UK GARAGE ISN’T DEAD
By Tochi Imo (@tochichels)
Ever so often, a debate sparks across social media, namely the Twittersphere, about the extent to which a genre has died. “They don’t make it like the 90’s anymore” they’ll say on R&B, “we miss the old Usher” and so on, and so forth. These discussions often ignore the role of legacy and influence when considering music genres. Rather than focusing on R&B (because quite frankly it’s boring now and a conversation we’ve had way too many times) I’ve instead focused on UK Garage and the extent to which it still lives on in modern British music.
Blending themes of R&B with sounds of Jungle and House, UK Garage (UKG) provides a distinctive sound (if the phrase ‘INSIDE the place’ isn’t coming to mind, are you even a Garage fan?) that most British people can spot within the first 5 seconds of a track. Emerging in the early 1990’s, the genre took the UK music scene by storm, dominating clubs and radio until the early 2000’s. What a time to be alive. One of my earliest memories is going to my local fun fair, the ride controller asked if we want to go backwards, everyone screamed in elation and DJ Pied Piper’s Do You Really Like It plays - life was good. It probably didn’t happen QUITE like that, but nostalgia has a way of making everything look sunny.
There was nothing more powerful than a Garage duo. Artful Dodger gave us hits from Craig David’s Re-Rewind to Movin’ Too Fast, whilst DJ Luck and MC Neat provided Little Bit of Luck and Masterblaster 2000. As well as these, the women of garage also played a defining role in the genre. Alesha Dixon never failed with her verses, offering a Garage flavour to Misteeq’s songs which otherwise straddled pop and R&B. Booo! put Ms Dynamite on the map, all the girls wanted to be Lisa Maffia and Shola Ama’s Imagine remains in heavy rotation in my house.
One of the most prominent groups of UK Garage were of course, So Solid Crew. 21 Seconds remains one of the most iconic and timeless videos in British history and even outside of this hit, So Solid had a massive impact on the music scene. Within contemporary genres, the legacy of this crew remains potent, and we’ve continued to see their influence on artists in the UK contemporarily. The garage/hip hop collective of between 15 - 40 members, are the blueprint for some of the music crews we know today such as BBK, Ruff Squad and Roll Deep.
In Grime Godfather Wiley’s Eskiboy memoir, he speaks of the blend of UK based genres that inspired the creation of Grime and cites Garage amongst these - I agree. As Grime remains popular in the current music scene and is continuing to grow, the notion that Garage, its forefather, has died is - not to be hyperbolic but - preposterous.
As well as influencing the longevity that is Grime music, Garage also played a major role in materialising one of our favourite late 2000’s – 2010 sounds, UK Funky House. You can hear it in the sound, with the high-pitched vocalist on the chorus, instruments unconventional to British mainstream and 2-step beat, UK Funky house has characteristics consistent with Garage. Without UK Garage music, we wouldn’t have bangers such as Donaeo’s Party Hard, In the Morning by Egypt or the various skanks from migraine to tribal that light up our favourite memories. Garage is the mother or your favourite genre's favourite genre and your mother doesn’t cease to exist or die just because you’ve made a name for yourself.
We have also seen Garage samples make appearances in today’s UK Rap. This is evident in Krept and Konan’s Pour Me Another One which samples Sweet Female Attitude’s Flowers and Hardy Caprio’s Hollywood Takes 1, 2 and 3 which sample Daniel Beddingfield’s Gotta Get Thru This, T2’s Heartbreak and 3 of a Kind’s Babycakes.
Most recently, as well as influencing new genres, we have seen Garage songs in themselves revive. One of my favourite collaborations, Avelino, Eclectic and MC Neat’s What Do They Know (2016) blends old school and new school - reinventing a Garage sound for new audiences who may have sadly not known of MC Neat’s formidability. We have also seen this re-emergence in Jorja Smith and Preditah’s On My Mind, J Hus’ Plottin’ which peaked at #18 for Billboard, and AJ Tracey’s Ladbroke Grove which was hugely popular and even won the rapper the 2020 NME Award for British Song. As artists from various genres continue to pay homage to the genre, and DJ’s such as Conducta and Preditah continue mixing music that stays true to Garage, it is safe to say UKG is in fact living on.
“Musical genres never truly die. They transform, they build upon one another, they may fall into obscurity and disuse, but they never actually die.” – Unknown, Quora.
Genres do not die. They might hide, they may only appear in cameos, they might even sleep for prolonged amounts of time, but the role they play (and replay) in our hearts, our memories and in our contemporary music scene means they live on indefinitely, and UK Garage is no different.