Mark Fisher recalls the ghosts of his life coming back to haunt him in the form of rufige Kru’s Jungle take on Japan
Plenty of roughage: Goldie
It must have been 1994 when I saw Rufige Kru’s Ghosts Of My Life on the shelves of a high street record store. The four-track 12" EP had been released in 1993, but this was a time – before Internet hype and online discographies – when the traces of the underground took longer to surface. I was a postgraduate student then, and I didn’t have either the nerve or the money to hang around specialist record shops to pick up all the latest releases. So I would access Jungle tracks in much the same fitful way that I had followed American comics in the 70s. (I should say now that I still insist on using the term ‘Jungle’ rather than the pallid and misleading ‘drum ’n’ bass’.) I would get them where and when I could, usually on CD compilations issued long after their dubplate freshness had cooled. For the most part, it was impossible to impose any narrative on Jungle’s relentless flow. Fittingly for a sound that was so depersonalised and dehumanised, the names of the acts tended to be cryptic cyberpunk tags, disconnected from any biography or place. Jungle was best enjoyed as an anonymous electro-libidinal current that seemed to pass through producers, as a series of affects and FX de-linked from authors. At its best, Jungle sounded less like a music and more like an audio unlife form, a ferocious, feral artificial intelligence that had been unwittingly called up in the studio. Rufige Kru were one of the few Jungle acts I knew a little about. Because of Simon Reynolds’s evangelical pieces on Jungle in Melody Maker, I was aware that Rufige Kru was one of the aliases used by Goldie, who, almost uniquely in the anonymity of the Jungle scene, was already becoming a recognisable face. I bought any Rufige Kru record that I came upon, and “Ghosts Of My Life” was especially intriguing because of its title, with its suggestion of Japan’s 1981 art pop masterpiece, “Ghosts” “The ghosts of my . life/Blow wilder than the wind, Japan’s David ” Sylvian had sung. When I played the “Ghosts Of My Life” track, I quickly realised with a shiver of exhilaration that the pitched down voice repeating the title phrase did indeed belong to Sylvian. But this wasn’t the only trace of “Ghosts” After some atonal .
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washes and twitchy breakbeats, the track lurched to a sudden halt and – in a moment that still takes my breath away when I listen to it now – a brief snatch of the spidery, abstract electronics instantly recognisable from the Japan record leapt into the chasm, before being immediately consumed by viscous bass ooze and the synthetic screeches that were the sonic signatures of darkside Jungle. Time had folded in on itself. One of my earliest pop fixations had returned, vindicated, in an unexpected context. Early 80s New Romantic synth pop, reviled and ridiculed in Britain, but revered in the dance music scenes of Detroit, New York and Chicago, was finally coming home to roost in the UK underground. Kodwo Eshun, then at work on his More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures In Sonic Fiction, was arguing that synth pop played the same founding role for Techno, Hiphop and Jungle as Delta blues did for rock, and it was as if a disavowed part of myself – a ghost from another part of my life – was being recovered, although in a permanently altered form. In Japan’s “Ghosts” two kinds of modernism , – Stockhausen-style experimental electronics and Freudian psychoanalysis – had been fused on a pop single. Sylvian’s ghosts were psychoanalytic spectres, those parts of him – at once utterly alien and completely familiar – which always returned “just when I thought I was winning” to destroy his happiness. Rufige Kru’s ghosts, meanwhile, were semiotic signals floating free of any subject – samples themselves, perhaps, liberated from their original context to prowl the ill-lit zones of the information superhighway. A year after I had bought the Ghosts Of My Life EP I was swept up in the founding of the Cybernetic , Culture Research Unit (Ccru) set up by Sadie Plant and Nick Land. The Ccru was notionally based at Warwick University, although the university never granted it any official existence. Where the dominant American accounts of cyberculture had been based around the nascent Internet but had no real place for music, Ccru’s version of cyberculture put Jungle at its heart of darkness. For the Ccru, the congruence of
certain kinds of anti-humanist theory with the dark rush of the Jungle sound made for an irresistible combination. Deleuze and Guattari’s invocation of a body without organs, Lyotard’s celebration of impersonal intensities: these theories seemed to perfectly parallel Jungle’s machinic jouissance. A darkside canon emerged in the films that Jungle most compulsively sampled: Blade Runner, used by Rufige Kru themselves on their “Manslaughter” , Terminator (sampled by Goldie’s Metalheads on their breakthrough 1992 track, which took its title from the film), Predator 2 and the Alien series. For Ccru, Terminators, Predators and Aliens were embodiments of the implacable will of Capital, which, as Sarah Connor says of the Terminator, “doesn’t show pity and remorse, and it absolutely cannot be bargained with” . In 1996, the Ccru organised the Afro Futures event at Warwick, at which Kodwo Eshun was the keynote speaker, and Kode9, another founding member of the Ccru, provided theory and DJing. My presentation at Afro Futures discussed how both “Terminator” and “Ghosts Of My Life” were about the implosion of linear chronology, how the tracks were auto-theorisations of the way in which sampling and timestretching engineer a fatal time in which things repeat differently. But spectrality was in many ways an unusual guest at the rapacious cybergothic feast of the mid-90s. The talk then was of the future bleeding back into the present. “You’re talking about things I haven’t done yet in the past tense, protested the awestruck Sarah Connor on ” Metalheads’ “Terminator” as timestretched breakbeats , dismantled time before our very ears. Jungle’s use of the sampler to construct a wholly new sound fully justified this futurist euphoria. But the actual future that lay ahead would not be the rush of continuous mutation that early 90s Jungle promised. Listening to “Ghosts Of My Life” now, a decade and a half later, and it seems to have anticipated the way in which Jungle has itself become a spectre, a lost future haunting the ‘nostalgia mode’ of a popular culture whose rate of innovation has massively slowed.