Edmonton, Jungle, Roller Skates & Me…

If you were born in the mid-to-late ‘80s and came up in the ‘90s, you are officially old. I was born in 1986, in North Middlesex Hospital, Edmonton, and I have spent all 33 years of my life living and working in the manor. You tell a person you’re from Edmonton and they pull a face like someone dropped a fart, or ask about Ikea. My ends regularly posts up in social media surveys as one of London’s ‘bottom tier’ places to live, but the reality behind that sort of dead banter is that, in Edmonton—like so much of North London and other parts of the city—people are really struggling. The borough has been struggling for more than a minute, and the way in which this cold island votes has intensified that. I spent a lot of years mentoring in a primary school in my community, where pretty much half our children lived below the poverty line. The pressure they faced, and still face, is very real. But like my fellow North Londoner Wretch 32 says: pressure makes diamonds.

In the early ‘90s, Edmonton was a mini mecca for jungle music—young, black British people’s 200bpm response to more than a decade of hateful Thatcherism and the social destruction she engendered. Obviously, being a little Armenian boy raised on my parents’ musical tastes, I wasn’t consciously aware of this sociocultural context, but it was impossible not to absorb the junglist sound. Edmonton in 1994: upstairs windows flung open, supercharged Amen Breaks offered to the heavens. Renault 5 Turbos and Vauxhall Novas rattled with ocean-deep basslines. Buju Banton and Bagga Worries vocals remained magically unhurried over frenetic jungle instrumentals. And a couple roads down from mine, in his bedroom, a teenage Shy FX cooked up the immortal “Original Nuttah”, arguably the most iconic of all jungle riddims—a genuine 100 carat diamond.

As a group of 8 and 9-year-olds, me and my friends’ only real opportunity to experience jungle collectively was with the other little Saturday afternoon skaters at Roller Express, off the North Circular Road on the Lea Valley Trading Estate. Skating was as much a way of expressing ourselves as our impressively astute musical choices were. I rocked junior Roces with black and yellow Sims two-tone wheels, fitted with go-fast bearings. I coordinated my look with turned-down black and yellow hockey socks (picture Bumblebee from Transformers and you’re not far off). My older brother skated in Bauer Turbos, matching his turquoise Street Snake wheels with Mighty Ducks hockey socks. We were both quietly jealous of my friend, Tony—he had very rare blue and red Bauers, with blue, red AND white Sims three-tone wheels! No hockey socks required; those were skates you needed everyone to see. Skating gear was far from cheap, and our families were far from comfortable. Luckily for us, the salesman at the sports shop in Edmonton Green blessed our mums with credit.

To a boy in skates, the objective is to go fast. So when the daytime DJ at Roller Express spun jungle staples like “Incredible”, or Leviticus’ “The Burial”, me and my guys took the relentless drum loops as an incitement to go even faster, to move forward, to overcome the very fabric of time with our speed. We became a joyous rainbow whirlwind. What we didn’t know is that, long after we’d gone home, neon wheels and bright hockey socks were swapped for batty riders and “offkey” Moschino shirts. The skating arena morphed into a jungle rave of legendary scale, where Kenny Ken was crowned Jungle Soundclash Champion and Shy FX stood outside, too young to join the massive but captivated by the vibes, before rushing back home to produce more of his own legendary hits.


But the authorities’ love for locking off black UK music events is a long-standing affair. Predictably, Enfield council—in conjunction with the police—began harassing artists, promoters and ravers, eventually forcing the venue to shut down completely. And this was before Form 696 was ever a thing. So, in order to dive deeper into jungle myself, I had to take matters into my own hands. Edmonton wasn’t just blessed with a one-stop skaters paradise and an iconic skating rink/rave venue—we had a couple of very dope independent record shops too. Round the corner from my house was Vibes Records on Winchester Road, in between Raj’s newsagents and Turgut’s barbershop, and in that special place, high up on the CD rack was the first CD I ever bought for myself: Jungle Hits, Vol. 1.

It was a tough choice between Jungle Hits and Jungle Mania: both were banging, comprehensive compilations, but Mania boasted “Original Nuttah” and Hits didn’t (unlikely factors contribute to a 9-year-old’s decision-making process). I chose Jungle Hits because I planned on drawing the album artwork in my exercise books at school, instead of doing sums—much like I’d been drawing Nike ticks and the logo from Eclipse bomber jackets. After saving up my £2 a week for what felt like the longest time, I bopped into Vibes Records with purpose and swagger… and my mum, because my dad had long ago decreed that I couldn’t go to the shops on my own until I was a gold belt in karate. To be honest, mum being there was a blessing because I couldn’t actually reach the CD myself.

Back at home came the daily hustle of trying to blast Jungle Hits, Vol. 1 on the family hifi in our cramped front-room, subtly switching my dad’s Armenian folk CD or mum’s Nina Simone with 100% jungle. Maybe I had no business rinsing out “Ride The Punany” while my parents were looking to relax on the sofa after a day of grafting, but the audaciousness of youth is something to be admired. The compilation was released by Jet Star, a Harlesden-based reggae label, and its tracklist was an impeccably curated treasure trove, dominated by dub, reggae and dancehall vocals over addictively rapid drum patterns. Echo Minott’s “Murder Weapon” got the most reloads. Ambient tracks like M Beat and Nazlyn’s “Sweet Love” or Lloydie Crucial’s “Ribbon In The Sky” showed me another side to the genre I’d fallen in love with. I loved jungle more than I loved Kelly from Saved By The Bell, and I loved Kelly with all my heart.

I don’t doubt that my experience isn’t unique, and that when describing my hometown in the early ‘90s I could’ve easily been describing somewhere else, full of the same sounds. But Edmonton was my entire universe; a universe that revolved around back-skating with my friends and shocking out in the front-room, where teenage geniuses cooked up bangers round the corner and young people from all over the city gathered in their hundreds to rave until dawn. In my childish mind, Edmonton was jungle.

Posted on April 28, 2020