Welcome to Future Garage, where emotions run deep and basslines run deeper. A home for introverts, it serves to enhance an atmosphere that other genres would only shatter: working a night shift; driving home from a party, or waiting for a train on an empty platform. The genre is, in a way, the liminal space of UK underground music.
'Future Garage' has become such an umbrella term over the past few years that it can sometimes be difficult to define. However, the silver lining to this vocabulary-based cloud is the sheer range of music that can now be lumped into it. The sound has ballooned since it's inception, with releases ranging from industrial sound system destroyers to ambient background pieces. Allow me to show you around:
2000s: The Classic Sound
The most obvious release to talk about when discussing future garage is the album that defined the genre's original sound: Burial's Untrue. Building on the dark, atmospheric sound established in 2005 on his South London Boroughs EP, Untrue is melancholic and raw; off-grid percussion and coarse basslines are met by aching pads and eerie vocal cuts throughout. Old future garage was about an atmosphere; about portraying a very specific scene.
During a rare interview with The Wire, Burial spoke on this idea, along with the inspirations behind the album:
"I wanted to make a half euphoric record. That was an older thing that UK underground music used to have. I think that type of euphoria is a British thing, like UK tunes, old rave tunes used to be the masters of that, for a reason, to do with the rave, a half smile, half human endorphins and half something hypnotized by drugs. It was stolen from us and it never really came back."Burial - The Wire
It is sad but also inevitable that future garage has lost this purity and specificity of feeling over time. As more people turn their gaze towards the genre, the emotions and intentions that initially drove it fall into the melting pot. However, this is not to say the old sound is lost: there are still a number of artists pushing out tune after tune with the dark atmospheres, rough basslines and sense of melancholy championed by Burial. To understand what future garage should be, one must take a look at how it once was:
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Early 2010s: A shift in focus
The dawn of a new decade saw future garage taken in a fresh direction; while the classic atmosphere was still somewhat present, it was no longer the central focus of the genre. Artists such as Sorrow, ASA, Synkro, Phaeleh and Owsey were building upon the darkness, twisting and and bending it into numerous different forms. If Burial's music was the night sky, this "second wave" was the starlight that shone out in between.
One of the wonderful things about darkness is that it isn't particularly harmonic-heavy. Lowpassed, deep sounds can be layered with countless additional elements such as strings, pianos, foley and bright pads in order to bring a wealth of emotion to a previously cold soundscape. A perfect example of this is Aether's "Flowerdance". Released in 2016, the track contains the foley drums and thick basslines found in Untrue, but with a far more intimate touch. Piano chord progressions, string movements and soft vocal cuts serve to take the atmosphere of the track away from the haziness of pure atmosphere and towards something far more tangible: emotion.
In fact, this seems to be the biggest shift in the future garage of the early 2010s. Burial was trying to invoke the atmosphere of a city, but this "New Wave" was more focused on human response. This era of the genre is perhaps the one I enjoy the most. It was the route into my current alias and by far the one I feel most connected to. Some of the tracks in this playlist directly inspired me to begin creating future garage music, so I hope they have an equally profound effect on you:
Late 2010s: The coming-of-age
2015-2019 was a pivotal time for future garage. Countless legendary tracks were released that laid the groundwork for the future of the genre, giving it an identity that could be refined and built-upon. As such, the sound flourished and grew beyond it's borders both sonically and geographically: the UK-based core was now joined by artists such as Sublab and Azaleh from Germany, Kisnou and Enzalla from Italy, Sibewest from Russia and Phelian from the US.
It would be impossible to universally describe the sound of the genre during this period due to it's sheer diversity, with differences in style seemingly being determined largely by geographic location. The Russians (e.g. Menual, Sibewest and Spaceouters) were creating dark, powerful soundscapes; the Italians (e.g. Kisnou and Enzalla) were introducing cinematic elements and miniscule percussive details, while the Europeans (e.g. Azaleh, Sublab, Nomyn and Subsets) were pushing the application of vocal cuts and melodic textures to new heights.
The sound and community developed during this time is perhaps the best representation of the current state of future garage. The number of artists that lurk just beneath the surface producing absolute gold is seemingly uncountable. I highly recommend you use this playlist as the starting point of an independent search; I guarantee you will find something to your taste.
2020 and beyond
With so many different constantly-expanding subcategories of future garage, it was inevitable that they would eventually arrive at the borders of another genre altogether. This has actually already happened happened many times throughout the years, with countless tracks crossing over into the realm of dubstep, UK garage, techno and wave. These relationships, however, aren't as unlikely as you might think - future garage was born out of the dubstep and speed garage scene after all, while wave music is of the same ilk but with brighter synths and a halftime drum rhythm.
What might not have been expected, however, is for it to merge with neuro-IDM. This is a genre I could write another entire article about actually; artists such as KOAN Sound, Frequent, Stasys and False Noise have been absolutely redefining the general consensus as to what can be achieved within a DAW for years now. I will, however, force myself to stay focused by giving you a very recent example of the crossover with future garage.
As it stands, Azaleh and Alydian's "Selenian" is probably the cutting edge of future garage. Fusing neuro basses, breaks, vocal cuts, rich subs, foley drums and a dark soundscape, the track has absolutely everything going for it. If someone were to force me to describe the future of the genre, this is definitely the direction I would lean towards.
Another notably genre-pushing track is Direct's "Grow Cold", a crunchy, glitchy exploration into syncopated rhythms and unusual sound design. On top of the irregular soundscape, he opts for a very minimal drum rhythm, straying away from the standardised 2-step shuffle in favour of an intriguingly awkward stream of hi-hats.
This space is definitely one I will be watching; it is difficult to speculate without more existing releases in the style. If you would like to watch the space as well, make sure to stay up to date on artists like Alydian, Azaleh, Ekcle, Direct, Aether and Dawncall.