Jungle, “The Shore,” featuring Andrei Otraskin on guitar. “Musical Ring,” Leningrad TV, 1989
Jungle was formed in 1983 in Leningrad Rock Club’s new wave milieu, continuing a local tradition of giving groups names that had to with animals and domestication. Jungle, known as Джунгли (Dzhungli) in Russia, was an exception among Aquarium, Zoo (aka Zoopark) and other prominent underground groups in Leningrad in another respect: its music was purely instrumental and its musicians cited European ”avant-progressive” Rock In Opposition musicians and American proponents of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics as their influences instead of The Velvet Underground or British new wave groups. More canonical names they mentioned were King Crimson and Oregon, which both can be heard in Jungle’s early music – Robert Fripp in its dark angularity, and Oregon in its beautiful melodicism, though contorted by a youthful punk urgency and recklessness.
The punk urgency and recklessness of the Soviet 1980s new wave groups can mostly be heard in the live recordings of the time. Studio recordings, especially in those rare cases when they were done in professional studios, tended to be sterile and timid, perhaps as a consequence of a striving for a polished, ”professional” sound, inexperience of sound engineers with this kind of music, lack of producers or audience feedback, or all these combined.
Audience feedback and excitement around the rare rock concerts was tangible. Since the 1950’s the state institutions had variously tried to ban, suppress or domesticate rock music, deemed ”anti-Soviet” in its content as well as animalistic and base by the guardians of the near-Victorian morality of the time. In March 1985 the situation was still very much in check despite the fact the Leningrad Rock Club, the centre of the nation’s rock activity, was able to hold its third annual festival in a 600-seat concert hall just a few hundred meters off the city’s main street Nevsky Prospekt. The Leningrad Rock Club was a rarity in the whole country: a rock musicians’ organisation run by musicians themselves together with officials of the club’s concert hall. It is still a moot point to what extent the KGB had been involved in the foundation of the club in 1981, how much its constant monitoring influenced the music and how much the musicians could guess about its presence. Whatever the answers to these questions are, practically nothing in the Soviet Union could be organised without the watchful eye of the secret police, and the point was in ignoring it, testing limits or sometimes winning micro power struggles.
While these struggles were palpable in and around the lyrics of other Leningrad groups like Aquarium, Zoopark, Televizor or Kino, they also extended to titles of Jungle’s compositions, such as ”Conformism” or ”The War of All Against All”, and their interviews in which they spoke of their ”fight against conformism”. Another trait shared by the early lineups of most of these groups was the presence of both virtuosos and non-musicians who could barely play their instruments in the conventional sense, but who brought grit, avantgarde ideas, or at least a whiff of anarchy into the proceedings.
Jungle went through endless lineup changes during its entire existence from late 1983 until early 1991, with only two constant members: Andrei Otraskin, the guitarist and composer of the group, and bass player Igor Tikhomirov. A major turning point for the group occured in late 1987, when Otraskin was baptized an Orthodox Christian and ”denounced Jungle’s earlier output as demonic,” as he wrote us now in correspondence concerning the release of ”Live in Leningrad”. Tikhomirov left Jungle in late 1990 after having played simultaneously in Kino, arguably the most popular Russian rock band ever, and joined later the equally popular DDT. In the summer of 1991 Otraskin emigrated to the USA, where he formed the duo Guitar Monks with Timothy Young and released a CD called ”Songs For Oblivion” in 2000.
In 2007, the Moscow label Geometry released the double CD ”Spring In Shanghai/Six Coachmen From Casablanca”, which collects all of Jungle’s studio recordings, including the LP ”Spring In Shanghai” released by the Soviet label Melodiya in 1989. “Live in Leningrad” (usually known as “Live at Leningrad Rock Club Festival 1985”) as well as several other live recordings have circulated in Russia as bootleg cassettes, CD-R’s and recently as mp3’s. So far there is virtually no information about Jungle in English on the internet, but for Russian readers the Wikipedia article about the group will give more pointers.
source: http://www.nbresearchdigest.com/leningrad/. NB. There are several free (and out of this world) Jungle tracks available for listening (and purchase) at this link!
Guitar Monks (Andrei Otraskin & Timothy Young), “Tulips and Palominos,”
October 10, 2002, Seattle
Jungle, “Spring in Shanghai” and “Requiem.”
Winter Stadium and Leningrad Rock Club, Leningrad, 1988