Garage music was born at the peak of the Disco era in the late 1970s at the legendary Paradise Garage discotheque. Where the very first superstar DJ, Larry Levan bridged the gap between Disco and House music from 1978-1987 (Larry Levan was also childhood friend’s with the Godfather of House music, Frankie Knuckles).
Located at an old parking garage in Manhattan, New York, the Paradise Garage was equipped with a Richard Long sound system that would become the yard stick of how nightclubs would measure a system. The original sound system at the Ministry of Sound, was a direct inspiration of the Paradise Garage, after one of co-founder’s of the Ministry Justin Berkmann lived in New York and wanted to replicate the Paradise Garage in London.
Larry Levan - Paradise Garage
The Ministry of Sound would book Larry Levan to play at the club, and make Tony Humphries another pioneer of Garage music a resident in 1993, after becoming famous for his residency at Zanzibar in New Jersey (which is where the ‘Jersey Sound’ started, known as US Garage in the UK) and his radio show on WRKS 98.7 Kiss-FM in New York.
In a pub opposite the Ministry of Sound is where UK Garage was born. The Elephant & Castle pub would host the sweat box rave Happy Days, that was created for ravers leaving the Ministry on a Sunday morning.
The Elephant & Castle Pub
But where Tony Humphries was playing full on vocal US House & Garage at the Ministry, the music being played at Happy Days was the flip side of these records, mainly the dub version’s to keep going from the night before.
This rawer end of the House & Garage spectrum would be the roots of UK Garage. DJs would speed these records up and the term ‘Speed Garage’ was coined at the Gass Club in Leicester Square by House music producer and DJ Todd Terry, while he was visiting the UK.
Before UK Garage would get its official title, it would be known as the ‘Sunday Scene’, and the Gass Club would be one of the venue’s that championed the sound and it would achieve legendary status on the scene.
UK Garage was known as the ‘Sunday Scene’ because, the early promotors of the scene were unable to book a club on Saturday night, until Sun City booked Adrenalin Village in Battersea, South London in 1996.
Karl "Tuff Enuff Brown - Sun City 1996
Around this time UK producers would start to make tunes that the ‘Sunday Scene’ DJs would fill their record boxes with and make it a UK sound. With clubs now booked on a Saturday and Sunday, and with home made tracks being produced the scene would explode.
UK Garage would first hit the singles chart in 1997 with “Speed Garage” anthem “Ripgroove” by Double 99. This song would sample the first “2-Step Garage” track “Never Gonna Let You Go” by Tina Moore, which would be a top 10 hit in the summer of 97.
1998 would be the year that UK Garage shifted more towards 2-Step song rather than the 4 to the floor “Speed Garage” tracks that were produced in the early days of the scene. 98 would also see UK Garage put the little fishing village of Ayia Napa on the a map as a major clubbing destination, and for many years Napa would rival the dance music mecca Ibiza.
Pure Silk - Ayia Napa
UK Garage would go intergalactic and sweep the nation and then globe, megastars like Jay Z, P Diddy and David Beckham would been seen parting at Twice as Nice in London. UK Garage would have its very own superstar fashion style and uniform so to speak. Moschino print shirts, Versace jeans and Gucci loafers would be all the rage. And the partygoers wearing these threads were also sipping on designer drinks too, Champagne or Yak (Congnac) was the tipple of choice for the UKG raver.
During its fast and furious rise the UKG sound would change many times with MC’s taking centre stage and influences from Drum & Bass would see UK Garage go dark and spawn another genre of music called Grime. Major record labels would also take notice of UK Garage and make it a top priority to a UKG remix featured on various high profile pop star’s releases.
But just as fast as UK Garage went intergalactic into space, it would come crashing back down to earth just as fast, due to violence in the clubs and bad press. UK Garage would be shut down by the police and forced back underground.
Spoony's Tour Of London's Lost Garage Venues
In a way UK Garage’s story is a bit like a real life gangster movie, starting off in the back streets of London and then going on to take over the world before being stop by the authorities. UK garage also has a very similar story to Disco where Garage music started, both scene’s started off as an underground movement before being taken over by the soulless mainstream and then were discarded like yesterday’s newspaper, much to the distaste of the scene’s founders.