The Evolution of UKG

Sunday, 25 June 2017

UKG is one of the most innovative, fresh, and intoxicating (literally) movements in modern British music to emerge in the 90s, and we’re still feeling its influence today.

From the recent, and long-overdue, recognition of Grime as a serious musical force, to Disclosure’s House-inspired chart-toppers, or Craig David’s recent nostalgic return to the mainstream, we can hear the descendents of Garage all around us. So we thought we’d spend some time looking back at some of the early forefathers and dig into how UKG managed, particularly in the late-nineties, to have a complete stranglehold on every club and dancefloor playlist in the UK.

Garage began as a uniquely British phenomenon. In the early-nineties, UK DJs like Dreem Teem started playing around with the soulful Deep House tracks coming out of cities like Chicago and New York in the US scene. UK artists experimented with stepping up the urgency on the records: the drums became more prominent, the beat was quicker, and the vocals remixed to sound more urgent, eventually leading to a sound that felt both original and a natural extension of electronic music of the time.

As the decade went on these distinctive features only became more pronounced. DJs started chopping up vocal tracks more and more, often until a singer’s voice simply became another noise in a wall of eclectic but complementary sounds. All this was undercut by thumping beats and hazy synths which gave those seminal early tracks an intense, dreamlike quality.

Around this time, UKG was just starting to take off in clubs around the country. Though not yet big enough to warrant headline Saturday night slots at major clubs, there was a definite rumbling around the country as this new, exciting, urban sound slowly started to bleed into DJ’s crates. More than anything, it was the fact that the UK is such a cultural melting pot that made the Garage movement so interesting and fun to be a part of. Apart from American influences, there were sounds from all kinds of cultures and musical traditions woven into the UKG sound: from Jungle and Dancehall to Soul and Funk, there was something for everyone.

Garage properly hit the mainstream in ‘98 or ‘99; certainly, by the turn of the millennium Garage sounds were everywhere, and were still on the rise. The first wave of artists who developed the genre were making way for a new generation in a variety of genres. Artists like Zed Bias were having a huge influence on 2 step, which paved the way for Dubstep and seminal modern artists like Burial. Grime was just a couple of years from its first wave, with artists like Wiley soaking up the scene. And new female artists like Missy Elliott and Mis-Teeq were making new sounds with nods to Garage’s RnB heritage. And then there were the likes of Wookie, and Club Asylum, and The Streets, and… you get the picture.

You can’t tell the story of modern UK music without telling the story of UKG. We we’ll see you in August to celebrate it in all its glory.