During the ‘90s and early ‘2000s, 2-step rhythms and fast-paced 4/4 drums were truly inescapable in Britain. In less than 5 years the sound of UK Garage (colloquially referred to as UKG) rose from the underground and seeped into mainstream consciousness. Not only that but there is a range of popular genres that are the direct descendants of UKG. Even though the genre fell from (mainstream) grace and its pieces fell into other styles of music, right now we’re witnessing the phoenix ascend from the ashes as this generation has given UK garage new life. For the past 3 years, we’ve been experiencing a UKG revival, and a rising tide lifts all the boats – jungle, breakbeats, speed garage, and bassline have also received an increase in popularity.
"I think in general it's a good time for UKG - there's a whole new generation of young ravers who want to dance to the music (especially after being stuck indoors during Covid lockdown) and there's a wealth of new artists making tunes too. Plus there are plenty of mature ravers who still want to enjoy a dance - the best parties will have a mix of ages as well as races, genders etc. That was true back in the day and remains true now" - Manu Ekanayake
According to Beatport, UKG “conquered” 2021 as their charts were heavily flooded by new school garage artists. On top of that, one of the biggest tracks in 2022 was the nostalgia-driven “B.O.T.A.” by Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal. The arrival of PinkPantheress as a global popstar dare not escape mention either.
So, what’s going on here? Why is UK garage suddenly experiencing a resurgence? In this article, we connect the dots and explain the various factors that have led to this phenomenon. We also spoke to a range of influential music industry figures to hear their thoughts on the matter. The list includes:
- Manu Ekanayake (Freelance Journalist at Mixmag, The Quietus, and Red Bull Music)
- Marika Malliaris (UK Editorial Manager at Deezer)
- Laetitia Berry (Global Music Programmer at Deezer)
- Sound of Fractures (UK-based UKG producer)
- Swimming Paul (Paris-based UKG producer)
Before we dig deeper, if you're curious to hear our favorite UKG music, don't miss out on our alternative dancefloor playlist which we curate on all streaming platforms.
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What is UK Garage?
UK garage is a dance-orientated genre that arose during the early ‘90s in the UK. It’s recognizable through its heavy and/or wobbly basslines, continual 4/4 or 2/4 rhythmic pattern along with its upbeat and raw demeanor. For many, calling UKG just a musical genre minimizes its significance. Like hip hop is to the U.S.A., UKG is woven into parts of British culture particularly since it was predominantly a sound championed by the working class in the beginning.
History of UK Garage
Early Days of UK Garage
Interestingly enough, this story begins in the U.S.A. The roots of UK garage can be traced back to American house music, particularly the sound of New York garage. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the vibrant and soulful sound of house music was also blossoming in the London club scene. DJs began experimenting with different sounds and rhythms, and one of the key figures in the early development of UK garage was DJ and producer Todd Edwards. His ground-breaking style of production had a major influence on the emerging UKG sound. During the early 1990s, UK garage officially emerged as a unique genre showcasing its signature traits.
The music boasted 4/4 beats, syncopated rhythms, and soulful vocals, which collectively defined its sound. The tempo of UK garage tracks exhibited versatility, with certain compositions embracing faster beats – this was referred to as "speed garage," while other forms of UKG also opted for a more relaxed pace.
UK Garage In the Mainstream
Before UKG reached mainstream appeal, it was a movement that made waves all over the underground. And I mean literally. Like flowers on a huge ranch, pirate radio stations began blooming across England in the early to mid-'90s. Stations such as Rinse FM, Déjà vu, and Flex FM alongside many others were pivotal for the dance music scene. As the genre gained momentum, UK garage started receiving mainstream attention in the mid-1990s. Artists like MJ Cole, Artful Dodger, and Wookie with his track “Scrappy” became known for their chart-topping hits, which fused UK garage with R&B and pop influences. These crossover tracks helped bring UK garage to a wider audience, both in the UK and internationally. With legendary venues like Ministry of Sound and Fabric hosting regular UK garage nights, it was clear that UKG had made a massive mark on the club/rave scene too.
Nevertheless, during the mid-2000s, the commercial prosperity of UK Garage started to dwindle, overshadowed by the rising popularity of genres like grime and dubstep. As these new styles gained traction, numerous artists and producers embarked on a journey to discover other innovative expressions, causing UK garage to become more closely linked with its underground origins.
"To be honest, I really discovered UK garage with Disclosure 10 years ago with their first album which was absolutely a smash. Then I realized that I always knew this music but I couldn’t really name it. So yes, I definitely feel that the explosion of Disclosure a few years ago really helped UK garage to be in the spotlight again in a mainstream way." - Swimming Paul
The Revival of UK Garage
Despite the decline in mainstream success, UK garage maintained a dedicated and loyal following, and its impact continued to be felt through a range of genres. As I mentioned in the intro, we’re at a place right now where UKG artists are flooding Beatport, being played continuously on BBC 1, and topping the charts.
"I think the UK garage revival is a combination of people discovering the genre via YouTube wormholes, people's older family members playing them tunes, and just the fact the genre is so much a part of the fabric of UK dance music. We have a hugely popular BBC comedy series like People Just Do Nothing, which is about a group of UKG obsessives runnning a fictional UKG radio station, Kurrupt FM - the guys behind the show are legit fans, it's always been obvious. It's just part of the culture here; it's been bubbling away since the 90s, just waiting for another chance to explode. I have to shout out this Radio 1Xtra special by the Kurrupt FM guys as it bought back a lot of memories for me when it came out, as someone who was a teenager in the 90s. But I feel for a lot of younger people it really showed them the artists behind some seminal UKG moments." - Manu Ekanayake
Here are a few possible reasons why the revival is underway in the first place:
The 20-year Cycle and Nostalgia
From fashion to music, trends have been observed to follow a generational cycle that repeats every 20 years. The "20-year cycle" suggests that cultural trends tend to be recycled, and reintroduced to new generations approximately two decades after their initial popularity. There is a middle ground between familiar and retro that creates an allure, especially since these young adults are still experimenting with a sense of identity through style, music, and overall taste.
Apart from UK garage, we can look across the globe and there are numerous genres from the 2000s spreading like wildfire. South Africa’s Amapiano was heavily influenced by a genre called Kwaito, Jersey Club has resurfaced in a new light, and even mainstream hip hop has had an obsession with sampling from the 2000s. To top it off, the Y2K aesthetic in fashion and visuals (especially music videos) has not only returned, but it’s also the aesthetic associated with acts like PinkPantheress and Piri. In fact, it visually represents a popular Spotify playlist called Planet Rave – the home for alternative and pop-orientated UK garage, jungle, and breakbeat.
"I think the resurgence is influenced largely by nostalgic cycles, it was time for some dance music to come back with more groove and soul and a new generation was discovering it. There may be deeper things like the simplicity of it, it came from bedroom setups originally and now making music that way is the main way we create. Really the resurgence is in the new music that is being made that pulls from the sound." - Sound of Fractures
It’s clear that nostalgia, along with the 20-year cycle has had a MASSIVE role in the resurgence. Many individuals who grew up listening to UK garage in the '90s and early 2000s have developed a sense of nostalgia for the genre. Through the revival, they are enabled to revisit the music they loved during their youth.
Influential DJs and Producers
"I think that throwback content on platforms like Tik Tok inspires nostalgia, which leads to re-discovery and a new generation of listeners and producers bringing life back into the sound in a unique way. Streaming also allows producers to release and promote their music and reach new audiences of UKG listeners. We’ve seen many UKG legends starting to release music again, and it’s inspiring to see new music from the likes of Toddla T collaborating with emerging artists and MCs." - Marika Malliaris
A new generation of DJs and producers has emerged who are – whether deliberately or not - championing the UK garage sound. A few that might come to mind due to their commercial success are Fred again..., Nia Archives (more so Jungle), Interplanetary Criminal, PinkPatheress, Disclosure, and even Bicep. Keep in mind that all of these artists (except for Fred) are in their mid-20s, subtly touching on the point made in the previous section. These artists are not only paying homage to the original style but also incorporating modern production techniques and influences from other genres, giving UK garage a fresh and updated sound. Additionally, there is a surge of bubbling artists in the underground who are also pushing the envelope of what breakbeat, UKG, and jungle sound like.
This strong overall movement from the mainstream and underground respectively has led to legends in the UKG and jungle space experiencing a revamp in their career due to the renewed popularity of UKG-affiliated genres. Many weren’t entirely aware of who the iconic Mr. Goldie was until they saw the chemistry between him and Nia Archives.
"Really the leaders of the original scene are the ones who still influence me, but you can hear it in more commercial acts like PinkPantheress and Fred again.. etc. It’s always been a genre that has had the ability to be both underground and able to create vocal pop moments. The TikTok culture of remixing and playing on nostalgia probably played a big part, and that supported by acts that were influenced by it in more alternative dance scenes like Overmono, P-rallel, Dusky, Salute and Pocket who pull from lots of classic dance genres to make their own sound." - Sound of Fractures
This sound is not only being bolstered by producers in the UK. Who would’ve thought that a collab between Flume and Toro Y Moi would be an ode to jungle? And when the prince of melodic house Ben Böhmer borrowed from breakbeat on “A Matter of Time” in 2021, we knew ‘something’ was happening. Between 2021 and 2022 we saw SO MANY artists who were known for one particular genre begin to pepper UKG and its influences into their works. Another great example is Swimming Paul who has been one of the artists to watch this year thanks to his emotive brand of UKG.
"I think UK Garage has had tremendous global success over the years, and I’d like to believe that this new wave will see pioneering artists in the genre have similar pockets of success outside the UK. Looking at the performance of playlists on Deezer, it’s clear to see international groups of listeners outside the UK, particularly in France, The Netherlands, and Brazil. It’s also good to see artists such as Conducta have upcoming shows in Poland, Croatia, Norway and Sweden.", shares Marika Malliaris, editorial manager at the Deezer team in the UK.
Streaming and Playlists
"Yes for sure there is a UKG revival, but it’s almost like a new sub-genre in a way, it’s something that has been accelerated by Spotify and TikTok rather than the black music clubs where it was born. I just hope some of that energy and growth flows back into the places that the music is from, still lives, and where it was created.", elaborates electronic producer Sound of Fracture.
Sound of Fractures has a point on the above. The availability of streaming platforms has made it easier for fans to access and discover UK garage and UKG-inspired music – even unintentionally. The biggest and most noteworthy electronic music playlists on the top streaming platforms are jam-packed with UKG and Breakbeat-esque gems. In fact, if you go to Spotify’s Best Electronic Songs of 2022 and hit the shuffle button, that’s exactly what you’ll find. The saturated presence of the UKG sound across playlists inevitably spreads its influence. This has of course contributed to the increased visibility and popularity of the genre.
Popular UK Garage Playlists
"Every week, we receive a lot of pitches for the upcoming releases. I’m listening to all of them on the dance/electronic side (500/600 tracks a week) and I’m also looking at the trends and viral songs to see what’s popping up. I’m selecting every song that has the potential to go on a playlist, no matter if the artist is known or unknown. This is something really important as our goal is also to make people discover new music and new artists they could like. Young & Free is a playlist that highlights the new generation of dance & electronic music from all around the world. It is a point of access to introduce them to our audience. Then, when we see something happening around a track, Electronic Hits is another playlist where the song can be supported." shares Global Dance Editor at Deezer Laetitia Berry.
Fresh out of an amazing re-branding and overhaul, the platform is certainly at the forefront of the genre with a few carefully curated playlists.
Their Garage Essentials is the ultimate "essential collection of garage classics".
We also can't miss sharing with you UK Electronic - Deezer's top selections from the best in UK electronic music.
New UK Garage - The new wave of garage. Contains tracks that uphold that classic UKG sound with a modern appeal.
Planet Rave - This is a dance and electronic playlist that embraces a "futuristic" sonic aesthetic. You'll come across tracks that borrow from UK garage, breakbeat, drum and bass, pop, and IDM.
The Loft - A collection of some of the newest and finest tracks from the future pioneers of electronic, dance, and house music - you're bound to find plenty of UKG-influenced tracks here.
UK Garage Essentials - It's all in the name. This playlist beautifully captures the pivotal tracks that shaped the world of UKG.
Next - From bass mutations to next-gen iterations of dubstep and grime, these are the tracks breaking new ground right now.
UKG - A playlist showcasing some of the best new school UKG tracks from the underground and established artists.
Signals - The best in new & alternative electronic music, and a large portion of the tracks show off their UKG influences.
UKG Now - The very best of the new UK Garage, 2-step & bassline out right now.
Recently, one of the most renowned UK garage labels Locked On (releases with The Streets, Artful Dodger, Todd Edwards, Monsta Boy, etc) dropped a compilation that not only celebrates UKG's return but also puts a spotlight on a range of underground producers carrying the movement. It's called All Thru the Night and it's curated by none other than Interplanetary Criminal. If you've only just been acquainted with the UKG revival, this compilation is a great place to start.