Bling The Grime
By DeForrest Gate
Some of you might think of the UK Garage scene and picture MJ Cole surrounded by glamourous models drinking champagne. They might think of Artful Dodger or Craig David: the acceptable, media-friendly R'n'B face of Garage that has been championed by the media solely because it is on major labels with large advertising budgets. The sort of garage you can get on CD compilations in HMV.
But there is another side to this music that's been coming up from the streets for a couple of years now - fuelled by London's pirate radio; lots of youngsters and junglistic oldsters making ruff, hard and funky multicultural British house music on countless white labels with names that change for each release, making it hard to keep track unless you are locked on.
This is a sound that owes much to early nineties hardcore and jungle - blistering cut up breaks, off key samples, early warp type bleeps & it's all underpinned by a massive grimy bass... imagine Tipper or Si Begg's Fuel excursions with a turbo-ragga injection of danger and London attitude. You might like to call it breakstep, nu-skool rave, grimy or 'moody bassline business' but it's still just acid house.
These records owe more to Joey Beltram's 'Energy Flash' or 'Mentasm' combined with ragga and lovers rock than the previous Todd Edwards-inspired brand of skippy hyper-edits and soul vocals. The skippyness is often still there in places but the soulfulness and smoothness of soul music R'n'B vocal snippets has been replaced by a sense of danger. Rude-boy ragga samples weave around the bleeps and stabs of hardcore rave, which keep resurfacing as they have recently in Drum'n'Bass.
But instead of sounding like a pumped up steroid Heavy Metal parody of it's former self (as much new Drum'n'Bass unfortunately does) here these old-skool references actually work. Perhaps this is because many of the producers who were at the forefront of Jungle and Drum'n'Bass when it was actually relevent are now operating in the UK Garage scene. For example: Shut Up and Dance (AKA Hackney Soldiers), Remarc, Mark Ryder, DJ Hype (AKA Naughty), Peekay, Lewi Cifer, Zinc (AKA Jammin), Skibadee, Steve Gurley, Danny Donnelly....
The BPM's are even in line with old hardcore records - you can mix these with 90-92's Acen, Altern 8, Meat Beat Manifesto's 'Radio Babylon' or early Shut Up and Dance but they have the vibe of old 93 / 95 Jungle - the Amen breaks mashed to fuck, the ragga soundsystem samples and the dub bass.
DJ Narrows was instrumental in re-introducing the 4/4 kick drum back into the grimy end of UK Garage, which had recently been getting more and more into electro / ragga square-wave bass territory. This has paradoxically made it even more funky somehow. That anathema of 'IDM', the 4/4 kick, actually makes the bass smears, the rave stabs, the amen break and whatnot sound more "out of place" and other-worldly - harking back in the vibe you may have felt in the very late eighties when the UK was just starting to produce it's own house music. Influenced by Chicago and Acid - just this "Eh?" and "What the fuck?" feeling.
Some may point to '138 Trek' by DJ Zinc as the point when Drum'n'Bass producers got re-involved into the garage scene, which had apparently stolen their original audience back in 1996. But it was the original Jungle producers / pirate DJ's who were running 'tings' so-to-speak anyway - so this re-involvement was a media construct. DJ's like Hype and Zinc who had stayed true to the Drum'n'Bass / Jungle ethic throughout and were keeping in contact with UK underground music did not 'suddenly' get involved with garage, but rather garage is insidiously taking over the London underground with it's all-encompassing vibes.
This can't last for ever - no. there are loads of shit records - garage mixes of 'only fools and horses', many generic bassline / beat with a clap on 3rd beat white labels. It can tend to sound very boring to the uninitiated, but the place to hear these records are on the pirates - with the MC's running their flow non-stop over the bass...shout outs...it just makes more sense - it's about the context. In this way it's not about the individual records - that's why i have chosen not to individually review the above records, which is not to say they don't work in their own right - check them out, they are but a small taste of what's available and it changes from week to week.
In the way that many fans of Venetian Snares or Aphex Twin and some 'Breakcore' artists are now frantically searching out old (Drill'n'Bass inspiring?) Jungle and Ragga-Jungle cut-up Amen 12"s that sound like early Squarepusher for "big money" on eBay (when they would have turned their nose up at the time) - I guarantee that these records are the DJ's collectable items of the future - you start checking out the UK Garage tracks in your local shop - or if you're too far from London on an online store such as Chemical or Juno. The ruffer or more funky the better - avoid the coffee table smooth garage vibes and go for tracks with rude boy, grime or dub in the title.
DeForrest Gate's Selector....
Dub Conspiracy & Audio Vandal: Select 'Dis (Union Jack)
Invisible Inc.: The Business EP (Underground Sound)
Bad Bwoy Beatz: Gotta Get Wise "Funky Breaks Mix" (Breakstep)
Mark "Ruff" Ryder: Sound System Check (Strictly Underground)
Optimal Noise: Static / X / The Alpha (Static)
Unknown Artist: Face Off Vol. 4 (Face Off Records)
Hackney Soldiers: Manzdem (New Deal)
Various Artists: Parental Guidance Vol.4 (Parental Guidance)
Urban Legends: Hold On (TL01)
Ruff Da Menace: 2 F In' Ruff (Strictly Underground)
Naughty: Bad Boy / Shots / Pussy Trak (Naughty Music)
Wiley: Gunshot / Braindead / Eskimo / Igloo (WK)
DJ Narrows: My High Is Comin' Down (Octagon Dubz)
Darqwan: Metro / Friday At The Limit (Texture)
Mark "Ruff" Ryder: Renegade (Strictly)
Jammin: Tonka (Menta Remix) (Bingo)
Urban Shakedown: Some Justice 2002 (Menta remixes) (Public Demand)