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The best UK garage tracks of all time – NME

UK garage treads the line between delicate and dirty, soulful and skank-inspiring. Here are 25 of the best
When? 1994
Who? Originally consisting of Grant Nelson and Simon Firmin, garage and house collective 24 Hour Experience’s name is something of a contradiction – they had an enduring influence on the development of UK dance music in the ’90s.
Why? A swinging, funky, rolling rhythm that begins in a suspiciously house-like manner, but demonstrates its allegiance to garage with the introduction of hi-hats and drums so skippy they’d put the nimblest of boxers to shame.

When? 1998
Who? Originally an early ’90s dance classic from Hula, K. Fingers and Silk E, ‘R U Sleeping’ was given the garage treatment by English DJ Grant Nelson under one of his countless pseudonyms, Bump N’ Flex.
Why? Indo’s rallying cry of Reject me / Neglect me / Now you want the poonani /No no!” tells you she is no woman to mess with. Highly percussive, fervent and funky, Nelson’s remix underlines why he was such an integral pioneer of early garage.

When? 1998
Who? Ice Cream Records’ Stephen Emmanuel formed the ‘Colours’ outfit for the release of his ‘Hold On’ EP, enlisting the aid of dance vocalist June Hamm for the unleashing of this filthy early garage anthem.
Why? Rising strings, mashed-up keyboard sequences and irresistibly tempting background claps make for an enticing introduction to this classic, before June Hamm’s vocals rise above the noise to ask “Where is your love?”. It’s a question no garage fan should need to be asked twice of this track.

When? 1999
Who? Founder of Ghost Recordings, El-B has contributed a huge amount to the UK Garage scene, with dozens of vinyl releases dating back to the late ’90s.
Why? His reshaping of dancehall legend Mr. Vegas’ biggest hit is a striking work of creativity. The track builds gradually, phasing in and out its vocal hook – Heads high, kill em wid it now” – before dropping into a deep, pulsating beat which illustrates garage at its wobbly, bassy best.

When? 1999
Who? Shola Ama’s first audiences were the swathes of commuters collected on the platforms of Hammersmith Tube Station; this led the London singer to be discovered aged 15, and various garage reworking of her tracks helped propel her pop career forward.
Why? Asylum’s manipulation of the heartwarming line, Imagine if I told you that I want you / And imagine if it all came true” represents one of the many love stories of late-’90s UK Garage. And what true love story would be complete without the addition of a grubby bassline at 130bpm.

When? 1999
Who? If forced at gunpoint to name the single most definitive old-school garage track ever made, you could certainly do worse than punting for ‘A Little Bit Of Luck’. DJ Luck & MC Neat are absolute legends in the scene, who have spent over twenty years pushing the genre around the world.
Why? Michael Rose’s highly relatable hook of “With a little bit of luck / We can make it through the night” is the quintessentially British soundtrack to a messy night out, as is the pulsing drum rhythm and deep bass riff which provide Neat such an ample platform.

When? 1999
Who? With a back-catalogue filled to the brim with hits, from her collaboration with Basement Jaxx on ‘Romeo’ to her feature on Sticky’s ‘Things We Do’, Kele Le Roc is a queen of the UK Garage scene.
Why? Punchy, passionate and packed with vocal dexterity, the clue is in the name with this one.

When? 1999
Who? One of the last artists to work with Eliza Doolittle before she became mononymous (with 2014’s ‘The Hype 2.0’), Wookie is one of the movement’s biggest innovators, responsible for a host of classics such as ‘Scrappy’ and ‘Battle’.
Why? Don’t be fooled by the shimmering synth pads of the introduction – Wookie’s reimagining of Gabrielle’s mellow, soulful 1999 single ‘Sunshine’ flips the track dramatically on its head, Gabrielle’s pitch is shifted to near-chipmunk-like levels.

When? 1999
Who? Manchester duo Sweet Female Attitude’s early work blends R’n’B with garage, and the latter takes centre stage in Sunship’s seminal remix of ‘Flowers’.
Why? Peaking at Number 2 in the Charts, ‘Flowers’ remains one of the most commercially successful old-school garage anthems about. The track contains a rare emotional power, a tale of romance over a lounging, melodious, skippy instrumental. ‘Flowers’’ continued popularity was reinforced by AJ Tracey and Jorja Smith’s recent Live Lounge cover of it.

When? 2000
Who? Leon Thompson – otherwise known as Teebone – created a classic thanks to his enlistment of two incredibly fun, dynamic MCs who epitomize the vast power of the microphone.
Why? A brilliantly archetypal use of the classic Jamaican-dutch garage vocal. Sparks lines such as “Rolling with the S, the P, the A, the R, the K, the S… this for my DJ who’s in the mix with a box of tricks” reflect the unity and entertainment inherent to this musical epoch.

When? 2000
Who? Frequent collaborators and founders of Ghost Recordings J Da Flex & El-B are widely considered pioneers of the UK dubstep movement.
Why? Within two seconds, a sweet, melodic female vocal grips you at the song’s introduction, before a choppy, syncopated beat kicks in, above which soars the majestic hook, “When I fall in love / It will be forever”.

When? 2000
Who? Manchester-based musician and producer Dave Jones is an absolute kingpin of the 2-step garage scene.
Why? Many a rave over the last twenty years have kicked off courtesy of this track’s iconic tagline, “I feel good, good, good / I feel good / Yes wonderful good”. The catchy, pumping beat of ‘Neighbourhood’ propelled the song into the Top 30 at the turn of the millennium.

When? 2001
Who? Testament to garage’s long-standing relationship with brown spirits (see DJ Q’s ‘Brandy and Coke’), Jaimeson’s reputation within the scene is cemented firmly.
Why? Intensely speedy, the track is dominated by punchy kicks and snares and an ominous, industrial melody-of-sorts, which steadily creeps into the musical backdrop. Fact: the track was used on the sitcom People Just Do Nothing.

When? 2001
Who? The quintessential garage crew. Red Bull Studios recently streamed the recording of a live remix of ’21 Seconds’ featuring DJ Q, D Double E and Ms Banks, an event demonstrative of the crew’s continuing influence.
Why? ’21 Seconds’ helped push UK Garage onto the mainstream musical agenda. Listening to the crew’s blend of soft vocals, pacy MC-ing and syncopated beats, it’s easy to see why it had such an impact.

When? 2001
Who? Wookie adopted his ‘Exemen’ alias for the release of this huge remix, a decision which needs no further explanation given the heroic, wolverine-like power of this track.
Why? Australian singer-songwriter Sia’s soulful vocals are manipulated in explosive style by Exemen. The London DJ-producer exploits UKG’s textual potential, with the drop from light steel pan melodies to grimy sub-bass rhythm around 40 seconds in probably the track’s heaviest moment.

When? 2001
Who? Mike Skinner’s seminal debut ‘Original Pirate Material’ encapsulated modern Britain with its frank description of the nation’s nightclubs and greasy spoons, an achievement embodied by his decision to name his project ‘The Streets’.
Why? The influence of late ’90s garage seeps into this record, which catapulted one of Birmingham’s greatest musicians of recent years into the limelight. UK garage’s radio culture is captured by lines such as “original pirate material /You’re listening to the Streets / Lock down your aerial”.

When? 2011
Who? DJ Q’s recent work with Flava-D and Royal-T in alphabetical supergroup TQD showcased the producer and DJ’s versatility – his vast collection has spanned garage, bassline and grime.
Why? Sampling the harmonious vocals of R’n’B icon Brandy’s ‘Best Friend’, Q cranks up the speed and pitch of the California singer’s vocal mix, adding synth and key stabs in a unique amalgamation of sound.

When? 2013
Who? In the early-2010s UK garage (of sorts) experienced a brief commercial revival at the hands of Disclosure, whose debut album ‘Settle’ brought the sound back the mainstream. The Surrey brothers’ funky, futuristic sound fuses house, synth-pop and garage.
Why? Purists may dismiss the likes of Disclosure from a discussion on UK garage’s legacy, but their dancefloor classic is a perfect example of the modern re-interpretation of the old-school garage sound.

When? 2018
Who? Elusive UKG crew ‘Phone Traxx’ are a mysterious bunch with virtually no online presence, which adds a frisson of intrigue their punchy new garage.
Why? An intensely gripping opening kick drum sets the tone for an absolute powerhouse of a track. It’s a perfect example of a modern garage track which pays homage to the genre’s classic sound, intertwining tight drum sounds with zooming synth pads and dirty sub bass.

When? 2019
Who? Pinty’s name mid not carry the same recognition as fellow Sub Luna City member King Krule’s, but his development since the South London crew’s 2014 tape ‘City Rivims Mk 1’ has been impressive. His evolution from lo-fi hip hop to ambient, jazz-soaked garage beats culminated with this year’s ‘City Limits’ EP.
Why? ‘Nightcrawler’ is arguably the ‘City Limits’ project’s biggest success. A gorgeously catchy reworking of Liquid Lounge & Jazzanova’s mellow electro groove ‘Complete Life’, Pinty’s light, choppy flows complement a deeply soulful modern garage instrumental.

When? 2019
Who? Birmingham’s Jaykae enlisted Cardiff MC Local for this nod to the UK’s garage roots, a summery track that demonstrates his versatility.
Why? Local’s opening line, “I go back like sun city ravers / When the bouncers said, ‘No trainers’” instantly states the intention of this cracker of a throwback tune, which marries keyboard stabs with clippy hi-hats and throbbing bass. A certified summer slammer bursting with energy and rhythm.
When? 2019
Who? Sunship has been turning Craig David’s soulful R&B tracks into garage hits for close to two decades. A vital member of the UK garage scene from its early days, Sunship is a legendary producer who continues to contribute to an evolving genre.
Why? The latest musical venture of this iconic pair is inevitably reminiscent of Sunship’s classic remix of Craig David’s chart topper ‘7 Days’. The producer’s version is slightly darker, with more ambient melodic textures and punchy pizzicato strings.

When? 2019
Who? One of the most important new garage producers about, Conducta has pioneered a reinvigorated, modernised sound. The success of AJ Tracey’s Ladbroke Grove owes much to his production, but the Bristolian has made a name for himself largely through his inspired remixes.
Why? Sean Paul, Stefflon Don and Idris Elba undergo a serious reworking, as their catchy vocal hooks and verses are chopped up and flung onto a laid-back, chiming dance beat that showcases Conducta’s inventive sound.

When? 2019
Who? UK-based dance producers Frankel & Harper teamed up for the ‘Trimmers’ EP this year, the highlight of which is the Instinct remix of the title track.
Why? Hard, arresting and intensely rhythmic, this is a heavily nod-inducing belter of a track. Melodic female vocals emerge at intervals to complement a fast, syncopated drum pattern and wobbling subs.
When? 2019
Who? AJ Tracey’s collaboration with Conducta paid homage to his hometown and soared into the Top Five this summer, becoming one of the most commercially successful garage releases in years. The remix includes heavy features from the legendary Junglist General Levy and Lewisham grime MC Novelist, as well as a new verse from AJ himself.
Why? This is another exciting example of the longevity of the genre. Long live UK garage.

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