MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH THE JUNGLE Brothers is rather embarrassing. However, there's no better way to show how they have, in their own weird way, brought underground dance music to the masses. I was 15 years old, living quite unhappily in Southern California, desperately and mind-numbingly bored. Oddly enough, my saving grace came in the form of televangelist Robert Schuller, whose massive, gaudy Crystal Cathedral towered above my small apartment, a giant glass growth on an otherwise nondescript Orange County suburb. It was a gargantuan monument to human gullibility, emanating sickly hymns and draining the wallets of thousands of fat, lonely faith-seekers every Sunday.

But on Friday nights, it was a white-bread Paradise Garage, teeming with clean-cut Christian youth. In the interest of preserving order and spreading the Word, Schuller allowed his massive glass Taj Mahal to be converted into a passable simulacrum of nightclub culture. The club catered to saved youth aged 13 to 18, providing pizza and Cokes as well as the hottest dance sounds in Orange. I would wander in on the occasional Friday night, and when nobody was witnessing me I would watch the DJ closely, listening intently to the sanitized R&B booming from what was then the largest sound system I'd ever seen.

It was there that I first heard "I'll House You," the Jungle Brothers cut that brought the rough and tumble house sounds of Todd Terry to an audience more accustomed to slow jams and New Jack Swing. Within the context of late 1980s American dance music, "I'll House You" was a high-energy jolt to the system. By then, house was already an established tradition of the underground, but the Brothers bridged the gap, bringing house to the hiphop nation, and by extension the suburbs and Christian nightclubs of America. I'm blushing as I write this, but hearing "I'll House You" at a bland, laughably unhip Christian dance party was my first exposure to any form of house music. I'd encounter the real deal years later in New York, but at the time I was blown away by this deep, throbbing excuse for music. I was saved.

Now the Jungle Brothers are up to the same old tricks, this time with the rougher and readier genre of drum and bass. They're touring the club/rave circuit extensively, MC-ing along with top American drum and bass dons like Dieselboy, and their recent material takes a uniquely hiphop stance on the genre, making solid party jams from what is often incomprehensible double-time beat science.

So that's why the Jungle Brothers are so damn important. Although their material isn't exactly a breath of fresh air for the underground, they take incredible risks to bring relatively progressive sounds to an audience that's usually unconcerned about production values. And if this strategy can reach an unhappy teenager stuck in white-bread Christian America, then I'd call it a roaring success.

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