The UK Garage Years: 10 Classic Songs from a Golden Age

The UK Garage Years: 10 Classic Songs from a Golden Age

There was a time in the mid to late 1990s when the word “urban” was still wet behind the ears and David Guetta was still just another obscure French house dude. In those days, Britain was rocking to the UKG sound. The genealogy of UK Garage should be well known, but I’m gonna give you an overview before introducing 10 classic songs that defined the era.

In 1993-1994, Jungle had re-introduced RnB, Hip Hop and Ragga heads to electronic music. But by 1995, it had all gone a bit dark and aggressive (as would happen with Garage). At around the same time, more and more heads started frequenting clubs and bars playing house music and gradually a distinctive UK sound emerged. While the earlier songs still stuck to the basic 4/4 “four to the floor”, they introduced more vocals and melodic elements. There was an annoying but thankfully short-lived period when big basslines took over, before 2 Step emerged.

Instead of the normal 4 to the floor, producers skipped the 2nd and 4th beats to usher in the 2 Step sound. This is the sound that would explode onto the national scene and make stars out of people like Craig David in 1998 to about 2000. Then, as we know, the mainstream got bored of UKG and on the grassroots level, the ‘yout ‘dem pioneered what would become Grime.

Here are 10 songs that I think nicely sum up the UK Garage years. The good news is that UK Garage never really went away and has remained popular on the radio waves in London. And in the last few years, a revival has kicked in with new tracks bringing back those golden years. Enjoy!

1. Smoking Beats – Dreams
Such a simple track but so powerful. A perfect example of 4/4 UKG.



2. CJ Bolland – Sugar is Sweeter [aka Sugar Daddy Yo!) – Armand Van Helden mix
Guaranteed floor filler to this day. Probably the first UK Garage track to cross over in to the RnB clubs and get away with it. Armand was hot property after this one. See also his remixes of Nuyorican Soul – Runaway and Tori Amos Professional Widow.



3. Danny J Lewis – Spend the Night (H-Man mix)
There are at least 3 mixes of this song that I could have chosen. I opted for this one because it’s a good example of the transition from 4/4 to 2 Step. The live bass gives it a disco kinda feel too.



4. Goldie – Believe (MJ Cole Mix)
MJ Cole’s productions were the classier side of UKG. This mix is classic MJ, with the horn stabs, bumpy bass line and switches from 2 Step to 4/4… and back.



5. Roy Davis Jr Ft Peven Everett – Gabriel
This was produced by US producer Roy Davis Junior and featured singer Peven Everett. The chilled out soundscape and uplifting, spiritual lyrics make this an absolute classic. Never fails to get the crowd moving:



6. Ramsey and Fen – Lovebug
This might be track that really got 2 Step going. A little known fact about this song is that MJ Cole was the engineer for it.



7. Brandy & Monica –Boy is Mine (Garage mix)
For some reason, Brandy’s voice seemed to suit garage remixes. The bass lick was also used for “I Wanna Know” by Restless Natives (aka Y-Tribe). Wish I could include that here also.



8. Sound of One – As I Am (Todd Edwards Mix)
The fact that this guy is called “Todd the God” by UKG aficionados says it all really. Had to get one from him in there.



9. Wookie – Scrappy
There was no other producer like Wookie, though many tried. His remix of Sia’s Little Man and his various remixes all displayed his militant drum patterns and bass addiction.



10. Zinc – 138 Trek
UKG always maintained a darker, edgier side which would eventually blossom into Grime. This is probably the archetypal example of this.



I’m ashamed about all the songs I’ve had to leave out, so please also check out this Youtube Playlist for more:
http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL70084DEAB0A1398E

The Rise and Fall of So Solid: A Cautionary Tale


So Solid Nostalgia!

I’m feeling all nostalgic for the So Solid crew (pictured right). I’m thinking about the kind of things they might have gone on to achieve if their rise had not been stopped so soon.

So Solid emerged at the tail end of UK Garage’s commercial boom in the late 1990s. Up until then, MCs were not really recording artists. Instead, they hyped-up crowds in the clubs and rhymed over tracks on pirate radio stations. But So Solid and others ushered in a new era in which MCs took centre stage as artists in their own right.

On one hand, this was a positive development. MCs are able to express themselves a lot more comprehensively than singers and the new tracks provided a window into the things that black youth in London had on their minds. Unfortunately – but not surprisingly – these MCs mainly wanted to talk about sex, money and guns. The attitude they put forward was unashamedly materialistic, nihilistic and individualistic.

When they were up
This new era was led by the So Solid Crew along with others like Oxide and Neutrino, More Fire Crew and the Heartless Cru. So Solid led the way and in 2001, they achieved a series of chart hits from their debut album They Don’t Know. Their pinnacle was the massive chart-topper 21 Seconds with its superb video.

When they were down
But the bigger their profile became the more trouble they seemed to get into. The mainstream media fell over themselves to tell us about the latest brawl or stabbing or shooting that had occurred at a So Solid gig. At the same time, violence began to occur more and more frequently at UK Garage nights. Clubs began to disassociate themselves from Garage due to the violence.

Within months, So Solid went from chart topping superstars to public enemy number one, with even Government ministers lining up to blame them for the ills of urban Britain. So Solid were driven away from the limelight by the negative publicity and their sophomore album released in 2003 disappeared without much interest.

An alternative ending
Had So Solid been able to flourish and progress, they would have learned valuable lessons about the industry. They could then have passed these on to a younger generation. In fact, they had youngsters in their camp called So Solid Kids who were not actual members but were learning the ropes.

So Solid would inevitably have branched out into other commercial areas in order to generate new revenue streams. Imagine a large group of young black men and women becoming well-versed in business and entreprenuership and passing on that know-how to youngsters!

As they matured, So Solid might also have got more involved with their local community in constructive ways. For example, they could have supported anti-gun and knife crime initiatives and mentoring schemes.

Conscious lyrics
Over time, the group may have also grown up a bit lyrically and their music could have started to offer a more conscious worldview. In fact, last year So Solid’s Swiss released a track called Bad Boys (video below) which dealt with police harassment. Imagine if they had put out this kind of material during their heyday?

Lessons to learn
What can we do to prevent other youngsters falling into the So Solid trap? This question was answered by So Solid songstress Lisa Maffia in an interview last year:

“We had no guidance, no mentor,” says Maffia, “No one told us, ‘It’s probably not a good idea to stay on the estate where you grew up with all that money and success.’”

Our job as a community is to learn from the experience of So Solid and build relationships with up and coming artists to ensure that they are better prepared to handle fame and fortune if it comes their way.