First Feature | Is UKG Going Full Circle?
Updated: Feb 27, 2019
Going full circle describes a trend that leads to, in this instance, a musical style back to its original level of popularity. By no means an uncommon occurrence in the music scene, it occurs over an extended period of time, can be repeated and is often influenced by fashion and political trends both positive and negative.
In recent years, Techno completed a full loop and currently leads the way in being the most popular dance music style, both in sales figures and in the clubs. You’ll also do well to find a record label without some form of Electro output at present. It too has re-gained popularity, is receiving more press and is attracting an audience perhaps completely new to the sound.
A similar wave has also emerged for our genre in question, UK Garage. 2018 saw that instantly recognisable 2-step sound surprise us more and more in the dance. Last year also saw old records get re-issued and Discogs prices spike off the back of a big name unearthing an old school gem at a festival. What seems to separate this sound from those before it though, is its effect on the dance-floor. Yes, we all love a thumping 4/4 and yes, the 808 snare associated with Electro is heavenly. However, nothing beats a goose-bump induced wave of energy produced by a skippy beat and 2-step flow that the same former Rockport wearing, collar-up, wet gel (or mousse for the ladies), adolescent, will have experienced upon its rise in the ‘90s.
It appears we’re experiencing what the earlier House, Techno and Electro generations have before us: the re-emergence of a sound which for many, formed the foundation for ones 15-20 year love affair with electronic music and clubbing.
For our first article we attempt to pinpoint the reasons for the recent growth and share with you our favourite tracks, artists and platforms past and present.
Like us, if you weren't old enough to party at the early Sunday scene raves, the initial introduction to the genre would likely have come in the form of Heartless crew or Luck & Neat doing the rounds in neighbouring cities. If you were underaged still, maybe you had to rely on your girlfriend at the time to charm the "promoter" to get you in (think of it that what you will). Either way, there's no doubting that for most, these early clubbing experiences were the ultimate introduction to electronic music, played on a decent system, to a willing crowd, that today appear to be the catalyst for ones nostalgic tendencies.
Fast forward to now and political change has since seen seminal clubs shut down and we’ve been restricted to very few garage-only residencies - we won't get into the effect of mobile phones on crowd participation. Whilst this could quite easily be portrayed as a negative, here at Earful of Wax we argue that without it, there would be less room for the growth in the scene and renewed excitement in the clubs. After all, more DJ’s digging deep into the vinyl archives, surprising us mid-set, can only be healthy. Add to this, an influx of garage influenced productions that easily cross-over into the House & Techno realms we're more used to hearing and we’re being spoilt. Like it or not, it's this that creates the desire to dig for and produce new music, maintaining that unique feeling we get from this particular style, whilst reducing the risk of saturation in the market. A winning formula for DJ, producer and dancer perhaps?
Five Cross-Genre Garage Tracks of 2018
VIOLET x BLEID - Abyss | Badness EP | NAIVE | March 2018
DJ OK - Moments in Code | Private Messages EP | Hundert Records | May 2018
Asquith - The Conditioning Track (NYC Mix) | ASQ001 | Sept 2018
Deactivating Hal - Christian Jay | NSR004 | NorthSouth Records | November 2018
Calibre - Break That | Break That EP | The Nothing Special | Dec 2018
It’s important to note that UK Garage never disappeared. Despite falling to popular culture in the mid-noughties the underground sound remained and evolved. Without this we wouldn't have seen the crossover into Grime & Dubstep and with that, dub-plate culture and labels like DMZ, Deep Medi and Swamp81. At the end of the day, good music is timeless, once the mainstream storm fades away, the sun shines on quality. When quality is more often produced by the individuals fully immersed in the scene, master's of their craft, it's no surprise that the OG purveyors rise again. The term "Oldskool Garage" has always sounded present, right?
It's these patterns, along with the constant crossover between core club genres and sub-genres, that create little pockets of opportunity for creativity. Opportunity, being the key word, naturally leads to new crews, labels, club nights and radio stations: All key contributors to healthy underground community and all currently one of the few consistent processes in the ever evolving electronic music domain.
Back to the UKG stuff: Perhaps history is repeating itself and the popularity of other genres is giving rise to the re-birth of a garage sound. This time on purpose. What once evolved from pitching up US house tracks in the early '90s, is now brewing from ones love for the style and desire to play that rare bin find or fresh promo that will stand them above the rest. Whilst this isn't an uncommon occurrence (we've all witnessed what influence jungle and breaks have had on club music over the years), right now, it's leading to experimentation from the new-school, re-emergence of the old-school and a clear rise in physical releases.
Five From the Archives
DJ DELLER - ROMANTIC CALL 2001 | Year: 2001 & Re-issued on DR Banana in 2018
Strictly Dubz - Realise | Jeremy Sylvester Records | Year: 2009
Sunship - Cheque One-Two (Original Rocker) | Filter | Year: 2000
RU Ready - EL-B | El-Breaks VOL 2 | El-Breaks | Year: 2001
Red - Artwork | Big Apple Records | Year: 2002
Arguably the biggest contribution to the ongoing growth of garage comes from the successful record labels, shops and digital platforms championing the sound. Dr Banana and DnR Vinyl are two well-established independents, but it's their approach to promoting quality that keeps the underground bubbling, without the need for tacky videos or an ultra-creative social media presence.
Dr Banana are a Bristol-born clothing brand and vinyl-only label who's DRBARGAIN series specialises in remastering archived UKG from old DAT tapes, pressing them to limited run white labels. It follows the original and ongoing DRB series which also caters for new talent by showcasing new productions on one side, making for a quality discography.
DnR Vinyl, based in Croydon, is one of the the last remaining physical record stores dedicated to UK Garage music. Stocking everything from £1 bargains to dubplates, it too sell's new material, exclusive to store, as well your go-to VA's and more expensive rare finds from the archives.
As for the digital platforms, Youtube channels GarageVybz98 and UKGARAGECLASSICS are the go-to for vinyl lovers of garage and garage house, often premiering new releases and sharing downloadable mixes with their subscribers. Originally formed as outlets to showcase the founders' record collections, both channels have amassed almost 11k followers since their birth in 2011 and 2010 respectively.
Instagram, more recently, has also seen a rise in activity and is creeping up the ladder as a music sharing medium, with significant contributions coming from UKG.Vibesy this side of Christmas. Of no relation to GV98 and two guest mixes down, their rate of output has you wondering just how big their collection is, shelling out multiple clips based on a particular day or paying homage to a favourite record label.
Three different outlets, three different methods. All with the purpose of sharing largely vinyl-only releases, old and new. A combination that not only results in ultra desirable hardware - some might argue this contributes to inflation on Discogs - but prevents it being eaten alive by the track ID world (more likely the cause) and ending up rotting away in ones digital archive (at little benefit to the producer, label or distributor).
It’s going to be interesting to see how the sound develops through 2019 - thankfully, the major labels aren't as dominant as they once were. For now, just enjoy! The scene is thriving and for as long as this continues, that warping, skippy, broken, 2-step rhythm we all love will remain as energy enriched as it did when you first stepped foot into the club.
Five Live or Forthcoming in 2019
Instinct 05 - Burnski | INSTINCT | January 2019
EPR 001 | VA | Equal People Records | 18/02/19
The Garage One - VA | Hokkaido Dance Club | 22/02/19
Coopers Dubz EP - Jack Michael/Harry Wills | Orbital London | 22/02/19
New Destinations EP - Midge Thompson | Butter Side Up Music | March 2019