Garage – State Of The Nation

The Questions

I was scrolling through Facebook on a lazy Sunday afternoon, not feeling too well when I came across a shared post regarding Garage music. It was essentially a complaint regarding the lack of progression seen in garage in the recent years. I read it, digested it and then thought, this man has a point. I won’t include the original post out of wanting to extend respect to the person who wrote it as I don’t know them but if you do read this and wish to be named as the person who began this discussion – please get in contact and I will update this.

So essentially the post was regarding the lack of progression in garage music. A form of music that saw boom growth globally in the 90’s and early 00’s so why has the scene stagnated? Well the points that were raised were:

98% of DJ’s play the same “classics” sets of records some of which are 20 years old or older now

There are less new artists & producers and therefore less good new music

There is no quality control over the music that is put out

In garage’s prime years there were many CD and Tape pack recordings of live events so DJ’s couldn’t get away with playing the same sets back to back on the same night

In garage’s prime years many DJ’s played for the love of the music and the crowd and not for large financial gain and riders.

So let’s look at this and see what we can discover and start a discussion.

Rewind….

Sorry, I know that was a cheesy heading for this article but let’s first look at my introduction to garage.

I happened across garage being a big house fan but also having a love for jungle and drum n bass (among many other styles). I got into what I identified as garage in around 1996 right as commercialization of the house and garage scene was beginning. I know a lot of DJ’s from that time hate the term “Speed Garage” and I don’t much care for it as it makes people think of 187 Lockdown’s Gunman and Ali G rather than something as significant as Double 99’s RIP Groove or Armand Van Helden’s remix of Spin Spin Sugar. As often happens, Speed Garage wasn’t a scene in exactly the same was as Tropical House wasn’t a few years ago. It was a collection of records released around a similar time with a similar sound that were capitalized on to create a marketing term to sell compilations.

But I quickly progressed to a more soulful 2 step sound but a lot of the records I would buy at that time were was mostly driven by Karl Tuff Enough Brown, Matt Jam Lamont, Danny Harrison, Julian Jonah, DJ Omar, Tim Deluxe, Mike Millrain, Andy L, Booker T and Grant Nelson. Between them they had loads of alias names for the music they were putting out but these guys were Godfathers for me.

I stayed with garage all the way through but it went up and down it its popularity. The late 90’s and early 00’s were dominated by the Dreem Teem and Artful Dodger. DJ EZ put out the biggest selling garage compilation in the first “Pure Garage” album.  Everything was a go. We had strings of garage tracks crossing over and reaching the UK chart, and many UK number 1 singles coming from the garage scene. Everything became about Ayia Napa rather than Ibiza and garage fever gripped the UK for a good few years. Then (as I see it) we started to see a shift in garage around the time that So Solid Crew came on the scene.

This is not in a way to show So Solid or any of the other crews disrespect but when garage and grime began to split, it was that garage took a knock for the worst. We went from MC’s like Creed who has a very fun and uplifting vibe as an MC to heavy gangster bars and much more aggressive basslines. I remember the buzz that came about and the fall out that followed between members of So Solid and the Dreem Teem as Dreem Teem refused to play their records in what I believe was an attempt to protect the scene from diversifying too far.

We saw how it played out and much like the acid house generation before it, the newspapers villainised a scene rather than individuals and gave it a dirty name. Parties got locked off and promoters began to drop garage.

There was of course the commercial resurgence of garage as bassline or 4×4 house or whatever else you wanted to call in in around 05/06 which was very popularly bought about by Niche in Sheffield which led to loads of people asking “you got any Niche mate?” which I found pretty frustrating.

Niche ran successfully for many years and was instrumental in the careers of the likes of DJ Q and Jamie Duggan but as so often happened around this time, Niche got raided a number of times, the media made a meal of it and again, garage was left with a dirtied name and people didn’t want to touch it again. It managed to move to Charter Square in Sheffield but after further run-ins with trouble closed in 2010.

I always loved garage and still played in among more house that I was playing but Disclosure’s rise in 2013 (even though I think most people class them as Deep House) started people thinking about garage again. There has been some great garage music since the So Solid days, but it almost seemed that people weren’t ready for garage back until 99’s garage poster boy Craig David came back last year.

So we are where we are now and after that history lesson I can now begin to look at what I think is the problem with today’s garage scene.

The Answers (as I see them)

98% of DJ’s play the same “classics” sets of records some of which are 20 years old or older now

I entirely agree and will admit to falling foul of this many times. The honest truth behind this is three-fold.

1 –  many times I have been asked by organisers/promoters and owners not to play specific types of music or certainly not too play “too deep” or “too aggressive.” Don’t look at me like I just let an inside secret out either. Many of you will have been asked the same, for a long time garage was on that list and now it’s not, we often have to play safe.

2 –  A lot of promoters want a more commercial feeling night where people feel welcome

Both of those things mean its Rewind by Artful Dodger and Craig David or Flowers by Sweet Female Attitude rather than Jump by Double 99. That’s why these classics sets are more common as they are more commercial and no matter how much I try at points, there is no way of educating people who don’t want to learn new things.

3 – There was some amazing timeless music made during this period of time, the vast majority of people love it and really want to hear it!

There are less new artists & producers and therefore less good new music

I completely agree with this as well, and a lot of the new producers are very heavy garage makers to the point I’ve just seen it refered to as “bass” or “bass music” which stand very little or no chance of getting radio exposure outside specialist shows and then feed into problems 1 and 2.

There is no quality control over the music that is put out

Agreed. There is some absolutely piss poor garage about today, there always was if you bought the wrong records but now they are digital they are more throw away and also easier to get hold of. In the vinyl days whites got pressed, DJ’s played them if they were good and then they started to come out into the scene and get picked up. DJ’s did not play poor quality records back then as their reputation depended on not doing. Nowadays anything with a bassline’s quality control can be much lower and Soundcloud probably has a lot to answer for here!

In garage’s prime years there were many CD and Tape pack recordings of live events so DJ’s couldn’t get away with playing the same sets back to back on the same night

Agreed! And loads of those packs are wicked! But less or no nights and a lack of new music means nothing to record at events. And not a lot of new stuff to play. Are you starting to see the problem here? It’s like a game of Ker-Plunk and if you start pulling out sticks, at some point the whole thing has to fall.

In garage’s prime years many DJ’s played for the love of the music and the crowd and not for large financial gain and riders.

Agreed and many still would but for some reason they don’t seem to be able to gather the exposure to get started. None of the promoters will take a chance on them, even some of the guys that have been playing in smaller bars and events for 10 years plus and know how to read a crowd, play intelligent and varied selections and create a great vibe won’t get picked up because the promoters often won’t take a chance on a garage night or nights are aimed at younger people (who have always gone out more than an older crowd) and they have very specific choices on who they want to see. It’s the flavour of the month or no one.

Hemmed In

As strange as it sounds, and I have thought this for the last couple of years now, but garage is at the risk of becoming the new Northern Soul. That isn’t to disrespect Northern Soul in any way but what I mean is that Northern Soul still has a massively popular following, still has “all nighters” and still is functioning as a scene but there is no (or very little) new music added to this scene and garage could go the same way. But what do you do once you have collected that last white label you have been after for 15 years?

The Future

There is light at the end of the tunnel through but it needs support. Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown and Andy L from Ice cream records do a weekly show, which you can listen to online, and features a mixture of old and new garage as well as interviews with other garage artists. Karl is also releasing new music on his 2Tuff4U label.

Mi-Soul Radio has great shows from the likes of DJ Fen (from Ramsey and Fen) and Booker T, who is also starting to release remixes and new material himself.

The deeper sound of house and garage is represented excellently by James Lee on d3ep.com and All Luv’Dup Radio and Mike Millrain on his weekly shows on d3ep.com. Mike Millrain is also producing some great new music himself.

RIP Productions are starting to put out remixes again, I’ve just been sent a promo of a new collaboration track from Todd Edwards, Control S are continuing to remix and put out their own material as is Majestic.

Monstaboy is currently working on new material and I believe possibly a mix series and if you like the harder feeling side of things then look no further than bassline super group TDQ who between them have been putting out some great music individually (DJ Q, Royal T and Flava D) and are about to drop an album under TDQ called “UKG.”

Sheffield club Niche has just re-opened with a new door policy and from what I have seen, they seem to be looking to distance themselves from the bassline sound to a move traditional garage sound hoping that both of these new approaches will save them from returning to where they have been twice before.

There is some great new garage feeling vibes coming out on the Snazzy Tax label and there are DJ and Producers (like myself) that want to play it and make it, but it needs support. As part of a scene, we have to be integral in breathing life into it and sharing with people like ourselves to spread the word.

Garage just needs a really good shake up and by the looks of the beginning of this year, it’s getting one and that can only be a good thing! But it’s a scene and a community that we need to look after to make sure it stays moving forward.

Here at Dirty Disco Radio, we love to know your thoughts and opinions and would love to start a further discussion around this, so please feel free to post your comments below!

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