28 Gun Bad Boy's "The Rough Guide to UK Bass History" part 6: Underground Garage…


16. Aug. 2011, 16:03

These are reposts from the extremely informative UK Bass thread on No Music Discussion on the Something Awful Forums. Big shout outs to the original author, 28 Gun Bad Boy for his wealth of knowledge. He really should turn this into a book...

Welcome to the sixth part of my UK Bass history guide. I intend this to be a rough guide to the history of the current UK dance music scene. An attempt to educate and show people what came before. It's not meant to be a completely 100% accurate in-depth report of the sound and scene at the time, but is hopefully good enough that people will be able to understand and form the links in what has turned out to be a 20+ year old musical scene.

Timescale: 1994-1998
Key Labels: Nice N Ripe (and it's billion and one sub-labels), Ice Cream Records, Confetti Records, Catch, Public Demand

Last time in the UK Bass History Guide we waved bye-bye to Jungle and the breakbeat. Today we move onto Garage, or more precisely UK Garage.

American-style Garage was fairly popular in the UK in the early 90s and labels like Strictly Rhythm found strong sales in Britain with many tunes either being imported directly or sub-licensed on UK labels such as Champion and Network(and their Garage/House imprint Six6). It's sexy, swinging - yet still bass heavy - beat would allow it to become a feature in the second room at Jungle dances from around 1994, where there was a need for something to let people take a breather and wind down after a hard nights dancing to 155-160bpm beats. As Jungle started to become more and more technical, or more and more aggressive, is it any mystery then that people who were Hardcore lovers started to be drawn more into the seductive world of Garage?

The slower, vocal US approach though just would not do for a more hyperactive, ecstasy fueled UK audience, so records were pitched up on the turntable in order to increase the speed. During 1994 however a new tactic was created. Why not create their own tunes that match what the regular punter really wanted. So influenced by what they experienced in Hardcore and Jungle a new series of UK producers kept the faster tempo and the 4x4 House beat, but increased the bass while decreasing the vocals. Indeed the vocals in many UK Garage tracks would be treated more like an instrument than anything else. A lot of this new attitude was brought on board when many ex-Jungle producers - sick of the way that scene was heading - leapt on-board this new phenomenon and brought their own influences and ways of working with them.

Certainly by 1997 the "Jungle-lisation" of UK Garage was complete. In came the massive, rough basslines and synthetic stabs and out went a lot of the more 'natural' US-influenced sounds. This style would eventually be tagged as Speed Garage and continue to be a fertile breeding ground that would eventually birth out Bassline. Even the crowd had grown and changed. The early UKG scene was populated mainly by older heads, many had been a part of the scene since the early Acid House days, but come 1996 /97 the feet on the dancefloor had changed, partly due to the growing popularity of UKG leading to a natural intake of new fans, and also due to the influx of the younger, more 'energetic' crowd from the Jungle scene.

By early 98 even the traditional 4x4 House beat that was the heart of UK Garage was disappearing, being replaced by the 2-Step beat which had first reared it's head briefly as early as 1995 before ducking its head back under the parapet until more favourable conditions came along. But we'll be talking about 2-Step in the next part, today though we're strictly 4x4 so let's go!

Tube-Tape Playlist Link

"Blues For You(Hard Dub)"
(Strictly Rhythm, 1994)

A classic US Garage number of Strictly Rhythm. I'm including it here purely so you can hear the kind of tunes that influenced the UK Garage sound. I wonder how the American audiences reacted to tunes like these, the b-sides and odd cuts. Did they enjoy them or did they just find them weird, heavy and soulless? I mean compare this to the a-side, the vocal side, it almost seems like a totally different track. But after 5 years of Acid House, Hardcore and Jungle the Hard Dub mix is what found an audience with UK heads.

Grant Nelson
"In My Soul (Dubbed Out Mix)"
(Nice 'N Ripe, 1994)

Grant Nelson would become one of the leading figures in the UK Garage scene, with his Nice N Ripe label pumping out hit after hit. But before UKG Grant was probably best known as Hardcore act Wishdokta who had a string of hits on Kickin Records. An amazing change producing an amazing tune. From completely balls out aggressive Hardcore to such a divine and melodic tune. It has trumpets in it for God's sake! When was the last time trumpets sounded bad on anything? This is the kind of tune that UK producers would return fire with towards their American cousins. Faster, slightly rougher, much more bass heavy, yet still soulful and musical, but in a very different way. A great tune to show what makes UK Garage different from US Garage.

Ambassadors Of Swing
"Coming Up (Screaming Piano Mix)"
(Nice 'N Ripe, 1995)

Another Grant Nelson piece, though this time a collab with David Thackery, another early UKG pioneer. I was going to make this be the more bass-heavy Dirt Box Dub version of this track, but you know what? Those pianos and those vocals. As hard as you try to lose that ecstasy fueled euphoric feeling, it just keeps on coming back in tunes like this. You want an energetic rush you've got it. Between that piano and that vocal the tune just winds up higher and higher, building so much energy it's nearly unbelievable. If you're up and on your feet whenever this tune plays - whether in your room, in your bath, with your elderly mother or in a bus full of strangers - you have no soul what so ever, the Breakcore exit is just over there don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Smokin Beats
"Look Who's Lovin' Me"
(Smokin Beats, 1995)

Smokin Beats is another UK Garage innovator, having started up in the early 90s along with their (mostly) vanity label imprint, they put out track after track of classics. Their track [/url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnk1JwKOtmc]Dreams is probably the best known and has been found on many a compilation CD. Here though is probably my favourite release of theirs - Look Who's Lovin' Me. A very dreamy, relaxed number that could easily be labelled or played as a House track, but if you ask me it's just a bit too raw and stripped down to really fit into that field. The vocals also are very UK Garage-y as well, being barely a line or two at a time before ducking out and being replaced by say, a bassline or whatever. Unlike later UKG tracks though the aren't chopped or processed really, retaining a more natural vibe.

CJ Bolland
"Sugar Is Sweeter (Armand's Drum 'n' Bass Mix)"
(Internal, 1996)

The first of two Armand Van Helden remixes. Strangely enough it'd take a American artist to remix a Belgian artist to produce a tune that would really help break the UK Garage scene. I don't know how much Armand Van Helden really cared about the UK Garage scene but he certainly helped it grow immensely with his sound influencing many producers to make records and introduce many punters that would pay at the gates and in the record stores to help keep the scene not just alive, but also to thrive. And it just goes to show you, you don't need to be from the UK to understand thumping beats and booming bass. You just need to not be a sucker.

Sneaker Pimps
"Spin, Spin Sugar (Armand's Dark Garage Mix)"
(Clean Up Records, 1996)

The second of the Van Helden remixes. What you thought I'd be sneaky and stick half way down the list? I like to subvert expectations and deliver a one-two knock out blow. This tune is probably the only reason people remember Trip-Hop bandwagoneers the Sneaker Pimps. I probably shouldn't be that harsh as people here have told me they actually came up with a couple more albums past their first post-Massive Attack/Tricky/Portishead debut. I've never heard them though and going by what I remember when they first hit out, nothing will compare to this track. You can definitely hear the beginnings of Speed Garage with this tune, a darker(hey it's in the name!), more minimal track, with lots of Dub elements(lots of reverb and siren-esque sounds all over the place) that sit over just a massive, rolling bassline that would become synonymous with that brand of UK Garage. Simple but very, very effective.

Feyleine Brown
"You Know I've Missed You (Todd Edwards Remix)"
(Azuli Records, 1996)

We can't talk about UK Garage without talking about Todd Edwards. Another American producer Todd Edwards would have a big impact on the UK scene. His cut-up and sampled-style tunes really hitting a chord with UK audiences. As well as his own original tunes, his remixes were also what caught the eye(some could say even more than his originals!) There hardly seems a release between 96 and 2000 that didn't feature a Todd Edwards remix - at least the good tunes did. Here he takes a crack at Feyleine Brown's "You Know I've Missed You", someone who I always thought was American but judging by past releases possibly not. I'll blame that on Azuli Records, a label born out of the very influential Black Market Records who really tried to act American, right down to shrink wrapping records(something not generally done here).

KMA Productions
"Cape Fear"
(Urban Beatz, 1996)

Definitely one of my favourite UK Garage tracks. This is a tune that'd show those Jump-Up Wobbly Dubstep artists how to actually use a sample lifted from a movie, rather than just using it as an intro and promptly forgetting about it. An earth rumbling, warping bassline keeps you on your toes while a real swingin' 4x4 beat keeps your hips shaking. KMA Productions sadly didn't put out too many tunes with just a handful of singles and EPs released in their short lifespan, ending with one of the first releases on the then new Locked On Records. Of course one of the best things they did was a Model 500 remix that I've never once heard played out, but luckily for you I've uploaded it here.

Tuff & Jam
"Set It Off (Booker T's State 51 Mix)"
(Fifty First Recordings, 1996)

An early track by Tuff Jam, aka Karl "Tuff Enuff" Brown and Matt "Jam" Lamont. A real pumping track with heavy piano use and a vocal that sounds like it could be lifted off some late-90s American R&B group. This time Booker T gives it a twist and this is what is squeezed out. Booker T is another one of those remix specialists, with many a tune having been reworked by him, including many, many highly commercially successful records at that. King of the underground and the mainstream.

Anthill Mob
"Feel The Groove"
(Confetti Records, 1996)

Ah the Anthill Mob, truly one of my favourite UK Garage producers. You may remember them from the last part of the guide where they were trying their hand at a Ragga style Jungle. Like many others they quickly got fed up of that scene and moved into UK Garage and began to pump out a lot of real bass heavy tunes. Most well known of which is probably Burning but it'd be a real shame just to stop at that tune (though you may have to take a seat when you learn how much that particular tune sells for) as tunes like this one is easily equal to that one.

Richard Purser & Warren Clarke
"The Lift Groove"
(Deep Trouble, 1996)

Both Richard Purser and Warren Clarke get slightly left out when talking about classic UK Garage I think. People name check Grant Nelson and Jeremy Sylvester all day long, but these two but out a lot of really good tunes as well. Like this one on Nice 'N Ripe Record sub-label Deep Trouble (one good thing NNR did was stick their logo somewhere on the label on almost - but not all! - their sub-labels). Here we turn down the bass ever so slightly and return to the more 'classic' Garage that Nice 'N Ripe favoured. A more Housey, soulful number with pianos bouncing away just infusing the track with sheer raw energy that just infects you and leaves you wanting more.

New Horizons
"Put Your Mouth (On Me)"
(500 Rekords, 1996)

Something is just so... sexual about this track. Maybe it's the lyrics and the vocals("oh/ah/come and make me feel good"), maybe it's that pounding, rhythmic kick or maybe it's just the name. But whatever it is, this track illustrates how early UK Garage still managed to keep that sexuality that American Garage House had. Though whereas the US stuff was pretty gay (and I mean that in the best possible way), UK Garage was always a more heterosexual affair. Just an absolute blinder of a tune that is so simple (really just bass, drums and vocals) yet is so powerful and forceful. you WILL be going to get on that dancefloor, whether you want to be there or not. You WILL have a good time. And you WILL make you come running back time and time again.

A Baffled Republic
"Bad Boys (Move In Silence)"
(Catch, 1996)

This is what happens when two leading UKG groups combine. Both Baffled and Banana Republic were top of the line UK Garage artists and this collab is one of those rare times when the positives of both groups are accentuated while the negatives are thrown out. A real UKG anthem, this tune digs deep into the past, showing the deep, deep Hip-Hop roots of the UK Bass scene by nicking a line from KRS-One/BDP as it's main sample. Here we start to get a real swagger to tunes, like what you get in Jungle, some real skankin' action going on as that bassline just goes boom-booom-boooom-booooom forcing you move (possibly in silence as the bass pressure has kicked all air out your lungs).

"I Refuse (What You Want) (R.I.P. Deep Dub Mix)"
(i! Records, 1997)

This classic track got it's final set of remixes in 1997, with this RI.P. Productions mix being the best cut of the lot. R.I.P. is probably best known for their classic track Ripgroove and being one of the main players in the Speed Garage scene. Anyway here they turn the light 'n funky original into a pounding, high energy lightspeed number perfect for the dancefloor. I think this was also licensed onto Locked On as one of the first (if not the first) singles released on that label, however it's the i! Records release that's on my shelf so that's what I'm going by.

Chris Mack
"Plenty More"
(Confetti Records, 1997)

Probably best known for the classic vocal "there's plenty more fish in the sea/for meeeeee..." now don't tell me no one else tries to do that high note at the end there. Don't be shy admit it, you do it too! Chris Mack was another refugee from the Jungle scene, known over there as Potential Bad Boy. The only 2-Steppy number to appear here, you can really understand why the ex-Jungle folk took to that beat rather than the traditional 4x4, as at times it almost seems like a really cut down breakbeat. The Jungle/Drum & Bass folk would pick it up as well, but at the speeds they were working at it just seemed too robotic and cold unlike here where it really shows off the kind of wild, skippy, swinging thing that Garage would become known for.

Miles Fontaine
"I Don't Want A Love"
(Urban Dubz, 1997)

You know one thing I will never understand about producers is why bother with an alias if you're just going to write the credits on the label? Ah well, no matter. Miles Fontaine is much better known under his actual name of Jeremy Sylvester, one of the true UK Garage dons. Jeremy Sylvester worked in the same kind of vain as the likes of Grant Nelson, making the rough beats with the heavy basslines but still keeping it very deep and soulful. In this track we're treated to an absolutely massive warping, wobbling bassline, almost foreshadowing what would occur in the musical future with the later, darker Garage and Dubstep.

"I Believe In You"
(Outlaw Records, 1997)

Featuring the always fantastic Colour Girl on vocals (seriously check out her album on 4 Liberty Records that features this tune and many others, if you have the chance) this a fantastic track that really shows off how UK Garage treated it vocals. Less in a traditional way like you'd find in a US track, here it's heavily processed, with very little actual lines in it at all and it pops in and out of the track much a normal instrument would. In fact that's exactly how even the best UKG producers treated vocals, working it into the track as if it was no different than a piano or bassline or something. Again it adds to that real stuttery, skippy feel that UK Garage would gain, something that it could not have if the vocals were the centre of the track like they are traditionally.

R.I.P. Productions
"The Chant (We R)"
(Satellite Records, 1997)

You got a taste of R.I.P. before with the Somore remix, now feel the full power of them with this classic, past plundering track. Sampling from the classic Lennie De Ice track (you should know that one by now, if not, go back and re-read the guide) it really shows that even in the Garage era delving into the past(or even near past) for 'inspiration' continued. This time marrying up the We Are E samples with the big warping Speed Garage bassline for maximum dancefloor effect. Believe it or not a lot of the older UKG heads really were not fans of Speed Garage, I guess to them it sounded just loud and aggressive. Unlike later times that happened though, the people making it were generally true sceneheads with an knowledge and understanding of the music and the scene itself.

Greg Stainer
(V.I.P., 1997)

Greg Stainer put out a handful of singles in the late 90s, all of them engineered by a certain future UK Garage God MJ Cole. And his hand is all over this tune with it's slow, careful build up before it explodes into pure dancefloor bizness. Laid back, but at the same time strangely energetic, it's tracks like these that showed why MJ Cole would go on to great things. Not to take anything away from Greg Stainer of course, who's recently reappeared on the music scene producing some Deep House kind of numbers. After all it was Greg who was doing the producing so he must've came up with the actual musical ideas. Still he'd probably be more well know as something other than "a guy MJ Cole produced" if he had more things released back in the day, as what he did release was gold.

Ordinary People
"Baby You Make My Heart Sing"
(Social Circles, 1997)

Ordinary People was Social Circles label owner Jason Kaye, often with an ever-changing cast of secondary producers. On this release we're treated to Kaye working alongside Steve Gurley, yet another ex-Jungle producer (this time formerly of Foul Play, though I believe in 1997 he still had one or two Jungle releases under his solo name of Rogue Unit). What the opening organ and vocal bits don't prepare you for is the sheer darkness for this tune. And it's not done the easy way by simply making a complete racket. Here we're treated to some real brooding notes that give the tune a real kind of broodiness, though luckily without the black liner. Too soulful for depression though it's a real internal broodiness. Like the vocals say "burning up inside". A real brooding lust that the odd haunting organ hits add to that atmosphere. It makes you wonder was this kind of darkness brought into the scene via the Jungle cats, or was it always there, just obscured in the shiny glittery face of the US stuff?

Underground Solution
"You're No Good"
(Sound Of Underground London Records, 1997)

No not the Roger Sanchez Underground Solution(massive kudos from me by the way if you knew that one) but rather Londoners Danny Foster and T. Smoove, here producing another slice of ultra hot 4x4 UK Garage action, this time with Carina Joseph on vocals. A real soft, smooth laid back sunny Sunday afternoon track this one, so good in fact it would reappear a few years later in 2-Step remixed form. Sound Of Underground London also has a fucking cracking acronym, S.O.U.L. Absolutely fantastic.

Dem 2
"Destiny (Original Mix)"
(Locked On, 1997)

Finally I've teased you all through the guide, but we actually have a track from Locked On Records, who would probably become the label for UK Garage just a short year or two later. But in 1997 you could count the releases they had on one hand. This track would actually be re-released a year later and break through into the middle of the UK charts. But for now we're dealing with the original number. Here we see the 2-Step thing slowly creep into the scene, showing the direction Garage would go from 98 onwards, and this tune is one of the classic tunes in that style. Gone is the super tempo and all powerful warping bassline of Speed Garage and in it's place is the swing that UKG is known for, with hi-hats and a bass drum that seem switched, with the hats keeping the rhythm while the kick jumps around seemingly wildly, skipping beats here and there in an effort to follow the pace.

Leena Conquest
"Boundaries (Banana Republic Mix)"
(Parousia, 1997)

You know I have this on a double pack which features the original, a DJ Zinc remix and a Tricky remix, but you know what? I cannot remember a single thing about any of the other remixes. But this one by Banana Republic? I have this down pat. Amazingly slinky and seductive, this 4x4 mix truly eclipses every other remix on the 12 inches. Interestingly is how the vocals are handled, remaining very much more 'traditional' and being the centre feature of the song. Whereas lesser artists may rip it to shreds and chop it up or whatever, Banana Republic are talented enough to actually be able to weave an extremely capable dancefloor track around that. And that's a hard thing to do.

Fabulous Baker Boys
"Oh Boy (Ramsey & Fen Remix)"
(Multiply Records, 1997)

Ramsey & Fen was another pair of artists who, while they had a lot of really good tunes of their own released, seemed to really shine remixing other artists work. Here they tackle the Fabulous Baker Boys track Oh Boy. Like we R.I.P.'s The Chant, this is another track that delves into the past for their samples, continuing with the Hardcore Continuum tradition or re-sampling or re-working old tracks. In this case we're treated to samples lifted from Hardcore and Drum & Bass artist Jonny L's classic [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1vCHODxnQkHurt%20U%20So[/url nofollow=yes], a track by all accounts destined for mainstream success but sadly fell at the first hurdle. Here though it gets a bit of a pick up and brush down, priming it for Jonny L to reclaim for himself during the 2-Step days when he re-worked it as a part of Truesteppers(more famously known for working with Victoria Beckham).

"City Life (Bush Rangers Mix)"
(Filter, 1997)

And here we have Sunship, one of the long lasting UK Garage acts. They even exist to this day, which given the near death of UKG in the mid-00s is impressive. Here we have their track City Life, but this time not with the 2-Step original, but instead the Speed Garage remix. A lot of these Sunship tracks would go on to inspire and be part of the original core of the Northern Bassline scene. And also this track just goes to show it's not just the artists who were switching from Jungle to Garage, but the labels too with Filter originally putting out Jungle material.

Serious Danger
"High Noon (Part 1)"
(Fresh Records, 1998)

Here's another track that would cut right into the middle of the UK charts in early 98, showing that the Speed Garage sound while seemingly non-commercial (big massive hoovering basslines and thumping kicks with no vocals aren't really known to appeal to the lunchtime crowd on Clyde 1fm) in reality it proved to have a set of teeth about it. My favourite is actually the ISB remix which turn s the tune from a Speed Garage number into a hard hitting progressive House thing, well worth a listen to.

The Nice Phenomenon
"The End (Phenomenal Mix)"
(Nice Vinyl, 1998)

Mahnahmanah. Sorry, any time the word phenomenal appears it's what goes through my head. Anyway here's a real classic future Bassline tune. I remember this making the rounds in mixes around 2002-03 before the Bassline scene really established itself and began pouring out tunes. It's the kind of tune you'll probably still find on that last disc on a Bassline CD pack. Really, really thumping ultra-energetic Speed Garage action that is a world away from where UKG would go during the 2-Step days. Is it any wonder tunes like this would spin off into it's own genre? But we'll find out about 2-Step next time, for now it's The End!

Additional & Recommended Listening:

UK Garage was another one of those genres that had quite a bit of commercial interest in it, and from 97 up until the 'death' of Garage around 2002 or so there was a glut of compilation albums released by the likes of Telstar. One of my favourites though is a 2CD set called Kiss Garage, from Polygram, which features a good mix of commercial and underground tunes. I believe there is also a second volume but I have never heard it.

In terms of more underground comps though, the two I always recommend are Creative Garage from 1996, which has 2CDs one mixed by Paul 'Trouble' Anderson and the other by Noel Watson featuring a great mix of early UK Garage and UK and American House, highly recommended. I also suggest a mix called Sub-Level UK on Buillion Records, a great 4x4 mix from 97.

Finally compilation specialists Solid State Records have several volumes to check out, Speed Frequency, Ride The Underground as well as a Booker T 2CD set simply called Booker T - The Prize Collection which is a double disc comp with a bunch of his remixes on it.

If you want to be cool and actually buy the vinyl singles and what not, you're in luck. Most of the UK Garage stuff can be had dirt cheap, with only a handful of rarer singles (like the Anthill and Chris Mack stuff for instance) reaching crazy record collector prices. As much as people go on and on about UK Garage and how good it is, I think most people write it off as some jokey delinquent music, hence why the prices are still so cheap.


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