A Night at The Jungle

Review by Soumya Ghosh

I found myself with a few friends at the Funky Jungle late one Friday night, arriving an hour and a half after the advertised start time as dictated by Providence custom. The Jungle is so incongruous to its surroundings, at least internally, as to feel entirely unreal, and despite having gone before I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t really going until I was already standing on the front porch, guarded by friendly punks in leather jackets.   

The Funky Jungle is a pillar of Providence’s underground music scene. It’s an artist colony of sorts, with its basement serving as a venue. It has existed for perhaps three or four years, which is not that long so far as humans go but is on the order of a respectable middle age in scene years. It squats in the midst of a maze of identical college apartments near the campus of Providence College, blending in externally but harboring sonic subcultures in its depths. The decrepit rooms are heavily graffitied with contributions from every resident that has ever come through. “FUK U MOM & DAD” a basement rafter declares. A Cheshire Cat drawn at the entrance to the stairwell grins manically. “We’re all mad here…” it says.

That night, the frenetic sounds of Ratstab, a Providence band which describes its genre as “CHAOS NOISE TORMENT” and its artistic interests as “bring back the Bubonic Plague,” reverberated through the bare front room and the squalid kitchen. We followed it down into the basement, where we promptly ran into a wall of people’s backs. The boundary of the stage in a stageless venue is determined by social contract: the locus of points where the energy of the crowd and the energy of the band push against each other equally. Ratstab’s frontman had massively expanded the agreed-upon boundaries by running around and moshing violently into the audience until they backed up. He danced and gesticulated spastically in the tiny space, lit only by a whimsical incandescent constellation of Christmas lights threaded through the gas and water pipes protruding from the low ceiling, and he still had enough breath to screech into the microphone like a black metal singer while the rest of the band churned out a heavier, more rhythmically complex version of Discharge’s revolutionary street punk sound. If Slayer made the economically nonsensical decision to pivot and become a punk band, this is what it might sound like. We all made pathetic attempts at coherent head-banging in the face of the rhythm section’s unhinged pace, which sounded like a rusted nightmare locomotive roaring along at full speed with parts flying off and clanging into the walls.

Ratstab wrapped up, and everyone stumbled up out of the dingy basement to the back yard to collect themselves before the next round.

The yard is a small incursion of the Jungle’s innards into the normalcy of the world beyond. There were people sitting on a sagging pachyderm couch, covered in Sharpied slogans like the walls of the house. There was a skeletal old treadmill next to it, on which people took turns running to the cheers of onlookers. Everyone else condensed into groups under a haze of cigarette smoke.

We came back to the thundering stoner doom of Set, a band that looked like they’d just gotten back from a photoshoot for Terrorizer. Much of the stage area was reclaimed by the audience, but we were wholly unprepared for the sheer gut-punching quality of the music these guys made. Their sound was the misshapen transitional species between old-school heavy metal and thrash metal, with lyrics about the usual topics (Satan, death, the occult) delivered in shouts that veered into deathlike growls. They did their musical forebears proud, code-switching between the furious chugging pace of Metallica and the tectonic bluesy stomp of Sabbath and Electric Wizard - multiple times within the same song, to infectious effect. One groove would sink its claws into your navel and slide up to your ribcage, giving you time to get nice and comfortable, and then tug you with bone-cracking force into a totally different rhythm which was, without exception, even more head-bangable than the one before it. I don’t know what it is about good metal that just works, that evokes this paradoxical euphoric vigorous rage in even otherwise sedate listeners, but Set’s music contains entire mountain ranges of that quintessence. The crowd went completely insane, throwing themselves into each new section like cultists whose tentacled deity had come at last.

After two sets of strenuous physical and auditory activity, I needed a break, so we stepped out for some food. The walk to the nearby PC Mart felt like a scene from a movie about college: Hundreds of drunk students thronged on porches and balconies and occasionally rooftops, EDM thudded isotropically from all directions, and cop cars cruised slowly down the street, lazily pointing spotlights into kids’ faces and ordering them to disperse through bullhorns. It was surreal coming back with our food to find the Funky Jungle sitting there in the middle of this madness, with nothing to indicate that it too was in party mode - albeit of a totally different kind.

We heard Kids Having Kids seeping through the floorboards as we stood in the disgusting kitchen, complete with a microwave that seemed to have been repurposed as a terrarium for mold, and inhaled our PC Mart plunder (Hot Fries for Liam, sea salt and vinegar Lays for Kat, a Slim Jim for me because I reasoned that the protein would keep me full longer). Set’s frontman Dave hung out with us, looking like a latter day Odin sipping the blood of his enemies (warm tap water) from a chalice (Pyrex bowl) to soothe his aching vocal chords after the bloodcurdling screams of battle. We talked to a wide-eyed bespectacled resident of the Jungle named Jon, who described the circle of life there: Musicians come and live at the house, they use the basement as a practice and performance space, they bring in outside friends to play every once in a while, and when they leave others promptly take their place. It’s sort of a revolving door, like the lobbying system or the military-industrial complex, but more useful.

We did go back down to the basement when Feedback Psychosis came on. They’re one of Providence’s biggest underground punk bands, playing what they call “fastcore” with blastbeat drumming and vocals that sound like a manic street preacher being forced into a straitjacket. Their singer, Paul, gave off a dad-like air, with reasonable glasses, corporate hair, clothes that fit, and if not an absence of tattoos then at least the impression of not having tattoos. And then they started playing and he was totally transformed. His eyes strained right out of their sockets and he leapt around on the stage and struck athletic poses to channel something at the triple point between a scream, shout, and screech through his body and into the microphone. Their drummer played with such incredible precision and speed that he made the guy from Whiplash look like a cute little kid playing with his parents’ pots and pans. The only way to react to this was to mosh and hit things. People ran around and bounced off each other with Paul at the center, flaying everyone with his voice. There was one huge guy standing in front of us (who later turned out to be a Lit Arts grad student at Brown) whose bulk passively reflected moshers back into the fray, which deeply impressed me.

Feedback Psychosis’s music burns both the musicians and the audience out quickly, and their set hardly lasted twenty minutes, ending the night with an exclamation mark and leaving everyone dripping sweat. Paul, who had now gone back to looking like a normal nice guy but on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion, estimated that it was the longest set they’d ever played. Everyone was too tired to do anything else, so we dragged ourselves up the stairs, out the door, and into an Uber, already scrolling through the Jungle’s upcoming show calendar to figure out how soon we could come back.