If the highest purpose of music writing is to make the reader open up to music which has not previously had much appeal, then the best music writing I have ever encountered appears in a sci-fi novel about a giant rat with magical powers.
China Mieville is an endlessly inventive writer of imagined worlds, inhabited by preposterous creatures: walking talking cacti, convicted criminals whose legs have been replaced by steam engines as punishment, giant moths which feed on human thought … and those are just the easier ones to describe.
He is a Londoner, and some of his stories are set there. Sort of. It is real London, but also charged with dark magic, warring ghosts, the fiendish and the impossible. One of the London stories is King Rat. It features a character, Natasha, who is a Drum and Bass DJ. Mieville describes her, at her computer and working on her art:
She scrolled through the selection and plucked a favourite bassline from her digital killing jar. She had snatched it from a forgotten reggae track, sampled it, preserved it and now she pulled it out and looped it and gave it another life … This was the backbeat, the rhythm of tortured music. She loved it. Again her hands moved. A pounding beat joined the bass, cymbals clattering like insects. And the sound looped. Natasha moved her shoulders to the rhythm. Her eyes were wide as she scanned her kills, her pickled sounds … they segued smoothly into the rolling bass, the slamming drums.
This was Jungle.
The child of House, the child of Raggamuffin, the child of Dancehall, the apotheosis of black music, the Drum and Bass soundtrack for a London of council estates and dirty walls, black youth and white youth …
All of which brings us to DJ SS, who came into the world as Leroy Small. Growing up in Leicester, he got into break-dancing in the 1980s and began making a name as a scratch DJ while still a teenager. He became a pioneer of the rave scene in the UK and one of its early stars. He set up a vinyl record label, Foundation Records, which became a leader in Jungle and put out hundreds of releases, of which this is one.
Okay. I am a white guy in middle age, and my first musical love was folk and roots. Jungle and its many cousins will never be my first choice of listening. But having read King Rat, I half understand. I sort of get it. I can appreciate the skill of the work and the point of the whole thing. If you know and like this style of music, you will need no convincing. But if, like me, the Jungle is foreign , still give it a go. Turn up the volume, emphasize the bass, and just listen.
- Artist: DJ SS
- Release title: S Files (Case File 2)
- D Side (release is two discs): Let It Go
- Format: 12”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
- Label: Formation Records
- Made in: UK
- Catalogue: FORMLP014CF2
- Year: 2004