by Neal Rahman.