Exploring the Origins of UK Garage

Delve into the early days of UK Garage and learn about the pioneers who shaped the genre. Uncover the roots of the iconic 2-step beats and garage sound that revolutionized the UK music scene.

1/1/20255 min read

We will start with the Acid House raves of the late 80’s, built upon by legendary clubs such as Hacienda who fostered an underground club music movement that eventually splintered into mainstream House, Hardcore, Jungle and Drum & Bass. House itself then took on various forms in the UK from the steady commercial 120bpm to the faster, German techno influenced Trance. At this same time, Chicago House was THE dance movement from across the pond and UK importers of this sound started pitching up these tracks for the clubs and after parties at places like The Elephant and Castle, with the bassier, non vocal or “Dub” versions taking preference as pitchy vocals then weren’t an issue. As the popularity of the music played at these after parties grew, this led to UK producers meeting the demand by blending the percussion of US Garage with unique basslines and a sampling style of choppy, staccato vocals. This led to the birth of UK Garage and nobody would have imagined at the time just how culture defining this music genre would become.

Pirate radio stations fanned the flames with the high hats of their sound being heard blaring out of the blacked-out windows of every Fiesta RS Turbo across London and surrounding counties.

I remember lively club nights like Peach at Camden Palace which played the most widely popular electronic music of the time, Trance, and even there they set up a Garage Room (The Black and White room) situated at the top of the club. It was there I got my first fill of Steve Gurley playing his remix of Lenny Fontana’s Spirit of the Sun, spinning on that black and yellow label of Public Demand with that distinct hollow organ smacking over a charged 2 step beat and I knew this was here to stay.

2 Step versions of 4x4 tracks started to filter in to UKG releases and then became the prevailing beat of choice for many of the most popular tunes from ’97 onwards.

Rinse FM, Deja Vu, Upfront and Passion were just some of the killer UK Garage stations repping the scene across North and South London with many setting up club nights of their own and come 1999/2000 every club and bar in the country had ravers calling for the latest UK Garage tunes to be played and it became so popular that it flirted with the Top 40 national music charts, here's a list of some of the most successful tracks:

1. Double 99 - "Ripgroove" (1997) - This track reached #14 in the UK charts in 1997 and was one of the first UK garage tracks to achieve mainstream success.

2. Artful Dodger feat. Craig David - "Re-Rewind" (1999) - This track was a huge hit in the UK, reaching #2 in the charts in 1999. It was one of the first UK garage tracks to achieve mainstream success and helped to popularize the genre.

3. Sweet Female Attitude - "Flowers" (2000) - This track was a massive hit in the UK, reaching #2 in the charts in 2000. It was one of the first UK garage tracks to be embraced by a mainstream audience.

4. DJ Luck & MC Neat - "A Little Bit of Luck" (2000) - This track reached #9 in the UK charts in 2000 and was one of the most popular UK garage tracks of the time.

5. So Solid Crew - "21 Seconds" (2001) - This track was a massive hit in the UK, reaching #1 in the charts in 2001. It was a landmark moment for UK garage, as it was one of the first tracks from the genre to top the charts.

UKG became so popular even outside of the UK with Aiya Napa and parts of Ibiza becoming the overseas homes of UK Garage with multi month summer club events packed to the rafters with holiday makers purely there for the music. Artful Dodger’s - Moving Too Fast, Deekline’s - I Don’t Smoke The Reefer and Ed Case’s – Something In Your Eyes all became mainstays also and are regulars at the Old School Garage events of today (check out the UKG Brunch events) but after 2001/2002, UK Garage started to get an unwanted reputation. There was no one night or group responsible, but a few UK Garage nights became venues for local groups to hang where the music may not have been the main purpose for being there and as violence increased, the Police and local authorities made permissions for UK Garage nights much harder to obtain, and sadly the rules are still just as strict on venues to this day. The scene took a big hit, with UKG groups and gang culture being linked all over the press and the seemingly unstoppable UK Garage juggernaut was ground to a slow crawl. But every door closing leaves way for another to open and from here, Grime was born.

For many this was the end of UKG. Many producers slowed or stopped producing as demand waned and the scene went back to the underground with only some hardcore devotees left to carry the mantle.

UK Garage may have been seen as ‘finished’ leading into the mid 2000’s but there were still several producers laying out their own take such as Duncan Powell or those evolving their sound such as legendary producer MJ Cole who is still making as beautiful tracks now as he ever did. But a quick delve into this era will result in a plethora of stunning UK Garage tracks that were released from the mid 2000’s through to today that may have gone unnoticed to many UKG lovers. In my opinion, the last few years have produced some of the best New UK Garage (NUKG) sounds that I’ve heard in two decades or more, with Matt Jam Lamont, Para and Todd Edwards still going strong along with the new breed of Oppidan, Higgo and Hans Glader there is a feeling among many that this scene never went away and is actually now thriving rather than just surviving. I for one love it as much now as I did then and you can hear the latest releases each and every Friday from 3pm on Pure FM London (search Ultra G Pure FM for my Youtube Channel) and you might be pleasantly surprised.

I hope you enjoyed the little trip down memory lane if you lived over that period or even if you didn’t but now know a bit more about the influences and people and I would like to thank all of those artists, DJ’s and producers who have devoted their time to the scene, both back then and now, there are way too many to mention but they know who they are.

Ultra G

The life of UK Garage is more than 25 years old and it is one of the most treasured genre's to emerge from the dance music scene. But how was it born, what are its roots and how did it influence future music generations?
We enlisted Ultra G, a UK Garage DJ and previous producer since the mid 90's to give us his thoughts