UK garage (also known as UKG) is a genre of electronic music originating from England in the early 1990s. The genre usually features a distinctive 4/4 percussive rhythm with syncopated (shuffling) hi-hats, cymbals and snares, and in some styles, beat-skipping kick drums.
Garage tracks also commonly feature 'chopped up' and time-shifted or pitch-shifted vocal samples complementing the underlying rhythmic structure at a tempo usually around 130 BPM. UK garage was largely subsumed into other styles of music and production in the mid-2000s, including 2-step, dubstep, bassline and grime. The decline of UK garage during the mid-2000s saw the birth of UK funky, which is closely related.
'Garage' is considered a mangled term in dance music. The term derives from the Paradise Garage itself, but 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. Part of the reason for this confusion (aside from various journalistic misunderstandings and industry misappropriations) is that the range of music played at the garage was so broad. The music we now call 'garage' has evolved from only a small part of the club's wildly eclectic soundtrack.
It started as a humble Sunday morning after-party but quickly inspired a whole host of events, and kickstarted one of London’s most culturally important music scenes. Yet more than two decades later, Happy Days’ influence is rarely given much credit.
DJs started to speed up garage tracks to make them more suitable for the jungle audience in the UK. The media started to call this tempo-altered type of garage music "speed garage", 4x4 and 2-step's predecessor. DJs would usually play dub versions (arrangements without vocals) of garage tracks, because pitch-shifting vocals could sometimes render the music unrecognizable (although sped up and time-stretched vocals were an important part of the early jungle sound, and later played a key role in speed garage). The absence of vocals left space in the music for MCs, who started rhyming to the records.
The evolution of house music in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s led to the term, as previously coined by the Paradise Garage DJs, being applied to a new form of music also known speed garage. Its originator is widely recognised to be Todd Edwards, the American house and garage producer.
In the early nineties, Edwards began to start remixing more soulful house records and incorporating more time-shifts and vocal samples than normal house records, whilst still living in the US. However, it was not until DJ EZ, the North London DJ, acquired one of Edwards' tracks and played it at a faster tempo in a nightclub in Greenwich, that the music genre really took off.
With many pirate radio stations filling up the FM airwaves, the soaring popularity of UK garage saw 1999 take the genre into the mainstream, breaking into the music charts.
MJ Cole once stated, "London is a multicultural city... it's like a melting pot of young people, and that's reflected in the music of UK garage"
The one place that did support UKG was pirate radio. Girls FM and London Underground were two of the most well known pirates to jump on the new, British house sound. Jungle was huge on London pirate radio in the early ’90s, but even the most militant jungle pirates programmed chilled shows with house or rare groove. When a faster, more bass-led house sound came along, it simply fitted better than the more polished US vocal house.
By 1994 producers were making tracks pre-programmed to fit the Sunday scene and pirate radio. More so than anyone else, Grant Nelson’s releases on Nice ‘N’ Ripe perfected the aesthetic: cut up vocals, weighty sub bass, snappy, heavily swung snares and busy, flittering high hats. Soon DJs and producers outside the Sunday scene began to take notice of UK Garage. Matt Jam hooked up with Karl Brown, a former engineer with hardcore group Double Trouble, setting in stone a synergy between bumping US house and bass-ridden UK rave as Tuff Jam.
Nelson is heralded as the Godfather of UK Garage due to his numerous club hits on his Nice 'n' Ripe label in the early 90's. It was his sound along with a few others that gave birth to the then known as 'Sunday Scene' which went on to become UK Garage.
UKG frequently takes influence from other styles, such as Contemporary R&B and Hip Hop, as well as many forms of Electronic music, from Deep House to Drum and Bass to IDM. Its mainstream popularity peaked around the turn of the millennium. Due to the range of styles UK garage incorporates into its sound, it has birthed a number of subgenres including Future Garage, 2-Step and UK Bass. UK garage was also highly influential in the development of Dubstep and Grime.
"Flowers" is the debut single by British UK garage duo Sweet Female Attitude, released in April 2000. The song peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart It went on to be the UK's 37th biggest-selling single of 2000.
What the UK and the Garage scene has always done extremely well is after the huge commercial success of a genre, to go back all the way underground and go back to the drawing board. This period with a few weird names (darkstep, nu swing, etc.) is what set the table for the next 10 years…
In 2000, with the help of pioneers like El-B, Zed Bias, Oris Jay and Horsepower Productions they started building a foundation for a rougher sound influenced by dub while still keeping those distinct UKG drums. It was dark, jazzy, stripped-down but all with the 2 step swing to it. It very rarely have vocals on them and instead of being led by string or keyboard melodies, it was led by the bassline.