The late 90s and early 00s saw a continuation and evolution of the UK's grassroots rave culture. Club MCs were the norm and pirate radio stations ruled the underground. And no matter which club or warehouse you were in, you’d likely be getting down to the undeniably danceable sounds of UK garage (the best genre ever).
It's a genre that has never truly had its righteous comeback, except in the form of its offspring genres like grime, dubstep, UK funky and bassline for which it laid the foundation. But all UK garage tunes released between 1995 to 2005 bring forth deeply nostalgic memories for the ultimate bygone rave era.
Let’s go back for a minute. The year is 1995 and DJs begin to move away from sampling and playing US records, the UK becomes heavily influenced by slightly faster, tougher bassline focused sounds. Import prices soar and the want for US records falls so UK producers begin to make their own garage records with a peerless British sauce. UK garage is birthed like a newborn golden child, into the eager arms of the country.
This gave heed to a new generation of electronic music, one that seemed to perfectly fuse dance and urban bass-driven sounds. UK music culture became a melting pot for all sorts of intertwined production levels and styles, moods and energies that seemed to never stop evolving.
Although relatively short-lived, UK garage is without a doubt one of the best genres of music to exist and in celebration of it, we present our list of 40 of the best tracks released from 1995 to 2005:
R.I.P Productions 'Special Groove'
In '95, UKG still had big soulful and funky house influences, tracks like “Special Groove” perfectly encapsulate this morph with the signature US sound. At this time, the trademark UKG sound that we all know and love wasn’t yet fully formed, nevertheless this tack has comparisons with certain house tunes being produced today. R.I.P Productions were certainly ahead of the curve with this funky number.
Indo 'R U Sleeping' (Bump & Flex Remix)
Although the original and prior remixes were released some time before the Bump & Flex remix, this version stands out among the rest. With its loud chopped up vocals, playful bassline, lo-fi drums and medium tempo, ‘R U Sleeping’ undoubtedly hangs in the garage hall of fame as a timeless banger.
Roy Davis Jr ft Peven Everett 'Gabriel' (Live Garage Version)
If UKG was a religion, 'Gabriel' would be its holy book. There is no other garage track quite like it. From the gospel-like vocals and house/reggae-infused beat, to the trumpet filled bassline and stripped-down soulful style: 'Gabriel' is a fitting name for something so angelic.
Underground Solutions 'I Need You Baby' (Deep Love Mix)
This track has plenty of similarities with a lot of contemporary deep house coming out of the UK at present. It’s slightly slept on, but the lively energy it conjures with its aqueous qualities and submerged vocal samples make it deserving of much more attention.
Rosie Gaines 'Closer Than Close' (Mentor Remake)
This is one of the most memorable vocal dance tracks out there, impressing with its bouncy style and smile-evoking vigour. The way Gaines sings “closer than you ever can imagine uuuuus” is just so saucy, and primed for a catchy sing-a-long. It became a smash hit on the UK dance & underground charts when the remix was released, catapulting garage house to the mainstream. This track has longevity in clubs and is still routinely played in living room afters across the country as the sun’s coming through the curtains.
Dem 2 'Destiny'
At a time where the garage house style started to evolve into a faster two-step sound, Dem 2 mastered the new style. 'Destiny' has an undeniable UK flavour, embalmed in fast, energetic pulses and choppy vocal cuts.
Blatant 'Good Cop Bad Cop'
A classic speed garage belter, 'Good Cop Bad Cop' is the kind of tune that gets people moving furiously on the floor. The Rhythm Division horns add a unique kind of hardness to it.
MJ Cole 'Sincere'
MJ Cole’s pioneering 2-step sound has been an umbrella to the genre, with many branches lying underneath. To this day, Cole remains a hugely successful and remarkable producer. 'Sincere' strikes an emotional chord each and every time, there’s something quite elegant about his trademark style. If pure bliss was a track, this would be it.
Shola Ama 'Much Love' (Dream Team Mix)
This blissful classic takes a Womack & Womack vocal sample and injects it with UKG flavour via plucked strings, sweeping synths, shuffling drums and embedded record scratches. The YouTube version above even has the crackle of the vinyl rip left in the recording to really take you back.
95 North 'Jazz Ascension' (Hard Dub)
This is an experimental and heavy jazz-styled bassline track with a fiery house-infused rhythm. The chords are something else and the whole sound is so unconventional. Whoever made the off-kilter bootleg video visuals got it on point. This tune would still go down heavily in a rave today.
Antonio 'Hyper Funk'
The drop at 1:55 is a one of those remarkable funky drops that completely changes the direction of the whole track. The bassline is so simple yet so mind-bending at the same time. It’s a tune that you can blast on repeat at any time of the day, and an overwhelmingly infectious groover that epitomises Antonio’s ever-so-cool style.
M Dubs 'Over Here'
A classic 4X4 mover, with a whole lot of character, released before garage became dominated by the speedier end of the spectrum. It has a rich texture despite its seemingly simple structure, with frivolous voice rips rubbing shoulders with a slapping beat to do the business.
Brandy Angel (X-Men Vocal Mix)
Brandy is a bit of an ‘It” girl when it comes to vocal samples from producers across genres (think Blawan’s 'Getting Me Down' for example). There’s something about her tender vocals that partner so perfectly with dance music, as this X-Men Vocal Mix evidences with its flawless composition and sample manipulation.
Groove Chronicles 'Black Puppet'
Some argue that this might be the first ever dubstep tune. Debatable as this may be, there’s no doubt that Groove Chronicles were ahead of the curve when they released “Black Puppet”. Kingpins throughout the UKG scene, this dub-heavy wobbler helped to lay the foundations for what would later branch into dubstep and grime as we now know it.
Sunship 'Try Me Out' (Let Me Lick It)
The kind of track that would have warehouses bouncing and radio play upon radio play, the merging of r'n'b vocal flavour with snappy beats and naughty lyrics on tops adds that little extra je ne sais quoi.
Stricktly Dubz 'Realise'
Sampling Mary J Blige’s “Real Love”, this tune is by production powerhouse Jeremy Sylvester, who interestingly released a whole load of first-rate material under near 30 aliases. 'Realise' is an all-encompassing, full-of-life track that features all the trademarks of UKG, from the quintessential vocals to the forceful drums. It’s a bouncer.
El-B 'El-Brand' (Vocal Mix) (2000)
Garage would not be whole without its romantic, rich vocal mixes. El-B got it absolutely spot-on with his sampling of Brandy’s smooth r'n'b vocals on this track. Hypnotic with its swing-esque melodies, striped-back style and 2-step beat, it’s a corker for sure. El-B is a true titan to the scene, originally known for his part of the iconic Groove Chronicles before branching out on his own imprint Ghost Records, which helped to sculpt much of modern bass music as we know it.
Ghost 'The Club'
This track showcases the deeper, darker sound that El-B’s later works became known for, before he transitioned to dubstep. With its turbos, 2-stepping mix and vocal samples, it rounds off nicely into a smooth roller. When El-B began releasing material under his Ghost moniker, the mood seemed to alter the entire UK Garage sound making it edgier and inspiring the likes of Burial, Skream and Benga.
Wookie 'Down on Me'
There are few who match Wookie’s rough-cut steez and converge of d'n'b/jungle influences and storming basslines. His early releases cemented him as one of the seminal producers who bridged UKG into the styles that came after, through tracks like the genre-defining 'Down On Me', 'Scrappy', and remix of Sia’s 'Little Man' which will forever lie in the bass music hall of fame. Regarded as one of the genre’s founding fathers, his distinguishing sound has gained him worldwide recognition. I can only imagine how MCs would shred up his tracks back in the day.
B15 Project 'Girls Like Us'
This super catchy groover is a real feel-good tune. The type to play on a portable speaker in a park with cans as the first summer sun comes out. The name B15 was taken from their Birmingham area postcode and the group became one of the most revered in the game from the Midlands. From their formation, they became instrumental producers for UKG, working with the likes of Ms. Dynamite, Beenie Man and Shola Ama.
Amar 'Sometimes It Snows in April' (Dreem House Snowman Mix)
The enchanting vocals on this track paired with the quintessential MC lyricism and back-to-back female and male verses make it an irresistible garage rendition of Prince’s 1986 classic.
Don Yute 'Herbland' (Nu Skool Players Remix)
Menta 'The Soul'
The rarity of this track is one that can’t quite be pigeonholed, it’s not too dissimilar to something that would be mixed in a techno set in 2019. Dubstep don Skream would later remix it (although it never got pressed). It’s slightly disturbing, with an industrial aura and dark break energy. The kind of track you’d find in the murky depths of a free party.
DJ Swiss and MC Harvey 'I Can’t Quite' (ft. Brasstooth)
All I Do 'Bump & Flex' (Dancehall Dub)
The turn of the century was a melting pot for a new wave of experimental UKG, like this track which pairs dancehall dubs with a funky rhythm and the signature “Baby” lyric. To this day it gets wheel-ups upon wheel-ups from DJs in sets.
DJ Narrows 'Saved Soul'
Perhaps the originator of the “bass face”, with a large dubstep-influenced pattern and stonking bassline maximised to shut down a rave. A proper sub-blowing record.
Sweet Female Attitude 'Flowers'
'Flowers' is pure pop ecstasy. one of the most remembered UKG hooks of all time, and a proper floor filler. A back of the school bus, Sony Ericsson blasting type of tune. The whole nation was united by it.
El Tuff '2-3 Bass'
El-B and Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown collab on this fantastically expressive project. This underdog track kept the original garage flavour alive at a time when its sounds were turning to the mainstream.
Sticky ft. Miss Dynamite 'Booo!'
Ms. Dynamite’s unforgettable flow paired with Sticky’s fierce production makes for a truly earth-shattering, bass-driven track that’s packed full of London attitude. This tune still goes off when played in clubs.
The Streets 'Has It Come to This?'
The Streets revolutionised the scene with their ability to create narratives about the trials and tribulations of ordinary life. In this track, the piano chords, docile lyricism and pairing of alternative hip hop with UKG creates a moody and remarkable track, which became exemplary of the country’s culture.
Hindzy D 'Target'
This early dubstep and grime focused track is reminiscent of the underground scene of the time. Coming armed with a killer beat and muddy dubs, it brought production levels to new stature in the UK.
Sticky ft. Kele Le Roc 'Things We Do'
As the sound of the Y2K era started to morph into new directions, 'Things We Do' still remained rooted in the traditional garage style, with its loopy vocals and evocative bassline.
DJ $Ki 'Can’t Get Enough'
A speedy, simply structured 4/4 track, DJ $Ki was part of a wave of new producers to push the 4/4 sound forward while featuring foundations of the traditional 90s style.
El Tuff 'Drive Me Crazy'
Another track to champion the hallmark styles of 90s garage, carrying the sound into the early 00s underground scene. This track is wonderfully jazzy with a springy bassline and lovely vocal snippets.
Sugar Beetz 'I Don’t Know'
This track arrived in a moment where a collection of producers were still clutching at the golden era UKG at a time when it seemed to be disintegrating before their very eyes. Sugar Beetz blessed ears with the punchy vocal samples and breakbeat sound of 'I Don't Know'- a track that sat in limbo during the progressing times of bass music. A year later grime would take the helm.
Alex Lee 'One More Time'
'One More Time' features all the typical hallmarks of classic UKG, but include so many elements in the bassline that it creates something totally unique to Lee, who deserved more recognition at the time.
Aftershock & Shola Ama 'With U'
Shola Ama’s beautifully soothing r'n'b vocals and neo-soul, ballad-esque vibe makes for a subtle and moody down-tempo garage track, oozing a sultry kind of coolness. More proof of Ama's impressive legacy in British music, to add to alongside her 1998 BRIT Award win for British Female Solo Artist and many other accomplishments.
3 of a Kind 'Babycakes'
Poppy as anything, some discerning UKG fans would have filed this under cheese and not given it the time of day. But its chart success is undeniable, and it arose impressively from a time where garage was dying out to prove the genre could still cut it in the mainstream.
Crazy Titch Gully
Sitting right on the cusp of UKG's full blown transformation into grime, this track has to be included for its ridiculous bassline. It was released as new-wave artists drove UKG into the fully-fledged grime movement, with fast lyricism and hard dubs becoming the norm. Despite never actually getting a release, this tune is a time capsule into the transition and development of bass music at the time.
Hannah Moll is a freelance writer, check her blog
Read this next!