What Is UK Garage?
UK garage is a much-loved genre of music in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Originating in the 1990s, it experienced mainstream success in the early 2000s, before returning to the underground in the mid-2000s. It originated in London, and the underground UK garage scene is still thriving in the city today. It depends heavily on bass lines, which certainly is not a bad thing. The genre pioneered the use of unique bass lines, showing how they can uncharacteristically be used to evoke a range of emotional responses.
Garage was influenced and developed from pre-existing forms of dance music. The parents of UK garage are house music and jungle music, which both thrived in London at the time. Jungle and UK garage are very closely connected. In UK garage's early days, both styles were being played at the same club nights. Although they were two very distinct sounds, with different styles, followings, and even fashions, both forms of music brought different people together from many different backgrounds. Garage helped to break down social, cultural and racial boundaries, even if only for the duration of a night in the local UK garage club.
Musically UK garage is soulful, yet fun at the same time. Unlike many forms of dance music, it does not take itself too seriously. Throughout the years, there have been a range of different styles within the genre, and below you will find what I believe to be the top ten best old-school garage songs. This selection is my own personal opinion, so feel free to debate my choices in the comment section below.
1. Double 99, "RIP Groove"
This track is as classic as they come. The shuffling intro has a lovely groove, and is a perfect example of the swinging 4/4 style that UK garage is famous for. The drop is also stereotypical of UK garage; it throws a dirty bassline in with the shuffling percussion to create a powerful track that you cannot help but go crazy to when you hear it on a dance floor.
There are many remixes of this track, but the original is, and always will be, the best. It is such a perfect example of why UK garage influenced and defined a generation of dance music lovers in the UK.
Listen to "RIP Groove" by Double 99
2. T2, "Heartbroken," featuring Jodie Aysha
“Heartbroken” was a breakthrough track in the UK garage scene, peaking in 2007 at number 2 in the UK singles chart, where it stayed for five consecutive weeks. UK garage had been fast building in popularity up to this point, but "Heartbroken" propelled the genre into the mainstream.
The song features the vocals of Jodie Aysha, which accentuate the tight, warbling bass lines, and crisp, sharp percussion perfectly. It is extremely catchy, but there is no compromise in the track to achieve that catchiness; the tight, heavy bass is a testament to this.
“Heartbroken”, while not a masterpiece, is a great old-school representation of how a genre can break into the mainstream without compromising its sound.
Listen to "Heartbroken" by T2
3. DJ Bigga G: "Mind, Body & Soul"
This song states that it has "something for your mind, your body and your soul". It certainly does: the percussion is unrelentingly groovy, and does things to your soul that you never knew were possible. The sampled vocal only adds to the profound effect the song has. However, the true power of the song is only realised as it drops into the heavy, trundling bass line that rumbles its way through every fibre of your being.
Every aspect of this song sounds so good, and together they complement each other to create a track that is unified in its brilliance. This song is a perfect example of how UK Garage can be both powerfully dirty and powerfully emotive.
Listen to "Mind, Body & Soul" by DJ Bigga G
4. The Streets, "Blinded by the Lights"
““Blinded By The Lights” is a two-step garage song, and is probably the most emotionally-driven song on the list. The lead synth alone cuts through the track, grabs your attention, and has an uncanny ability to evoke a range of feelings that can vary depending on your mood. Mike Skinner’s vocals are as sharp and witty as ever, yet extremely melancholic and moving.
The percussion is delightfully sparse; it makes use of the space behind the lead synth and the vocals extremely well, accentuating the overall production rather than overpowering it. Overall this song is masterfully produced, and is a soulful, melancholic, yet ecstatic representation of UK garage.
Listen to "Blinded by the Lights" by the Streets
5. DJ Luck & MC Neat, "With a Little Bit of Luck"
This track starts off soft and gradually builds up, leading us into the main vocal hook, also the title of the track. The strings behind the vocals create a tension that prepares us for the ensuing madness. The percussion kicks in, which is nice and tight. Eventually, the bass line kicks in and the strings disappear, creating a contrast that heightens the impact of the bass. The bass is really, really low, so you will need a good set of speakers or a subwoofer to hear it.
This track is another example of the emotional diversity of UK garage. The intro, with its building tension, affects our deeper emotions, while the bass simply makes us downright happy.
Listen to "With a Little Bit of Luck" by DJ Luck & MC Neat
6. George Morel: "Let's Groove"
“Let’s Groove” is a track that still sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released in 1993. It instantly became one of the most recognised songs of the genre at the time. It's unique: to this day, no other UK garage track has recaptured the sound that this track produces.
Every aspect of the song is so tantalisingly smooth, from the crisp, innovative percussion, to the soft, warm bass line. The hi-hats in particular aid the track in creating a groove that makes it impossible for the listener to keep still. Overall, “Let’s Groove” is a great track that will always be timeless.
Listen to "Let's Groove" by George Morel
7. Disclosure, "You & Me," Featuring Eliza Doolittle
“You and Me” is a modern take on garage by one of the UK’s most successful new dance acts. Disclosure have introduced their modern take on house and garage to a new generation, leading the way for the current revival of house and garage music in the UK.
“You and Me” was released on the 26th of April and is the third song off their album Settle. It reached number 10 on the UK singles chart, and number 6 on the UK dance chart.
It has a rich, warm sound that surrounds you as soon as the leads and the vocals come in. Eliza Doolittle is a great vocalist, and her vocals give the track an extra warmth. The result is a warm, yet heavy track that you just can’t get out of your head.
Listen to "You and Me" by Disclosure
8. Artful Dodger, "Movin' Too Fast"
Here we see the smoother side of UK garage. Artful Dodger are a band renowned in the UK garage scene for their seductive lyrics and smooth beats. Romina Johnson provides the vocals, which are suited to the smooth nature of the song.
The production of the song is simple, understated and easy on the ear. We have seen how UK garage can be heavy with its tight percussion and intimidating bass lines; here we see the complete opposite. This song features pleasant synths, complimented by chilled out percussion, and Johnson’s lovely vocals. The song is a warm feast for the ears.
Listen to "Movin' Too Fast" by Artful Dodger
9. Zed Bias: "Neighbourhood"
This track is oozing with attitude. The sampled vocals in the intro, sampled with the sparse, crisp percussion, create that initial attitude. This mood is then contrasted with a rather serene piano lead and a smooth female vocal; however, the song only gives us this relief for a few moments before it drops into the squelchy bass line and the vocal hook.
The bass line and the percussion pair together really well to create a shuffling behemoth that reaches right into your core. The vocals and the piano dip in and out of the track at various times, creating a multi-layered contrast. Overall it is a clever track that hits hard.
Listen to "Neighbourhood" by Zed Bias
10. Colours, "Hold On"
“Hold On” is a perfect example of how UK Garage, and dance music in general, is more than just mere noise, as many critics would argue. The sampled vocal is dripping with soul, and the various instrumental aspects of the song are intricate, yet beautifully so. They are light, and fill up the space of the track extremely well, allowing room for the percussion to breathe.
The song is a fine example of what a classic should be, intricate, musical, soulful, and powerful. It invokes a range of emotions, as do many of the songs on this list. Overall, it is a soothingly soulful track.
Listen to "Hold On" by Colours
So There We Have It!
These are the ten UK garage songs that I believe to be the best. Soulful, intricate, and downright heavy, they represent different aspects of the genre. Of course, these selections are all my own opinion, so feel free to debate them or add your own suggestions below.
Juliette on February 08, 2018:
DND vol 6 ( diamond rings)
TJR feat XAVIAR ( just gets better)
ACTIVE MINDS ( Hobson's choice)
Nat on July 21, 2017:
Here are some of my personal favs that unfortunately didn't make it on the list. Would be nice if you had a top 50 or 100 list.
Brandy - Best Friend (Garage Version)
Joy Rider - Colour Girl
Kelle Le Roc - Things We do
Ed Case Feat Shelley Nelson - Something in your eyes
Restless Natives - I wanna know
Artful Dodger - Wanting it just ain't enough
It's The Way - DJ Marky
Has It Come To This - The Streets
Whats it gonna b - H20
Little Man - Sia
Buddy X - Dream Team
Girls like us - B15 Project
As you can tell I love Garage. I miss the 90's.
Charlie on September 14, 2016:
The best garage songs may well be lost! These are very commercial and the better songs really are hard to find but really are that much better!
Bryan Mathew from Hawaii on April 12, 2016:
Me and my dad loves this song and we often listen this song together - The Streets, "Blinded by the Lights"
Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on June 23, 2015:
Thank you for such an informative article. While i have heard of house music, I am not familiar with U.K. Garage music. Voted up and interesting.
Jeph Maystruck from Regina, SK on June 22, 2015:
Love the list! Hold On was my fav song for like a year!! Love that!