What is UK Garage

UK Underground Garage

is a blanket term that comprises some of the most original forms of underground dance music to ever come out of the UK. It began as a fusion of Jungle/DrumnBass and Vocal House born on the pirate radio airwaves and in clubs in England that were home to the London underground dance music scene. Similar to Jungle in it's early days, UKG borrows influences from nearly the entire spectrum of music but has particularly strong roots in RnB, Hip-Hop, and Dancehall Reggae.

4x4 Roots:

UK Garage originally stemmed from the early Jungle and rave scenes in London around 1996. As Jungle got darker and more minimal and started to turn into DrumnBass, it lost many of the melodic and vocal elements that had been a part of it's appeal to more mainstream audiences in the UK. Many club-and-rave-goers sought something less aggressive and more friendly. Often times, the "other room" at Jungle Clubs and Jungle Raves was home to US Garage and Vocal House. New Jersey native, Todd Edwards is commonly referred to as the Godfather of UK Garage and his visionary style of vocal collage is reflected in different forms throughout many of the various styles of UKG. As legend goes, it was primarily the women who began to move to the Garage rooms and where the women go, the guys are sure to follow. As the DJs in these side rooms and in the off-peak-hours sets on primarily Jungle based pirate radio stations gained followers, many of them wanted to write their own tracks and add their own sounds to the music they played. The UK Garage sound began to emerge.

What is Speed Garage:

As Garage began to gain popularity and Jungle continued in a darker path toward DrumnBass, there were many who missed the Jungle feel; Ragga (an early term for Dancehall Reggae) style vocals and sounds, "dred bass", and shuffley, syncopated beats. By many accounts, Garage DJ's on pirate radio would receive phone calls with requests like "Ok, this Garage stuff is alright but I want to hear a bassline!" The original fusion of 4x4 Garage beats with heavy Jungle bass became known as Speed Garage and experienced an enthusiastic but brief surge of popularity and commercial "success" around 1997-1998. Artists including 187 Lockdown, Armand Van Helden, Reach & Spin, and Tuff Jams gave Speed Garage it's distinct sound. Unfortunately, the attention that the music drew from the press and influx of money from major record labels trying to turn a quick profit off what they saw as a fad, began to dilute the quality of the music being released. At the close of this period, the core artists returned the music to it's soulful roots and shunned the term "Speed Garage".

This was incidentally, really the first time that UK based Garage music expanded beyond the boundaries of the England and reached US and Canadian ears. Some Jungle DJs and North American auduences were intrigued by the combination of House/Garage, and Jungle styles and followed it while it was still happening.

Much of the innovation starting with Speed Garage and later in 2-Step came in part from the closed nature of the Jungle scene. Many producers started out writing Jungle but found themselves denied access to a scene that was obsessed with exclusivity and even went so far as to form a committee to determine who could and couldn't be a part of it. Garage on the other hand was wide open and basically became the public outlet for new ideas in music and a pathway for British youth interested in music and sound production to make something of themselves.

What is 2-Step:

From there, the sound mutated again and spawned 2-Step. 2-Step combined the funk of a simple breakbeat with the lift and energy of the trademark open high-hat cymbal on the up-beat, that you would hear in House or 4x4 Garage. It also generally employed heavy use of swing, often in unexpected directions, to create a staccato, off-kilter feel, in some ways akin to early Jungle beats. some of the most visible 2-Step DJ's and producers were MJ Cole, The Wideboys, Ed Case, The Artful Dodger, The Dreem Teem, Bump & Flex, Wookie, Dem 2, DJ Luck & MC Neat, Groove Chronicles, Pay As U Go, Sunship, Sticky... This list could go on for pages, plus hundreds of white-label bootlegs of Hip-Hop, RnB, and Reggae songs made it through London record shops and the emerging online record stores of the day. The 2-Step era was arguably the most active period of UK Garage ever. This style also caught the ears of the British mainstream and press worldwide. The summer of 2000 was widely regarded as "The summer of 2-Step" which started a period when artists like Craig David, Ms. Dynamite, Daniel Beddingfield, and later, The Streets, went from small independent releases to mainstream chart success in the UK - even occasionally getting recognition in the US and other parts of the world. London itself was awash with the music. Every time a car passed on the street with the windows down and the system up, every time you walked by the door of a high street boutique, and even as you scanned the radio dial through pirate and official stations alike, 2-Step Garage was skittering and booming it's way out of the speakers. Again, while this brought success to individual artists, it took it's toll on the Garage scene itself as the sheer volume of material released by people just in it to make a buck (or quid, rather) began to out-weigh the truly original music being made by those who were passionate about it.

This was the second time that Garage made an impact worldwide and in a much bigger way than with Speed Garage. 2-Step was different enough from House and other forms of dance music to be recognizable as it's own distinct sound. Some saw it as a mutant form of Hip-Hop, while it was deemed "too commercial" by others for it's heavy borrowing from American RnB and pop music. There was a whole generation of DJ's, many of whom came from DrumnBass, some from House, Breaks or other backgrounds, all looking for something a little different to distinguish themselves from the crowds of DJs at the time. This was also probably the peak of dance music and the Rave scene in the United States so there were a lot of ears looking for new sounds. Crews and weekly Garage Nights sprung up in many areas of the US and Canada, from the Wiggle Crew in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Flirt Crew in Toronto, to SoulChampion in Boston, a series of various events in New York City, promoted by Reid Speed, Dinesh and DB, to Dallas, Texas where "Groovology" holds the title of longest running UKG weekly in the US, possibly the world, at 4 years straight! Seattle had a "Soire", Minneapolis had the Stepper's Alliance Crew, Baltimore, the 2-Charming Crew. There were regular events in San Francisco and Los Angeles in California and in Miami, Florida. Some areas had only one or a few DJs but DJs who were adamant about making an impact. Chicago's DJ Casper is often credited as the first to really bring the sound to much of the US. There were countless others, some who were just in it to gain some fame off a term they heard a lot in magazines at the time, some who have moved on to other sounds, and some who have persevered and still play the music today.

What is Breakstep / Breakbeat Garage:

The scene and music went back underground and re-invented themselves again several times, spawning other variations including Breakstep or Breakbeat Garage a combination of what was going on with 2-Step UK Garage at the time with heavier breakbeats and an emphasis on the bassline. Breakstep was sort of the default post-2-Step sound as the producers tried to distance themselves from the commercialization of the music so that people would take them seriously again. It was also a byproduct of some DrumnBass producers both seeing the success that 2-Step had had and simultaneously being frustrated with the state of the DrumnBass scene at the time and therefore deciding to try their hand at something a bit different. Artists like Hype and Zinc, known primarily for their Hardstep and Jump Up style Jungle/Drumnbass tunes, started several labels that were responsible for quite a lot of Breakstep releases. It lasted for a couple years and in some ways helped lead into Grime.

What is Dubstep:

Dubstep was another of these re-workings of the 2-Step sound, this time combining it with Dub Reggae, a minimalist sensibility, and a love of huge, deep, bass sounds and basslines. Some of the early artists included Horsepower Productions, El-B, Es-G, and Zed Bias (although his music in particular crosses many boundaries and encompasses aspects of breakstep as well) among others. More recently, Dubstep has gone in a more techy sort of direction and gotten even more minimal. The sounds of Benga & Skream, Loefah, Dubchild, Kode 9, and Digital Mystikz characterize this new variation of the Dubstep sound.

What is Grime:

The sonic mutation that came straight from the streets and Council Estates (British for "Projects") of London is Grime. It started only a few years ago as a low-fi, street level sound characterized by heavy dirty, sounds, often with an electro or techno influence but also combining elements of "Crunk" or "Dirty South" American Hip-Hop and Dancehall Reggae. Grime is generally MC driven and it's artists including Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, The Roll Deep Crew, Lethal Bizzle, Kano, Shystie, Bruza, and Lady Sovereign (and at times seemingly every kid on any street corner in London who can get their hands on a microphone), developed their own, very British style of MCing over the top. Many of the earliest instrumental tracks, when it was generally referred to as 8-Bar (as most tracks were simply an 8 bar loop repeated over and over), were written by kids in their teens on PlayStation game consoles. Today however, there is a whole generation of producers who have developed their own unique styles and identities within Grime: DaVinche, D'Explicit, Terror Danger, DJ Wonder, Jon E Cash, as well as many of the MCs producing beats for themselves. Grime or particular styles within it are also referred to by several other named including Eski or Eskibeat, 8-Bar, and Sublow.

Right Now:

For the most part, the various styles of UK Garage have returned to the underground where loyal followers keep them alive. Speed Garage, which had been dormant since around 1998 and was basically seen as a bad word, has now made a full come-back under the new name Bassline House and spread from the northern cities of the UK back into London. Dubstep has also grown into a worldwide phenomenon spreading from Asia, all over Europe, Russia, to the US and Canada. Interestingly enough in what could be seen as history repeating itself, as Garage has "gone dark" as Dubstep much like the transition from Jungle to DrumnBass in the mid 90's, those who are looking for something more "dance floor" have gone back to the basics yet again. In seemingly the same atmophere that spawned Speed Garage, a new sound is emerging dubbed simply "UK Funky House". In some ways, Funky is actually outside the realm of the UK Garage umbrella but in others, it shares most of the same basic influences; basically a combination of soulful house music infused with reggae, this time soca rhythms melded into the traditional 4x4 House beat. As always, keep an ear to the tracks to hear the next train coming. Our mission with SoulChampion is to follow these twists and turns and bring them to you...