J. Lloyd—one of the two members of neo-funk duo Jungle—doesn’t really want to talk about their new album.
I call him in Monterrey, Mexico, where he’s flown from his home in London for a DJ set and has a full afternoon of TV interviews ahead of him. Lounging by the pool on a high-rise building—though very much not in swimwear—with the wind whipping around his long hair, he seems to want to talk about, well, literally anything else.
“It’s music—it’s just an expression of our feelings and our subconscious thoughts. We didn’t really put too much into trying to get a message across,” Lloyd says languidly. “Ideas will kind of seep out into the lyrics.”
Then our roles flip and he starts asking me the questions. And what seeps out feels like an accurate description of his thought process: he moves between topics freely, abandoning each strand as he loses interest, piling up ideas to see what sticks.
“I was actually thinking of maybe doing interviews and saying I’ll do whatever interviews anybody wants me to do, but we can’t ever talk about Jungle. We’ve got to talk about AI and the environment,” he says. I wonder how many other interviewers this same day will find themselves winding down this path of thoughts with him, or if I’ve gone rogue by going along with it instead of trying to reel him back to the day job of his band.
Lloyd asks why I moved to Vancouver (journalism school), and then, without missing a beat, “What do you think about AI and journalism?” I say it’s probably kind of similar to AI and music.
Computers might be able to mimic the basics, but they can’t innovate and create the way that people can. Take Volcano, Jungle’s newest album (the one he doesn’t want to talk about), which released August 11 on Caiola Records. It has more electric and soul elements than past records, as well as a whole host of collaborators. The overall result is both cohesive and mismatched; the throughlines are less obvious, the beats and bass rhyming rather than mirroring.
“Candle Flame”, the lead single that dropped in March, features Erick The Architect’s distinctive flow spitting verses over a disco beat. Elsewhere, rapper Roots Manuva freestyles in “You Ain’t No Celebrity” while a vibey, almost mocking chant loops in the back. That kind of collaging and synthesizing of different talents into one creative assembly can’t be done without organic creativity: a hand on the machine, touching the synths, programming the parts, moving the wires. Figuring out what sounds right. Human electricity meeting machine signals.
In support of the album, Jungle is touring North America and Europe, with a run of dates in Canada that takes them to Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. The pair play PNE Forum on September 13, with a full backing band that makes for an electrifying live show, accompanied by artwork that Lloyd has lovingly rendered himself. He directs most of the band’s music videos, too: he’s a creator, and a curator, carefully managing their whole output.
I wonder if his persona is part of that, too. Something chosen for its place within the vibe he is cultivating.
“I had a long conversation with a lot of different chatbots the other night, trying to get to the bottom of what their intelligence actually is,” Lloyd says. I’ve known him for all of 30 minutes, and I’m not sure whether he’s being earnest. He has a bit of gadfly about him, the way he spins and pivots, half a laugh smuggled behind his sunglasses. We’ve already discussed aliens, capitalism, and entropy by this point: “We paste our own idea of intelligence onto other things.”
Music made by AIs, he reasons, is probably going to “become shite, isn’t it, really, for a little while. Then it’ll probably become really good, and really amazing.” But, he continues, maybe AI programs won’t be making music for humans: they’ll be making it for each other. Do androids dream of electric sheep? Does robot art look anything like ours?
“Technically, it’s all going to get a bit shit, I think, because we lose the main aspects of what makes music good,” Lloyd muses. “[But] machines are probably going to be listening to machines, and humans are going to be listening to humans.”
Somewhere out there, a bot is probably already consuming Jungle’s output, turning those carefully chosen chords and beats into a series of data points that can be rejigged and reworked. But computers won’t be able to notice the weird darkness that pervades Jungle’s discography.
As much as it’s feel-good neo-soul disco designed to bust a move to, there’s something ominous beneath. “Busy Earnin’”, Jungle’s break-out 2014 track that helped catapult them into the mainstream, has cynical lyrics disguised under a danceable beat and perfect intervals: “Damn, that’s a boring life / It’s quite, busy earnin’ / You can’t get enough.” In “Casio”, a mid-tempo disco jam that saw its accompanying video clock over 96 million views on YouTube for its slickly choreographed routine, the lyrics are unabashed heartbreak: “Play it cool / I just want the keys back to my vehicle / They’re just gonna tell you that it wasn’t real / And I just wanna tell you this is how I feel.” The dissonance is the point.
“We’ve always done a fun paranoia,” Lloyd says. “We always use sirens and things that are rather unsettling over a resolved harmony, which gives you that juxtaposition.”
Near the end of our talk, Lloyd asks me what my name is. It’s V—I don’t use the rest of it. While his full name is publicly out there, it shows up on Zoom as J. Lloyd. We match, he says: one letter, then five. I ask him if he prefers just the initial.
“I suppose so, in a weird way,” he says. It’s the same name he used when Jungle launched a decade ago. Back then, he and co-founder and long-time friend Tom McFarland were just J and T.
“That was what Jungle was about, really: losing identity and ego within something else,” he reflects. “To surrender yourself to some sort of group community, or the idea of it, at least. It’s like building a cult.”
The focus was supposed to be on the music, the aesthetics, the full stage show, the intricately choreographed music videos that rarely feature the duo at all: a refusal to be centre stage. Lloyd has had to take on the role of musician, shuttled between shows and DJ sets and interviews and people asking him about inspirations, but what seeps out is that he would rather have the music do the talking.
He just wants to be lost in the jungle. He wants to see you dance to songs about heartbreak and existential dread. Let’s see an AI bot try to boogie down.
When: September 13, 7pm
Where: PNE Forum, 2901 East Hastings Street, Vancouver
Admission: From $49.50, tickets available here