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Gig Review: Jungle at Spark Arena

Jungle at Spark Arena 

Wednesday 15 May, 2024 

Photography by Nico Penny 
Words by Nicholas Lindstrom

 

Never have I ever. Four words that can inspire fear or excitement. In this instance, those four words are said in celebration of the atmosphere immediately after Jungle finished their set at Spark Arena. Never have I ever seen dance circles form after the lights are on at Spark Arena. Never had I ever seen that…  until I saw Jungle perform.

It is nearly impossible to define Jungle’s sound with conventional genres. The duo of Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland first began their marriage of sounds nearly a decade ago. Since the first bedroom sessions that gave birth to Jungle, the duo have developed their sound and found international success and internet virality; with the music video for their single “Back on 74” amassing over 29 Million views on Youtube. The success of “Back on 74” and their album Volcano meant that Jungle’s sold out May 15th Concert at Spark Arena was filled with a hoard of fans, anxious to enjoy the group’s eclectic sound in person.

New Zealand producer and multi-instrumentalist Lord Echo was the DJ tasked with laying the foundations. He inconspicuously entered the stage with a flute full of sparkling wine and a mental crate full of rhythmic tunes to get the crowd going. He began his set with the soul classic “Where are we going?”. The track not only posed an interesting question about how the night would unfold, but it also signalled to the soul fans in the crowd that his set would be an ode to all things beautiful in music. Lord Echo’s ability to build the energy of the crowd was quite remarkable. The crowd's appreciation was not reciprocal to the selection of music he chose; an observation which I believe is symptomatic of our country's hegemonic obsession with DnB. Nonetheless, Lord Echo was charismatic and engaging. The perfect foundation for Jungle’s blend of influences.

(Lord Echo, opening for Jungle at Spark Arena / Photo: Nico Penny) 

As YouTube user @clearthought9736 astutely noted in the comment section of a early Jungle interview “This group is the future of electronic/hip hop/indie/funk/soul” Although it may seem hyperbolic to attribute this many genres to particular artists, @clearthought9736 was in no way exaggerating. In an interview posted to the Amoeba Records YouTube page, Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland displayed the eclecticism of their musical influence; citing artists like Mobey, Buena Vista Social Club, Harry Nilsson, John Morales (Remixes), Jackson Browne, Johnny Guitar Watson, Neu! and even Earl Sweatshirt. I was keen to see how Jungle would be greeted by their Kiwi audience.

The demographic of the crowd in Spark Arena greatly resembled New Zealand census data from the last 50 years. So, I anticipated the regular subdued Kiwi crowd, who would clap on the one and three and bust out an offbeat one-two step in response to any hint of rhythm. However, there was a deafening roar when the lights turned orange and the smoke machines started up in anticipation of Jungle.

Tom McFarland told British GQ in 2022 that “What we have always striven for is for the messages in our songs to feel like they are delivered by a group of people, instead of just one person”. True to their namesake, Jungle has sprawled out from the bedroom in London where the original duo first began making music. On this tour, Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland have been joined by a band consisting of George Day (Drums), Geo Jordan (Guitar, Backing Vocals, Bass), Will Fry (Percussion), Lydia Kitto (Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboard, Flute, Guitar). The whole band was amazing, the two percussionists worked in tandem and treated the audience to drum fills that aren’t present on the recorded versions. Geo Jordan was outstanding on guitar, at certain points coming to the front of the stage to deliver nasty riffs imbued with funk. I want to make special mention to Lydia Kitto, whose vocal offerings have been a pleasant part of my daily playlists. Alongside her vocal talents Kitto also has an alluring stage presence and an insane amount of musical versatility. The two originators Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland were clinical with their execution, but not robotic. They seamlessly transitioned between the four keyboard setups on stage. It was a joy to see how much they interacted with each other throughout. It seems that the friendship and love of music that progenitor of Jungle is still alive and thriving.

(Jungle at Spark Arena / Photo: Nico Penny)

One of the salient aspects of Jungle’s appeal is the kinetic energy that is imbued in their music. In that same GQ article cited earlier, Tom McFarland highlighted that quality saying “If we are not constantly hearing something new, or feeling something shifting underneath what's going on, then it kinda gets one dimensional for us I guess.”. Throughout all twenty-one songs that Jungle performed there seemed to be an evident rapidity. However, the pacing was immaculate with their set always feeling high intensity and yet never feeling rushed. There were particular standout moments; Songs like “Back on 74” and “I’ve Been In Love” satiated newer fans, but the group still made sure to pay respect to day one fans by performing songs from their earlier albums Loving in Stereo and  For Ever. The innate kinetic energy extended to the crowd. There was no one seated, even those with designated seats were on their feet the whole night, physically reciprocating the energy of the music. Their full set list consisted of;

Busy Earning

Candle Flame ft. Erick the Architect

Dominoes

The Heat

Heavy, California

Beat 54 (All Good Now)

Problemz

I’ve Been In Love ft. Channel Tres

Back on 74

Casio

Palm Trees

Fire

What D’You Know About Me

Time

Truth

You Ain’t No Celebrity Ft. Roots Manuva

Coming Back

Don’t Play

All Of The Time 

Holding Back

Keep Moving

(Jungle at Spark Arena / Photo: Nico Penny)

Before I continue I must address the Shay Latukolan shaped elephant in the room. The choreography of the Amsterdam based choreographer has been a feature in the success of Jungle’s music videos. However, the absence of the dancers was made up for by the production and performers’ stage presence. The lighting and visuals were immaculate, perfectly elevating each song. A particularly clever motif was the use of colour to signify songs from different albums, with many of the songs from Volcano being performed by a stage stained with orange hues. Giant beach balls were deployed to keep the crowd engaged near the end of the performance and videos of featured artists Channel Tres and Erick the Architect were perfect substitutes for having the performers physically there. Above all else was the stage presence of the whole band. They were engaged throughout and genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves and having fun together. At one point Tom McFarland even climbed onto the bass drum, drawing a laugh from Lydia Kitto who seemed both amazed and amused.

Never have I ever seen a crowd in New Zealand show as much jubilation at the end of a concert than after Jungle. It seemed the group performed a feat that seems nearly impossible; Jungle not only delivered an amazing hour and a half, but through their unique blend of “electronic/hip hop/indie/funk/soul”  they created a collective sense of unity and joy that lingered past their set and pervaded into the streets of Britomart, as swarths of avid Jungle fans left satisfied and delighted. If you missed out on Jungle you can satiate your own cravings by checking out their albums wherever good music is sold.

(Jungle at Spark Arena / Photo: Nico Penny) 

 

(Jungle at Spark Arena / Photo: Nico Penny)