The long-awaited full-length documentary The American Jungle has finally arrived and it is massive! Spearheaded by Jeremy ‘Onket’ Ballard and Joshua ‘Phenetic’ Freeman, the film takes on the monumental task of trying to not only chronicle the evolution of the American drum & bass and jungle scene, but as an homage to the scene and genre that they love in all of its forms.
Taking great care to reveal the ways in which the American scene is an evolution and outgrowth of the UK motherland, expect to see old-school ambassadors from both sides of the pond dropping knowledge on the roots and development of dnb culture alongside an often-neglected focus on local and regional scenes, which for many of us, is where it all began. It’s the stories of hometown heroes and local superstars who remind us just how powerful the drum & bass community is. With the impossible task of trying to feature every single promoter, crew, DJ, and producer who has had an impact on their local scenes, the filmmakers acknowledge that while not “everybody” is represented (often due to logistical, financial, and time considerations), they encourage audiences to see the film as more of a curated primer for the those interested in the broader history of the impact and scope of the American scene.
Even with that caveat, the film is surprisingly comprehensive, and reveals the straight-up love and respect for the scene that only those from inside the scene can truly know and feel deep down in their bones. In keeping with its independent, underground roots, the film is being screened across the country in select locations, with the next “VIP American Jungle Screening” taking place in New York this Saturday, September 17. Hosted by Direct Drive, Natural Selection, BP², and Konkrete Jungle NYC, this exclusive NYC screening and event will include performances by artists featured in the film, including Mason, Raw Q, The Burner Brothers, Digga Bruck Shot, and the legendary DJ Dara.
Check the event page for more details and be sure to lock in your presale tickets here if you’re going to be in the area. Either way, be sure to keep it locked to The American Jungle socials for more info and updates on screenings and events near you! Until then, enjoy this in-depth conversation we had with one-half of the visionary crew behind the project, Josh Freeman, as he takes us on a journey through the often dark and heavy days of learning how to make a film from scratch, with nothing but heart and a vision to see you through.
This project has been in the works for a long time! Remind us exactly how long ago you guys started on this?
Conception began in 2010-ish through a series of class project interviews for Jeremy’s college classes. The filming tour began in 2012 with stops at SxSW (Austin) and WMC (Miami). These carried on with a car drive to numerous other cities on the East Coast. Truly it was a dnb heads dream vacation. Filming, holding interviews with musical idols of ours, getting to play tunes in over 20 cities across the U.S… a crazy time for sure!
How does it feel to have a final edit in the can?
It’s amazing to have a final product. The edit was one part, but to have the narration, audio mixdown, and graphics in as well.. YESS! It’s been a long journey and I def thought an edit would be quicker. I had my life planned around it being done quicker, so it’s been quite the struggle for me personally since 2013… barely getting by on finances, life in turmoil status. But we set out on a mission to do this and I’d be damned if we didn’t complete it and put out something on a scene that means everything to me. I feel it’s a story people heavily involved with in dnb can use to help express themselves with but I also believe it appeals to general music aficionados and those who are into film and cultural documentaries.
Give us a sense of just how monstrous this project was with some nerdy data-driven details.
We held over 120 interviews, sometimes up to 5 interviews in one day, all at separate locations. There was a lot of setup and teardown. We traveled across country in my car the first couple filming runs. We nailed over 10 cities in six weeks at one point, with over 6,ooo miles driven. This is without us even touching down on the West Coast yet! I can’t even begin to count the hours we spent on this as there were only a couple of us doing the work. Footage-wise, I think our total was somewhere in the 7-8TB range of interviews and events. On a side note I had to learn how to build computers to have one powerful enough to do this. Macbook Pros and a dated Mac tower I had donated to me (thank you Jeff once again!) did not cut it when it comes to a full length film! We wasted a good amount of time trying that route.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Take us back to those early days.
We had both been involved in the scene since the early 2000s. When I first moved to Denver Jeremy was one of the first people I linked up and through him started to learn more about dnb and the crew Turbo Alliance which we both became heavily involved with. Hosting the “Time Served” show out of our house for a few years I found myself participating in and throwing shows around Denver with the crew. I had residencies for a few different dnb nights and I knew it was love by 2004. I worked many jobs in the service industry but found I could make money spinning other styles of music so I did that for a good amount of time also but I never felt the butterflies in my stomach unless it was dnb.
How did the idea for the documentary come about?
Somewhere around 2007 or 2008, we just realized we had access to all this talent. Infiltrata would stay at our place when he came to town, Pendulum would be there playing on our decks at the house. R.A.W., Chase and Status, on and on, they would all come by and hang out when they were in town (Denver). This lead to discussions on the scene, and it wasn’t too long after that when dubstep came in and everything seemed to change overnight. Jeremy and I had always felt other genres were “trendy” and had less longevity than what dnb had. We agreed there was a soul and timeless energy with the dnb and jungle that we needed to explore and capture on film. With all that said, it all came down to Jeremy taking film classes in college. If he wouldn’t have done that I imagine it all would have just remained a topic in our heads.
What were the first steps involved once you had the idea?
Well Jeremy started pursuing the interviews and I helped on some of the shoots. Then it came down to money and equipment and how to do the film properly. I decided I would use the money I had saved over the years to get the equipment on a micro budget. I found amazing deals and worked all the angles to acquire what was necessary. I was also a classically trained actor, I had written punk fanzines and interviewed all my punk idols when I was 16 to 17. I had done commercial voice-over work and knew a good amount about audio and had an eye for camera work. I figured these would all be good things and kept me a bit more comfortable with my investment and decision to do this with my life savings. I can’t say we had more of a vision at that time other than to tell the story of what was happening in our scene at the time.
There seemed to be a lot of travel involved, were you guys just hitchhiking with a camera or what? What was happening in your “real” lives that allowed for such freedom? I imagine it was much more stressful than it might seem on the surface.
I had just gotten a car that was dependable and the equipment we got fit in the trunk so we organized a few stops and Jeremy, Steve Gallegos, and I jumped in my car and just went for it. It really was a struggle. I spent my entire life savings when investments and money didn’t come through as promised. If I had known it would have been that way we probably wouldn’t have gotten far but we did. Once we were on the road the project started having a life of its own.
Philly was a major stop that help bring so much more to this project (including a sick track by the one like Mason! Boh!) We actually ran out of money in Chicago and literally didn’t have way to get home.. I’m telling ya seriously stressful stuff happened too. Luckily the scene we love brought us through. Tip jars at the filming events a couple of donations we made it back. My freedom was I had just been involved with some heavy personal life trauma and this was my healing. Probably why I was willing to go all in on this. Just to escape and hopefully go somewhere then downhill like I was feeling at the time.
What are other big challenges that you didn’t anticipate when you set out on this journey?
The time cutting down the footage was absolutely the biggest challenge. Computing power and storage space, the second. Finances third, because of the time it took to get to the point we’re finally at. I had to learn to build high end powerful computers from scratch and take many donations from friends and family. Am still using a few parts from a computer Morgan donated to me (really huge Morgan, thanks!!). No one else was as invested as we were in our vision but I wasn’t about to let the project not come to fruition. Reputation was definitely massively on the line in the only genre I have loved and lived… nothing has stopped me when I set out to do something with passion before and so I wasn’t going to let it this time either, no matter how large the scope.
In many ways though, that’s the beauty of this project. It “jungle” in the very way it was created from the ground up, outsider status, with nothing more than your love for the genre and the scene and a belief that the story had to be told.
Well, we are junglists, there’s no other way it could have happened. The story we set out to do did change a bit as we filmed and as it came to production, we had to adapt as obstacles came into play. Probably much like how a performance from a DJ can change as he is playing or how “magic” in the studio can go while producing a track. The versatility of taking something (whether it be music or film or whatever) and, with limited resources, passion, and a strong belief, creating something that you love, that is as junglist as it gets to me… that and coming through big, loud, and proud in the end!
Now we’ve got the finished project – how has the response been? You already had your first debut screening in Denver – fill us in on the details and how it all went down!
Ah, now the fun stuff!! YES! Denver was massively successful! We had a diehard junglist crew in the place as well as our close friends (and largest critics). The line was around the block before the doors even opened and there was definitely an air of excitement. Throughout the screening there was yells and cheering as different points were made and different artists and cities were brought to attention. Gigantor and a few artists featured in the film were there. Grym, Mowgli, Legion, etc.… Let’s put it this way, not a negative word was said and we even had an autonomous camera so people could leave comments and criticism. We did get a LOT of positive feedback throughout the film and when the film ended and the crowd gave a cheering, standing ovation, I felt woozy as if I had played the best set of my life times fifty.
We know you’ve got New York lined up for the end of the week, where do you guys go from there?
The vision at this point is to throw screening / events in conjunction with local crews and promoters. We hope this style of events will help educate a local audience and get them more active in their scenes. Preserving the culture through active participation. The people that helped make this and the diehard junglist should have the chance for the first look at a film that was made by and for the junglist. Overall this is why I am involved and have done this project was to help build a U.S. scene and help identify a culture that means everything to me. If you’re interested in hosting a screening in your town a good ol’ PM on our Facebook page would help to start the process.