This article on speed garage was written for the Frantik Music website in early 1998. Since the article was written, a lot has happened to the genre. By the middle of 1998, speed garage had become known as "UK Garage" and "2 Step", and started to merge with hip-hop and British urban music. The genre arguably reached its peak as UK garage in around 2000, by which time it had become almost totally unrecognisable from the original "garage" sound of the early-mid 1990s. The merger of UK garage and hip-hop during the first few years of the millennium has both seen UK and US hip-hop, urban and rap artists use UK garage sounds in their production, with four to the floor kick drums and deep, jungle basslines now practically non-existent from the genre.
Garage music has been around for a while now; traditionally it is a more mellow, laid back and vocal form of house music (although some people may argue with this). Garage is based upon repetition of beat and sounds, more so than in any other form of music, a style which is geared for the dancefloor. Originally, garage originated in America as a mix of soul and house music; the name "garage" comes from the nightclub "Paradise Garage", although the music played at this American venue in the 1980s would be unrecognisable as garage today. There are many different forms of garage music, most of these were of little interest to UK hard dance fans until the latest mutation came along, speed garage.
Speed garage can be broadly defined as a mixture of slightly sped up garage beats with a heavy almost junglistic bassline, sometimes with timestretched vocals and usually with a break in the middle where the beat is stripped down and then builds up for a long period of time. This combination visible in speed garage makes people go wild on the dancefloor, it combines the tradtional garage repetition with this new anticipation where everything builds up, so that when the whole tune comes in (usually some way into the track) everyone is really into their dancing and the music.
People have argued as to how far you can extend the boundaries of the speed garage genre. Speed garage albums are available in the shops with tracks on them such as "Higher State of Conciousness" by Josh Wink, and other tracks which firstly are way too old to be classed as speed garage in today's sense, and secondly are not speed garage tracks anyway by any definition of the genre.
In "Wax" magazine one member of 187 Lockdown, the speed garage outfit whose track "Gunman" has recently hit the British top 40 and is now heard in clubs everywhere, has recently said that the Loop Da Loop remix of Todd Terry's "Something Going On" is not a proper speed garage track because the beats are "cheesy house beats".
So speed garage can be anything from vocal garage tracks with the classic garage beat and a slightly heavier bassline than in the normal garage track, (an example being Rosie Gaines' summer hit "Closer than Close"), to the more commercial junglistic-house feel of the Loop Da Loop remix of "Something Going On". But most speed garage fans recognise certain stand out tracks to be the ones that define the speed garage genre... and these are tracks like "Ripgroove" by Double 99, and "Gunman" by 187 Lockdown.
How Did Speed Garage Start?
Armand Van Helden is widely regarded as the pioneer behind the modern speed garage sound. He is reported to have said that he wished to combine the jungle and the garage sounds as his aim a couple of years back, and in 1996 several remixes came out including his mix of "Spin Spin Sugar" by Sneaker Pimps with heavy basslines and more timestretching than in the average garage track. But at this stage this would have been classed as more experimental house than "speed garage", a term which was only heard widely for the first time in early 1997.
Speed GarageIt was probably people like Double 99 who first defined the speed garage genre as it is today when they released "Ripgroove", who turned the experimental Van Helden remix sound into something more accessible by both the jungle posse and the garage crew. Keeping it simple and catchy is the aim of a lot of speed garage producers over the last year or so, and "Ripgroove" succeeds to do this through the instantly recognisable bassline and the beats; plus the now obligatory gunshots and "badboy" timestretched vocals.
"Gunman" by 187 Lockdown is another speed garage success following arguably the same formula; skippy, garage beats (this time even with a breakbeat feel to them) with the hard bassline. But in this track the tune comes in the form of a chime type sound which is anything but cheesy but gives the tune its own individual character.
Commercial Speed Garage
Like hardcore, and jungle after it, as soon as the commercial house producers of this world caught on to what was going on speed garage was the next target for "chart busting". Nobody can deny that although the sound may have been copied and the beats may not be as garage-like, the Loop Da Loop remix of "Something Going On" is very popular in clubs and is hardly "commercial" in the traditional sense of the word. I think personally that this mix is a successful attempt to access the speed garage formula, combine it with "havin' it" house music and in doing so address a much wider club audience who want to listen to more uplifting music. It may not be as pioneering and ground breaking as the music of Double 99 and 187 Lockdown for the garage fraternity but if it wasn't for remixes such as this I doubt speed garage would be the musical force it is today.
What I personally don't like about the speed garage thing being popular is the so called "speed garage" albums appearing in the shops which have all the trademark tracks you would already have as a fan (Ripgroove, Gunman, etc) with tracks which are clearly not speed garage, such as Josh Wink, Sash, Quicksilver etc. This is damaging to the scene to some extent when people think speed garage has sold out or confuse it with house, meaning people who are not really into it think they are, go to a night and find no Sash, Quicksilver etc. being played.
The Future of Speed Garage
1998 will make or break the speed garage genre. The tracks could either do what hardcore did in 1992 and become too commercial forcing producers back underground to find a new style, or as with jungle in 1994, the commercial producers could fail to break the style and it could progress undamaged into 1999.
Whilst Armand Van Helden pioneered the speed garage style in America, speed garage has now a very British feel to it with the hard breakbeats finding their way in and the gunshots and timestretching in a less experimental and more "in your face" British jungle style. We will see what happens.