“Amidst all the music and entertainment, the series is documenting this cycle of negativity, where it starts, and how we can avoid it in the future”: An interview Chas Appeti and Junior Okoli, creators of Jungle
Amazon Prime’s Jungle will likely tear to shreds any preconceived notions of the musical genre. Set against a futuristic, neon-glazed, cyberpunk reimagining of UK inner city life, the series follows the overlapping narratives of several characters, who inhabit the criminal and musical underground. It traces the familiar rhythm and flow of traditional musicals, with conventional dialogue interspersed with musical numbers that propel the narrative and provide an insight into the state of mind of its central characters. Far from the fields of Salzburg and its spritely melodic ditties, however, the musical pieces of Jungle take on the contemporary form of UK drill, with gritty wordplay unfurling over 808s.
Delivering much of the wordplay are real players in the drill and UK hip hop scene, with names such as RA, M24, J Fado, IAMDDB, Tinie Tempah and Big Narstie all involved at various points throughout the series, making Jungle more than just another Amazon Prime show – a significant event in the scene. Created by the founders of Nothing Lost, Chas Appeti and Junior Okoli, this is a strikingly bold project with a daringly unique sensibility. The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking with the two minds behind the project about their recent upward trajectory, and the influences that informed the unique style of the series.
What can audiences expect from this series?
Chas Appeti: It’s something new, something refreshing – something that audiences who usually watch this genre probably haven’t seen before. It’s a really compelling story with dynamic visuals and great sound. It’s just something different and fresh.
As a creative duo, you were shortlisted in the Saatchi and Saatchi New Creators class of 2019. How have your lives changed as a result of the opportunities afforded by this exposure?
Junior Okoli: Well, I’ll speak for myself. I think it’s just appreciation. We’ve always had the same quality of work, to be honest with you, and the same kind of vision. It’s more that when you put it out there for the world to see, and people start to voice their appreciation, it’s invigorating; it galvanises you. I think at one point, a few years ago, Chas and myself were like, “We’re all in this now”. This was way before the attention and the series was developed. I think what spurred it was an award show. They were talking about DOP, and I said to Chas, “You should have won that”. He wasn’t even up for a mention. I thought it was an injustice, essentially, because I admired his work from way before. That’s why we aligned creatively – it made us think, “Let’s go for it and jump in with both feet”. So all of this attention and the upward trajectory as a result is, without sounding arrogant, kind of expected. Frankly, I think it comes from a lack of fear about acceptance and a lack of feeling of having to adhere to social norms – a lack of a sheep mentality. We haven’t got that. We just want to put good stuff out there, whether people take to it or not. Whatever else comes as a result is just an added bonus. Essentially, I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not as if we’re flying around in private jets or we’ve all of a sudden found confidence in our work. We’ve always had that, it’s just opened more doors for people to see that work.
The product of that this time is, as Chas says, something very different. A drill musical is not something you see often – and, combined with the cyberpunk aesthetic, the series is something very unique. How did the idea develop between the two of you?
CA: Well, Junior wrote the story, which is amazing. It’s an amazing piece of work and it’s something I’m really excited for people to watch because as soon as you say “drill” and you look at this particular genre, you automatically expect a certain storyline and feel, but this is really going to open people’s eyes to a different aspect of the genre. Junior, do you want to talk a little about how you came about writing it?
JO: Jungle formulated in my mind over a number of years. It was traveling a lot and venturing into every hood that I came across, whether that be France, Columbia – throughout the whole world – because I used to do road management for artists. What you notice is that there’s a commonality between every hood, and that is, first and foremost, hope for a better life, lack of opportunity, and drive. Amongst other things, these are the things that were really prominent. Music, too; music is universal and knows no language constraints. So we wanted to tell this story, which is universal and that the youth, especially, can relate to. This is the reason why we chose drill, as drill is very much the sound of the youth today. We began to formulate the idea about how everyone is essentially connected: it’s a big world, and yet, at the same time, it’s a small world. It is said that we’re all connected by six degrees of separation, and that’s something that has been profound to explore. We wanted to develop that idea within Jungle – how every action, no matter how small, has a consequence, and it might affect you indirectly. In every situation you get to determine the person you want to be, regardless of the situation. So Jungle is a very interesting story. It’s hard for us not to ruin it by giving away too much, but we really tried to play with timelines. We didn’t want it to be typical – we wanted it to be atypical, in fact; we didn’t care about what was the popular trend at the time. We were just thinking that this story resonates with us and the people that we know and with our reality. What it can also do, in turn, is shine a light on a people and a culture in a way that gives people who have no understanding of it more insight as to why people are the way that they are. What makes a person aggressive or angry? Why is that kid walking down the street wearing a grimace on his face and appearing angry at the world? Likewise, what causes someone to lead a certain kind of life? It’s going to be interesting to see what people make of the story.
The futurism of the series’s visual style is noticeable. What do you think that this adds to a story that is so grounded and present?
Chas: Well, we’re influenced by quite a lot of cinema, as we’re big filmheads, so it was an influence from some of the films that we really love. But, also, the timeline element whereby, when you watch it, you’re not going to be able to put your finger on when it’s actually set; you’ve got elements that are quite old, like the cars, some of the interior furniture, even some of the styling is quite retro, but, on the flip side, there’s these projected holograms and the cars are fitted with futuristic tech as well. So it’s a mishmash of old and new, which gave us a flexibility and makes it feel timeless.
Which films in particular influenced the visual style?
Several… films like Blade Runner, Looper. It’s not just films – we’re quite into art and fashion, so it’s pieces of art that we like and colour combinations. We’re into anything visual, and even the music we listen to feeds into it. It’s an amalgamation of everything. One of the main things, when we were doing the visuals, was that we wanted to be able to stop any frame and put it on a wall. That was a big mantra that we stuck to.
The series features many familiar faces from the world of UK drill and hiphop. How did you get them all on board?
Junior: Bribery! Do you know what – this is a massive event for the culture and the industry. Jungle is essentially a triumph, and when we were explaining it to the artists, they understood it. Jungle was never meant to be a glorification of a certain lifestyle. It’s essentially a documentary, in that it’s documenting a negativity that’s within the culture in the hope that we can stop it. Amidst all the music and entertainment, the series is documenting this cycle of negativity, where it starts, and how we can avoid it in the future. So a lot of the artists wanted to be involved in something so profound, and selling it to them wasn’t so much of a hard ask.
Jungle is released on Amazon Prime on 30th September 2022.
Watch the trailer for Jungle here: