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UK Garage: a full service history

Wideboys: responsible for such garage classics as ‘Sambuca’ and, er.... (Photo:garagejams.co.uk)

Wideboys: responsible for such garage classics as ‘Sambuca’ and, er.... (Photo:garagejams.co.uk)

At the turn of the millennium, I was thirteen years old. I was, in all probability, still in mourning following the Spice Girls’ drawn out demise. Embarrassingly preoccupied by flavourless and forgettable indie-by-numbers crap, I spent much of my time holed up in my bedroom listening to Travis and Coldplay. And then – somewhere between the redundant sounds of ‘Wannabe’ and the dull/aptly titled ‘Driftwood’ – there was the UK garage thing.

I would imagine I first encountered UK garage at my local nappy night. That is, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, a club night solely for teenagers who fall short of the legal drinking age (in other words, an open invitation to doll yourself up, dance awkwardly on a sticky dancefloor for the night, smoke cigarettes away from the prying/concerned eyes of your parents, and of course, furiously neck some cheap cider on the sly). I quickly became acquainted with that infamous Artful Dodger and Craig David collaboration (“Re-rewind, and when the crowd says bo, selecta”), the Oxide & Neutrino track made memorable by its inclusion of the Casualty theme tune, the ingrained efforts of the DJ Pied Piper and Masters of Ceremonies (“Do you really like it? Is it, is it wicked? We’re lovin’ it, lovin’ it, lovin’ it…”) and that infectious Wideboys tune named after a liqueur I was legally restricted from tasting (‘Sambuca’, in case you were wondering). And I won’t lie – for me personally, pivotal it was not. But it was easy to swallow, easy to digest, and even when chart success waned as the noughties progressed, it proved more indispensable than any casual listener could have predicted.

“‘Garage’ is one of the most mangled terms in dance music. It has meant so many different things to so many different people that it is virtually meaningless.”

Eight years on and we have something of a revival on our hands. Though forced back underground in 2002 to both pave the way for grime and tend to the wounds afflicted by the negative press surrounding key acts such as So Solid Crew, UK garage returned to the mainstream in late 2007, with chart success savoured by new and old “skool” producers alike. For many, it would still seem the easiest option to disregard UK garage as a genre tailor-made to fit the preferences and specifications of boyracers and their subwoofers. But there is far more to garage than first meets the eye (or the ear, as the case may be). And to appreciate that, you need to set any preconceptions you may have inadvertently developed aside.

Now close your eyes and imagine UK garage as a huge umbrella. A colossal and impressive umbrella, if you will, sheltering the heads of a multitude of sub-genres. Because while the term may well have been coined two decades ago by DJs hailing from the Paradise Garage nightclub in New York, it has since evolved tremendously – and will continue to evolve. “‘Garage’ is one of the most mangled terms in dance music,” Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster explained in Last Night A DJ Saved My Life. “It has meant so many different things to so many different people that unless you’re talking about a specific time and place, it is virtually meaningless.” And it’s true. Today, the term ‘UK garage’ encompasses and accepts responsibility for several different species of the genre – from speed garage, 4×4, 2-step and dubstep, to grime and bassline.

In all honesty I became a contemptuous young adult and disassociated myself from UK garage. Strongly, in fact; I rendered it repetitive and single-faceted drivel, lucky to have tasted even five minutes of embarrassing fame. Some years later I not only realised there was more to life than Nirvana, but garage returned to the fore and presented itself as a genre of music as integral as any other. With the aid of acts such as Dizzee Rascal, Kano and Wiley, grime – once a mere off-shoot – has established itself as a genre in its own right. And in the nightclubs and charts today is bassline, a not-so-subtle nod to the speed garage of the nineties, led by a string of artists such as DJ Q, Platnum, T2 and Delinquent. But what about the music I danced to on that sticky dancefloor as a lumpish adolescent? As a distinctive notch on the belt of the UK garage movement, it’s as relevant now as it ever was.

If you’re wondering what the future might bring, it is without doubt that this is a genre which will continue to evolve and re-invent itself. And that can only mean one thing – that UK garage should be rewound and enjoyed for years to come.

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