There was something in the air across 1997 and 1998. The UK Garage scene was a molten hotbed of activity, with a staggering amount of killer anthems cut to wax. To anyone alive and of age to be raving in that period: consider yourselves blessed. To anyone not, there’s endless fun to be had digging into the rich depths of raucous heaters released in that time. They still sound classic today.
In April last year we called UKG as the best genre ever, and then in December Manchester duo Swing Ting got nicher (pun intended) and labeled speed garage as the greatest in a Guardian headline. There’s no denying the style fuelled by bassline-infused rowdiness has thrown up some of the biggest bangers in the UKG sphere. We dug into the fertile ‘97-’98 period and found the 15 best.
49° South ‘Love Somebody's Trigger Finger’ (1997)
Switching up between a soulful sample from American r’n’b trio The Jones Girls’ ‘You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else’ and a rousing Redman bar, this track forefronts vocals and raises them up beneath murky production. The way it incorporates the bleep tone censoring Redman’s profanity into the beat is an ingenious technique.
187 Lockdown ‘Gunman’ (1997)
Danny Harrison and Julian Jonah had the garage game on lockdown. They produced under a number of aliases through the years, including Nu-Birth and M-Factor. ‘Gunman’ was their debut single as 187 Lockdown - a short-lived speed garage project that has lived long in the memory for the records it produced. At first listen ‘Gunman’ sounds simple and raw, but there’s an irresistibility to the wobbling bassline leading the charge and array of samples bubbling around the edges, from the spooky synth chimes to police sirens whirring in the distance. Deservedly, it hit Number One in the UK dance chart.
Tail Spin ‘All Massive’ (Tail Spin Massive Mix) (1997)
If you’re calling a tune ‘All Massive’ and calling your own mix of that tune the “Massive Mix”, you better make damned sure the tune is massive! Tail Spin delivered on this promise, giving the title to one of the baddest tunes in speed garage history. It eases in with emotive vocals and airy tones, hinting at something darker to come with landline-esque ringing tones, before steadily ramping to an impactful climax and dropping into screwface bassline business.
Livin' Large Feat Colonel Abrams ’Feel Free’ (Love Is What We Need) (1997)
The bassline on this one buzzes like adrenaline fizzing through your veins. The warped vocal echoes with gruff vigour. The synth sounds repeatedly flare up and disintegrate like a nuclear reactor alarm tone going into meltdown. The percussion rolls with unshakeable pace. The track is a banger.
G.O.D ‘Watch Ya Bass Bins’ (1997)
This track is so good that it snuck onto our list of the best late-90s UKG records despite its speedier leanings, so naturally, it takes up position again here. It is just so bloody excellent. I will never tire of this amazing record. I first heard Paul Woolford playing it at a night in Leeds and didn’t track down the ID til about a year later. The search made the heart grow fonder, and every day since I remain grateful this absolute belter is in my life. I’m not religious, but I worship at the altar of G.O.D.
Tonick ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’ (1997)
Yes, this is a Busta Rhymes speed garage remix, and yes, it is absolutely killer. Tonick complements the vocal with production that floats, swells, then dips into scuzzier territory. Shuffling percussion injects the track with a restless sense of energy, matching Rhymes’ rhymes.
Double 99 ‘Ripgroove’ (1997)
A classic that still gets rinsed to this day, and for good reason. That backspin at 1:30 leading into 30 seconds of build-up before that almighty climax of bassline rawness asserts it as one of the most impactful club records ever made.
Lisa Stansfield ‘The Line’ (Loop Da Loop Uptown Mix) (1997)
This track is chaos. An emotional vocal, shimmering outer production, fist-pumping basslines, ferocious breaks, MC shouts and more bleeding together. It’s all the best elements of speed garage squashed together in a rough and rowdy headfuck of a tune.
A vs. B ’Ripped In 2 Minutes’ (1998)
There’s a moment 2 minutes and 25 seconds into this track where the beat has been building and building for a good 50 seconds, and just as it feels like it’s about to peak and burst back into the skittering percussive hits powering the intro, it instead elevates into a beautiful trance-y drift that is pure ecstasy. Like taking a furious run-up at a volcano intending to hurl yourself into hell, and then, just as your foot takes the final leap and leaves the crater’s edge, being summoned upwards by a light beam from heaven.
M.F. Project ‘Body Grooving’ (Raw Mix) (1998)
Jeremy Sylvester is to UKG as René Pawlowitz is to techno: a producer working under a ton of different aliases and achieving a near 100 percent hit rate across the board.
187 Lockdown ‘Kung-Fu’ (1998)
Another gem from 187 Lockdown’s short but sweet release career. Like ‘Gunman’ before it, ‘Kung-Fu’ is powered by a wobbling reese bassline and sparkling outer melodies, but it’s a lighter listen, trading the spooky atmospheres for cheerier tones.
DJ Texta & Persian ‘Well, Well, Well’ (1998)
There’s a charming understatedness to this record. It shies away from the more common speed garage trope of going All In, and crafts a simple bumping beat with crudely manipulated samples dotted throughout. One for the deep zone.
Exis Of Earth ‘Robotman’ (Nick Base Massive Mix) (1998)
The second “Massive Mix” of this list, and again, thankfully, there is no lie. The record artwork stars some sort of robot astronaut, and there’s a distinct space-age feel to the track’s opening, with vocoder vocals, ethereal pads and flickering bleeps intertwining. Then the bassline surges in and drags you back down to the dirty depths of a rave on Mother Earth. Bliss.
Northban ‘Musik’ (1998)
The melody of stunted brass notes here is grin-inducingly infectious, while the decaying clicks sounds like the last breaths of an aged dolphin, which is fun. And it’s a piece of music that has a vocal refrain endlessly repeating the word “music” - also fun.
Errol Simms ‘It’s Nota’ (1998)
The comments on this YouTube upload feature two excellent uses of the rudest word in the English language. One commenter admonishing themselves for a mistake which lost them a copy of this record: “bought this on Discogs....paid £22 LOL.....and realised I provided a previous address...The moral of the story is....Do not be a cunt.” The other is a commenter expressing delight at sourcing the ID of the tune after a lengthy search: “finally this cunt was found”. I feel their pain and their joy - can’t imagine anyone not wanting a piece of this anthem.
Shout out to YouTube channel myspeedgarage for its services to the culture
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, follow him on Twitter