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Courtesy of Eddie Otchere

From street to jungle: 90s cult classic book Junglist is bringing it back

Two Fingas and James T Kirk discuss their reissued stream-of-consciousness novel, South London’s raw jungle scene, and the politics of rave

Picture it: South London, 1994. Local writer Andrew Green and photographer Eddie Otchere adopt the pseudonyms Two Fingas and James T Kirk, respectively, and use their lived experiences as the departure point for Junglist, a fictional coming-of-age tale that follows the exploits of Meth, Biggie, Q, and Craig over a weekend set in the city’s burgeoning jungle scene. Moving at the speed of sound, the 20 year-olds completed the book in just two months, crafting a mesmerising pulp fiction novel that is equal parts music, poetry, and film.

As the lovechild of UK rave and sound system culture, jungle was the sound of the world at the edge of a new era about to reveal itself. Driven by breakbeats – the rhythms that Jamaican DJs like Kool Herc used when he invented hip hop in the early 1970s – microengineered to twist time into a sonic blaze, jungle drew from and remade techno, rave, electro, dancehall, dub, hip hop, and house into an Afrofuturistic sound. The burgeoning culture quickly took the city by storm, maintaining its own DIY feel via an interconnected web of nightclubs, white label pressings, and pirate radio shows. 

“Jungle burst out of the underground and for a brief period (it) was everywhere – you couldn’t watch TV or listen to the radio without hearing elements of it,” says Green. “Jungle was the first electronic music I connected with; it felt like it was just for me, my crew, and my peers. We were making the scene appear out of nowhere. At the time, there were no clubs in the centre of London that played music for Black audiences so you had to be on the outskirts to find clubs. It was a mission to go out.”

“Jungle was the first electronic music I connected with; it felt like it was just for me, my crew, and my peers” – Andrew Green

But once they found each other, they built the scene from the ground up. After becoming friends in college, Green and Otchere – who lived two council estates away – got gigs at Touch, a Black magazine headquartered on Brixton Road. “It felt like we were working for a fanzine,” recalls Otchere, who first picked up photography in 1992. Realising journalism was the gateway to free records and guestlist passes, Otchere and Green found the perfect vehicle to support their passion for jungle.

“I always thought we were experiencing something beautiful and I wanted to see it as a film like House Party, but our own story,” Otchere says. “Andrew always had his notebook and I had my camera, then Jake Lingwood, an editor at Backstreets, came along. I was working with Express, a rival publisher who were famous for doing Black pulp fiction. Jake got in touch with me about shooting covers and I told him, ‘I’ve got a book for you.’ He seemed interested, so I asked when he would need it, and he said, ‘Next week.’”

And just like that, Otchere and Green had a book deal. “I’ve always seen myself as a writer but my writing career was something I fell into; nothing much was planned,” says Green, who was writing columns and articles for various music magazines at the time.

In writing Junglist, Green says, “I wanted to capture what it was like to be around these people in their own words and paint a picture of being out and amongst them. I wasn’t actually in London when I was writing so I was having to think about where I had been and what I had done, but also using my imagination to make it larger than life and broader than what I had experienced. I wanted to get under the skin of it and try to give people an in into what it was like to be at a rave, in a room with speakers that went up to the ceiling, and what it felt like to stand in front of the speakers.” 

The book’s intensity, authenticity, and visceral impact come from Green and Otchere’s innovative approach to writing, which echoes the creativity brought to the music itself. Refusing to follow tradition simply because that’s how it’s always been done, the authors brought their own styles and sensibilities to the page, turning every sentence into a literal manifestation of the acronym, IYKYK (if you know, you know).

But if you don’t there’s still hope. Just keep reading and one day it will all make sense. With the book everything is laid bare, but the reader must participate to be fully immersed in the experience. “Open the box within yourself, where all the secret parts of you are kept, lift the lid, and find that all the privileged information it contained comes back to haunt you,” they wrote in the book. “Just as the gradual accumulation of scars through a life of rough and tumble, wear and tear of being human and as fragile or strong as anyone else, and as unable to change your lot as anyone else. A lot that is dominated by skin colour. Whether brown, black, white. There is no getting away from it.”

But art – be it music, dance, photography, film, or literature – is a balm, a space where you can go through the struggle on your own terms. In telling their story on their own terms, Junglist is a reminder that what matters most is to do it your own damn self.

“I went to a school that never taught grammar, a left wing sort of thing, like it restricts your creative flow so I never knew how it worked,” says Otchere. “It wasn't until I started reading Sun Ra’s poems that I understood that you can see words as shapes and that’s not a bad thing. I go out of my way to collect Sun Ra’s album covers so I could read his poetry because the way he teases words and make them move on the page is genius.”

In that same way, Otchere and Green’s words dance across the page like they just dropped an E and could go all night long, flowing from one moment to the next seamlessly. One of the first rules of writing is “show, don’t tell,” but Green and Otchere drop you in the deep and hope that you can swim. Fully submerged, you’re not always sure which end is up but if you give yourself over to the internal rhythm of the book, you can get swept along by an undeniable sense of urgency and desire that is eerily prescient of the present day. 

“This is my time, my age, circling within the hearts of darkness, waiting for the millennium to overtake me,” they write. “Waiting for the madness to erupt again, for the fundamentalists to start us down the road to destruction with their no-compromise rantings. Just waiting. Knowing that I will be in the firing line. That I’m going to be one of those shot to pieces.”

Refraining from reportage, Green and Otchere leap into the void, using language the way an Abstract Expressionist wields a brush, to capture the kaleidoscopic experience of nightclubbing. The book ends with an alphabetical list of all the words they added to Spellcheck that the Queen’s English failed to recognise: “g’s, gales, garms, gaye, gettin, ghettoised, gipper, giri, girlfriends, globulous, goliaths, gook, gotta, grooverider, guestlist” – an ever-evolving patois of the street that reminds us language is a living thing and sometimes, even the stalwarts will catch up.

More than 25 years later, Junglist is alive – now back in print for readers who missed it the first time around. Unfortunately, the original printing didn’t sell, due largely to the fact that, as Sukhdev Sandhu writes in the introduction: “Much of its first run had to be pulped after MC 5ive-0 threatened to sue because he’d not given permission for a photo of him to appear on the front cover.” Despite that, the book gained a reputation as the most stolen book in the London prison system – high praise from an extremely discerning audience. 

Junglist resonates today in a way no one could have ever foreseen. “There wasn’t such a thing as gentrification then,” Green says. “You didn’t have people outside the city wanting to move to South London. I still live in the same flat I grew up in; two streets over, a house is worth 2.5 million. There’s always been this disparity between those who have and those who have not.”

Otchere agrees. “The backdrop is political. We reacted to the time and did what we had to do but it’s interesting how given the state of the nation, the Culture Wars, and the existential crisis England is currently suffering from, the book is now coming at a good time. There’s a lot of redefining what Britishness is, and I feel like Britain is haunted by its inability to deal with its empire – or lack thereof,” he says. 

“That’s the heart of British multiculturalism. When young people get together, they do their thing, and culture is formed” – Eddie Otchere

“We as a generation could dance together and that made London a beautiful place. That’s the heart of British multiculturalism. When young people get together, they do their thing, and culture is formed. The sons of sound system people brought electronic music into these abandoned spaces, and then we’d turn up and pay money at the door. There was no alcohol. Everyone was on E, so all they needed was water and music. The kids are alright.”

Junglist is available now from Repeater Books. Eddie Otchere’s photographs appear in Who Say Reload: The Stories Behind the Classic Drum & Bass Records of the 90s (Velocity Press), co-authored with Paul Terzulli.