‘We need jungle’ – Amol Rajan on how a University Challenge question spawned a remix craze

Host Amol Rajan with the University of Aberdeen team
Image caption,Aberdeen captain Emily Osborne’s answer led to Amol Rajan’s much-sampled response: “I can’t accept drum ‘n’ bass, we need jungle, I’m afraid”

By Amol Rajan

BBC University Challenge host

In idle moments this week, of which there have been fewer than usual, I have wondered about the precise circumstances that led Nathan Filer, a best-selling writer based at Bath Spa University, to post on Twitter/X about University Challenge.

The curious thing, given

what followed, was that he was playing catch-up.

Monday night’s edition of the quiz on BBC Two featured Lincoln College, Oxford, against Imperial. But earlier that day, Filer had been watching the previous week’s show, Sheffield against Aberdeen, perhaps to make sure he wasn’t behind.

I infer he is an aficionado who watches on iPlayer. And at lunchtime too – it was at 13:29 that he had a moment of utter inspiration.

A bonus round for Aberdeen included a question about jungle, the dance music emanating from the sound system culture of the 90s. There is an ancient debate about where drum ‘n’ bass ends and jungle begins, or vice versa. More on that later.

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In any case, when Emily Osborne, Aberdeen’s immensely clever and impressive captain, answered “drum ‘n’ bass”, my response prompted Filer to post: “Please, please will someone sample @amolrajan saying: ‘I can’t accept Drum & Bass. We need Jungle, I’m afraid.'”

All hell broke loose.

Skip twitter post by Nathan Filer

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End of twitter post by Nathan Filer

And what a lovely hell it was.

Over the next three days, my answer would go, and stay, viral across multiple social media platforms; acquire a cult following in the jungle scene; inspire dozens of remixes from top producers around the world; lead to invitations to play at club nights and festivals; get write-ups in the musical and national press; be played out on radio stations; cause no end of hilarity on several otherwise dormant WhatsApp threads I belong to; reawaken my younger, raving self, long suppressed by parenthood and work; and deliver a catalogue of genuinely surreal moments that show no sign of abating.

I reposted Filer’s original tweet about 40 minutes later. I have no musical competence, so it took @jamro to give us the first sample, featuring the seminal tune Incredible by General Levy.

Others piled in: @jonesgarethp, @wordcolour, @spinscott and @amygoodchild did their bit; @dolandeclares gave us a handy gif. @EddeLacy shot a brilliant video. By now the beast had a life of its own. There are just so many, sorry if I’ve left you off here.

https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.51.0/iframe.htmlMedia caption,

Jungle fans remix host Amol Rajan with some interesting results

When I started on University

Challenge, I explicitly said to the team that it had all the elements to go viral regularly. The pedigree of the brand, the repartee, the eight brilliant young minds. Yet this week showed you cannot plan to go viral. It really is organic.

That said, even in a viral moment, there are key interventions. My friend Ros Atkins, a regular viral hit with his superb explainers for BBC News, is a junglist and occasional DJ himself. His re-post helped. The music press also took it to another level. Then it transferred to Instagram.

There, another friend, the great David Rodigan, unleashed a new wave. David is a godfather of reggae, extremely well connected, with a global following. He tagged the artist Goldie, who responded, saying he was going to sample it.

DJ and actor Goldie (Clifford Joseph Price)
Image caption,DJ and actor Goldie is a jungle pioneer

I jumped into the comments on several other posts, to say “We need jungle I’m afraid”, and the affection that came back was life-affirming. Soon I was getting texts from friends in Jamaica. Major artists got involved. By the time Hospital Records, Ministry of Sound, MixMag and others were posting, I was feeling rather emotional.

Halcyon days

I think that’s because this week has reconnected me with my younger self. I have four young kids, which is the greatest blessing, but does rather diminish my capacity for raving. These days, much to my chagrin, my most played tunes on Spotify are from Frozen and Moana and my life is more Jungle Book than jungle music. Years ago, jungle was our daily bread.

There was a wonderful scene in Cambridge, where I was a student. My first love musically is reggae – I am obsessed with the culture of 1960s Jamaica – and jungle has its roots there. So my favourite variety was ragga jungle, and two of my best mates were massive drum ‘n’ bass heads: the legendary – well, to us they were legendary – DJ Hektic and MC Tappa.

I was the third man in this jolly arrangement, roughly analogous to Bez in the Happy Mondays insofar as my musical ability was inversely proportional to my enthusiasm in the dance. The few nights where I performed a reggae set as the warm-up act known as DJ Moley were unforgettable, mainly because there was nobody in attendance to remember them.

DJ and producer Gerald Rydel Simpson aka A Guy Called Gerald performs at the Royal Festival Hall on June 22, 2014 in London
Image caption,DJ and producer Gerald Rydel Simpson aka A Guy Called Gerald was also cited in the quiz question

But oh, how we loved jungle. All the icons were gods to us: from the late, great Stevie Hyper D to the then contemporary giants – MC Shabba, DJ Hype and Nicky Blackmarket – who we outrageously invited to student nights (they always, always said yes). Reliving those halcyon days, my early 20s and early 40s have melded in euphoric, and euphonic, unison.

I have asked myself many times this week whether, as I read out that question and answer when the series was filmed (last spring) I had an inkling it contained musical gold. I did not. I did raise an internal eyebrow, but I didn’t see the potential.

It took Filer to do that. With hindsight, it’s so obvious: the authority of University Challenge, the brevity of the phrase, the weight of an iconic subculture in that subtle distinction between two terms.

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End of twitter post 2 by Amy Goodchild

More social, less media

Similarly, this week has made me reappraise social media. For six years, as media editor for BBC News, I reported on the threat social media posed to Western civilisation. Doubtless it is profound, and my recent experience of Twitter/X has been dreadful. But then I work in the media, at the BBC, and cover politics, in an era of toxic culture wars.

This week reminded me of the original vision of social media, which was more social and less media. Those of us in my trade should remember it can generate communities and pullulate with kindness and creativity rather than conspiracy and contempt.

There have been countless surreal moments. Radio 1 played it out (thank you Greg James and DJ Clipz). I have been approached by major DJs – I had better not say who just yet – to do sets at their festivals.

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Hospital Records want a live PA performance. Years ago, a favourite tune was Ghetto Dub by DJ Probe & Sylo. I said so in a post, and @Samsylo, who I have never met, wrote back.

A charming lady messaged me on Instagram, mainly (it seemed) to say she fancied my brother at primary school, and would I pass the message onto him? He left Hillbrook School in 1992.

What a week. On the vexed question of exactly how drum ‘n’ bass and jungle differ, my final answer is: I don’t know. It’s hard to say, and I will leave it to more influential jungle heads, and the infinitely wise question setters on University Challenge, to arbitrate.

I can confirm, however, that jungle is massive. I note Filer has updated his profile to say: “Unexpected player in a junglist revival.” Me too, boss, and I’m grateful for the precision with which you used the term. Because I can’t accept drum ‘n’ bass.https://lepassaja.com/

We need jungle, I’m afraid.

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