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UKG in 2020

A brief history of UK Garage, followed by an overview of 2020 releases in the genre (>'-')>
1Tina Moore
Tina Moore

With origins in jungle and NY house, uk garage began to take prominence in the London underground in the mid-late 1990s.
Is This Real

Offering a slower, more accessible alternative to the dominance of jungle at the time, ukg would become a phenomenon in the underground and mainstream alike, spawning multiple waves of experimentation in house, techno, bass, and pop music.
3MJ Cole

Borrowing heavily from the pioneering sounds of Timbaland, the skittering rhythms and 'chipmunk vocals' of ukg weigh on some listeners, and the scene's originally fashion focused, 'bling' culture and brushes with crime can lend a disjointed idea of what ukg ultimately represents. These stereotypes, of course, exist for a reason, but nonetheless present a limited view of a rich, varied musical and cultural movement.
4Horsepower Productions
In Fine Style

By the mid 2000s, marred by its own public image and pop decadence, the ukg bubble had burst. While 4x4 garage would continue to make a steady comeback, ukg as a singular phenomenon had wrapped. The pop and soul sensibilities were pulled away, grime and dubstep reigned. But like most genre “deaths,” this ultimately led to transformation...

As the dubstep scene in London was experiencing its golden age, Burial aka Will Bevan kept to the shadows, producing what many revere as a trend-setting genre masterpiece. “Untrue” would become something of a sleeper crossover hit, introducing a new generation of heads and amateurs alike to a unique blend of Hardcore UK sounds.
6Joy Orbison
Hyph Mngo/Wet Look

Ultimately, Burial's sophomore album would skew underground, and it wasn't until Disclosure dropped their debut and crossover smash hit “Settle” in 2013 that ukg would begin to heat up again in a major way. With pop artists like Aluna George and Jorja Smith going on to release successful singles featuring ukg production, and even more DJs on the circuit including garage tracks in their sets to positive response, it was undeniable that the genre was making a real comeback.

Since the mid-late 2010s, there has been an explosion of digital and vinyl releases in the underground market, with a handful of veterans like Zed Bias, El-B, Wookie, and MJ Cole returning to the scene to join an ever-growing wave of up and comers. With a strong contingent of artists staying true to the original sound, as well as a variety of groups fusing garridge with other popular styles of dance music like acid, electro, tech-house, and microhouse, the tapestry of ukg is diverse and relevant. While 2019 was arguably the most exciting year for the genre, 2020 gave it a run for its money, aided partially by the fertile soil of Bandcamp Fridays.


Label: Island
Tags: Garage, Deep House, Pop

Disclosure's “Energy” was a bit of a mixed bag (if only because of its bloated tracklist), but the album nonetheless proved the brothers are still at the top of their game. They've continued toying with wonky hip-hop, acid, and deep house, but several tunes pay clear homage to their primary influences—MJ Cole even gets time to shine on his own with a remix! The album is a testament to the relevance of ukg as we continue into a new decade, as well as a fun, accessible place for curious newcomers. Do jumping jacks to “Douha (Mali, Mali)”
Move It / Beach Groove / London Underground

Label: self-released
Tags: Garage House, Tribal House, 2-Step

Godfather of dubstep. Boss of steppin' ukg. There's little that can be said about this man that hasn't been said before. With a prolific career spanning multiple decades, you'd think El-B might rest on his laurels for a moment, but he seems as determined and powerful as ever. In addition to having at least one track or remix on virtually every ukg label in 2020, he's been steadily increasing the presence of his own Bandcamp page, putting out unreleased tunes, and contributing to DNR exclusives with new material. Cruise down the highway in your whip to “Beach Groove”
10Jeremy Sylvester
Que Sexy/Welcome to the Club

Label: Madhouse
Tags: Garage House, Speed Garage, Deep House

With an emphasis on deep house and garage house, Kerri Chandler's Madhouse Records has been putting out authentic jams since the early '90s. A New York house pioneer and living legend, Kerri's own productions would have a singular influence on ukg and specifically speed garage in its formative years, with tracks like “Hallelujah” getting regular traction at underground ukg parties in the late '90s (pitched up, of course!). Kerri has continued producing and touring as well, but seems to be most focused on A&R for his various labels, and this 2020 Madhouse release continues his promotional run of top dance music...
11Jeremy Sylvester
Que Sexy/Welcome to the Club

AKA Champagne Bubbler, Deep Cover Inc, Freak da Funk, Sly, Strickly Dubz...Jeremy Sylvester is the king of 4x4 garage, boasting one of the most prolific back catalogues of any dance genre. Smooth and sexy but always beefy, his tunes combine the sultry r&b stylings of 2-step with the chunky, swingin' rhythms of deep house and speed garage. Jeremy has been appealing to a broader market in recent years, and while some of his newer output doesn't bear the same golden fruit as his old skool offerings, he is still head and shoulders above his Beatport contemporaries. The man has not lost his touch, and for the most part his productions retain the 'je ne sais quo' that makes garage music completely hypnotizing

While “Que Sexy” is fun and groovy, its frenetic vocal dub styling begins to grate after a while--“Welcome To The Club” is the highlight here, with deep, soulful grooves and a rhythm section that commands the hips and shoulders. Do the worm to this track

Tags: Dark Garage, Minimal, Dubstep

Paying homage to El-B's legendary GHOST label with a string of no nonsense 12s bearing little but the INSTINCT name, James Burnham aka Burnski aka INSTINCT is at the top of his game, managing several sub-labels all churning out tunes from some of the freshest names in left field bass, techno, electro, and ukg. Somehow he finds time to produce loads of of great music on top of that, and of the artists fusing ukg with contemporary minimal flavors, INSTINCT is the one experimenting the most. Label releases can range from heads down, steely speed garage and tech-house, to wacked out minimal cuts sauteed with electro, dubstep, and 2-step. Not all of it does the trick for me, but it's all amazing and well-engineered

Label: Dr Banana
Tags: Garage, 2-Step, Dubstep

Somewhat of a veteran in the modern ukg scene, Dr Banana has been around since 2016, pushing a combination of quality re-issues and re-presses while shining light on newer producers in the scene. Preferring quality over quantity, the label puts out just a handful of releases every year. ZeroFG's recent EP delivers the goods--here be five tracks of gorgeous 2-step and garage to “Get The Vibes Right”
Pinder 001

Label: self-released
Tags: Breakbeat, 2-Step, Speed Garage

Nathan Pinder has an uncanny ability to capture the essence of garridge in his music. He's one of the newer players in the underground, but has wasted no time building a reputation in the scene with an impressive amount of label appearances. Pinder's music runs the gamut from bumpy Croydon 2-step to heads down speed garage to raucous bassline, all neatly produced and fresh

If you like your chunes RUDE look no further, Pinder's got your back
15Main Phase
Absolute Main Phase Vol. 2

Label: self-released
Tags: Breakbeat, 2-Step, Dubstep

Main Phase is everywhere these days, and for good reason. He's proven himself an extremely competent producer, fusing limber 2-step with dubstep and breaks to satisfying result. Like many in the UKG revival, at times his over-reliance on chopped Jamaican vocal samples can come off as a feeble attempt to ground the music in context, but for the most part, Main Phase tracks still have that special something... Run tingz to these onez yeah
Hooked EP

Label: Shall Not Fade
Tags: Tech House, Speed Garage, Disco House, Minimal

The Hooked EP is a great example of how genre-shopping in today's underground can be used to incredible effect. DJOKO blends the shuffling, driving grooves of old skool tech house with disco, house, and modern minimal rhythms, topping it off with the trimmings and flavor of speed garage. The result is a very fun, dance friendly EP. Pretty sweet “Music Sounds Better With You” flip on the bandcamp exclusive bonus track... Do your dishes to these jams
17Holloway (UK)
Some Bad Days EP

Label: Timeisnow
Tags: 2-Step, Dubstep, Dark Garage

Sub-label of Shall Not Fade, Timeisnow recently rocked the scene with a string of nearly perfect 12s focusing on the darker sides of 2-step, dubstep, and speed garage. A particular highlight from this summer's releases, Holloway's “Some Bad Days EP” features one of the best bass programmers in the scene putting his chops on display. A lovely homage to Claro Intelecto's timeless classic “Peace of Mind (Electrosoul)” rounds this EP out as one of the most interesting ukg releases of the year
18Prescribe Da Vibe
I'm Here EP

Label: Kiwi
Tags: 2-Step, Breakbeat

Conducta really took the underground by storm last year, beginning a steady run of releases on his own label with a mix titled “THE KIWI MANIFESTO.” Despite internal difficulties and scene in-fighting with some of the old guard, Kiwi has continued to put out their unique take on ukg without compromise. Overall, the catalogue is not for me, but there is gold to be mined—and honestly I still need to re-check more of their newer releases to form a better opinion

Prescribe Da Vibe's 2020 release is a standout in the catalogue, with tight drum programming and an impactful r&b ethos that measures up to greats like Sunship, MJ Cole, and Jeremy Sylvester. The tunes here are pumping, and likely engineered with DJs in mind, but at the same time their deepness and unfolding beauty make them just as appropriate for an intimate smoke sesh as the dance floor of a club
19Y U QT
Buff Traxx EP 2

Label: Warehouse Rave
Tags: 2-Step, Garage

The Warehouse Rave label offers an array of future leaning hardcore sounds, focusing on jungle and drum 'n bass. Similar to the I'm Here EP, The Buff Trax EP 2 is a welcome splash of r&b color in the label's catalogue, bringing to mind the lovely vibes of Joy Orbison, BICEP, and even Submotion Orchestra. Play beach volleyball in Ibiza to “Sundae Gelato”
20Benny ill
Who, Me? / Acre Lane Skank

Label: GD4YA
Tags: UK Techno, Speed Garage

Another old skool 2000s player that is getting space to shine in the contemporary scene, Benny iLL had a handful of appearances on some ukg labels in 2020, but his EP on GD4YA in October was easily the most interesting. A1 'Who, Me?' is the highlight, a steppin' take on uk techno that never wears out its welcome during a nearly 8 minute run time. And what's that I hear?! A golden-era rave whistle patch?! Use your Stairmaster to this tune

Honorable mention to El-B's quintessential summer release on this label in May: Brixton 2 Croydon
Like This

Label: Hessel Audio
Tags: Progressive, UK Techno, Speed Garage

On the Full Mix, rave meets hands-in-the-air house meets electro house meets garage. An odd combination, but it works. Almost sounds like it could have been produced by Bob Sinclair, but that bass line is just too nasty. This one gets my vote for best sound engineering of the year, it's really beautiful and also just a huuuge cut. “Midnight Plane” is killer too
22Phone Traxxx
Volume 4

Label: Phone Traxxx
Tags: 2-Step, Breakbeat, Dubstep

Phone Traxx have been making waves with their cheeky, heavy take on 2-step and garage since 2018. Equally influenced by microhouse and drum n bass, these tunes hypnotize while approaching the music from a campy perspective
23Skee Mask

Tags: Breakbeat, Electro, Jungle

Skee Mask is sort of a living legend at this point, and this release cements his underground dominance. The EP is filled with inverted, subterranean takes on dubstep and drum 'n bass. Both Skee Mask and the Zenker Brothers' label are more interested in electro, jungle, and left field techno, but both have captured the essence of hardcore UK dance music in a way that makes them deserving of a list spot. Listen to this EP while you're playing Doom

Honorable mention to Walton's 2020 Ilian release, particularly the track “Debris”
cabinet 55

Label: Cabinet Records
Tags: Minimal Techno, Microhouse, Garage, Deep House

Brawther has been putting out primarily deep house since the mid-late 2000s, with his 2010 Vol.1 EP as Paris Underground Trax (with Jeremy Underground Paris) being praised as a modern garage house classic. This 2020 Cabinet release showcases his ability to shift from moody and soulful to quirky and minimal, without losing the deep 'n dope vibe he's known for. While this one is more appropriately classified as microhouse or minimal techno, the overall attitude and drum programming (especially on 'Fairground') shows a clear garage house influence--it's pretty jazzy too!
25Peaky & Pinder

Label: Peaky Beats
Tags: 2-Step, Bassline, Acid, Electro

Peaky is one of the silliest producers in the game right now. His productions revere the mid 90s, chunky 'n bumpy South London sound originally heralded by the likes of D.E.A. Project and TJ Cases. Preferring cartoon samples to r&b chops, Peaky Beats has been pumping out peaky tunes since he hit the ground running with the eponymous label in 2019 (with a Fergie – Delicious edit, no less!). The way he and Pinder play off each other's style on this collab creates an undeniable spark. The EP isn't perfect, but I really hope these two make music together again
26DJ Deller & Heritage
2 Steppers LTD

Label: Plastik People Recordings; September 2020
Tags: 2-Step, Breakbeat

Quietly operating out of New Mexico, label head Marc Cotterell has been remastering, repressing, and reissuing unreleased material and stone cold classics alike under the PPR name, such as Jeremy Sylvester's “Body Grooving EP” (under the MF Project pseudonym), and Alias' “Who's Story.” Plastik People is a platform for new artists as well, with Marc Cotterrell contributing a number of originals and remixes but ultimately shining the light on up-and-comers like DJ Perception, Soul Mass Transit System, and Highrise aka Dwarde. On this sneak peak of 2 Steppers LTD, a lesser-known DJ Deller tune is repressed, joined by newcomer Heritage on the flip. Connect your computer to the internet with Heritage's “Dial Up” playing in the background
27Sky Joose / Perception
Practical Rhythms Vol. 3

Label: Practical Rhythms
Tags: 2-Step, Garage, Breakbeat

Both Sky Joose and DJ Perception have had staple releases the last couple of years, the former being an old skool 90s cat with an already impressive catalogue, the latter being a newer name, and also the head of the extremely promising Moodswing record label. This split sees both producers shining, with remixes from two other big names in the modern scene as well: Interplanetary Criminal, and D Jason aka Soul Mass Transit System. Oh, and did I mention it's mastered by the master Mike Millrain himself? Swoon
28T.Williams & James Jacob

Label: Today, Tomorrow Records
Tags: Garage House, Deep House

TTR is a small but growing label pushing utilitarian, mid-tempo garage house and 2-step. While the collab on track 1 of this release is a likely dance floor bomb, the clubbier tendencies can drag it down on home listening. Individually, the two producers settle into their groove a bit better, with more memorable offerings. James Jacob's tune 'Trip' is the highlight, a beautiful fusion of almost-dub-techno-deep house with that classic garage house swing and attitude
29Al Wootton

Label: TRULE
Tags: UK Funky

Operator label head Al Wootton comes correct on every release, and this one is no exception. An incredibly solid and varied 4 track EP of dub, 2-step, breaks, and minimal. Al's music is effortlessly fresh, stylish, and interesting

His 2020 “Snake Dance E.P.” on Livity Sound is excellent as well, and more abstract:
Surface Tension: II

Label: LoDubs Records
Tags: Dubstep, 2-Step

Just a couple of years after Burial reinvigorated UKG with “Untrue,” Clubroot stepped onto the scene with his self-titled debut in 2009. Inspired by Burial's soulful approach, Clubroot pulled away the r&b inflections but retained the slinky atmospheres, crafting a very solid sub-bass heavy Dubstep album that focused on mood and roots without clobbering its listener over the head. After his third release in 2012, it seemed that Clubroot had put away his wubs, but he has returned! On Surface Tension: II (part of a four part series with IV dropping December 21 of this year), Clubroot continues to fuse his trademark sound with breaks, while still maintaining a great balance between the skittering rhythms of 2-step and the darker, lurching sounds of dubstep. Lucid dream to these tunes
31Sir Hiss
Keygen/Anatolian Heartland

Label: Wych
Tags: Grime, Lofi Hip-Hop, 2-Step

Tasty, downtempo tracks that sound like Three 6 got stuck in a Vaporwave chamber. Listen to this on the way back from the rave, or with your morning cup of coffee
Chemz / Dolphinz

Label: Hyperdub
Tags: Jungle, 2-Step

EP technically hasn't dropped but I'm adding anyway because it is pretty dang gooood. First section of "Chemz" is the highlight personally--a speedy, shuffling belter with some nice breaks, but the whole thing is great. Excited for Dolphinz
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