In celebration of photographer and author Ewen Spencer's Doc X on the story of UK garage, “Brandy & Coke”, we chart the evolution of one of Britain's most notorious genres in 26 letters. Hit play on our Jamie Grind garage mix below to soundtrack proceedings, and pick up Ewen's terrific monograph on the style and sweat of early garage's heyday, UKG.
A IS FOR AYIA NAPA
You can try and take us to Ibiza but our hearts are stuck in Cyprus! The Mecca for sun and UK garage worshippers respectively, back in 1999 it was even the subject of early reality TV stylings thanks to Channel 4’s Ayia Napa Fantasy Island series (still available on VHS via Amazon, in case you’re wondering).
B IS FOR BECKHAM V BOWERS
Yes UK garage spawned a generation of British hope, production that mattered, inspired vocals that soared, real dance classics… But as with every genre, sub genre and his cousin twice removed, pop-a-cometh. While Truesteppers feat. Victoria Beckham & Dane Bowers’ ‘Out Of Your Mind’ wasn’t the worst, it’s like when Britney did dubstep. Done.
C IS FOR CHAMPAGNE
Sales figures reportedly rose 10,000% in the late nineties thanks to UK garage ravers penchant for the bubbly stuff. Okay, that stat's made up. But this shit wasn’t made for drinking; true UKG don’s splash the Dom Perignon on the floor and show the dancefloor what time it is.
D IS FOR DELIGHT FM
Remember when you had an FM radio and tried to tune into Heart but could only find an Essex boy doing shout outs to his “north London crew”? These were called pirate stations. Yes, now you remember. Back when genres had time to gestate and hearing the music you wanted involved fine tuning and just reward, the likes of Delight FM were the holy grail.
E IS FOR EZ
He was doing it then and he’s still doing it now. In fact interviewing EZ used to involve ringing some kind of premium number. I remember the phone bill (more than the fee from Blues & Soul, I kid thee not). With the kind of technical skills that put 99% of DJs to shame, lock into his weekly show on Kiss FM and be willing to bow down.
F IS FOR FOUR TO THE FLOOR
Otherwise known as the kind of UK garage Todd Edwards makes and plays, some might say four to the floor represents the sexier, matured, more US-inspired side of the equation. Also known as 4/4 or 4x4, there’s not a Range Rover in sight.
G IS FOR GEENEUS
One of Rinse FM’s founding fathers (and still at the helm today), it was the latter days of UKG that saw the seeds being sown for what was to become a whole new scene. Geeneus was also a producer for the Pay As U Go Cartel, and alongside DJ Target (now heard on 1Xtra) created ‘Champagne Dance’, a seminal record for the garage-come-grime generation.
H IS FOR HAS IT COME TO THIS?
While its cultural significance and impact may not have been fully expected or evident at the time, The Streets’ ‘Has It Come To This’ marked an era. Released in 2001, Mike Skinner demonstrated not just his own versatility but also that of the UKG riddim as a backdrop for real lyricism.
I IS FOR I DON'T SMOKE
There are tunes and there are tunes. Deekline’s made a few of both. Jokes. But ‘I Don’t Smoke’ gets a reload at most UK garage shindigs. Even though purists are probably shouting “... but this is breakbeat garage”. Tell someone who gives a shit
J IS FOR JESSIE WARE
Disclosure’s remix of Jessie Ware’s ‘Running’ was undoubtedly the best moment for UK garage in a hot minute. Or last decade. As Jessie Ware stood on the Ibizian sands pelting out the high notes, for four and a half minutes the world was alright again.
K IS FOR KELE LE ROC
Before the likes of Jessie Ware we had our staple UKG songstresses. Kele Le Roc, Shola Ama, Elizabeth Troy, Rose Windross… Anyway, back to K for Kele, she once performed classic ‘My Love’ on Top Of The Pops and can still be heard collaborating on new tracks.
L IS FOR LOCKED ON
Born In 1997, this London based record label catalogue boasts seminal tracks including Dem 2 'Destiny', Ruff Cut Bias 'Down', Artful Dodger's 'Moving Too Fast', 'Danny J Lewis 'Spend The Night' and The Streets game changer 'Has It Come To This?'. Look out for disco soul outfit Arkon Fly coming on the soon-to-be resurrected label.
M IS FOR MASTERS OF CEREMONY
We can play this two ways. In garage terms, the master of ceremony is of course the MC, or emcee if you prefer. But we also had Pied Piper & The Masters of Ceremonies (DT, Melody, Sharky P and Unknown). We’re still loving it, loving it, loving it even though this chart topper became the soundtrack to a sofa advert.
N IS FOR NICOLE'S GROOVE
‘Nicole’s Groove’ was released in the year 2000 on Relentless Records, a relatively new label at the time (now home to Bondax and Misha B, among others), by a producer called Phaze One aka Wiley. Regarded by the UKG fraternity as a seminal work, Wiley spanned garage before embracing his work as an MC with both Pay As U Go Cartel and Roll Deep.
O IS FOR ONE FINGER SKANK
Garage was always intended to be sexy music. Girls got into the clubs free so the men would follow. Fashion was important and nothing gets in the way of looking good. Dancing often relied on a little hip movement and the trusty one finger skank, allowing for handbag carrying, champagne holding and no sweat at all.
P IS FOR PURE GARAGE
One of the sturdiest brands in dance music full stop. Pure Garage, like its distant cousin Twice As Nice, is an institution. If you don’t own a Pure Garage compilation you haven’t lived. Born in 2000, Warner summoned EZ to mixing duties and now they can boast around two million compilation sales. Tidy.
Q IS FOR QUIPS
Of all people, it was Richard Blackwood that best summed up the real weakness of the UK garage MC. Trying to translate the sketch from his decade old Hackney Empire show is simply long, but if you can say “Mikeeeeeeeeeeeee” in a deep voice you have a chance of making it on the mic.
R IS FOR ROY DAVIS JR.
If you don’t know ‘Gabriel', featuring the haunting vocal talent of Peven Everett, then shame on you. Released on XL Recordings back in October 1997, this is a song to end wars (and DJ sets with). While Roy may be a house producer first and foremost, thanks for the memories dude.
S IS FOR SMOOVE
Ministry of Sounds regular Friday night outing, south London is responsible for many a UK garage baby. With more Moschino clad ravers per square metre outside of fashion week, it was VIP tables a go in Elephant and Castle. Having released compilations and toured the brand extensively, it’s time to bring it back say we!
T IS FOR TWO-STEP
Four to the floor’s dirty cousin, that’s two-step. Hey, even Justin Timberlake shouted out ‘two step’ on his debut album. Otherwise known as speed garage, if you’re looking for the perfect example check Tina Moore’s ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’. With plenty of 2-step inspiration back in effect, check work by Fantastic Mr Fox, Artful, MJ Cole and Disclosure for evidence.
U IS FOR UP MIDDLE FINGER
Lest we forget Oxide & Neutrino. Signed to East West Records (a now-defunct Warner subsidiary) they gave us chart smashes like ‘Bound 4 Da Reload.’ But when the UK garage committee tried to veto DJs playing these fired up post 2-step records, Neutrino rapped, “They wanna diss So Solid so… No, No No!” Yep, the only polite thing to do was release ‘Up Middle Finger’ which went on to be a top 10 smash. Fuck you committee.
V IS FOR VERSACE
If you’re a bloke without a Versace belt in a UK garage rave, you’d better have a good excuse. While at one time Prada trainers found themselves banned from London UK garage nights, Versace managed to escape the fashion police successfully.
W IS FOR WOOKIE
Wookie is nothing short of a legend. And he hasn’t stopped being one. While early classics include ‘Battle’ and ‘Down On Me’, last year saw the release Wookie & Exemen Reworks: The Anthology Part 1, a worthy addition to any UKG collection.
X IS FOR XAVIER
The featured vocalist on TJR’s ‘Just Get Better’, released back in 1996, we don’t know whether Xavier made another tune or not. At least this one was good enough to last a lifetime. We’re lucky her name begins in with an X n all or you’d be getting more XL Recordings facts shoved down your neck.
Y IS FOR Y TRIBE
Of course, opinion is like a shit UK garage MC, every click has one. But I’m putting it out there, Y Tribe’s ‘Enough Is Enough’, featuring gospel-like delivery from Elizabeth Troy is in the top 10 garage records of all time. In fact it’s so good it’s made my funeral song shortlist.
Z IS FOR ZINC
Ever ahead of the times, ‘138 Trek’ was a sign of the creative times, even reaching no.27 in the charts as we entered the new millennium. Converging garage and breaks, Zinc still continues over a decade later to demonstrate his ability to flit between dance genres with ease.
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