Garage: The sound of a generation that changed the UK music scene

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WRITTEN BY NATALIA MORGAN

Flowers’, ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, ‘Heartbroken’….the list goes on. Most people, if not everyone, knows a garage tune. Those of us that are younger may not remember raving in sweaty clubs with champagne and glow sticks – but that doesn’t stop us from feeling a part of the garage culture.

From its early influences of R’n’B, reggae and ragga, the emergence of UK garage has shaped mainstream British culture and defined ‘urban’ music as we know it today. Artists from the likes of Artful Dodger, Craig David, The Streets and Grant Nelson have helped changed the UK music scene, paving the way for new genres, including Grime.

Emerging in the 1990s, UK garage began on pirate radio stations and in the second room of nightclubs, but quickly gained attention from major promotors like Fantasia and Obsession who hosted some of the first 32,000 Garage raves in the UK. As it seeped into mainstream British culture, UK Garage moved from only being played on Sundays to breaking into and dominating the UK music charts. By the late 1990s/early 2000s “it was everywhere”. 

The genre was for the youth. With a strong bass, soulful melody and samples of old reggae/ragga artists most people’s parents listened to, it encouraged a new kind of relationship with music that the UK was missing.

Garage not only defined a generation but put London on the map for musical talent –

“It cemented my identity as a Londoner”

The rich musical diversity in the genre reflected the diversity in London; creating a unique sound for a new generation. It’s popularity also gave DJ’s the opportunity to rhyme over tracks and develop as artists, while making millionaires out of the original artists whose songs were being remixed into chart hits. To many it was a culture, a lifestyle that swept across London and the rest of the UK.  Going to the club, dressing in designer brands (Moschino, Versace, Iceberg) and being seen with the infamous champagne ‘Alize’ was a way of life and in some ways is the roots of the flashy lifestyle largely associated with Grime music today.  

Though the mid-2000s saw a decline in garage it also witnessed the birth of its sub-genres: UK funky, grime, dubstep and baseline. Yes, garage has been pushed from the “peace and love” vibes of the early 1900s to a darker aggressive tone (which set the path for grime), however the feel and bass of original garage anthems are still influencing music and culture today - ‘New Skool’ Garage from artists like Preditah, Disclosure and AlunaGeorge has somewhat revived UK Garage for a new generation. Garage Nation and others continue to host regular festivals/raves for UK Garage fans as the scene continues to invite new members and spell nostalgia for old lovers of the genre.

Whatever the future of Garage – whether it once again dominates the ‘Official UK Top 40’ or is forced underground completely - it will always be remembered as the genre that bridged the gap between music and culture, changing the British music scene indefinitely.  

*All quotes and taken from the BCA's talk on UK Garage

 Taken from the Black Cultural Archive's talk on the impact of garage music on British culture

Taken from the Black Cultural Archive's talk on the impact of garage music on British culture

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