You may have seen the extremely enticing trailer of the UK Garage documentary Rewind 4Ever floating around on people’s social media walls at some point last year. Clips of producers, DJs and MCs such as Grant Nelson, Todd Edwards, Matt Jam Lamont and MC Creed were shown waxing poetic on the under-discussed but very relevant subject of the UKG scene. When I saw the trailer I all but flipped out, and over the next two years I’ve continued correspondence with the mastermind behind this movie, Alex Lawton.
Now more than ever in the House Music scene (and even in the mainstream EDM area, given artists such as Disclosure), the influence of the UK Garage sound has never been more prevalent. Burgeoning during the early ’90s just as House music was entering mainstream radio, the UK’s version of House had a semblance of something rougher and grimier, and would inevitably would give rise to various configurations of electronic music such as Dubstep and Bassline.
While working on getting a screening done in Chicago, I felt the subject of the film couldn’t wait any longer and I forged ahead with the interview. Here I speak with Alex on what moved him to create this amazing documentary and where it will go from here…
What I find interesting about a lot of good documentaries on music is often the director isn’t necessarily a fan or in the ‘scene’. Your case is similar to that isn’t it?
Funnily enough I grew up as a big Hip-Hop fan, and I still am to this day. I didn’t find myself getting into UK Garage until my late-teens and even then I was listening to more Drum’n’Bass than Garage. It wasn’t until I went to University in London that I actually started going to the nights and once I experienced the vibe and energy at some of these events I was pretty much hooked! Music has always been a big part of my life and Garage will always be in the blood so to speak, but I think not being directly involved in the industry prior to making the documentary made me look at everything from a neutral perspective. If there was two sides to the story I was going to tell both sides, no matter what.
So how did you get your foot into the door? Who introduced you to the movers and shakers and was it hard to penetrate that circle?
At the point when I decided to go ahead and make the documentary I knew absolutely no one. 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.
My main motivation for shooting the documentary 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.
Scott Garcia, MC Creed, Norris Windross, Dominic SpreadLove, Ray Hurley, Timmi Magic and Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown were some of the people who helped me massively during the making of Rewind 4Ever. Grant Nelson and Kate at Wyze Music have always been big supporters of the project and there’s no way the film would have reached the levels it has done without their help! As Garage’s “heyday” was prior to the digital era it meant that most of my research was actually done through word of mouth as there wasn’t a great deal of information anywhere else to build the story around. Getting to know some of these guys and listening to their own take on the history of UK Garage was key to the success of the film.
Tell us your understanding of the UKG scene at this very moment. Is it insulated?
The present day UK Garage scene has made good strides over the past few years. There’s a younger generation of UK Garage DJs around now who are supporting 100% new music, which is what Garage needs from now on. Being a fan first and foremost I’d like to see more emphasis on quality rather than quantity when it comes to the production, though. UK Garage is club music, so if it’s going to progress there needs to be more nights dedicated to playing the new music, which is proving to be difficult as Garage is famous more for its “old skool” era rather than what’s happened post-2002 and in the present day.
I’m not sure it will ever get back to how it was during the ’90s and early ’00s but there definitely seems to be more of a buzz about it now. It’s a good sign for the future.
Supposedly the hard work is in the making of the film, but is it safe to say it’s getting distribution where the real hassle/hustle begins?
Yes definitely. Making a film independently is a tough thing to do. You can pretty much divide the entire process in two halves: one is making the film, the second is actually releasing it and then promoting it.
One of the most tricky aspects is getting a distributor (who may know nothing about the subject matter) to see your vision and buy into it. Lucky for me I found a digital distributor who took it on and released it. But it did take a lot of time and effort to get the film out there!
What I like about your film is you used actual tracks from that time and the actual anthems, which probably made licensing difficult. You had mentioned that a lot of other documentaries just put in locally-made music and call it a day. How important is music to you to really get the essence of your message?
I wanted the film to be as authentic as possible, which is why I went the extra mile to get as many of the big tracks in there as I could. As much as the film contains a lot of prominent names and behind-the-scenes stories, it’s the songs that bring back the memories for most people. I wanted the film to have an element of nostalgia to it and the best way to go about that was by selecting a big soundtrack. Anything less than that and it would’ve been another throwaway music documentary that people only watch once and then it’s forgotten about. Rewind 4Ever has good replay value and a lot of that is down to the strength of the soundtrack.
Where has the film shown and what has the response been?
Rewind was released in the UK on iTunes, Google Play and Tesco BlinkBox last summer on the 15th of July. The film was also broadcast on TV three times during November last year on the Community Channel (Sky 539, Freeview 87 & Virgin Media TV 233) as part of the channel’s “Brilliant Britain Season”.
Due to the film having only been officially released in the UK, I’d love to put on some more overseas screenings this year. A lot of people know UK Garage got its influence from US producers such as MK, Roger Sanchez, Masters At Work, Kerri Chandler and loads more. So I really do think that the film has good potential in the States. Chicago is definitely a place I’d love to visit in the near future!
Overall the response and feedback of the project has been great which has definitely made all the hard work worthwhile. It’s been a humbling experience.
Who are some of the more memorable characters in your film?
All the people I’ve met along the way are memorable for different reasons, some good•some bad! I’ve learned a lot from Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown since getting to know him. He doesn’t DJ in clubland anymore but is still producing his trademark 4×4 House and Garage sound to this day. Definitely one of the great characters that helped build the UK Garage scene.
Rewind 4Ever: The History of UK Garage is out now in the UK on iTunes, Google Play & Tesco BlinkBox. The US market? We’re all working on it; contact Alex for more information. He’s available via rewind4ever.co.uk, on Facebook and Twitter.