The League of Xtraordinary Junglists

The League of Xtraordinary Junglists

Ruffneck Ting reveal all from their latest LP Project              

In October 2016, Ruffneck Ting released a double vinyl LP sampler featuring 6 tracks AND a completely original superhero comic book in the bundle. In a world of digital everything it’s great to see some hard additions to any labels output, let alone a full comic, complete with superhero renditions of the label artists!

Ant Skant Christou went in deep with a visit to the Ruffneck Ting HQ to meet producers Dazee, Jinx, Vytol, K-Jah and graphics man Ste Wright to find out how the project came together.

 

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album digital final-2

Behind every door lies a story and behind one such door down an unassuming street in Birmingham’s King’s Heath I found an xtraordinary one. I ring the bell and get welcomed in by one of jungle’s leading ladies, DJ Dazee. We head down a hallway which is lined with framed vintage comic books into a room, plastered in memorabilia. An Iron Man calendar hangs on the wall alongside concept art for the room’s resident Jinx-Bot. Framed Star Wars stills take up another wall alongside psychedelic paintings and the desk at the back of the room has a small army of boxed action figures guarding over the computer that serves as the beating heart of Jinx’s production efforts. This is the Birmingham headquarters for Ruffneck Ting’s Xtraordinary League of Junglists.

JINX BOT copy

I take a seat alongside the four members in attendance; Mari (Dazee) and her core crew, Jon (Jinx), Kieran (K-Jah) and Rich (Vytol) and am later joined by artist Ste Wright. One cup of tea later and we start to delve into the matter at hand;

DAZEE XLJ LAUNCH

DJ Dazee at the LP launch party

What in the universe possessed them all to unleash a themed collaborative album with an accompanying comic book, mixtape and vinyl release?

Mari quickly reveals that the project originally started to take form around the end of 2015 as ‘The Ruffneck Ting 2015 Christmas Collaboration Album’. Rich dives in and explains that the idea came about at a Ruffneck Ting night “When we realised that we had so many tracks we couldn’t fit into a schedule to put out as EPs and singles!” Mari first gave herself two months to get it done, however she laughs and divulges “Two months, I thought to myself, I can do that! Because I had a lot of music, but as it got bigger I realised there was no way on Earth! So actually it’s been a 12 month process.”

The first character Jinx-bot was born shortly afterwards “Which comes from Ste’s artistic interpretation of me having my hips replaced!” chortles Jon who though laid back, has a good sense of humour and is quick to perk up with a deep laugh.

“This hip-replacement may have been a blessing in disguise”, he explains, as the recovery period gave him time to dedicate himself to producing music, with the end result meaning nearly half the album’s tracks feature him.

As the Jinx-bot idea was formed, the story bubbled into life through the press releases for the label which Mari and Kieran were doing “We always used to write these crazy press releases” Mari giggles “We got really carried away and it started off as little hints of story but we got more and more carried away until they had nothing to do with the tracks, it was just us writing these strange sci-fi stories!” It wasn’t long after this that it all fused together and the idea of a fully blown comic was born, although Ste with his sharp wit is quick to mention “Originally it was only going to be six pages wasn’t it! I just shudder to think if it’d had been 6 months longer.” At this Jon bursts out laughing again “We would have all lost our minds!”

HERTZES

As with all great projects it escalated. From these humble beginnings came all manner of strange characters, robotic baseball stars, mechanical dragon-bots and skittering spider droids. Kieran and Mari created many of the original ideas but it was Ste who brought these creations to life “First I’d listen to their [the artists] music, catch the jungle vibe and then work out the characters and backgrounds and what kind of person they are. A big part of it was making DC and Marvel style alter egos, so if one of the producers was particularly quiet or reserved their character would end up being someone mad and lairy, balshy.

Danny lo robot   ARIES ON PLANET acet 8

I took some inspiration from graphic novels and old sci-fi then started drawing characters, I did some humanoid ones, but I felt it started getting too serious, the comic is funny and Ruffneck has always been a bit tongue in cheek so I toned it back a bit” Mari elaborates more: “I’d put an email out to all the artists saying, basically what do you want your character to be like? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Then Ste came up with amazing imagery and back story. Some were a bit too X rated for the final cut though. Bassface Sacha was great, he said ‘I like Mexican food and want a bass cone for a head’ we translated that, so he’s got a bass cone face and a sombrero and a little chill fairy that follows him around, it’s brilliant! The original drawing for that came from another of our artists, Tom Camm, he’s done release art for us and we called him in to take pressure off Ste, he designed three characters. ”

XLJ CHARCTERS

A host of sci-fi classics had a big influence too, “There’s a lot of respect paid to the 5th Element, I’ve always loved that film.” She says, “And there are little throwaway lines in there. Hopefully people will catch them all.” Kieran, normally quiet and reserved, adds to this, “A lot of the characters are influenced by other cultural things, nods to Star Trek, characters that make homage to Dr Who, characters that pay respect to Star Wars. We’ve had a lot of inspiration.”

The vinyl release is the second significant part of the XLJ project and it’s something that serves as an answer to a problem the team see with music today “Children of the digital era have nothing to touch, nothing to see, they have an iPad full of beats or you know they’ve got memory sticks, but there’s no physical display of their musical wealth” Mari spreads her arms wide and nods to the stacks of vinyl racked up under Jon’s turntable, “Not like we used to have, as you can see. I think it’s something that’s come back around though, people now are buying vinyl who don’t even own a record player, people want to touch a physical object, so we’re quite happy with the fact that there’s three things with XLJ that fit that!” she goes on “I think the thing is, music is moving so fast, it’s hard to be memorable and so much good stuff is slipping though the net, I think stuff like this gives it more substance and meaning and hopefully means the tracks will hang round longer.”

So what’s it taken for this team to pull together and make this work? “Lots of joy, laughter, tears and pain!” Mari laughs, while Jon adds “It basically took over our whole lives really didn’t it?” Kieran and Rich both nod in agreement and Kieran speaks up again “Yeah there were points really for all of us, where you’d be on it 24/7 no rest.” This constant workload inevitably threw up challenges. For Kieran himself, it was the constant deadlines which caused the most trouble “Not even the music, that almost took care of itself. The mini-deadlines with the comic, listening to masters of vinyl and little things you don’t even think of until they’re there. You think, right we’ve done this one thing but now that means we have to do four or five more things to evaluate or check the first thing.” Rich, normally loud but not at all brash quietens for a moment and muses on this, “It’s tough because it’s not your day to day routine is it. It’s on the side of your day to day routine. So you’re doing everything else and then this on top.”

Ste who normally works strictly as an illustrator found the challenge lay in a different area “The script!” he shouts, “The script was massive! Then having to dissect bits from it that could be turned visual. He shakes his head “You can’t make the whole thing into a comic book or it would be like 120 pages, a full book. So I had to read through, find what would look good visually. Such as Haze and Wizwise finding the planet, that could have been 3, 4, 5 different panels, that’s what it’s about, shaving bits of the script so it’s still legible and fits as a story, but introducing characters then and there, on the page they first appear on. You have to be ruthlessly precise and a bit strict with what goes in.”

Comic Proofs

Mari on the other hand lost a lot of sleep over the process “I’ve just got my life back now, I had no summer whatsoever. I was doing longer than 12 hour days on the album, and it wasn’t even meant to go on over summer. I’m strict on the standard of mixdowns and stuff too so I was kind of sending stuff back or even turning up myself and breathing down peoples necks. Or getting bits of tunes sent to me so I could sort it out and send it back. And these are ones that I’m not even on!” She continues “Probably the most annoying thing was having to recut some of the plates for the vinyl as the masters weren’t right, it was an expensive mistake. Getting the artwork right was a big learning process as well, Ste was doing all the imagery but I was having to do the dialogue and adverts and intros and stuff I had to learn to be a graphic designer too, write the theme tune, sing the theme tune!”

She laughs again when I ask Jon what the toughest aspect was for him “Dealing with me!” she exclaims and he laughs too, “Yeah, dealing with meltdowns! And being the between man for everyone! He becomes a bit more serious and levels with me “Nah, it’s had stressful points, Mari’s been the one though, she’s worked her arse off you know and she’s the boss at the end of the day. But the stress of it all, there’s been so much going on between us and everyone’s had their own little things and we’ve all been imploding with stress. It’s been easy work but stressful, I mean we’re doing something we love doing at the end of the day.” Mari pipes up again “Yeah, Jon, has probably taken most of the meltdowns on but he’s really good at making me see reason and calming me down and bigging up what we do, he has a tonne of faith in Ruffneck Ting. Though, I wouldn’t have had so many meltdowns if I’d been here!” This is where the struggles of operating in different towns comes into play “On my own in Bristol it’s like the weight of it is on my shoulders. As soon as you chat to someone in a room about it then it’s completely different. If we all lived in the same town there’s be things that would be easier, but I’m not moving and neither are they!” At this, everyone bursts into laughter before she continues, “At the same time though there’s advantages because we channel the sound of both cities. The sound of Ruffneck Ting is a hybrid of Bristol and Birmingham, a special sound.”

K JAH VYTOL CROWD XLJ

K-Jah and Vytol at the LP launch Party

As we get nearer the end I ask if any one person was particularly integral to the project and despite Mari’s insistence that it was “Totally a joint effort”, the way everyone is soon to look to her as soon as the question leaves my lips makes the answer clear. Kieran vocalises the point “To be curated and directed by someone is important and for that, credit goes to Mari, it takes someone with the main idea and plans, someone with the main idea in their head who is able to delegate and ask people to do stuff, we start getting stuff done then.” He’s quick to add “But it takes a team to actually do stuff.” Jon adds to this “Yeah we’re a big team, no, we’re a big family and we all help each other with everything really.” Mari finishes up “There’s a lot more people involved than just us core four. We‘re a bit like a vortex, all these people get pulled into our gravity, but that gives us more mass and makes us stronger! Everyone has been really influential bringing good energy!”

Is there anything they would do different in future? “More time!” is the unanimous answer. “More realistic expectations” Mari reflects, “I can’t believe we thought we could do it in two months!” Kieran laughs, “Yeah it kept building, one week we had the comic and the vinyl and then ‘by the way we’re doing a CD and an event and can you get your brother to do a sci-fi intro.’ It’s not a problem but at the time it gets a bit much.” Despite this, they all beam with optimism for the next endeavour. “The characters are in place which really helps.” Rich says and Jon nods in agreement before adding “Yeah we’ve got this base, this foundation. We don’t need to redesign, it’s in place to keep it rolling now.” And they most certainly will be keeping rolling, as Mari promises “We have got another album planned but this time, we’re taking our time!”

Page 1 COMIC (front cover)

As it winds down we all pack up our stuff, I grab a copy of the comic for myself and then we head down to the Hare and Hounds for quick pint. They’ve accomplished something special and what’s remarkable is how humble they all are about it. They don’t see themselves as superstars, just people who love music, making music. Ste spoke earlier of the idea of alter egos and these guys seem to channel a Jekyll and Hyde approach. They see themselves as just Doctor Jekyll, going about what they do but in reality they make a Mr Hyde style impact in their guise as the Xtraordinary League of Junglists and you’ve most certainly not seen the last of them, in fact this is just the start of their adventures, expect more massive tunes, more crazy stories and much more Ruffneck Ting!

DJ Dazee, K-Jah and Ruffneck Ting have all been nominated for various categories in the 2016 We Love Jungle awards. Cast your votes HERE and join us on Feb 4th in Leeds for the awards party, an indoor jungle event of epic proportions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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