The History of UK Garage
The Elephant & Castle pub in South London is acknowledged as being the birthplace of UK Garage in the early 90s. A simple venue that would be the first residence to the legendary party Happy Days. An intimate sweatbox rave that was created for clubbers that were leaving the Ministry of Sound across the road on a Sunday morning. One of the DJ's at Happy Days was none other than Matt "Jam" Lamont, one of the pioneer's of UK Garage.
Just a mile or so down the road from The Elephant & Castle, another pub called The Frog & Nightgown on the Old Kent Road was also host to one of the original Sunday parties called Mum's The Word. Happy Days would move from The Elephant & Castle to the larger Frog & Nightgown and then onto The Arches, a 1,000 capacity warehouse space located between London and Southwark Bridges, all within the space of 18 months.
The Sunday Scene
"The Sunday Scene" was born, and other club nights started popping up all over London, most notably The Spreadlove Project at the Gass Club located in the West End of London. The music being played by the DJs on "The Sunday Scene" was at the deep and raw end of the House music spectrum. Mainly they were sped up dub versions of soulful US House and Garage tracks made by dance music royalty Masters At Work, Todd Terry, MK, Victor Simonelli and Todd Edwards.
Daryl B, Dominic "Spreadlove", Hermit, Matt "Jam" Lamont and Norris "Da Boss" Windross were some of the DJs responsible for playing these tunes at the venues across London. A group of like minded DJs that joined together, to become the early innovators of UK Garage and they did it purely for the love and passion of the music. It wasn't just the DJs who were a tight knit group, the crowd were too. Ravers from all walks of life were part of a club that no one else knew about and everybody was there purely for the music and to have a good party.
One member of this "secret club" was UK Garage's first MC. Creed started off as a raver and then would go on to form a residency with Dominic "Spreadlove" at the Gass Club. With Creed though it was never about taking the spotlight from the DJ, he just blended in with the music and would spit his lyrics where there was room in the tracks. Without Creed at the Gass Club, it is highly unlikely that MCs would of became so entwined with the UKG sound, and probably why MC Creed is called "The Godfather".
It is also proclaimed that Todd Terry coined the phrase "Speed Garage" at the Gass Club whilst visiting from America. A phrase that would become hated by every true Garage lover, but was used to good effect by the major record labels to sell truck loads of "Speed Garage" compilations.
From hearing and playing these deep and raw US House records at these raves, UK producers began to make their own version of this sound. The first "UK Garage" track was made by Matt "Jam" Lamont, The Jam Experience - "Feel My Love" (a tune that used to shake the windows at The Elephant & Castle).
Other early examples came from UK Garage pioneer Grant Nelson, who set up the Nice 'N' Ripe record label, and produced early UK Garage tracks under the name of 24 Hour Experience and G.O.D. (Guaranteed Overnight Delivery) with production partner Simon Firmin.
By 1995 the "Sunday Scene" was no longer a "secret club" for people in the know, it became for many their biggest night out of the week. One of the reasons for this, is that promoters hosting the Sunday raves couldn't get a club booked for a Friday or Saturday because the House scene had these nights locked down.
UK Garage Becomes A British Sound
1995 would be the year that UK Garage would become a British sound, and the DJs record boxes were mainly filled with UK produced tracks. The producers making these tunes would be from the likes of Baffled, Booker T, Gavin "Face" Mills, Julian Jonah, Jeremy Sylvester, Smokin' Beats and Tuff Jam.
Tuff Jam released their first big vocal track together in 1995; "The Experience", after meeting at The Arches. Tuff Jam's sound was raw and obviously tuff, a sound that was very distinctive and you knew straight away it was a Tuff Jam track. Karl 'Tuff Enuff" Brown would also be one of the first UK Garage DJ's to have an intro track, and "Intro 4" became anthem in it's own right.
Tuff Jam produced a number of their own tracks, before being asked to remix songs for artists such as Usher and En Vogue. Tuff Jam would also go on to release the legendary DJ mix series Underground Frequencies Vol 1 & 2.
1996 would finally be the year that UK Garage event Sun City would book a club on a Saturday night at Adrenalin Village in Battersea, South London. From the success at Adrenalin Village, Sun City started to record the sets from the events and distribute the now legendary tape packs to record shops across the country.
From there the UK Garage scene erupted and the major UK Garage players would take over London. Lords Of The Underground took up residence at the Camden Palace. Twice As Nice would start off at The Arches, and then go on to the Colosseum, before finally moving to The End. Cookies & Cream's home was at the Leisure Lounge in Holborn. Exposure, Garage Nation, La Cosa Nostra, Numb Nums and Stush would hold events all over London.
Pirate Radio - The Voice Of UK Garage
These club nights were not solely responsible for bringing UK Garage to the masses though, they had a friend transmitting from tower blocks all over the capital, and that friend was pirate radio. The pirate stations in London became the voice of UK Garage. DJ's would finish gigs late on a Saturday night and would then have to get up early on a Sunday morning to do their radio show's, they would go record buying every week, to find the latest tunes. The DJ's almost felt they had a duty to keep spreading the word.
Freek FM and London Underground were two of the biggest pirate radio stations to champion the UK Garage sound. London Underground had the likes of Andy B, Hermit, Ramsey & Fen, Richie Fingers on their roster. The station was also be the place where UK Garage collective the Dreem Teem would form, and Freek FM would have none other than UKG legend DJ EZ broadcasting on their airwaves.
The legal stations couldn't ignore what was going on across London with the pirate stations, so in 1997 Tuff Jam were chosen to represent the UK Garage sound with a weekly prime time Saturday night show on Kiss FM. The Dreem Teem would also join Kiss, before moving to Galaxy for a Friday night show, and then would take UK Garage national in 2000 on BBC Radio One. In 1999 DJ EZ would leave Freek FM for Kiss FM and would be at the station for 14 years, where he became one of their most popular DJ's. All of these major players on the scene would also at some point be asked to do the world famous Essential Mix on Radio 1
Steve Jackson on his Kiss FM breakfast show Morning Glory would also be a major force in bringing the UKG sound to the forefront on a legal station. Guest DJ's would be invited to perform live mini mixes on the show, many being from the UK Garage scene. Unfortunately Steve Jackson would be unfairly dismissed by Kiss FM, after the radio station wanted to create a more "commercial" image.
UK Garage Hits The Charts
On the 31st May 1997 a UK Garage track would hit the UK Singles Chart for the first time with "Ripgroove" by Double 99. The tune was broken at Twice As Nice at the Colosseum, and the double pack EP that the track featured on would then change hands for £ at record shops before BMG bought the club classic.
1997 would also be the year that "2-Step Garage" was born with the Kelly G remix of Tina Moore's track "Never Gonna Let You Go", which would be a top 10 hit in the UK Singles Chart. Another release that is regarded as one of the first 2-Step track's to be produced was the Dreem Teem remix of Amira's song "My Desire", that charted in December of 97.
Tuff Jam's mixed compilation "Underground Frequencies Vol.1" would obtain gold sales status in 1997 and the follow up Vol.2 would achieve the same status the following year. Tuff Jam would also have a top 30 UK single with TJR featuring Xavier "Just Gets Better" and produce the underground anthem "Tumbin' Down" again with Xavier on vocals.
Other UK Garage anthems would hit the charts as well. Nu-Birth's "Anytime" would chart in the autumn of 97 before being re-released in the summer of 98. The Dreem Teem "The Theme" and Scott Garcia's "A London Thing" would be a top 40 hit, as would Boris Dlugosch's track "Hold Your Head Up High" thanks to the Julian Jonah remix. Booker T's remix of "Bizzi's Party" would also help the track reach the charts.
UK Garage Goes International
1998 would see Pure Silk put Ayia Napa on the a map as a major clubbing destination. The little fishing village would then go on to rival the dance music mecca Ibiza in later years.
2-Step produced tracks would take over from the four to the floor "Speed Garage" tracks that had dominated the scene in the early days. Although "Speed Garage" duo 187 Lockdown would score a couple of chart hits in 98 with "Gunman" and "Kung-Fu", and "Speed Garage" classics "Spend The Night" by Danny J Lewis and Industry Standard "Volume 1 (What You Want What You Need)" would also reach the UK top 40 in 1998.
Classically trained musician M.J. Cole would burst onto the scene bringing some soul and funkiness with his club classic "Sincere". M.J. Cole would also help State Of Mind reach the charts with remixes of their tracks "This Is It" and "Take Control".
Other 2-Step tracks would hit the charts and become anthems of the UKG scene, Lovestation's cover of Womack & Womack's song "Tearsdrops" would reach #14 and Doolally would score a top 20 hit with "Straight from the Heart". UKG would assist E-17 (formally East 17) get their track "Each Time" to #2 in the charts, thanks to a remix by UK Garage pioneer and former member of The Brand New Heavies, Sunship (Ceri Evans).
UK Garage pioneers would reach the charts too, Ramsey & Fen would produce the UKG classic "Love Bug" with Lynsey Moore on vocals. N'n'G (Norris "Da Boss" Windross and Grant Nelson) would cover Patti Day's song "Right Before My Eyes" Featuring Kallaghan. They would then would remix the song in 2000 where it would feature MC Neat and go on to become a UK top 20 hit. Grant Nelson's Bump & Flex remixes of Indo's "R U Sleeping" and Deetah's "Relax" would make them both top 40 hits in the charts.
R&B Gets The UK Garage Treatment
UKG would also start to take influence from across the pond again in 98, this time though UK Garage producers would use US contemporary R&B songs and start remixing these tracks to create UK versions. The most notable R&B track to get the UKG treatment in 1998 was the Architechs "B&M Remix" of Brandy & Monica's "The Boy Is Mine", which went on to sell 20,000 copies as a white labeled bootleg.
The soaring popularity of UKG saw 1999 take the genre into the mainstream and to the top of the music charts with platinum selling "Sweet Like Chocolate" by Shanks & Bigfoot (formally Doolally). The Artful Dodger would also have a platinum selling single in 99 with their track "Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)", that featured UK Garage superstar Craig David.
UK Garage diva Kele Le Roc would win two MOBO Awards in 1999, for Best Newcomer and Best Single. "My Love" would peak at #8 in the UK Singles Chart, mainly thanks to the mighty 10 Below remix.
UKG would again make Ayia Napa its residence for the summer in 99. Garage Nation, Pure Silk, Sun City and Twice As Nice would host parties at the biggest clubs in town
DJ Spoony would mix the compilation Twice As Nice in Ayia Napa, that would feature UKG anthems from the likes of Colour Girl, M-Dubs, Sunship, T.J. Cases and Y-Tribe
Another track to feature on the Twice as Nice compilation was from former Soul II Soul member and UK Garage innovator Wookie. "Down On Me" and "Scrappy" would be underground hits on the UKG scene. Wookie would also remix Gabrielle's song "Sunshine" to help the track peak at #9 in the UK singles chart in 99.
US Rhythm & Blues would also get the UK Garage treatment again in 1999. Club Asylum (Jeremy Sylvester) would remix R&B duo K-Ci & JoJo's track "Tell Me It's Real". The song would be a top 40 hit in 99 and then be rereleased in 2000 where it peaked at #16 in the singles chart.
American producer and UKG pioneer Todd "The God" Edwards album "Prima Edizione" would finally be released in this year too. Todd Edwards and Tuff Jam would also collaborate to produce the track "One Day". The song would feature on the compilation Pure Silk: A New Dimension, mixed by Karl "Tuff Enuff" Brown.
1999 would see UKG start to change again with MC led tracks starting come the forefront of the scene. Da Click had a top 20 hit with "Good Rhymes" and the follow up single "We Are Da Click" reached the top 40. DJ Luck & MC Neat's track "A Little Bit Of Luck" would be in the top 10 of the singles chart on Christmas Day. N'n'G's MC led track "Liferide" featuring Rose Windross & MC Creed would become an underground anthem in 1999 as well.
UK Garage 2000
The new millennium would see UK Garage reach the stratosphere and become a regular fixture in the singles and albums charts. UK Garage sensation Craig David hit the top spot, with his first solo single "Fill Me In" and album "Born To Do It".
Craig David would also feature on the Artful Dodger's album "It's All About The Stragglers". The UK Garage producers would have 3 top 10 hits in 2000 with "Movin Too Fast" featuring Romina Johnson, "Woman Trouble" featuring Robbie Craig & Craig David and "Please Don't Turn Me On" featuring Lifford.
M.J. Cole would also produce his first album "Sincere" in 2000, which earned him two top 20 hits in the singles chart, a Brit Award nomination and a Mercury Music Prize nomination.
True Steppers would collaborate with Dane Bowers and Victoria Beckham in 2000 to produce "Out of Your Mind". The song would reach #2 in the charts after a battle with Spiller and Sophie Ellis-Bextor's House track "Groovejet", that was released the same week. Spiller would only overtake True Steppers with sales on the Saturday, to be announced as #1 on the Sunday and go on to be one of the biggest selling singles in 2000.
The year 2000 would see the Dreem Teem join BBC Radio One and take UKG national on the airwaves. Radio One also took on Ayia Napa and would see the Dreem Teem rock the Essential Mix before heading to the beach for their Sunday morning show where they would be joined by Wookie and Lonyo, who would both have top 10 hits in 2000. Hot on the heels of Radio One were an array of film crews from MTV, UK Play and BBC 2's youth music strand, Ozone.
DJ EZ would take up residence at Exposure's night at the Gas Club in Ayia Napa. Also in 2000 EZ would be handpicked by Warner Music to mix the CD compilation series Pure Garage, which would go to sell over 2 million copies and be acknowledged by the industry as the "Best selling UK Garage compilation series".
Other Ayia Napa anthems would hit the top 10 in 2000, Sweet Female Attitude would reach #2 with their sing-a-long song "Flowers", thanks to a remix from Sunship. Architechs "Body Groove" would peak at #3 in the charts. "Girls Like Us" by B-15 Project featuring Chrissy D would be a top 10 hit and another sing a long tune "Sorry" by Monsta Boy featuring Denzie would reach #25 in the singles chart.
UKG diva Shola Ama would hit the charts with her track "Imagine" thanks to a remix from Club Asylum. Jeremy Sylvester would also remix UK Garage classic "Love Shy" by Kristine Blonde in 2000 after originally being released 1998, the remixers on the original release included Tuff Jam and Todd Edwards.
UK Garage Goes Dark
The Timo Maas remix of "Dooms Night" by German producer Azzido Da Bass would become a major club hit and would chart at #8 in the UK singles chart. The remix of "Dooms Night" would be a sign of change in the UKG sound, the scene would start to shift to a darker and more bass heavy sound, that gave the MC's freedom to chat their lyrics whenever they liked. Another example of this darker sound to cause the shift was DJ Zinc's "138 Trek".
This shift in sound would start to cause a divide between the old and new guard of UK Garage. The originators of UK Garage wanted to keep the scene close to its roots; sexy, stylish, with sing-a-long tunes for the ladies and have parties where you could go and forget about your worries. Where the nu skool wanted the music faster, darker and to chat about problems on the street.
The figurehead of the new guard would be the So Solid Crew, a South London collective that had 19 initial members that would expand to 30. Before breaking into the mainstream the So Solid Crew would make their name on pirate radio station Delight FM, where they would occupy most of the Sunday schedule from lunchtime until 10pm.
The So Solid Crew would release their first track in 2000, "Oh No (Sentimental Things) / Dilemma", the song would be championed by none other than UKG legend DJ EZ.
Two members of the So Solid Crew Oxide & Neutrino would reach the top of the UK singles chart in 2000 with their song "Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)". The track sampled the theme tune from TV programme Casualty and dialogue from the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
The 2000 MOBO Awards would see multiple UK Garage acts win at the ceremony. Craig David would win 3 awards, M.J. Cole would win Best Producer, and the MOBO's would introduce a new award for Best UK Garage Act, which DJ Luck & MC Neat would take home for their cover of Stevie Wonder's song "Masterblaster 2000" featuring JJ on vocals. The track would peak at #5 in the UK singles chart and be an Ayia Napa anthem in the summer of 2000.
In the autumn of 2000 UK Garage had its very own award ceremony at the Hammersmith Apollo. Hosted by DJ Spoony and Spice Girl Mel B, the night would see performances from the Architechs, Colour Girl, Monsta Boy, Robbie Craig, Romina Johnson, Sweet Female Attitude and Vocal Fusion. Guest presenters would include House music legends Alex P & Brandon Block and Ex Arsenal & England football star Ian Wright.
DJ EZ would take home awards for Best Public DJ & Best Industry DJ. CKP would win Best MC and Twice As Nice would win Best Club. Everyone would make their way to the after party at the Glass House in Blackfriars or if you could get in at the road blocked Twice As Nice event.
In 2001 UKG would carry on where it left off from the previous year, a firm fixture in the UK singles and album charts, club nights running up and down the country and UK Garage's summer residence Ayia Napa would rival Ibiza as the destination for a clubbing holiday in the sun.
Ayia Napa's summer anthem of 2001 "Do You Really Like It?" by DJ Pied Piper and the Masters of Ceremonies would be a #1 hit in the UK singles chart.
Radio One would return for its Ayia Napa Weekend, the Dreem Teem would return also, hosting their Sunday morning show at a private beach party for 3,000 people. The Dreem Teem would also play Club Abyss on the Saturday night, where they would be residents for the summer.
UK Garage would be used as launchpad for new artists to break into the mainstream in 2001. Daniel Bedingfield's debut single "Gotta Get Thru This" would reach the top of the charts thanks to UKG producers D.N.D. He would go on to have two more #1s in the singles chart and two top 10 albums.
Girl group Mis-Teeq would have a top 10 hit with their debut single "Why", Matt "Jam" Lamont & Gavin "Face" Mills would be on remix duty and such was the popularity of the remix it was released as the A side of the track. Mis-Teeq would go on to have two more top 10 hits in 2001 with "All I Want" and "One Night Stand", they would also have a top 5 album in the same year.
UK Garage anthem "Booo!" by UKG producer Sticky featuring Ms Dynamite would be the springboard for Dynamite in 2001. She would release an album in 2002 entitled "A Little Deeper" and would win the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, Dynamite would donate the £20,000 prize to the NSPCC.
So Solid Crew would release their first album in 2001 with a peak position of #6 in the chart. They would also have a #1 single with "21 Seconds" and "They Don't Know" would reach #3 in the chart.
UK Garage Gets Violent
It wasn't all good press in 2001 for the So Solid Crew and UKG in general, publicised violence in London, Ayia Napa and surrounding members of the So Solid Crew gave the scene bad publicity and pushed traditional UK Garage back underground. The mainstream moved away from UKG's funky and soulful sound and evolved into a darker direction called "Grime" (now a genre in its own right).
In wake of the bad press UK Garage promotors began to ban DJ's from playing certain tracks at their raves, before being shut down themselves and then unable to book a night anywhere in London because of the animosity and violence happening in the clubs.
With UKG basically being shut down by the police, the scene would lose its lifeline because UK Garage was foremost a club sound and with no clubs to play at the big DJs and producers would start to move away from the scene, where most would return to their Soulful House roots.
The darker and more urban scene would take UK Garage's place and become the major record labels focus. Artists that used UKG as a lauchpad would go on to have chart success and win awards, and acts such The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Tinchy Stryder and Tinie Tempah may never of had the huge success they have achieved if it wasn't for the global phenomenon that UKG became.
On the 1st of January 2003 DJ EZ invited Todd Edwards and Tuff Jam to play at the 4by4 event held at Time & Envy in Romford, Essex. The sell-out event is described by many who attended as one of the best gigs ever. Booker T, Grant Nelson and M.J. Cole would be some of the DJ's asked to be part of the event that continued to be held on New Year's day until 2006.
M.J. Cole would also release his second album in 2003 and so would the So Solid Crew. August 2004 would see UK Garage back at the top of the UK singles chart with "Baby Cakes" by 3 of a Kind. And 2007 would see a mini revival of UKG with H "two" O's "What's It Gonna Be" and T2's "Heartbroken" reaching the mainstream.
Also in 2007 DJ EZ would mix the 4 CD compilation Pure Garage Rewind: Back to the Old Skool, with which three CDs contained "Old Skool" UK Garage and the fourth was made up of fresh "New Skool" UKG tunes. In 2009 EZ would be approached by the Ministry of Sound to mix a brand new album called DJ EZ and then in 2013 would mix The Essential Garage Collection for Ministry as well.
UK Garage - The Second Coming
In an East London warehouse in late 2012 DJ EZ would create another UKG explosion when the Red Bull Music Academy teamed up with the Boiler Room to host a celebration of the dance culture in London. EZ was the first DJ to be propositioned and all eyes were on the UK Garage pioneer when he was streamed live to the world. Such was the phenomenal response UKG became the favoured sound of the nation's hottest DJs and producers, and in 2013 the purely 2-Step track "You & Me" by Disclosure with Eliza Doolittle on vocals would feature on their debut album "Settle".
After the success of the Boiler Room set DJ EZ would leave promoters from all over the globe wanting more UKG internationally. The summer of 2013 witnessed EZ play at major festivals in and outside of the UK and he would also mix the highly acclaimed "FabricLive 71" compilation that would received great national and international press reviews.
In 2014 DJ EZ would make his debut in America where he got to show off his DJ skills in Detroit, LA and New York. And in the summer of 2015 EZ would be booked to play one of the biggest dance music festivals in the world, EDC Las Vegas.
The summer of 2015 would see London have its first outdoor UK Garage festival with Garage Nation hosting the event at Streatham Common. The festival featured over 100 artists supplying the best in Old & New Skool Garage. The festival would also feature a Roots & Influences of UK Garage arena with the hottest artists from Bass House, Dubstep, Grime and Jungle.
2015 would also see the relaunch of Craig David's music career with his track "When the Bassline Drops" featuring Big Narstie. And early 2016 would see Mr David go viral and cause a social media frenzy with his UKG cover of Justin Bieber's song "Love Yourself', that he performed at Radio One's Live Lounge.
Also in early 2016 after many years of playing marathon DJ sets and wanting to give something back to those less fortunate than himself, DJ EZ announced to the world that he had set himself the challenge of performing a live non-stop, 24-hour set to raise awareness for Cancer Research UK.
This incredible event was streamed live on his website for the full 24 hours which began at 6:00pm (GMT) on Saturday 27th February 2016. EZ's unique DJ set quickly became a trending topic on social media, thanks thousands of supporters and his incredible stamina over £60,000 was raised and donated to Cancer Research UK.
Fast forward to the present day and UK Garage is in good shape, Twice as Nice brings a slice of sexy urban glamour to Ibiza with their bar 2nice in the heart of San Antonio's West End and a weekly party at Eden nightclub.
UK Garage pioneer Matt "Jam" Lamont is one of resident DJ's at Sankeys "The Redlight" party, with a guest DJ lineups that include fast-fingered UK Garage legend DJ EZ and the man who coined the phrase "Speed Garage" and House music legend, Todd Terry.
Garage Nation continue to tour the UK with their club night's and outdoor festival on Streatham Common. Garage Nation will also head to Sankeys in Ibiza and Air in Amsterdam.
Sun City celebrated their 21st birthday at Tranz-Mission festival and The Hidden festival in Peterborough.
You can also still hear the sound of UK Garage being transmitted across London by former pirate radio station Rinse FM. Every Friday for two hours one of UKG's iconic figures DJ Spoony gets the weekend started with a selection of old skool classics and brand new flavas from young emerging artists. Spoony is regularly joined in the studio for interviews with key players from the heyday of UKG who made the scene such a unique movement, that will never be repeated. Rinse also broadcast the "Garage Hour" every weekday, and have Garage Nation takeover shows throughout the year.
Sadly though the pub where UK Garage was founded has closed down and is now an estate agent, but UKG is no longer just "A London Thing", it has infiltrated clubs from New York to Melbourne and beyond.