UK Garage was at its peak – in my very humble opinion – in 1999-2002 when I was just about to become a teenager. Compared to the Trance Nation CDs and hyper-manufactured pop I heard every day, it was several hundred thousand light-years away. It felt like hearing a part of the future. Completely dropped into the genre with no background knowledge whatsoever, I found myself lapping up anything with a garage break in it, headphones on at every opportunity, worshipping the Dreem Teem on Radio 1, falling for So Solid Crew’s wobble. There was no loyalties with me, no efforts to take up the more fashionable side – Aberdeen was so far away from the hub of Garage that I was rarely met by anybody who had even heard of it properly, let alone scoffed at my dubious Craig David-based choices. It was a totally happy and uninhibited time where every part of the scene was fair game, and it felt special because it felt important. It felt like the start of something.

Of course it wasn’t the start of something at all – UK Garage was in full swing by the time it had reached my unaccustomed ears in 1999. Artists like Grant Nelson had been manipulating house into garage since ‘94 and earlier; Todd Edwards had brought a new style in as early as 1995. Speed Garage might have been the order of the 90s, but as it became popular in its own right alongside jungle, the garage I knew and loved came into its own around the 1997 mark. What I had felt as a music epiphany was the result of years of evolution, from house and Speed Garage to the heavily dancefloor and 2-step influenced sound it became at the turn of the 21st century. By the time it had reached the frozen north (of Scotland) it was 1998, and MJ Cole had released what I still firmly to believe is one of the greatest UKG tracks of all time – Sincere. As I said, there’s no point scoring here. It’s highly likely you’ll disagree, if fact, I’d like it if you did. That’s how this becomes a conversation instead of me simply recalling things I once heard.

I didn’t get a chance to listen to Ice or Freek FM, and I liked Gotta Get Thru This despite even then realising how unbearably cheesy it was. This is the greatest part of a musical awakening; you just absorb it all anyway, tune after tune, until as quickly as it began it switches to something different and you have to shift your focus. Obviously for UK Garage the switch was around 2002 when Grime finally burst out of it furious, filthy, and terrifying. It took me a few years to get into Grime. Usually spin-off sub-genres never quite reach the heights of their predecessors, but it exploded in the early 00s on Pirate radio (notably Rinse FM for me–a mysteriously cool bastion of Grime I’d heard about but hadn’t actually had the opportunity to hear apart from recorded on tape). Artists like Wiley fascinated me because their sound was fresh and raw. I’d never experienced anything he spoke about, but there was this awesome feeling that came with it. It was like being immersed in east London, even though I’d never been further south than Manchester. It was storytelling from a place so alien to me it might have been on the moon, and I grew to love that. Eventually Grime became far more successful than Garage in every respect; Dizzee Rascal broke into mainstream culture, and here we are in 2011 accepting Grime on car adverts and at Wedding discos. We’ve come a long way since the nineties. Snarling urban frustration has now become a commodity – and it’s still doing exceptionally well. If you ask me I was never interested in Grime from anywhere else than where it began, I just didn’t see how something so intrinsically ‘London’ could be made anywhere else, but I’m probably just being a pedant. It’s the same with dubstep from America. Can you really evoke high-rises and grey skies, defiance, flecks of warmth, claustrophobia and fear in California?

Even if you find Garage in its current state squirmy and a little outdated, it’s hard to bypass the huge amounts of influence it’s had on electronica today. Given the importance of Dubstep and Grime in the late Noughties (have we still not come up with a better name for this time period yet?) on popular culture, UKG really did have a profound effect on the music everybody listens to now. It may have been a mostly side-stepped genre for much of its life, being outdone by its own parodies again and again, but it was an important learning curve in the history of modern dance music. If we hadn’t had Oxide & Neutrino, we may have never had anything remotely close to Future Garage, Dubstep, all the other multitudes of –step, the constant evolution of Drum and Bass and all manner of manifestations of Bassline and UK Funky, and I don’t think I could live without those to be honest. In lieu of a proper conclusion I’m going to put a gratuitous link to DJ Luck and MC Neat’s magnum opus Little Bit Of Luck because I couldn’t crowbar it in anywhere else, and in an article about Garage circa 2001 it would be a travesty to leave it out.