Who's afraid of the big bad junglists?


This interview with Derek Bailey was undertaken by Stefan Jaworzyn (of Shock records) in mid-1995. It originally appeared in the magazine Music from the empty quarter (an irregular publication), no. 12, 1995. It is reproduced here with the permission of Stefan Jaworzyn and Derek Bailey. The CD under discussion was released in August 1996 under the title Guitar, drums 'n' bass

Jungle, eh? Breathes there a sentient human bean with an IQ into double figures who would admit to liking jungle? Kodwo Eshun's gobbledegook rhapsodising over jungle's 'attributes' (assuming one can begin to comprehend what he's talking about...) clearly illustrates some of the many seemingly inconsistent, incongruous & irreconcilable approaches to jungle - do you write about it, dance to it, listen to it on your stereo at home? Is jungle's metamorphosis from white label obscurity, blasted out at maximum volume in clubs and on pirate radio stations, to packaged and more easily marketed CDs a sell-out, a dilution of its musical integrity, a redundant & morally questionable music business scam? Was this stuff ever meant to be 'consumed', especially by middle class pseudo-intellectuals? Fucked if I know. As art it's as culturally relevant to me as '70s Munich disco. As music it has a certain unpleasant fascination (the old traffic accident principle) but it wears off faster than a drag on the old crack pipe...

Well, perhaps there are other perspectives... A few months ago while Derek Bailey was showing me a short cut to Hackney Downs BR station I picked up on a comment he'd made earlier about how boring it was playing solo these days, and asked him if he still did any recording at home. The response was not what I expected... 'You're probably going to think this is absurd, but I've been playing along with jungle on the radio'. He explained in more detail what appealed to him about it, and a week or so later he sent a cassette... there can be fewer bizarre concepts than that of combining Bailey's guitar and jungle, but the tape sounded great. On a trip to New York he left a tape for John Zorn - and once Zorn got his hands on it events began to take their course... And at some point or other in the nebulous future we should be treated to a CD of Bailey improvising to jungle music prepared by Ninj, a Birmingham junglist...

Who's actually funding this? Who's it for?

It's for DIW or one of Zorn's labels - I suggested it to him. I've been playing along with jungle (taped from all-night pirate radio stations) for about two years now and I sent him a tape and suggested I could do a record. I think he was touring with Pain Killer at the time - him, Laswell and Mick. They must have listened to it then. Zorn phoned me up and he goes (imitates hyper American) 'Yeah, yeah, great, beautiful'... He said it would be a very quick project to record and release...

So Zorn set up the deal with Ninj and Mick Harris?

Yes. I was just the guy who went up there and couldn't find a seat...

How did you get into jungle though?

(DB plays with radio for a while - horrible noise drowns out our voices on the tape) The station's not there now - usually they've started by 5.30... They've no announcements - when they go off it just stops, when they come on it just blasts in... It's enormously loud - I get it accidentally sometimes when I'm just fucking about. So I've been listening to it, and I really like the way they do it on the radio - I have to say that in recent times it seems to have got softer, a lot less abrasive in some ways. There are more vocal samples, for example... But what I like about the radio is the live quality - although the stuff is records, they don't leave them alone - they'll talk over them, advertise gigs, order a pizza - the music's constant but with interruptions. It's very live - and with that sustained pace, which of course is inhuman... And it's nice to play long with, particularly as opposed to free jazz situations where the pace is often very slow. I've found it fantastic to practice with. So for a long time I've been doing that...

I've always liked the parts where the music stops and drifts along - you get some ridiculous string orchestra, then it just slips a bit, the pitch goes or they slow it down or something. Then the drums come back - it's completely meaningless! I like that... What is a pain and can sometimes dilute it is the repetitive - looped or sampled - vocals...

The funny thing is, I've never heard a jungle record, all I've heard has been off the radio - the only piece of recorded jungle I've heard is by Ninj! It obviously operates at a different level...

So when's the CD coming out?

Well at this point it doesn't exist. The project exists - I should have recorded it by now. I was due to record it in June in Birmingham... But it turned out they don't have chairs there, so I couldn't record it. Well, I did some recording... The jungle music's by Ninj - a beautiful piece, about 50 minutes - in fact it's five pieces I think. He does mainly studio work I believe - an interesting character. So he'd done his thing... I got to the studio - all this had been arranged from New York by Zorn and Laswell - the day before we were supposed to tape it. The studio was run by Mick Harris, a nice little place... I set up and tried a few things, then said to him, "Have you got a chair because I sit down to play.' And he said, 'No'(!) then, 'Well, there's one in there' but it was no good because it had arms. So he didn't have any chairs - but there was his drum stool. So I said, 'Well, I'll try the drum stool' but the drum stool was broken and it kind of weaved around. It spun round, but not only did it spin round but it conducted a circle in which it would spin - it would spin round in a circle, if you see what I mean - the upright was not upright...

It swooped...

Yep. So it was a fairly skilful business just keeping upright on it. (I should have asked Zorn for a chair. I realise now that when I got to Birmingham I should have phoned him and said 'There's no fucking chair here John - get a chair!'). We got talking about the way to record, and he played me a bit of the jungle stuff and I said, 'Don't play it just now.' Then I went back to the hotel, and I remembered about the chair, so I rang him up and said, 'Tomorrow, get a chair'. And he said, 'It's impossible.' So I left it with him anyway... I turned up the following day and there's no chair! I used the drum stool. It turned out that the drum stool wasn't really a problem. What was a problem was that Mick didn't seem capable of mixing a DAT and a live instrument. There were also some things that went on that were somewhat in the chair vein - like I played with the first piece then said, 'I'll just have a listen to that'. he replied, 'I didn't record it.' and I said 'What the fuck do you think I was doing?' and he said 'I thought you were just getting used to it.' So we started again. Anyway, we finished after about 40 minutes - by which time I'd been into the control box a few times. And by, let's say the third take, it was possible to detect that there was a guitar player. Now I was playing comparatively loud, but that doesn't mean anything if you're mixing - you're at the desk with a DAT and a live instrument - but there was nothing there (on the DAT). Eventually, as time wore on, I could hear some plinking and plonking behind this very nice jungle stuff - a bit like rain falling on a roof, very softly. I said, 'Just turn the fucking thing up Mick, don't worry about what it sounds like.' but we never made it onto the tape; after about 40 minutes my spirits started to sag...

Uh...(Longish pause) So...

(Laughs) Ninj was there - I have to say his enthusiasm was the only thing that was sustaining me - he seemed knocked out by what was going on. It's just that none of what was going on was making it onto tape! So I finally said, 'We're going to stop this now.' And Mick - it seemed with some relief - said, 'Yeah. Maybe you could record it at Laswell's studio.' I bet I could. And they've probably got chairs too... So the two lads helped me down with my equipment and I got a taxi back to the station and that was the end of that session... It just completely baffled me - he seemed so relieved when I said 'Let's pack this up'... It was getting louder, but I was getting exhausted - when it finally got to the point where it was starting to register on tape I thought it should have been over!

Anyway, I've got the Ninj DAT and the aborted DAT, so I'll probably take it over to New York with me in September. I've talked to Zorn about it and the arrangement is that we'll do it with Laswell.

So it's not as imminent as I'd originally thought...

Oh well, these things... Zorn's releases are backed up to the turn of the century...

So Laswell will engineer it?

No, it'll probably be Bob Musso - he's very good. Plus I can borrow his amp - he's got a fantastic old amplifier...

Bailey says that what he'd really like to do most is play a concert with 'live' jungle (ie: with a couple of DJs and several turntables for an uninterrupted flow of music), but there are obviously many attendant problems - not least the (presumable...) incompatibility of jungle and improvised music audiences, not to mention the difficulty of finding a suitable venue. I find this idea most appealing, and it strikes me as closer to Bailey's aesthetics than producing a CD with specially composed jungle. Well, I guess it now just remains to be seen what actually emerges from all the apparent chaos...


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