Welcome back to the jungle
DJ Billy Lane resurrects his drum ’n’ bass night—while still club-hopping the region
Sacramento, CA 95814
Last January, Billy Lane posted a question on Facebook: “What if I brought back 916 Junglist?”
Back in the day, when he tended the counter at Imagine Music in the Arden-Arcade area, Lane would preach to the disc jockeys, turntablists, crate diggers, deejay wannabes and anyone else who’d listen that drum ’n’ bass was the wave of the future and the next dominant force in popular music.
By 1999, he was putting ideas to action and organizing fondly remembered parties with his PBS Crew (Presha; Billy Lane, then known as B-side; and Stompa), including Repercussion at the Granite Arch rock-climbing gym in Roseville (“I was pulling those rubber bits out of my shoes for weeks afterward,” he laughed).
Lane originally conceived 916 Junglist as a mix-tape series, but after PBS split up he established the brand with a short-lived weekly at a deli in Orange Grove (“We were doing 500 a week,” he said), and then a more established event at Bojangles.
Lane wasn’t the only one who thought drum ’n’ bass was a transformative sound. In its earliest forms, jungle was the mutant outgrowth of U.K. hardcore, the bad-drugs rave noise that multiplied rhythms with increasing complexity and beats per minute. It sounded like mutant math to enthusiasts—and like a mindless drum corps to detractors.
By the mid-1990s, however, producers were leavening the drum rolls with kitschy kung-fu, horror and blaxploitation movie samples, making crucial connections with the hip-hop and dancehall communities. Then artists like 4hero, Roni Size and Goldie offered full-length works that broached jazz fusion and made the late-’90s crossover moment possible.
U.S. audiences generally didn’t understand drum ’n’ bass. To make a gross generalization, we Americans like our beats in 4/4 time, with an occasionally funky break or two. (And that’s when we’ll listen to dance music at all; we much prefer grooving to some good ol’ rock ’n’ roll boogie or hip-hop and R&B.) This is why house music and electro breaks defined club life in the 2000s, from the sample-laden big beat of Fatboy Slim and glittery disco-house of Daft Punk to the trancey progressive house of David Guetta. Drum ’n’ bass was too arrhythmic.
“The mix-downs that we did back then were revolutionary in regards to the level of percussion, the level of bass and how upfront and energetic the music was,” Lane argued. “I definitely hear that applied in pop music today. So I think it has taken over.”
Lane continued throwing 916 Junglist at Bojangles until a kitchen fire shut the venue down in 2002, which stopped his club night. “I had no venue in Sacramento that wanted to touch an 18-and-up night for drum ’n’ bass,” he remembered, “because they didn’t know what it was; it wasn’t what they were used to hearing.” He moved his party to Scratch 8 in Old Sacramento—“That was the peak of it”—until around 2005.
By 2006, 916 Junglist began to peter out, pulling in less than 100 people per event. “Between 2005 and 2008 it was hard to show that we were doing anything at all, because it was so dead.”
Meanwhile, Lane’s mainstream deejay career has taken off. These days, his schedule includes a top-40 mix that he records on Wednesdays and airs at 10 p.m. every Friday on 107.9 FM; The Show on Friday nights at The Park Ultra Lounge; and Saturdays at Barcode for an 18-and-over college crowd.
Plus on Thursdays, it’s No Fucking Requests at Mix Downtown, where he says he presents “something more progressive” than the typical Sacramento dance club. “There’s an emphasis on heavy beats and heavy bass, and a lot of the new sounds of the past few years, including dubstep, electro and Dutch house,” he explained.
Lane’s also branching into production, working with local rapper A.R.A.B. on a new group called High Society. He hopes it’ll develop into something akin to the electro party-rap of LMFAO or, less worryingly, Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s old-school classic “It Takes Two.”
“I’m trying to create a hybrid sound that fits into a dance environment but has the hip-hop school that we all came from,” he said.
How did Lane evolve from the defiantly anti-mainstream junglist advocate, who once printed a manifesto on an early 5th Element flier proclaiming drum ’n’ bass as a revolutionary culture, to someone who spins Katy Perry and Rihanna hits during his weekend sets?
“I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about commercial music,” he said. “As I got older, I took more of a commutative aspect that’s less about me and more about, ‘I just want friends around me, I want to have a good time, and I want to enjoy my family.’”
The deejay, who proudly notes that he has an 11-year-old daughter, just wants to play music that people like. And if he can educate them a bit by turning them on to progressive dance sounds, then the better.
He recalls how, before 916 Junglist and his involvement in the local drum ’n’ bass scene, he used to be a wedding deejay. “I was ignorant and wanted to play stuff that everyone liked. Then I found what I liked, I identified myself with it and it shaped me as an individual.
“And then I’ve almost come back full circle.”
Many of the players behind dubstep and grime, the current sound du jour, are drum ’n’ bass veterans. “[Dubstep] is like jungle to me,” said Lane.
But dubstep sounds noticeably different. It’s slower, for one thing, recalling the downtempo and instrumental hip-hop beats of the mid ’90s. More importantly, its adherents aren’t as radically opposed to the mainstream. One of its spiritual godfathers is Timbaland, the Virginia wunderkind behind Aaliyah and Justin Timberlake, who epitomizes post-millennial pop music. Its sample material isn’t old Jamaican dubplates, but lyrical hooks from Lil Wayne and Vybz Kartel.
It’s in this environment that Lane launched a 916 Junglist monthly at the TownHouse Lounge last month, with the next event taking place on Wednesday, April 20. It was only gone a year—Lane threw an 11th anniversary event in 2009, and its disappointing turnout led him to take a brief break. Perhaps the ascendant dubstep movement has made people remember what was so great about 916 Junglist.
There may be feelings of nostalgia, too. The late ’90s were a generation ago.