Since its beginnings over two decades ago, UK Garage (UKG) still has a powerful influence on music today. The impact cannot be underestimated as artists such as Burial, Dizzee Rascal, Ms. Dynamite, and The Streets to name a few emerged from the underground scene to enjoy substantial commercial success. In addition, groups like Bassline and Grime have emerged from the scene, either directly or indirectly influenced by this remarkable movement.
Although most people would point to the early 1990s as the starting point for UK Grunge, the roots go back to the late 1970s and across the Atlantic where a parking garage in New York City was turned into an LGBT club. It was here that DJ Larry Levan played a mixture of soulful music that became the origins of what is now UKG.
By the late 1980s, several compilations of Levan’s music and influences were released in the UK under the title of “The Garage Sound”. The name stuck and played well to its counterpart, the US Garage Sound which had a definite New Jersey feel in the vocals.
The emergence of the UK Garage sound truly began in the early 1990s when DJs Dreem Team and Tuff Jam began to play dub mixes of vocal tracks from the US, Italy, and even the Dutch which was augmented by a faster tempo perfect for the club scene. Its popularity grew quickly as the music spread across the clubs in London and around the UK.
At the time, it was called the “Sunday Scene” mostly because the major promoters who booked parties for Friday and Saturday nights were yet to be impressed by the music, so it was regulated to Sundays. However, it was during that time when more DJs and artists began taking up UKG and it started to spread quickly as the alternative that the mainstream did not want. That reputation along with the mixture of different influences started to gain real traction in 1994.
Although originated from the US, the UK Garage scene had developed its own set of influences that began to merge with the US version by around 1994. The music became bolder, tougher, and faster with an emphasis on the baseline that added power along with the beat. It’s possible that the US Garage influences might have taken over, except that the prices of the imports were quite high. So, producers like Richard Purser and Warren Clark began making their own records that exemplified the UK sound.
The result was a growing movement that started to snowball as new artists emerged. Early dubs such as Grant Nelson’s version of “Blues for You” by Logic started to gain traction with the public. As the US Garage scene was starting to fade, the UKG was only gaining influence thanks in large part to a change in the music itself.
The emphasis on the bass and drums started Speed Garage which is still creating sub-genres to this day. It was the development of Speed Garage that helped push the movement into the mainstream as it had great appeal and many artists began producing their own versions. In some ways, it was too much of a rush as the flood of new music threatened to stop the movement almost as soon as it started. Around that time, 2step renewed the interest in the more soulful side of UKG and it began to reach new heights.
The turn of the 21st century saw even more changes and additional hype as the UK Garage scene continued its journey towards mainstream acceptance. With compilations selling out, clubs filling with audiences yearning for more UKG, and FM stations starting to play the music in earnest, it was not long before the movement became a highly popular trend. This led to a split in the genre as dubstep emerged onto the scene. With the movement going in different directions, it added a resiliency while still adding to the speed of UKG’s entry into the mainstream music world.
Bands like Ms. Dynamite and The Streets, Artful Dodger, and Mis-Teeq started to breakthrough and reach new audiences. With established duos such as Tuff Jam splitting up, it made way for new producers such as D’n’D and Wideboys to establish themselves. There was a time when the traditional 4/4 beats were fading and more broken beats were becoming popular. It was here that Dubstep had real momentum on the scene, although the emergence of Bassline helped to add a more “pop” feel to the sounds.
By the middle of the decade, a newer, funkier sound was emerging from the clubs that spawned UKG and people like DJ Gregory, Dennis Ferrer, and Karizma were adding their influences into the music. Bassline was still prominent, but it was the emphasis on funk that was bringing people back to the clubs, especially women who were more enthralled with this new take on UKG. Bassline was still a powerful player, but the addition of funk slowed down the beats and made them more accessible.
By the late 2000s, UKG had evolved into two different areas, diverse and global. There is no longer a single sound that is identifiable as UK Garage. It seems that several different sounds are all taking precedence at once. There is new talent ranging from Flava D to Preditah to Swindle and more which are dominating the scene, although given the history of UK Garage, it will not be surprising to see new influencers taking over the market.
In addition, the spread of UK Garage around the world has led to even more influences, yet it seems that the sound has gone full circle as it comes back to its roots in the more soulful music that first started in New York back in the late 1970s. The only constant with UKG seems to be change which means that new genres and trends will be quickly replaced with others as new generations grow to appreciate what it offers to them and to the music world in general.