“This is about how a scene that started in a pub – yes, a pub with a capacity of 150 – became a musical phenomenon in 5 short years.”
That’s how DJ Spoony of The Dreem Team introduces Rewind 4Ever, Alex Lawton’s documentary on the history of UK Garage. And that’s the appeal – that’s the charm that lures a wider audience into the story of a genre that (after all) never entirely took off outside of Britain but has had probably a more enduring influence than many other, more widespread movements.
“My main motivation for shooting the documentary,” Lawton told 5 Magazine in 2014, “was the simple fact that the story of UK Garage had never been told in any real depth before, and even for people who don’t know too much about the music it really is a fascinating ‘rise, fall, resurgence’ kind of story that even the most armchair fan can get into.”
Despite that compelling story arc – how something can go from so small to so big to so small again, like an economic bubble or the rise and fall of a political ideology – there isn’t exactly a huge field of UKG documentary films to pick from (though there are many films that mention UK Garage in some sort of context). These are four of our favorites – two for the radio and two for the screen.
1. Rewind 4Ever
Alex Lawton (see his lists of unsung UK Garage producers and underrated UK Garage labels) made the best and most thorough overview of UK Garage. Rewind 4Ever is undeniably the gold standard as things stand right now. Debuting at a time that Disclosure had the ear of the world, R4E provides an essential history of the movement through interviews with cult figures and well-known industry personalities including Todd Edwards, Matt “Jam” Lamont, Grant Nelson and so on.
Lawton “knew absolutely no one,” when he conceived of Rewind 4Ever. “I remember one day sitting down at my kitchen table and writing a shortlist of all the names I wanted to interview and once I’d done that I drafted up a cover letter which I sent out to everyone’s Facebook/MySpace page. Slowly but surely I started to get some replies and it wasn’t long before I had my foot in the door.”
Despite the prodigious cast, it’s a reminder of what a massive movement UKG became that you can still come up with a number of prominent names who don’t appear on camera for Rewind 4Ever. A couple, I know, opted out as their careers had branched out and they were wary of being too closely associated with the past in the aftermath of UKG’s spectacular crash. Nevertheless, in retrospect the timing for Rewind 4Ever was near perfect: the late 1990s were recent enough that most subjects were still alive, but enough time had passed to make distinctions with a critical eye.
2. Brandy & Coke
The first from Channel 4’s Music Nation video series covering 25 years of underground UK music, Brandy & Coke is dedicated to the rise and fall of UK Garage. The pacing is frenetic and you can drink in the rich cinematography, which one might expect from director Ewen Spencer. His photography career began shooting UKG nightlife at Twice as Nice in 1998 for magazines, a collection of which were published just prior to filming Brandy & Coke in an acclaimed coffee table book aptly titled UKG.
Brandy & Coke features luminaries including MC Creed, Wookie, Ruff Cut and plenty of the swank party kids that propelled the movement from the Sunday Scene to pirate radio and eventually the furthest flung outposts of Europe. Because of the episodic nature of the series, Brandy & Coke emphasizes the subcultural aspects of Garage, particularly fashion.
3. Roots & Future: A History of UK Dance
A radio program which is produced by Public Radio International in the United States, Afropop Worldwide has done a tremendous job covering late 20th century electronic music scenes in the last few years (the one on Detroit Techno was particularly impressive). Debuting in June 2016, Roots & Future: A History of UK Dance breezes over about 20 years of British electronic music, from the days of Acid House to Jungle, UK Garage and Dubstep. UKG figures include Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown and a smear of well-known anthems.
4. The New Step
Produced by Rowan Collinson, The New Step is a BBC Radio 1 documentary focusing on the emergence of Dubstep. Released in 2003, the microphone was positioned at just the precise moment to capture a new genre emerging from the old and a new scene coalescing in London. The New Step actually spends a lot of time stirring through the coals of the UK Garage scene during the crash and establishing Dubstep’s relationship with UKG. In fact they’re somewhat indistinguishable, in the way that Lester Bangs used the words “punk” and “the new wave” interchangeably for a time.
“The UK Garage scene is going underground again for 2003,” one voice says. “The Garage scene is going downhill,” another adds. “They’re now calling what people used to know as UK Garage ‘Urban House.'” The new step, they say, needs to “stay underground and not become commercial like Garage did. And now it’s dead.” A fascinating time capsule from an era often spoken about but documented here almost in real time.
UKG2.0: Originally published in 5 Magazine Issue 143, the second of our three issue series dedicated to the sound, the artists and the timeless influence of UK Garage and featuring Todd Edwards, MJ Cole, Ples Jones, Snazzy Trax and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full Access to Real House Music for only $1/issue twice per month.