LIVE: Jungle @ Manchester Academy
When stripped down to the bare bones, Jungle is a duo made up of musicians and long-time friends Tom MacFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson. Shift them from the studio to the stage to witness a whole new beast take shape in the form of a seven-piece backing band, who join the Jungle-ites to deliver the pioneering new wave-fusion they’re adored for.
It’s been quite the ride for Jungle since they arrived on the scene six years ago. From their debut gig at humble Manchester venue Roadhouse (RIP), to signing for XL Recordings, releasing their Mercury Prize-nominated debut album and performing on Jimmy Kimmel in the July of 2014 – the boys from West London left shadows in their wake as they shot through the stratosphere of the music industry in their first year. After 4 years of touring, DJing and not only crafting new music but an evolved sound too; Jungle returned in the foregone September with second studio album For Ever.
Nu-disco, neo-soul, modern-funk, eclectic-pop? Try all you want to pigeon hole them, but Jungle’s style is truly avant-garde; instilling positive emotion and jubilation from the moment it’s devoured. Flowing movement and groove radiate from both their audio and visual productions, generating live performances brimming with energy and ecstatic atmosphere. The intricate layers that characterise Tom and Josh’s music are reflected in the live structure – as the Manchester Academy stage resembled a jumble sale of weird and wonderful instruments. From the conventional bass guitars, drum pads and synthesizers to the extravagant spiral shaped symbol and bongo set-up; a playground of musical tools were at the disposal of the eager members of the band to fill their boots with.
Back in the city where live performance began for them, Jungle sauntered out on stage at 9 pm to the sound of ‘Smoking Pixels’ – a drawn-back interlude track from their first album with a guitar and whistle resembling a wild-west vibe. It felt like the band had just waltzed into a packed saloon to the ecstasy of the punters inside. Their trademark ‘Jungle’ typeface glowed up behind the band, as the show lifted off with the opener, Smile – a song packed with rumbling rhythm that also plays the role of track number one on For Ever.
What followed was a beautiful collision of old and new, performed in harmony alongside one another. It was by no means a new album showcase sprinkled with a few classics, but instead a free for all of their outputs as a unified piece of art. The live blending of tracks into one another executed throughout the set epitomised this.
Jungle simply aren’t Jungle without the backing singers, who don’t really stand at the back at all. Their soul-kissed vocals surrounded the music like a technicolour dream coat, with their charismatic energy pushing the already-fizzing vibe up an extra notch. Echoing siren-samples beamed out as the show entered its latter stages, with the crowd witnessing a more experimental approach to some of the classics they know and love. Namely Drops – an ambient anthem from the first album which transformed into an epic breakdown, taking the first-timers in the crowd by complete surprise.
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Throughout the show Tom and Josh often chopped and changed instruments between one another with appreciative grins as they did so, demonstrating the Jungle originators to be as flexible as their music suggests. This love and cohesion binding each band member together curated a mood on stage that played off into the crowd immensely.
At the risk of sounding like a spoilt child in a sweet shop, Cosurmyne and Mama Oh No were absent from the setlist – two tracks that separated the second album from the first in regards of individuality and imaginative production. Not all tracks can make the cut and the band more than compensated for this by treating the crowd to exquisite performances of album favourites Casio and Beat 54 (All Good Now). Classic 2014 single Time rounded off proceedings – an electric end to another stunning Jungle show. Out of the country? Jungle take their tour worldwide before their annual festival circuit this summer, so get on board!