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8 Primo Proto-Dubstep Tunes

In the late '90s, as UK Garage continued to become more saturated in London's mainstream, an offshoot of the genre characterized by darker atmospheres and more prominent bass sounds began to take form in the underground. Retrospectively labelled 'Dark Garage,' this movement created the framework for a music genre that's as pervasive as it is misunderstood: Dubstep. Here are 8 goodies from the era.
1Groove Chronicles
Faith In You


“Life's What You Make It” (1999)

https://youtu.be/iqvD2UgrJPA

Well-known for their '97 classic “Stonecold,” Groove Chronicles (El-B & Noodles) had a truly amazing run of tunes. “Life's What You Make it” features a more emphasized, wobbly riddim bassline than its A-side counterpart “Faith In You,” making it a perfect example of the dark garage elements that would eventually mutate into dubstep in the mid-2000s. Both tracks on this EP are highly recommended, but those looking for an easier way to sample GC's various offerings should check out the Groove Chronicles Album released in 2006.
2MJ Cole
Sincere (Remix EP)


“Sincere Dubb 2000” (2000)

https://youtu.be/VF24CEasKSg

MJ Cole's debut full length “Sincere” was a watershed moment for UKG. While the LP's cover art represented a questioning of fashion-heavy, consumerist values that underpinned the genre's commercialization, its content ultimately embraced mainstream pop in a way that would make it a marker of what the Dark Garage movement swung away from in its mission and aesthetic.

This three track remix EP, simply entitled “Sincere,” features an MJ Cole remix of the smash hit “Sincere” that strays from his more sunny, commercial side and opts for “the wild side.” This is a true 'flip' which sees a seminal UK pop tune turn into a skittering wub machine a la Mike Millrain. And don't forget about the Wookie remix either!
3Large Joints
X L


“What Have You Done Lately?” (1999)

https://soulr3volution.bandcamp.com/track/what-have-you-done-lately

Absolutely mad 2step remix of Janet Jackson's “What Have You Done For Me Lately” by the one and only Mike Millrain. Mike has an uncanny ability to pay homage to source samples while creating an entirely new sounding product, and pioneered a “bubblin'” style of bass-heavy garage music that helped lay the blueprint for dubstep.
4Various
Tempa Allstars Vol. 1


“DJ Abstract – Touch” (2003)

https://youtu.be/E3Vs3uTBrcU

Atmospheric, funky, and rolling, with incredibly clever drum programming. While the “First dubstep tune ever made” designation is bestowed upon many an OG track in the bass world (and has become a hyperbole/cliché) this one's highly unique genre blend and proximity to the rise of London dubstep in the mid-2000s wins it that title for me. Way ahead of its time.
5Roxy Vs El-B
Breakbeat Science / Cuba


“Breakbeat Science” (2001)

https://youtu.be/Q_SPGu7HQ_o

Bass on this one is nasty. And those drums! “Breakbeat Science” just blows me away every time. Note how the r&b influence of UKG is stripped back, but still present.
6Horsepower Productions
When You Hold Me/Let's Dance


“When You Hold Me” (2000)

https://youtu.be/KrkleTLG1RY

Horsepower Productions' “In Fine Style” is perhaps the most obvious LP antecedent to oldskool dubstep, but two years prior to the release of that album, there was Tempa 001. I don't really have words for this tune. It's astonishing. But don't forget to check out “In Fine Style,” too.
7Ghost
The Club


“Two Thousand” (2000)

https://youtu.be/nn6A1Dn7QT0

No proto-dubstep list is complete without Ghost. Mostly associated with El-B for its productions, this label and collective was home to a variety of British producers and MCs in its heyday. Hard to pick a track off here--the whole EP is perfection.
8Allstars
Walk On By / Killin Me


“Walk On By (VIP)” (2000)

https://youtu.be/qgfNmvEg9Go

Steve Gurley is one of those artists that you can immediately recognize after like, 5 seconds of a track playing. Similar to Zed Bias and Mike Millrain, Steve had a distinct 2step flavor and was able to balance vocals with heavy bass in a truly fresh way for the genre at the time. Stabs on this one are gorgeous.
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