Not much hay has been made over the fact that two white men are producing music under the name Jungle and mostly featuring black men in their videos and collateral. Maybe this is because the duo is still (relatively) underground, but they’ve definitely set themselves up for a media firestorm of sorts should they break through to the next level of popularity. In fact, a slew of thinkpieces could boost Jungle’s name recognition, and it’s not like there aren’t other non-PC artistic projects out there.
Let’s get out ahead of the controversy. Yes, there are obvious problems with associating the term “jungle” with people of African descent. Racism is alive and well across the world, and perpetuating that even through semantic and visual reference remains unacceptable. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening in this situation.
I’ve gone over my extreme distaste for the artistic tactic of identity hiding (it’s a play for attention, and it can’t hold up long term), and must give Jungle a slap on the wrist for using it. They go by single letters, don’t do interviews (until they did), and play live swathed in a thick smoke screen. In Jungle’s case, they appear to have purposefully led their audience to believe that they were the two black men featured in the video for “The Heat” and in their press photos.
Their sound is firmly steeped in the culture of R&B, funk, and disco, with a psychedelic lo-fi twist, and they’re aiming for an audience still generally located in the indie rock/electro-pop/accessible electronica spheres. Most artists in that world are white, and non-whiteness becomes a selling point and interest generator (recognizing that this is not always the case, of course, and plenty of non-white acts rise to prominence based only on the quality of their artistic output). Jungle has, without a doubt, gotten more coverage because they branded themselves as cool, tracksuited, barefoot black men, when in fact they are pale white brits who don’t look any different from the other acts in their cohort.
But is this so wrong? It’s the content producing media outlets and the consuming public that jointly decide what’s cool and what isn’t. Black music culture remains “cool,” especially in the hipsterdom populated mostly by white American, English and Western European young adults. Jungle made a risky play to generate coverage and grow a following, and it seems to have worked.
The music is what matters most, and luckily it’s very good and a novel take on an old theme. The nu-disco revival in electronic music and crossover with R&B-style vocals offered the perfect entry point for Jungle’s brand of washed-out disco. An audience was waiting.
So why the need for the secret and arguably offensive branding? I don’t get it.
What I do get is that it’s becoming harder and harder for bands to break out of the underground, and we’ve not seen the last questionable publicity stunt or strategy. To all the artists out there: creating a stage character is fine, and it’s ok to have fun with it (see: Gaga, Lady). Just remember that if your art isn’t authentic, people will see through it.
Jungle’s art is authentic. I hope their image grows up.