UKG is the distinct sound that dominated London’s dance-floors two decades ago. But, having made a mainstream reemergence recently, what is garage? Where is it now? And are we really lovin’ it lovin’ it lovin’ it?
Instantly recognisable by its shuffling hi-hats, beat-skipping bass kicks, and chopped vocal samples, UK garage epitomises British nightlife in the ’90’s. With jungle taking ownership of every rave’s Room One, garage’s 130bpm was more soulful and so attracted dancers (especially women) to Room Two where garage DJs had their home. Pioneered by DJ EZ, garage frequently drew from all aspects of urban music such as R&B, reggae, hip-hop and obviously jungle. Garage is typically upbeat and perfect for party vibes. This essence of garage is evident in the genre’s reciprocal relationship with urban music. Whilst being influenced by it, garage has also formed new incarnations like 2step, dubstep, speed garage, UK funky and grime.
It’s impact on the scene has been huge. MCs Dizzee Rascal, Ms Dynamite and Wiley all started with garage before forming the currently prevailing genre grime. Similarly, the likes of Mike Skinner and The Streets can not be excluded from discussions of UK garage and its spread from London warehouses to worldwide radios. Since the four-to-the-floor rhythm of garage dropped to 2step, which bore grime and dubstep, many modern producers are now looking backwards through their music history and finding their roots lie in UKG. This bond is clear to see through Craig David’s recent return to the scene. Popular grime artist Big Narstie is both a big fan of the garage veteran’s music, and his help in spawning grime through garage. Hence why the two joined forces to create their top ten collaboration ‘When the Bassline Drops’ for David’s number one album ‘Following My Intuition’ this year.
Significantly, classic garage traces are apparent in the sound of our underground music with artists like SBTRKT, Disclosure, Mosca, Preditah, James Blake and even Drake reviving the genre in their recent releases. These artists perform a pastiche of UKG; sampling and remixing classic tunes or producing new ones with elements reminiscent of traditional garage. However, Kurupt FM, of BBC’s hit mockumentary People Just Do Nothing, portray a parody of the genre and its associated lifestyle. As a style of music that relied on formats like pirate radio, the show and its artists/characters ironically depict a caricature of the struggling scene that is now, (perhaps even thanks to the show and their 1Xtra radio takeover), bubbling like champagne.
Our sometimes-secret love for ‘dutty riddims’ and syncopated percussion is logical. But as drum & bass and house hold power over most UK events, how is garage squeezing through? London club mogal James Beneson gave his answer: “The 2-step garage sound is a purist antidote to much of the wobble-orientated dubstep music that’s out there now”. He also explained how “A new breed of producers, from labels like Hessle, Swamp81 and Numbers, have looked back to these dubstep origins for inspiration. Consequently, they’ve shown that there’s always a place for feel-good garage hype: tracks like Mosca’s ‘Bax’ are living proof of the power of UKG.” With new branches like future garage gaining huge fanbases and mainstream dance putting the garage back in the ears of listeners, (whether they know it or not), it is clear that the genre is vast.
However, it seems that UK garage might have gone. Not that the genre has disappeared, never to be heard again, but that now it is an international garage. A garage with enough room for everyone to gunfinger the air in Moschino shirts calling for that “Reeeewiiiiinnnddd!”
Mosca – ‘Bax’
The Streets – ‘Same Old Thing’
So Solid Crew – ’21 Seconds’
Craig David – Re-Rewind (Ft. Artful Dodger)
DJ Luck & MC Neat – ‘A Little Bit Of Luck’
Written by: James Wijesnghe