The unique subgenre of electronic music that is UK Garage has a rather impressive family tree: from dubstep to grime, future garage to UK funky, bassline to 2-step, UKG has had a massive impact on the underground dance music scenes on these shores and beyond. From its humble beginnings on pirate radio and London raves, to dominating the charts in the late 90s and early 2000s, the unmistakable sound of garage has been ever-present over the last twenty years. This selection of tracks ranging from the old school to the new showcase a broad variety of sounds and styles from the genre.
Zed Bias – Neighbourhood
Manchester’s very own UK Garage legend released this banger back in 1999. Complete with ridiculously catchy hooks, shuffling beats and an innovative call and response interaction between the vocalists, ‘Neighbourhood’ is irresistibly brilliant and to this day remains one of the genres most loved tracks.
The Streets – Has It Come to This?
The Streets changed the game back in 2002 with Original Pirate Material, one of the first UKG albums which worked excellently as a complete record whilst boasting killer singles to fill the clubs and the airwaves. This lead single from the debut gave everyone their first taste of Mike Skinner, a rapper and producer who mixed grittily urbane poetry with the garage rhythms.
MJ Cole – Sincere
‘Sincere’ just oozes with positivity. Its laid back and spacey vibe offers a take on UKG suitable for both post-club chill-outs and the dancefloor.
Mosca – Bax
Mosca’s ‘Bax’ is a new school speed garage banger, often heard mixed into dubstep and grime sets thanks to its DJ friendly crossover of danceable rhythms and wonky sub-bass. Proving once again the power of the UK Garage single, ‘Bax’ is the B-Side to the equally brilliant ‘Done Me Wrong’.
Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX – NY is Killing Me
It would be impossible to compile a list about UKG without mentioned Jamie XX, a figure who takes snippets of every sub-genre of garage and gives his own forward thinking spin on the sound. Part remix album, part collaboration, his reworking of Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here saw Jamie stepping out from the shadows of The XX into newer musical territories, mixing future garage and UK bass with the poetic soul of Scott-Heron. The track ‘NY is Killing Me’ features dubstep build-ups and pulsating sub-bass and is one of the “heaviest” tracks on We’re New Here, especially heard when stacked up against the shimmering deep house numbers such as ‘I’ll Take Care Of U’.
DJ Luck & MC Neat – With A Little Bit of Luck
This classic climbed to the top ten of the UK singles chart back in 1999, the first in a string of hits for the duo.
James Blake – CMYK
Often mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Jamie XX, James Blake is perhaps most well-known for his mellow take on UK Garage known as “post-dubstep”. Before creating acclaimed albums in this style (such as Overgrown and his self-titled debut), he released several EPs of rather different character, owing to the classic sounds of UKG and newer producers such as Pariah and Joy Orbison. Taken from his excellent sophomore extended play, ‘CMYK’ features layers of reworked vocals and percussion, amounting to a dizzying yet danceable effect.
DJ Zinc – 138 Trek
DJ Zinc is one of the most highly regarded figures in drum n bass, so what’s he doing in a UKG list? It’s simple really: you’re just as likely to hear this in a jungle/drum n bass set as you are a garage mix as it’s one of the greatest crossovers heard in electronic dance music, remaining one of breakcore’s most cherished singles.
Musical Mob – Pulse X
Musical Mob’s ‘Pulse X’ is an example of how UK Garage led to the emergence of grime. Grime materialised when British MCs started rapping over garage beats, often at raves and on pirate radio stations. Grittier and aggressive instrumental tracks such as ‘Pulse X’ and Wiley’s ‘Eskimo’ were favoured, thus creating a new musical movement which has dominated the UK underground for the past 15 years.
Packed to the brim with first-rate singles, it would be impossible to cover all of the hits and classics of UK garage. It’s brought about countless dancefloor ready bangers, whilst the likes of the critically acclaimed James Blake and Burial offer appeal to home listeners. With present day artists such as Jamie XX, SBTKRT and Disclosure bringing the sound to a younger audience, and the escapades of garage DJs appearing on national TV in the BAFTA winning mockumentary People Just Do Nothing, the sound and cultural influence of UK Garage isn’t going away anytime soon.