While compiling songs for a UKG inspired mix, I had narrowed my choices down to about 25 of my favorites. It wasn’t until much later, while creating a playlist, that I realized that over half of them were really Jeremy Sylvester’s songs, albeit under different pseudonyms.
At a time when everyone is screaming jack, tech and minimal, his music replenishes and feeds the soul. Jeremy Sylvester has been both the backbone and poster boy for the UK Garage (UKG) scene and has continued to pump out tune after luscious tune. Head honcho of Urban Dubz Music and Love House Records, his discography is mind boggling. Urban Dubz, Socafrica, G.O.D., Jazz Mondo, Sly and probably about another 30 more monikers all point to this one very talented man. And from that one source emanates beautiful music inspired by genres as diverse as Reggae, Disco, Jungle, R&B and Soca. Please meet Jeremy Sylvester.
There are several excellent and well-written explanations of what UK Garage is. But really, I’d love to get one from the man whose name is synonymous with the genre. Will you please indulge?
To me, the term UK Garage has become more of a broad term to label all the different styles, such as 2step, 4×4 and even early Grime music. When I started making this in the ’90s, I just wanted to make House Music. I listened to early Masters at Work, Lil Louis, Kenny Dope, Kerri Chandler, Todd Terry, Eric Morillo, Roger Sanchez, Ron Trent, Chez Damier, Kevin Saunderson and labels like Strictly Rhythm, 8 Ball and Nervous Records to try and copy or take influence from their sound.
From what I can see, it was only when the DJs in the UK started playing certain US import records at a faster tempo in the clubs, and then artists like Tuff Jam and Grant Nelson began making tracks with tougher, faster and bouncier beat and bass patterns. This is when I think the term “UK Garage” started to appear. Tuff Jams especially.
Your label Urban Dubz Music houses many of your UKG compilations while your Love House Records merges music with fashion and culture. Can you explain more about what that means in terms of presentation?
I grew up in a very creative environment where music, fashion, art and culture were and still are very important to me, they all go hand in hand. Music nowadays would be nowhere without fashion; fashion would be nowhere like it is now without the music. Right now we’re in the middle of creating our range of Urban Dubz and Love House clothing for 2012. My sister Lee Sylvester is one of the UK’s brightest sports fashion designers, working for Puma, Sergio Tacchini, Umbro and others in the past. Lee is creating a range of designer sportswear to reflect the music I’m doing. I am also working with a New York Art gallery who is creating visual images around the Love House Records label music.
Both your father and uncle were in a Disco band called J.A.L.N. which was quite influential, even voted the UK’s best band! What was that household like?
Growing up in the ’70s as a really young boy and watching my dad performing with his band on Top of the Pops had a major effect on me to say the least. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old while the J.A.L.N. band was at their peak with top ten hits, as well as gigging dates all over the world. My mum looked after me with my little sister and my dad was always away gigging, rehearsing and doing lots of traveling with the band. I was the most popular kid in my school.
I didn’t actually get into music seriously until the early ’90s when Jungle/Rave music was starting to emerge onto the UK underground scene. My dad had a recording studio in Handsworth right in the middle of Birmingham’s Reggae community. He had a studio and a record shop at the front of the premises. I started out coming to the studio after my work in the evening and watching the sound engineers do their recording sessions with the local musicians, singers and rappers making Reggae, Soul, R&B and Hip Hop music.
What was the breeding ground for a lot of your musical influences?
I was heavily into deep Chicago/New York House music and really got the urge to start making electronic music just like the sounds I was hearing on pirate radio in the city. Whenever the studio was free late at night, I used to go in and start messing around on the computer. In those days we were using a music software program called C-Lab/Notator running on an Atari ST computer.
My early beats were very Reggae/Dub/Soca-influenced dance music because of my Caribbean background, but I wanted to sound a bit different, so I started experimenting with Akai samplers, sampling old records, beats and vocals and manipulating them in my own way. I wanted to make my own sound. It was the foundation to what I’m doing right now.
When this new Jungle/Dnb sound started coming in, I naturally gravitated towards that sound and started producing tracks. Me and my dad set up a small record label called Cream Records. We made two big tracks under the name Dubtronic/Dubtronix , the biggest being a track called “Screwface”. This track was made with a popular Rave/Jungle DJ at the time, the late “GE Real”. We gave the dubplate of this tune to DJ Grooverider and he had the exclusive on that track for months and made the track the success that it was. We sold over 20,000 units which was quite an achievement even then. Our other big track was called “Fantasy”.
You can still probably hear my early ’90s Jungle/DnB influences in many of my tracks today, especially in my UK Garage/2step productions later on.
I understand that you once worked for Grant Nelson’s Nice n’ Ripe label? What was that experience like?
In the early ’90s I left Birmingham because I wanted to take my music to the next level and I simply could not do that from my hometown of Birmingham. Just before I moved to London I started making tracks for one of Nice n’ Ripe’s sister labels, In the Air Records. I had a couple of releases on the label that did okay, so I decided to make the big move to London and signed to Nice n’ Ripe records. Grant Nelson was a great influence to me and when I discovered he was on that label, I had to contact them and send them some tracks. The guys at the label loved it and wanted to sign me up.
Just when I moved to London and signed with them I realized there was some politics going on behind the scenes between Grant Nelson and the guy claiming to own it. I didn’t understand and didn’t want to even get involved in anything I didn’t know anything about. I was young, in a strange place and just wanted to make music and pay my high London rent & bills.
I actually never met Grant Nelson until a couple of years later randomly in a club somewhere in West London. It was a pleasant surprise and he’s a great guy.
I am endlessly fascinated with the UKG sound. Was there a big demand for it in the States and bringing you out there to play parties in the 90’s? Is there still somewhat of a following for it in the UK?
I’ve never actually played any parties out in the States, that is something I’m hoping to do in 2012 with my DJing and live showcases. I was so involved in the production and remixing side of things, the DJ work was quite rare and mainly in the UK, Germany and Eastern Europe.
Right now there is a lot of talk of UK Garage making a comeback in early 2012. The scene didn’t really die off – it’s always been there despite the lack of mainstream releases. Artists and producers such as Sunship, Todd Edwards & MJ Cole still release UK Garage music to this day and do very well out of it.
How do you think your sound has changed? I hate asking this because I think we’ve gotten too focused on labels in the last few years but… do you still call some of your newer music UKG or just House?
I don’t think I’ve changed my sound too much to how I was doing it say 10 years ago. Although the equipment in the studio and technology may have changed, the foundations and the essence of what I’m about are still there. Even when I was doing big remixes as Club Asylum for major label artists, I still like to think I keep the underground roots firmly intact. It’s very important I do that to be true to myself.
Like I said before, to me its still House Music, no matter how the media want to categories it. Whatever you want to call my music, it’s up to the listener. I just make “music”. Full stop.
The one thing I love about you is that even with the large body of work that you have, each piece is quality. There are no factory-farmed tracks in any of your tunes! What would you say to someone getting started in the production game?
What I would say to someone starting to make music is “DO YOU” and develop your own style. Although you may take influences from other people, we all do and that’s fine. Try and carve out your own style or niche and get known for that. The other thing is to keep bettering yourself in your production skills, always listen to other music and don’t be afraid to take influences from other artists and producers. Don’t try too hard to make music, just let it flow. If you try force something, it’s not going to happen. Let it come naturally.
Everyone has their bad days when you’re in the studio and your creative juices just ain’t flowing. The thing to do there is just take a step back, and come back the next day and try again. Maybe listen to some music to get inspired again, or go to a club and check out some new tunes. That’s what I do.
Sometimes it’s great to collaborate with other people like-minded people, two heads are sometimes better than one (depending on who it is of course). Just keep making music, and keep networking, as that’s key to success. You can be the greatest producer, musician or artist, but if you don’t know how to sell yourself or get on with other people, then its not going to happen for you. If you can’t market yourself, then get someone to help you do that side of things.