alex reluctant pop tart
reece As the mainstream press open their arms to embrace the arrival of Jungle's Second Superstar (official), Alex Reece, we may once again ponder the meanings of such a phenomonon. Does it signal, for instance, a 'sell out' on Alex's behalf? And what effect, if any, does such an event have on the jungle scene in general? How many artists are capable of crossing over and retaining their credibility? And what is the connection between Reece's music and supermarket musak? I hope to answer these questions as I go along.

Firstly, it's too easy simply to cry "Sell Out!" every time an artist emerges from the underground to achieve mainstream success. Such a cry implies that whoever is in question had certain principles to begin with; principles regarding the politics of cultural independence. On this issue, Reece does appear to have principles. In a recent NME interview he said: "I hate the Take That's, the big money marketing - get five geezers who ain't got a clue. It's so fucking fake, I just don't want to be a part of it. It's not real." In this respect, sounding every bit like a punk rocker of the '70s, Reece could be seen as terribly old-fashioned, especially since he turned down Top Of The Pops. "I don't want to be the first drum'n'bass person to go on Top Of The Pops," he said. "it's just not what it's about."

Are these noble words? Empty rhetoric? Or the views of someone who has failed to read the signs of the times? What harm is there, exactly, in appearing on Top Of The Pops? What harm is there in Take That anyway? The real clue to Alex's snubbing of prime time TV lies in the word 'first'. Fearful of retribution from the underground jungle fraternity, Alex won't be the first to do TOTP. I wonder, supposing others had been there before, what his attitude would be? Ironically, Reece has no objection to having his face fill half a page of the NME to accompany the interview in a paper which he obviously considers to be credible, in the 'street' sense of the word. Again, a very old-fashioned attitude, since the NME is obviously no more hip than TOTP and certainly not above interviewing Pop Stars itself. If Alex was the warrior of underground independence he professes to be, he'd say "Fuck the NME" (and Musik and the rest). But then, he wouldn't have signed to a major label either, would he?

The fact is that Reece couldn't sell out if he tried, although he obviously believes it possible, thus lending himself credibility which I see coming from no-one else. It's about time he faced facts and admitted that his music is as much Pop as Everything But The Girl, if not quite Take That. He should stop being pretentious and get real. I'm sure his accountant, manager and label would love him for it. Although, on that point, we can't discount the possible concept of playing the 'street cred' card. If a label feels they've got a tricky customer on their hands, they'll play on their strengths, which in Alex's case is his apparent cred. This form of cred, it's worth noting, exists mainly in the eyes of the mainstream press, exactly the people a label wants exposure from in order to shift more units. We know how keen the trendy national media is to keep a finger in the cult cred pie.

Reece stepping into the limelight and finding his products placed next to Portishead and Massive Attack in the aspiring trendsetter's CD rack will have no effect on the scene from which he came. Some people might fear possible 'misrepresentation'. Well, who cares? Why worry about what the average buyer thinks? Some, no doubt, think Oasis are the most happening thing in the country. So what? People have an image of jungle, whether they've heard it or not, probably. Many people hate it. And others are not sure, which is where Alex is introduced. Perhaps his products should bear stickers saying "Jungle That Won't Frighten Or Confuse You", or "Jungle-U-Will-Like". The real jungle (I use that word in the wider sense) scene carries on regardless of mainstream success. It doesn't need it to survive since it already thrives and crosses over markets in the UK's large underground music scene. And this scene is too strong, diverse, creative and progressive to be shaken by the loss of a few big names to the world of overground success.

The art of crossover-with-cred-intact is rarely an issue in most types of music. For it to be an issue, there has to be a political foundation of some kind, whether imaginary or real. The rise of most stars, no matter how humble their begininning, is usually heralded without question. A Country & Western, R'n'B or Rock musician rarely leaves behind a core of disgruntled followers on his or her path to glory. Yet jungle's essential seperation from the mainstream means that those involved in it are more aware of the Other Side than most. The Other Side being commercialism, big business, mainstream acceptance and, of course, questions of musical validity.

One artist who has risen up and retained most, if not all his cred is, of course, Goldie, 'jungle's first superstar'. The combination of running one of jungle's premier labels, Metalheadz, having a gangsta-cred history and enthusiastic opinions regarding the nature of the music, make up for his relationship with Bjork, Rock-style live reviews and willingness to perform in the spotlight. Not forgetting his music which, despite attempts at orchestrated grandeur and soppy romanticism, remains, at thecore, as cutting edge and 'nasty' as the best of the rest. Likewise Photek, another potential 'star', yet one with a musical vision so pure as to make the big crossover highly unlikely. He's a little too adventurous, and, so far, seemingly not the sort to play the Cheeky Rebel role. He has neither hardcore streetlife cred, nor the easy sound that will sooth the ears of potential outside buyers. When credible artsists crossover, it's usually because their music contains potentially popular elements to begin with. Photek is pioneering new sounds, rather than repackaging traditionalism, or as in Reece's case, remodelling such essentials as melody and 'soulfulness'.

I have, in my possession, a promo mix tape of Alex's recording career which includes originals and remixes. It was produced by Island records as soon as they'd signed him up. The Flow, to use his Model 500 remix title, is such that every time I've played it the music has been and gone before I've been compelled to notice one track. Now this, I'm aware, can be the nature of the seamless mix tape, yet there's something else, namely, the general lack of distinction in virtually all of the tunes. Not that Alex hasn't had his moments., 'Pulp Fiction' being the greatest. And occassionally something surfaces which echoes the potential bite of drum'n'bass at it's best, but is this the stuff of legend? Hardly. It's not even the stuff of supercool cred before the big crossover.

The Reecy Listening experience is something your Mum wouldn't mind, and neither would most most supermarket shoppers. Fair enough, except Alex still has this credibility problem. He still believes himself to be part of a scene which, quite possibly, wants nothing to do with him. I wouldn't go so far as to say that his name is dirt, but I've met few people who take what he does seriously, or consider it even worthy of discussion. Frontline, No U Turn, Full Cycle/Dope Dragon, Emotif... there are hundreds of small and large indie labels producing artists and sounds which make poor Reece instantly redundant. The best thing he could do would be to drop his basic principles, do TOTP and come clean as a Pop Star. It's his pretention regarding jungle cred which annoys most people more than anything else. To use another remix title, this time for Tricky, Alex may be 'brand nu' to some, but for those that know he's not even 'retro', just irrelevant.

Robin Tomens, September 1996.