The scene: high school prom. The location: Croydon, London. Rather than sultry suggestive slow dancing or cool-cat shuffling, all the bodies in the room are jerking, twisting, convulsing. That’s because the soundtrack to this moody night is the notorious sound of south London – dubstep. I’ve spent many nights moving counterintuitively to the screeching frequencies of this genre. Many happy mornings with my ears ringing as a result.
And yet there would be no dubstep, no soundtrack to my high school years, without the foundation of Garage music. The genre, birthed in the late 1990s in London’s club scene, often gets forgotten in wider music history. It’s easy to dismiss its chopped up drum breaks and pitched up vocals as basic staples of dance music, but we forget the radical shift these elements contributed to UK house music in general.
Admittedly I am biased, my early years were laden with the genre – my mother would play her euphoric house compilation which consisted of a series of garage classic remixes. And with So Solid Crew, Oxide and Neutrino, and Artful Dodger eventually taking over the scene, the genre was solidified in my eyes as one of the most unique, London-specific genres in dance music. Garage, as with most genres of music, is more than its beats and rhythms, but is a point around which we can navigate the entire culture of London and its relentless commitment to loudness, to shameless dancing, to putting the music before all else.
Garage may be undervalued, but its legacy continues on in the moments within modern music where we hear broken drum patterns, time stretched vocals, adrenaline-infused bass. For those of who have traversed London’s club scene, specifically overpaying for entry to Fabric on a Saturday night to hear some deafening grime and breakbeat, we have garage to thank.
Written by DJ Phenomenology at KSDT.