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Two-step verification: is AJ Tracey ushering in a UK garage revival?
Back in June, rapper AJ Tracey released Ladbroke Grove, a paean to estate life in his west London home. While it didn’t make a splash as an album track, it went on to become a major chart hit, peaking at No 4 in the UK at the time of writing. The 25-year-old told Annie Mac last month that he wanted to make a “positive tune” about his area, and what better way to do it than via the elastic 2-step rhythms and summery feel of UK garage? The genre originated in the US, from house, R&B and disco, before being given a British twist, with its old-school samples, deep sub-bass and ravey feel.
Tracey is not the only artist resurrecting the genre, either; the track was produced by Conducta, dubbed “the Prince of UK garage”, who has his own label, Kiwi Rekords, and promised on Twitter earlier this month that: “I’m gonna make sure UK garage is back in the charts to stay with a few more hits this year.” Meanwhile, Ladbroke Grove’s featured vocalist, Jorja Smith, is no stranger to UKG, having also featured on grime and garage producer Preditah’s track On My Mind. Elsewhere, Sugababes recently announced that they would be covering Sweet Female Attitude’s Flowers to celebrate their 20th anniversary, a track also recently covered by none other than AJ Tracey and Jorja Smith for Radio 1’s Live Lounge.
If garage had largely been associated with throwbacks and nostalgia up to this point – think People Just Do Nothing, Craig David’s return – then things feel slightly different now. Ladbroke Grove was a milestone moment for a renewed genre, and also – as AJ Tracey’s first UK Top 5 single – its creator. But what do the people who were there at the beginning make of it all? Sunship – AKA Ceri Evans – was one of the most in-demand producers in the original era, and his mix of Flowers, with its scattered, chopped-up vocals, remains the best-known version. Once the original garage wave was over, says Evans, “no one gave a shit about it”. Now, though things have started to kick off again, he doesn’t feel that garage in 2019 has the same lo-fi quality as it did back then. “There was a spark in the air from about 1997 to 2002 that you’ll never be able to recreate now,” says Evans. “It’s also because the way that people have made music has changed; everything’s cleaner and more clinical now.”
However, he concedes that there is a positive side to its resurgence, adding that “it could challenge people to check out other garage music, or even other genres”. In the meantime, though, it remains to be seen whether garage will truly have the second wind that it seems so close to. It might not be the realest deal, but this re-rewind could at least bring some more fun and diversity to those permanently Sheeran-ed charts.