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Jungle Out There
By Kirsten Ferguson

photo:Joe Putrock

DJ Milkdud on his passion for electronic music and its growing presence on the Capital Region scene

The sound of “a thousand monkeys hitting a thousand drums” is how Greg Mankes, aka DJ Milkdud, describes “jungle,” the kinetic style of music that he spins at various electronic-music nights in the Capital Region.

As Mankes explains it, the music first known as jungle—which now falls under the banner heading of “drum & bass”—emerged from the British rave scene back in the early to mid-’90s. “It was chaotic-sounding music at high speeds,” he says, music characterized by smooth bass lines, loads of samples and break-beat percussion at rapid speeds of 160 to 170 beats per minute, underlain at the time by a reggae and dub influence.

Like many forms of electronic dance music, jungle was more accepted in the United Kingdom from the start, receiving radio play on BBC stations and blowing up big in London clubs. In the United States, however, the sound was found deeper underground. That didn’t stop Mankes, a Guilderland native, from tapping into the burgeoning music while studying far from the scene’s center at Buffalo State College in 1996.

“In college I started listening to mixes of DJ Hype and DJ Rap,” he says, mentioning two prominent, early jungle DJs. “They just blew me away. That’s how I got into jungle. It was something so weird and new.” Mankes and friends had a college radio show at the time. “We were one of the few drum & bass radio shows,” he says. “We were coming into the music at a time when it was becoming more mainstream. It wasn’t really known until ’97 or ’98. We had a big surge of kids coming into it then. Those kids are pretty much the veterans [of the scene] today.”

“At that point, jungle was getting huge,” he continues, but then “trance” took over as a dominant style of electronic dance music. “It’s funny, the cycles of it all,” he says. “You have this underground music in a sense. Then once it starts getting popular, there’s a camp of people pushing it [to be more popular], and a camp of people who want to keep it close to them and underground.”

In the Capital Region, the underground nature of the music has helped keep it a secret from many. Although there have been electronic music events and drum & bass DJs here for years, they weren’t always easy to find out about, with electronic music fans learning about area happenings primarily through online message boards and local record stores. That seems to be changing now, in part due to Albany’s Massive Audio crew of DJs and the weekly RISE electronic music nights they host on Fridays at Red Square in Albany (previously, the nights were held at Albany’s Club Phoenix).

“Thanks to those guys,” Mankes says of Massive Audio, “they’ve found a way to make people feel good about listening to this music.” As DJ Milkdud, Mankes will perform next at a Red Square RISE night on March 17. (Mankes says that the best way to find out about his gigs or download one of his mixes is by visiting www.djmilkdud.com or his MySpace page at www.myspace.com/djmilkdud.)

Increasing numbers of college kids and indie-rock fans now experiment with electronic music, and some of the hippest indie rock bands incorporate dance elements into their music. Music fans are “rediscovering bass,” as Mankes says. So the popularity of Red Square’s RISE nights, which often include a live band on the bill along with a cluster of DJs, is not surprising. As Mankes explains, the scene has evolved beyond the days when people thought about club events in the context of “full-on glow-stick raves.” In essence, the “whole stigma of the ecstasy craze in 2000” has passed.

“It’s matured a bit,” he says. “It’s kind of grown up to be a respectable environment to party in. Now that the music is moving into bars and clubs, not warehouses, it’s in a safer zone for people to listen to it.”

As opposed to music made for sedate headphone or bedroom listening, jungle and drum & bass were designed for an altogether different milieu: clubs with dance floors. So unless you have venues where you can hear the music in the environment it was intended for, it’s hard to grasp the full impact of the sound. “It’s visceral music,” Mankes explains. “It hits people at more of a primal level.”

With some 2,000 records at his disposal, stacked neatly into a wall of vinyl at the Round Lake apartment he shares with fiancée Jen Haley, a house DJ who will perform at RISE on March 3, Mankes carefully stitches together his sets, which may span tracks encompassing the history of jungle and drum & bass. It’s more complicated than it may sound, with Mankes putting in 12 to 16 hours of advance work for a set that may only last an hour.

“I try to make the most of my mixes,” he says. “In these tracks, things happen at specific times. Most of these songs have breakdowns and build up to a drop. Last year there was a giant thing for ‘double drops.’ I would try to time the buildup of one song to coincide with the breakdown of another song. That required a lot of planning, knowing when to drop a particular song into a mix. Sometimes you feel it falls on deaf ears. But I kind of feel like I owe it to the people there to do that.”

Drum & bass, like other forms of electronic music, breaks down into a seemingly endless number of subgenres. “When people ask me, I’ll say I’m a jungle DJ,” Mankes says. “If I want to get technical, I say I’m a jump-up drum & bass DJ.” Jump-up, which often samples from hiphop, is intended to get a crowd to “jump up” and dance. “It’s more of your party music,” he says. Mankes also refers to himself as a “Top 40” drum & bass DJ. “By that I mean what’s currently popular,” he says. “It’s not that I go out and seek the popular tracks. They just happen to be what I like. The tracks that get played out in the clubs, I end up leaning more toward that.

“I try to keep that [party] vibe,” he says. “Sometimes the music gets too serious. People go out to have fun.”


ROUGH MIX

-no rough mix this week-



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