- Category: Articles
- Published on Thursday, 22 March 2012 09:19
- Written by Super User
2Step or 'Adult Hardcore'
Originally published in The Wire , April 1999, as Adult Hardcore written by Simon Reynolds
If you live in London, perhaps you've scanned the FM spectrum and come to a halt at a pirate station whose sound you can't quite finger or figure. It's got house music's slinky panache, but the rhythm's wrong--too fitful and funked-up, and besides, there's an MC jabbering over the top, jungle-style. Maybe it's jungle, then--but then again, maybe not: too slow, too sexy. Sometimes it's a bit like American R&B--except it sounds druggy, the wrong kindof druggy: like Timbaland on E.
So what is it, this genre-without-a-name? It's the latest in a series of mutations spawned from London's multiracial rave scene, the next evolutionary stage beyond speed garage (itself a swerve sideways from jungle). And the new style doeshave a name, albeit an unsatisfactorily dry, technical one: "2-step," increasingly a general rubric for all kinds of jittery, irregular rhythms that don't conform to garage's traditional 4-to-the-floor pulse. Somebody really should coin a more attractive name, though, one that captures 2-step's lipsmacking lusciousness. Because all the juice squeezed out of jungle by the post-techstep school of scientific drum & bass has oozed back in the succulent form of 2-step.
. "Truthfully, jungle stemmed from house music. It has a reggae influence, but it's still house," MC Navigator from jungle pirate Kool FM insisted back in 1994 . Three years later, jungle returned to the source, when its rude bwoy spirit and rhythmic science violently possessed the body of garage (the most soulful and songful form of house), in the process creating a new London scene.
Jungle's relationship with garage actually went back some way. Instead of techno clubs' ambient chill-out rooms, the second room at jungle clubs usually bumped to garage; pirate radio stations often programmed garage shows for mellow moments in the weekend (Saturday morning, Sunday afternoons). It was on these pirate shows that DJs started pitching up their garage imports (artists like Masters At Work, Kerri Chandler, Todd Edwards) to 130 b.p.m. giving them the extra "oomph" required by the London jungle audience. DJs favoured the dub versions of the US tracks, says Spoony of DJ collective The Dreem Teem, because "not having much vocal element, you could play the dubs faster without them sounding odd"; these near-instrumentals also left gaps for the MC's to do their stuff. Soon the DJs started making homegrown garage trax that sounded like their pirate shows--faster than the US sound, with jungalistic sub-bass, dub-wise FX, and ragga chants timestretched so that the vocal fissured and buckled like the wings of a metal-fatigued Boeing 707.
This UK underground garage also radically intensified the aspect of the New York sound that most appealed to jungle-reared ears: intricate percussion patterns, highly-textured drum sounds, and above all, the skippy, snappy, syncopated snares and busy, bustling hi-hats that make garage much more funky than regular house. Reticular and metronomic, house is "banging" or "pumping"; polyrhythmically perverse, garage is all bump'n'flex, twitch 'n' grind. But house and garage are both underpinned by a 4-to-the-floor kick drum that pounds monotonously on every bar.
2-step transforms garage into a kind of slow-motion jungle---a langorous frenzy of micro-breakbeats, hesitations and hyper-syncopations; moments when the beat seems to pause, poised, and hold its breath. In its simplest form, it does this by removing every second and fourth kick from the 4-to-the-floor pulse, creating a lurching, falter-funk feel. More adventurous 2-step producers program irregular kick-drum patterns which syncopate with the bassline, akin to Timbaland's double-time or triple/quadruple/quintuple-time kicks  . 2-step has actually taken the "speed" out of "speed garage", or at least the sensation of velocity, because removing two out of every four kicks subtracts that steady-pulsing energy. The effect is similar to the way the dub bassline in jungle used to run at half-time under the frenetic breaks. Indeed, some 2-step tunes have a ska or rocksteady-like skankin' feel.
To compensate for the energy-deficit, 2-step producers hype the funk by making every element in a track work simultaneously as rhythm, melody and texture. Organ vamps, horn stabs, keyboard pads, vocal licks, all interlock like cogs with the percussion patterns, which are processed through effects until the rhythm track alone offers an ear-tantalizing panoply of textures: crunchy, squelchy, spangly, woody, spongy, scratchy. These tactile timbres combine with the twitchy triplets and syncopations to create weird cross-rhythm effects--nicks and barbs that seem to snag your flesh and tug your body every-which-way.
"The rhythm track is not just the backing for a song any more," declare Dem 2, the Thurrock, Essex based duo of Spencer Edwards and Dean Boylan, whose nubile nu-funk anthem "Destiny" was the UK blueprint for 2-step  . "The beats, the various instrument voicings, and any vocals within a track all carry equal amounts of importance--any one can be the hook that sticks in the mind." Although Dem 2 correctly argue that you can hear this rhythmelody/texturhythm simultaneity at work across the gamut of contemporary dance music, it's undeniable that UK garage mostly assimilated this knowledge from drum & bass; many of the leading 2-step producers did their apprenticeship programming jungle. But right now, it's hard to imagine any neurofunk producer building a groove as seductively sleek and springheeled as "Destiny."
This is ironic, because 2-step is in many ways a reassertion of the jungle influence in reaction to the alarmingly rapid crossover of first-wave speed garage, which simply proved too attractive to mainstream house clubbers.  2-step is a semi-conscious attempt to make garage "a London thing" (even a East London thing) again, rather than a shortlived nationwide fad.  The similarity with jungle comes across in the way 2-step DJs mix. "With traditional garage and house, the underlying beat and instrumental arrangement is more continuous and pulsing," says "Bat" Bhattacharyya, the resident 2-step expert on the Internet discussion forum ukdance . "New York garage is designed so that the DJ mixes in a new track with a slow continuous fade-up. But 2-step, like hardcore and jungle, is far more amenable for chopping and cutting with the cross-fader--the sort of hip hop techniques you can't use with a house pulse-beat, 'cos it sounds funny." 
You can also hear the jungle ancestry in 2-step's low-end seismology, which has evolved way beyond the wah-wah/"dread bass" that drove speed garage in '97.. Listen to pirates like Freek, Mission or Smooth, and you'll hear bubbling B-line melodies, chiming bass-detonations, and pressure-drop booms that have nothing to do with house as hitherto known. The baleful electro-dub rumble, plinky melody-riffs and migraine-wincing synth-tones of Steve Gurley's remix of "Things Are Never" by Operator & Baffled hark back even further than jungle---it's just one of a number of tunes that flash back to the bleep-and-bass era of Unique 3/Nightmares On Wax/Sweet Exorcist/LFO/Forgemasters, that dawn-of-the-Nineties moment when the British merged house and reggae for the first (but not last) time. 
If jungle really did stem from house, as Navigator claimed, the true continuity between the two genres is not rhythmic or textural: it's the use of vocals (almost always absent in techno). At a rough guesstimate, maybe two-thirds of hardcore/jungle anthems between 1991-94 relied on sampled diva vocals as primary hooks. Producers lifted them from old house or R&B classics, or from CDs packed with accapellas recorded specifically for sampling. While there's no diva refrain equivalent to the ubiquitous, endlessly revisisted "Amen" break, certain classic vocal phrases were reworked time and again, with producers using similar techniques to breakbeat manipulation: acceleration, pitchshifting, timestretching, looping, filtering, and so forth.
When techstep achieved dominance in 1996, vocal samples began to disappear from drum & bass. But the house-hardcore-jungle continuum of diva-worship didn't end, it just branched sideways into speed garage. You can see it in the career of Steve Gurley. As a member of Foul Play, he sampled diva-vocals from SOS Band and Kleer for tracks like "Finest Illusion" and "Open Your Mind"; going solo as Rogue Unit, he crafted a gorgeous drum & bass revamp of "Say I'm Your Number One", a 1985 hit for Brit-soul chanteuse Princess. Today, Gurley is a leading 2-step producer, doing damage with torrid diva-driven tunes like his remix of Lenny Fontana's "Spirit of the Sun."
Traditional New York garage privileges the classy vocal, draping its melodious melisma over the groove. In contrast, 2-step producers subordinate the singer to funktionalist priorities, slicing'n'dicing the vocal samples into staccato, percussive riffs that interlock with the groove to create extra syncopations. "Vocal science" is Bat from ukdance 's term for this vivisection of the diva, which effectively transforms the singer into a component of the drum kit. 2-step's vocal tricknology has resituated garage on the otherside of house's great divide: songs versus "tracks", melody versus rhythm 'n' FX. Right from the start, there's been a tension in house between veneration of the Big Voice (Darryl Pandy, Robert Owens, Tina Moore, CeCe Peniston, et al) and a more pragmatic "trackhead" approach that uses anonymous session-divas as raw material (Todd Terry and Nitro Deluxe creating stammer-riffs by "playing" the vocal sample on the sampling keyboard).
Jungle producers like Omni Trio took these crude techniques to the next level of sophistication, molding and morphing diva vocals into a sort of passion-plasma, a body-without-organs fluid. Then, just as the hypergasmic diva was fading from jungle, "vocal science" flickered back to life somewhere else--US garage, of all places. On his remixes of St. Germain's "Alabama Blues" and his own tracks like "Never Far From You", New Jersey producer Todd Edwards developed a technique of cross-hatching brief snatches of vocals into a melodic-percussive honeycomb of blissful hiccups, so burstingly rapturous it's almost painful to the ear.
Todd Edwards's music had an extraordinary impact on London's emergent speed garage scene. If anyone in 2-step picked up Todd's baton and ran wild with it, it's Dem 2. "Destiny" features an android-diva whose plaintive bleat is so tremulously FX-warped that for months I thought it went "dance t' th' beat" instead of "des-tin-eee". Dem 2's "Don't Cry Dub" of Groove Connektion 2's "Club Lonely" is an even more ear-boggling feat of robo-glossalalia. This 1997 remix sounds like the missing link between Zapp's vocoder-funk mantra "More Bounce To the Ounce" and Maurizio's dub-house. Snipping the vocal into syllables and vowels, feeding the phonetic fragments through filters and FX, Dem 2 create a voluptuous melancholy of cyber-sobs and lump-in-throat glitches: "whimpering, wounded 'droids crying out in desolation!", as Spencer Edwards puts it.
"You can add a different soul that wasn't there", is how Dem 2 describe this kind of vocal remixology. "Deconstruction" is not too strong a term, for what is being dismantled is the very idea of the voice as the expression of a whole human subject. "Instead of the 'organic' female singer of early garage, you get a legion of dismembered doll parts," says journalist Bethan Cole, who's writing a book about the diva in dance music. On tracks like Dem 2's remix of Cloud 9's "Do You Want Me" or Colors featuring Stephen Emmanuel's "Hold On (SE22 Mix)", the vocal --a paroxysm of hairtrigger blurts and stuttered spasms of passion--doesn't resemble a human being so much as an out-of-control desiring-machine. What you're hearing is literally cyborg--a human enhanced and altered through symbiosis with technology.
2-step's vocal science has intersected with the anti-naturalistic studio techniques of American R&B, whose producers have long been digitally processing vocals to make them sound even more mellifluous and diabetically ultra-sweet. US R&B tunes are routinely given a 2-step remix these days. Two early, superior examples are The Dreem Teem's sublime transformation of Amira's "My Desire" into a gamelan-tinkling tumble of undulant percussion, and the sultry menace of First Steps remix of "Telefunkin'" by British diva-wannabes N-Tyce. Alongside such official remixes, there's been a spate of bootleg revamps of R&B anthems like Jodeci's "Freak 'N You." 1999's heavy-rotation pirate smash is Architechs' unofficial 2-step remix of Brandy & Monica's "The Boy Is Mine," which resurrects hardcore's infamous sped-up chipmunk vocals by whipping the dueting divas into a creamy warble of wobbly, high-pitched melisma.  But 2-step's favorite R&B goddess is Aaliyah, whose Timbaland-produced "One In A Million" has been extensively pillaged.  Best of the bunch is Groove Chronicles's "Stone Cold", which samples a handful of vocal phrases ("you don't know/what you do to me," "desire," and other splinters of yearning) and deploys them to create endlessly fresh accents against the groove. The original song's mood is totally subverted: what had been a devotional paean becomes a baleful ballad of sexual dependency, with Aaliyah digitally dis-integrated into a multitracked wraith of herself, stranded in a locked groove of desolated desire.
Hang out at a garage shop like Rhythm Division in East London, and chances are you'll hear one of the blokes behind the counter say "the girls love that one" in reference to certain tracks-- like Doolally's Top 20 hit "Straight From The Heart" or the duo's pirate smash/UK Number One "Sweet Like Chocolate," released as Shanks & Bigfoot. In most dance scenes, this comment would be a diss. Take the unwritten boy's own constitutions of techno and drum & bass, where overt melody, explicit emotion, and recognisably human feelings are regarded as "cheesy", conventionally poppy-- in a word, girly .  For the UK garage scene, though, "the girls love it" is a recommendation. There's a striking deference to female taste. Pirate DJs dedicate tunes "to the ladies's massive." And most DJ/producers share Ramsey & Fen's opinion: "When the girls start singing along to a tune like our own 'Love Bug', it gets the guys hyper! If the ladies love it, they all love it. "
Feminine Pressure is the name of an all-female garage DJ crew. In a very real sense, UK garage is organised around the pressure of feminine desire; a key factor in the scene's emergence was when women defected en masse from the junglist dancefloor, fed up with the melody-and-vocal-devoid bombast of techstep. 2-step garage bears the same relation to jungle that lover's rock did to dub reggae: it's the feminized counterpart of a "serious" male genre  . Like 2-step, lover's rock was a UK-spawned hybrid of silky US soul and Jamaican rhythm, that restored treble to the bass-heavy frequency spectrum  and replaced militant spirituality with romantic yearning. Pirate MC's send out shouts to couples cuddling at home ("or even engaged in horizontal activities"). The mic' chat can get seriously lewd, in the beyond-suggestive, explicit style of modern R&B; on one station I heard an MC rap "to the ladies, undo my zip/and you'll find I'm well equipped"!. There's even a pirate station called Erotic FM. 
2-step is lover's jungle; it's also hardcore for grown-ups. Ravers who were teenagers during the 1989-92 era are now in their mid-to-late twenties, with jobs, marriages, even kids. At Rhythm Division, I saw a guy behind the counter bottle-feeding a six month old baby, who seemed utterly unperturbed by the thunderous B-lines booming out the speakers; later that day I picked up a flyer for a club that boasted it was "the very first rave with a genuine creche for the children -- with registered child minders, 5 quid per child. So there's no excuse, bring the fucking kids . " Rather than abandon the drug-and-dance lifestyle, the first rave generation is finding ways to accomodate it to their new adult circumstances--coupledom, relative affluence. The garage remakes of hardcore tunes like Jonny L's "Hurt You So," the samples from Shut Up And Dance's 1989 "$10 To Get In" redeployed in Some Treat's 2-step anthem "Lost In Vegas"  --these represent not so much old skool nostalgia as a celebration of continuity .  Hardcore to 2-step, the subcultural infrastructure of pirate radio/specialist record stores/dubplates/etc abides. The dress code, crowd rituals, and other elements have evolved; MC's, for instance, now superimpose a smoov R&B patina over the junglist's creole hybrid of ragga patois and Cockney patter. But the subcultural project is the same as it ever was: the creation of "vibe".
"Vibe" is UK garage's biggest buzzword--from Aftershock's classic "Slave to the Vibe (Dem 2 Remix)" to garage dons Tuff Jam's "Unda-Vybe" remixes, from MC chants like "I've got the vibe to make you hyper" to Da Click's "Good Rhymes", an MC-anthem that culminates with a rollcall of the scene's key players, all of whom "got the vibe" . But isn't "vibe" just one of those nebulous buzzwords, like "street" or "real", used to evoke blackness? Yes, but it's also what everyone (except maybe chronic hermits or Detroitphiles) are looking for from music: that palpable forcefield of tribal energy generated by the perfect convergence of music, drugs, technology, and popular desire. 
"Vibe" works through evolution rather than revolution: producers simultaneously giving the people what they want and slyly seducing them into wanting things they've never had  ; DJs pulling off the same trick through sheer sleight of mix, all the while carefully avoiding a lapse into disparate (vibe-less) eclecticism. And "vibe" only really occurs when music is a component in a subcultural engine, a urban folkway with its own privileged sites and rites.  . Its musical methodology may be postmodern, but 2-step garage has no truck with techno notions of the post-geographical or transcending the local--hence the recurrent variations on the old hardcore themes "just 4 U London" and "London sum'ting dis". Like jungle, 2-step is heard at its utmost through a big sound-system, by a body surrounded by other bodies (the massive). Which is why 2-step, like most hardcore dance styles, can sometimes sound flat when heard as an isolated 12 inch, outside the DJ's mix, without MC chat or the participatory clamor of the audience. If you want to "catch the feeling", the next best thing to being there is to tape pirate radio transmissions for free; third best is buying a mix-CD like the Ramsey & Fen mixed Locked On, Volume 3, probably the finest introduction to the full span of UK garage.
Compared with the anhedonic severity of its estranged cousin drum & bass, one of the most striking things about speed garage is the scene's relentless emphasis on pleasure  . The names of clubs, labels, and pirate stations evoke melt-in-your-mouth, sensuous indulgence--Cookies & Cream, Nice N' Ripe, Chocolate Boy, Ice Cream, Pure Silk, Twice As Nice, Bliss, Lush FM--and mirror the sonic penchant for warm, organic textures and thick, succulent production. Garage's fetish for "niceness" and luxury --champagne-and-cocaine, designer labels, "rude bimmers"--has a long history in Black British dance culture, going back to the pre-rave dancehall and R&B scenes. The most charitable reading of such "living large" is that it's a refusal of your allotted place in the class system, an insistence that "nothing's too good for us." A more hostile viewpoint would argue that garage's opulence is mere hyper-conformism, deluded mimicry of the high life. 
Either way, cocaine is the perfect signifier for garage's ambivalent politics--not only because of its associations with prestige, but because it's a drug that stimulates the appetite for all pleasures, and because the dynamics of its use (insatiability, basically) offer a kind of parody of consumerism. Sonically, garage seems to fit cocaine like a glove: the playa-pleasing patina of deluxe sound, the fidgety, febrile beats that feel itchy with desire.  The "cocaine ear" favors bright, toppy sounds--hence garage's harsh glare of crisp hi-hats, shrill brass, glossy synths and trebley vocals.
Horny-making coke has changed the vibe in other ways, encouraging a return to the sexed-up, dressed-up mores of pre-rave clubland. The shift from Ecstasy to cocaine represents a kind of Fall from paradise, with rave's androgynous asexuality displaced by re-polarized gender roles and rapacious sexuality.  And although the standard image of the coke-head is of a chatterbox who finds himself endlessly charming, the effects in clubland has been to replace loved-up bonhomie with charlied-up hauteur. "On coke, you don't feel the need to talk 'cos you've got so much brilliance within yourself," says Bethan Cole. "But there's no E-like empathy, it's a hollow feeling."  You can feelthe difference in the music--the gaseous diva vocals of hardcore mirrored the swoony, boundary-melting intimacy of Ecstasy; 2-step's staccato vocal stabs accentuate coke's cold, brittle glitter.
Drug phenomenologist David Lenson describes almost too vividly the "third stage" of cocaine intoxication, "hypersexuality", a frenzy in which desire is unable to focus on any single object (kinky sex, grandiose fantasies, other drugs) for more than a few seconds before flitting off elsewhere. Ultimately, the mania fixates on cocaine itself--desire-for-desire.  Not far beyond hypersexuality lies the paranoia and undead delirium of "stimulant dysphoria." Whether anybody on the garage dancefloor regularly reaches hypersexuality is beside the point--the music's own internal dynamic is pushing it into the twilight zone.  Often hidden on B-sides or released on white labels that circulate for only a few weeks, 2-step is producing some fiendishly fucked-up tunes that merge twisted vocals, convulsively DJ-unfriendly beats, and svelte-but-sinister textures. Easier-to-find pinnacles of darkside garage include DJ Richie & Klasse's "Madness On The Street", productions by Skycap like their '97 classic "Endorphin", and "Plenty More" b/w "Get It" by rising producer Chris Mac--tracks whose unsettling blend of brittle and supple, desperation and desire, show how the pursuit of pure pleasure can take music to some pretty strange places. Dem 2 also look set to probe "a darker, deeper electro direction" in 1999, what Dean Boylan describes as "Gary Numan meets Tina Moore"; the duo are also starting an overtly experimental label called Purple Orange. For now, check their alter-ego U.S. Alliance's "Grunge Dub," with its angular anti-groove and gibbering, strung-out vocal (like a crackhead Bobby McFerrin).
The original 1993 darkside hardcore was a catastrophic plunge, the first rave generation succumbing to E-induced malaise en masse. With garage, though, it's more like "darkness" is a normalized component of the scene, a zone some cross into if they overdo the stimulants, perhaps even a phase of any given club night (after 4-AM, say, when some of the clientele has crossed the optimal threshold of enjoyable wired-ness, or reaches a weekly apprehension of the void at the heart of the hedonistic lifestyle). In fact, dark garage existed right from the earliest days of the London scene. K.M.A's "Cape Fear" combined breakbeat rhythms, ominous "video vocals," and destabilising "bass warps" that triggered crowd pandemonium the very first time the tune was played out, in late '96. "You could see the goosebumps rising on everybody's neck, the hair standing on end," says KMA producer/vocalist Six . "The crowd erupted, they were so confused about what just happened they forced the DJ to rewind the track. "
The anecdote recalls the early stunned responses to the body-baffling pitchshifted beats in "Terminator", the Goldie tune that pioneered darkcore.  Six talks like Goldie, declaring "my music is like a movie" and "I see myself as a painter, a surrealist painter." After following "Cape Fear" with another moody, breakbeat garage anthem, "Kaotic Madness," Six tired of K.M.A.'s darkside reputation and decided to go in a smoother, more "musical" direction--just like Goldie did circa "Angel." The result was "Re-Con Mission EP", whose highlight track "Blue Kards" meshed disjointed emotions, phased vocals, bluesy guitar, and asymmetrical beats to create one of 1998's most exhiliratingly sonic (con)fusions. What's exciting about "Blue Kards" and the other dark 2-step tunes that have surfaced in the last year is that the music often sounds like a hybrid where the grafts haven't wholly congealed. Sometimes, it sounds "wrong", but only in the way that 1993 darkcore sounded not-quite-there-yet. If you want seamless, fully-realised fusion, listen to drum & bass, a style that has arrived at a definitive version of itself and accordingly spent the last two years scratching its head wondering where to go next. 2-step sounds like it has a whole world of places left to go.
Needless to say, as with any in-vogue style, there's a lot of crap 2-step around, shoddy stabs at opulent production that only sound nouveau riche. It's also crucial to emphasise that 2-step does not have a monopoly on creativity in the UK garage scene. Ramsey & Fen and their engineer M.J. Cole have done superb tracks in both 2-step and 4-to-the-floor modes. Outfits like New Horizons have made some awesomely odd, reggaematic tracks--"Find The Path," "Slamdown"--that never stray from the house pulse-beat. Right now though, 2-step has the edge. Its vital balance (auteurism vs. will-of-the-crowd, digitized drug-noise vs. live musicality, futurism vs. tradition, tracks vs. songs)  and oxymoronic mood-blend (light 'n' dark, feminine 'n' masculine, treble 'n'bass) recalls the glory days of hardcore and jungle. If 2-step can manage to marshal all its competing impulses and sundry sources within the same space, maintaining them in productive friction without causing the style/scene to split off into factions like jungle did, then the future looks bright.
1/ A typical MC mantra is "house and garage is setting the pace"; flyers commonly refer to "house and underground garage". Yet 2-step increasingly contains virtually no elements that relate to house music as commonly understood or currently practised. The rhythms, the B-lines, the vocals, the MC-ing, all have more to do with jungle, dancehall reggae, electro, and R&B; in some tracks, it's only the hi-hat patterns that connect to traditional New York garage. So why the rhetorical appeal to "house"? One reason may be what MC Neat articulates: "In the beginning was house. Without house, there'd be no jungle, no garage. 2step, it's just an evolvement of house." So the UK garage scene's pledging of allegiance to house represents a return to original principles (one of the first London garage pirates was called Chicago FM, rather than New Jersey FM or New York FM: the real homes of garage). It also signposts the scene's swerve from the "wrong" path that jungle took, the dead end that was techstep's dirgefunk.
2/ Quantization, a computer function that can alter the entire rhythmic vibe of a track, plays a big role in garage's bump'n'flex. You can use quantization either to correct the inconsistencies in a rhythm track (to make it more metronomic/hypnotic) or conversely to add tiny inconsistencies and accents that give "feel" to a programmed rhythm track (i.e. the illusion of hand's-on, real-time drumming). "Press one button, and it'll give the track a housey vibe, the hi-hats will sound square," says Fen of Ramsey & Fen. "Press another and you get more of a shuffle, a garage swing." Sounds easy, but, Fen stresses, the real skill of garage production is knowing the right kind of fills and percussion parts to program in the first place so that they will interact best with quantization when it's in "shuffle/swing" mode.
3/ 2step has actually inverted speed garage's rhythmic organisation. In the original 1997 speed garage, the snares are fussy and clattering over the stomping 4-to-the-floor kickdrum. But in 2-step, it's usually the kick-drum that gets busy with hyper-syncopated, feet-confounding patterns, while the snare dutifully marks out the measure.
4/ In terms of US garage, Kelly G's "Bump And Go" remix of Tina Moore's "Never Gonna Let You Go" is regarded as first 2-step track.
5/ Since writing this piece in January 1999, the jungle legacy has really reasserted itself with the trend for MC tracks with rhyming or half-toasting/ half-singing on top of the 2step beats: DJ Luck & MC Neat's rootical-vibed "A Little Bit of Luck," The Corrupted Crew's "G.A.R.A.G.E.," MJ Cole's 2step remix of dancehall raggamuffin Glamma Kid's "Sweetest Taboo", etc etc.
6/ Making the rhythms more breakbeat-like (and thus less conducive to E'd up trance-dancing) effectively makes speed garage "a London t'ing" again; the rhythms are tailored to please a multitracial audience with a long (20 years or more) tradition of moving to black beats. In fact, the composite of sounds in 2-step (garage, R&B, reggae, the jump-up side of jungle) could have almost been designed, consciously or unconsciously, to fend off "undesirables": non-Londoners, students (i.e precisely the sort of people who moved into jungle when it got technoid, and who now effectively "own" drum and bass).
7/ Here's Bat from UKdance further discussing with his usual meticulous attention to detail and insider's insight the DJ-ing differences between "US garaaaage and UK garidge": "Just been farting about on the decks trying to mix US garaaage with UK garidge (the housier 4:4 stuff rather than the 2step). As with most experiments, it was a miserable failure. Four main problems I reckon:
i/ USG has a key signature: all the components of the tune harmonise. So you have to worry about keymatching. UKG, in contrast, isn't nearly so sensitive on this score. Providing the vocals don't clash, you're sorted (the basslines are too low frequency to cause any problems). But mix harmonised USG with unharmonised UKG and you get a right fuckin dog's breakfast. I'm almost entirely tone deaf and even I was cringing.
ii/ USG sounds shit when pitched up. The vibe just disappears, bugger knows why. But with UKG you can pitch it up quite happily without losing the vibe of the track. Conversely, USG sounds quite good pitched down, kinda deep & spooky. UKG, however, sounds distinctly plodding when pitched down. Mix the two & you're stuffed either way: either the USG sounds all squeaky or the UKG sounds slow and clunky.
iii/ USG takes ages to build, the trax average at about 8 mins long and the mixing is all about slow subtle fade-ins over a long period of time. UKG is much faster paced - there's some kind of chop or change every 16 bars or so and it's designed to be mixed in a way that takes advantage of this. So you get a worst-of-both-worlds vibe-clash if you try to mix the two; the frenetic UKG distracts from the USG builds or vice versa.
iv/ the EQing/production is utterly different. USG is EQed around the midrange and designed for hi-fi style club systems. UKG is EQed like jungle - subbass & tops, sod the bleedin midrange. UKG sounds wicked blaring out of a bass-heavy dub sound system, but tinny and weak over a poncey hi-fi. USG, conversely, sounds great on expensive kit, but muted and grey on a ruffneck booyakka junglist dubshack ting. Mix the two and it's just messy, no matter what sort of system you're using.
8/ These gamelan-style percussive-melodic vamps and vibraphone/xylophone/marimba-like riffs constitute another micro-trend in 2-step, reaching its most bleep-and-bassy with the shivery, ice-plinky riff on Cisco's "Bonnie & Clyde," which sounds like Unique 3's "7-AM" (flipside of 1989's "The Theme"). In at least one case--Steve Gurley's remix of Lenny Fontana's "Spirit of the Sun"--the baleful chords are actually sampled from a Unique 3 track ("The Rhythm's Gonna Get You").
9/ Through the phenomenon of illegal bootleg remixes of American R&B goddesses, two of 1999's biggest underground records in London were by Whitney Houston (!!!!) and Brandy & Monica. In the spring and early summer, the remixes of "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" and "The Boy Is Mine" blared out of cars everywhere and were played on pirate radio twice an hour at weekends. Even a Whitney-phobe like myself had to admit the tune ruled (although the original is if anything even better than the many illicit garage bootlegs).
One of the most gorgeous of the post-"Boy Is Mine" R&B diva bootlegs is Large Joints's "Dub Plate"; one side featuring a remix of "Down With You" (original artist unknown, by me: Total? Monica?), the other featuring a bootleg take on "I'll Be There For You" (again, diva unknown). What's striking about both sides of "Dubplate" is that, like the Brandy & Monica bootleg, the diva vocals aren't chopped up Dem 2 style but are left pretty intact, at least in terms of obvious stutters, edits, and warps. But the vocal is transformed on the level of timbre/grain, rather than accent and syncopation; it's processed to sound wobbly, warbly, ultra-tremulous. The swoony effect is simultaneously a flashback to old skook 'ardkore's sped-up chipmunk vocals and like an attempt to intensify the hyper-melisma of contemporary R&B. Various theories have been offered for this vocal effect. Talking about the "disembodied, gutless" vocals ("ethereal without being asexual"), Bat speculates that this stems from producers being unable to sample from an accapella and therefore having to isolate the vocal from the track's instrumentation using filtering. Inevitably this filters out the mid and bass frequencies of the vocal, creating the ultra-trebly "ghost-diva" effect. The fact that the original vocals are often absurdly addled with melisma and vibrato exacerbates the fluttery, ectoplasmic quality. My brother Jez reckons the warbly effect comes from producers using timestretching on a vocal that's full of vibrato and melisma; the timestretching exacerbates the micro-oscillations in the vocal.
Another cool thing about Large Joints and similar tracks like "Shorty Swing My Way" (I know neither the bootlegger nor the original artist unfortunately) is the way the diva vocal is left adrift in this dub-chamber echoey space over a reggae bassline and a little rootsical organ vamp. It's the kind of amazing mutation and recontextualization that only takes place in London: unsuspecting R&B goddesses abducted into a Jamaican soundworld. Of course, UK garage reaches "dub" spatiality through NY house's own tradition of dub mixes and early Eighties dub-influenced dance-pop (Peech Boys, Grace Jones, Arthur Russell/Dinosaur L) as well as through the transplanted Jamaican sound-system culture in Britain.
10/ "If Your Girl Only Knew" and "Are You That Somebody?" have been bootlegged, and "One In A Million" has been extensively pillaged.
11/ "Girls really do relate to vocals, " says Bethan Cole. "But that's something that's always been belittled by people into 'serious' dance -- it goes back to the days of 'intelligent techno' versus handbag house, which was dismissed as lightweight, fluffy, vacant." As part of its realignment with techno, the homosocial fraternity that is drum & bass gradually eliminated the vocal, perhaps regarding it as a vestigial trace of the social (love, sex, relationships) or as a biological remnant to be purged in favor of abstract textures and posthuman emotions.
. 12/ Jazzy B of Soul II Soul is really into 2-step and sees clear links between today's garage scene and the early Eighties lover's rock scene. It was also known as "uptown reggae", which suggests a perennial uptown versus ghetto dialectic in black music; R&B versus hip hop, playas versus gangstas/soldiers/thugs, lovers versus dub, Althea & Donna's "Uptown Ranking" versus Willie Williams's "Armagideon Time". Jazzy says that 2-step people "bust the same moves" as the uptown reggae folk back in the early Eighties; there's the same designer label, champagne VIP vibe. And the model of masculinity is identical: what he calls the "sweet boy", i.e. the guy who's ultra-masculine but dresses up "nice" for the girls. "Back in the late '70s it was Burberry coats, now it's guys in fake fur!". "Sweet boy" (Bat has heard the term "dainty boy" used today) suggests the polar opposite of the "conscious" dread; a rude boy in flash clothes, secular, enjoying Babylon's bounty, but still not fully assimilated, rather he's "ghetto fabulous". Six from KMA says he transferred allieganice from the roots reggae scene (sound systems like Saxon) to the lover's rock/soul/rare groove scene, "'cos that was where the pretty girls were!...". Re. Soul II Soul, the 1989 Number One success of "Back To Life" is just about the only precedent for Shanks & Bigfoot's "Sweet Like Chocolate": both London underground anthems going all the way to the top. Bizarrely, "Chocolate" was recorded in one of Jazzy B's Camden studios.
13/ Dance music theorist Will Straw argues that high-end sounds (strings, pianos, female voices) are coded as "feminine", while low-end frequencies (drums & bass) are coded as masculine. Neurofunk and techstep are all low-end (growling, gurgling, duck-being-strangled, old-man-farting bass) and midfrequency distortion, with hardly any treble. Weirdly, some recent 2-step tunes have gone all neurofunky and technoid, e.g. E.S. Dubs's "Standard Hoodlum Issue" with its moody bass and Source Direct-like sample "reflex action, like a snake".
14/ One of the ironies of UK garage is how a genre originally identified with NY gay culture (The Paradise Garage) has become so fiercely heterosexual. When house originally reached the UK, the gay sexual passion of the music was shifted to a new referent; a specifically drug-induced bliss. Now with 2-step garage, the loved-up, hypergasmic vocals refer once more to sexual desire, although still carrying residual traces of drugged intensity (which possibly work as as memory-rush flashback FX that conjure up the scene's roots in hardcore rave). It's a strictly heterosexual desire, though; I've noticed certain DJs on the scene refer with a hint of anxiety to how garage has been perceieved as "a gay thing; " It's as though the "batty boy" side of house needs be continuously exorcised and compensated for by doses of dancehall rude-boy attitude.
15/ With their 130 b.p.m shuffle and boombastic bass, two step tunes often sound like the early breakbeat house tracks from 1990-1 by Shut Up and Dance, Ragga Twins, Rum & Black etc, albeit filtered through nearly a decade of added production expertise and subtly marked by the neurological echoes of years spent at the cutting edge of the drug-technology interface ("caning it", in plain English). "Lost In Vegas" is serious intertexutality bizness 'n ting: it's a tribute to/remake of Shut Up And Dance's 1990 track "Ten Pounds To Get In," which sampled Suzanne Vega vocal-riff from "Tom's Diner" but probably got from DNA's unoffical-then-subsequently-sanctioned dance version of the S. Vega track. The Suzanne Vega vocal melody-riff also cropped up, in mimicked form, on Ratpack's hardcore "Searching For My Rizla" . Like the bleep-and-bass echoes in current 2-step, "Lost In Vegas" pays homage to the hardcore continuum: ten years of mixing it up, hybridising hybrids and mutating mutations; a tradition of futurism. Roots N' Future = the endlessly fresh NOW!!!!.
16/ MCs send out shouts to "all the garage ravers" or dedicate "this one's for the bumpy ravers". This semantic slippage, "garage/rave", would have been unthinkable in the early 90s when garage clubs like The Ministry of Sound positioned themselves as the classy, "mature" antithesis to rave's rowdy juvenile thrills. Why has the word "rave" persisted despite the jettisoning of rave culture's behavioral and attititudinal apparatus, its paradigm drug Ectasy, etc?. In part, it's a reversion to the (largely black, and derived from Jamaica) use of the term in the pre-rave 1980s: letting off steam at the weekend. Partly, it's an honoring of rave culture, an acknowledgement of it as a lost dream that most of the people in the garage scene passed through; culturally, and neurologically, they are still scarred by their pursuit of that dream. So the trajectory of the verb "rave" goes from weekenderism in the Eighties, aquires a utopian/dissident charge in the early Nineties, then gradually fades back to its original meaning, albeit bearing faint trace-associations of hardcore madness. Just like the music itself...
17/ To get Deleuzian, "vibe" is the mechanical hum of a desiring machine cranked to the max.
18/ Evolution versus revolution. Influenced by Rock and the Pop Narcoticand its anti-art rock/anti-bohemian polemic, I'm starting to agree with Joe Carducci's argument that it's easier to destroy a tradition than it is to replace it or renew it; that expanding/mutating/contributing to an aesthetic form or scene is hard work. Think about it: it's far easier to break the rules of a genre than it is to bend them. Anybody can break the rules of jungle, by making it 40 bpm too fast or too slow, or using a bassline that doesn't work with the beats. (Despite Boymerang's "No Rules", jungle's never been about limitless possibilities or utter lack of formal constraints; at any given point in its history, the genre's had parameters that you work with). To actually take a genre's format and create extra room within it, find new twists and possibilities, while still making something that's recognisable as that genre and, more importantly, actually works in that scene's context -- that's real work. That's a genuine contribution. This model of how genres mutate and grow also helps to explains why, at a certain point, all the possibilities for extension or expression within a given format become exhausted, and the genre stagnates, survives only through purism or antiquarianism (what Carducci calls "genre-mining").
Discarding the "revolution" model of musical progress means abandoning the closely linked notions of genius and vanguard. (Political revolutions are always triggered by a small party of individuals who are more theoretically advanced than the rest of society). Replacing the auteur theory, Brian Eno's notion of "scenius" explains how hardcore dance cultures develop. "Scenius" maps perfectly onto Deleuze & Guattari's "rhizome"; where genius implies a tree-like hierarchy, innovators generating new ideas that are then copied by the second-rate mass, scenius operates rhizomatically, like grasses, bracken, lilies, orchids, bamboos: "creeping underground stems which spread sideways on dispersed, horizontal networks of ... filaments and [which] produce aerial shoots along their length and surface" (Sadie Plant). A hardcore scene like early jungle or 2-step is literally grass roots -- it's a distributed meshwork, a ceaseless exchange of ideas; culture in that yeasty, bacterial, composty sense that Eno the gardener loves; small incremental advances on a week by week basis. So you could totally remove Goldie or Bukem in jungle, or MJ Cole and Dem 2 from 2-step--or whatever privileged innovator you might focus on (and I certainly haven't expunged auteurism from this piece)--remove them wholesale, and the culture would still grow and prosper. No one individual is the guardian of the scene. Rhizomes are notoriously hard to uproot; like weeds or nettles, you kill one but the group-organism survives. Same with music; we're dealing with tribe-vibes. This also explains why scenes decline, like drum and bass currently, where it's like everybody has simultaneously been afflicted by creative block, all the old reliables like Andy C, Dillinja, Trace, Hype. If the health of a scene/sound was down to individual pioneers, at least one of them would have found somewhere new to go. Instead, it's like a collective malaise, a scenius exhaustion; an ecology in evolutionary wind-down, its biodiversity fatally depleted.
19/ Recently, I realised that what I've been doing these last seven years--tracking the various permutations from hardcore to jungle to garage, analysing/celebrating a London-centric subcultural continuum--is really a kind of ethnomusicology. We're talking about a "vibe tribe" (to again borrow a song title from hardcore heroes Phuture Assassins); a tribe scattered amongst the general population but which communicates via bush telegraph (the 20 plus pirate radio stations operating at any given point 1989-99), and that gathers at various privileged spots (specialist record stores, clubs, raves). Over the years, the population has fluctuated, expanded and contracted both in numbers and geographical reach; at one point, "hardcore" basically equalled the entire UK national rave scene, 18 months later (in mid-1993) it was strictly a London thing, with tiny colonial outposts in Bristol and the Midlands (ie. the most multiracial, London-like areas of Britain). Different tribes have splintered off from the subcultural continuum (e.g. drum and bass). Throughout it all the 'strange attractor' that has acted as the geographical pivot of the scene has remained, arguably, just a few square miles in East London. Stray too far from what this "strange attractor" "wants", and you spiral off into a different orbit (as happened with drum and bass, caught in techno's gravitational field).
What defines this "tribe", this postmodern ethnicity? Neither a type of person (sociologically) nor a set of folkways/type of music; rather it's a vital tension between the two as they evolve according to their own dynamics. Neither base nor superstructure is the determining factor. Both the demographical constituency and the aesthetic/drug-tech parameters of the culture are in constant-but-separate flux; yet somehow the culture, the tribe, has managed to maintain an undeniably consistency. Different people come into the tribe (some get old and drop out, some get old and stay involved, new recruits come in; different classes and races and genders are attracted or repelled at different stages of the culture's evolution); similarly, the music is constantly shifting and redefining its contours thanks to the flows of influence from other genres, subculture, technological change, drug use patterns etc. That it all manages to hang together as an entity seems remarkable, but this is only what an organism or an ecosystem does; perpetuate itself, as it responds to and absorbs environmental pressures and opportunities.
The evolution of the tribe-vibe has taken a peculiar trajectory. "Hardcore", born in 1989 with the split between the ravers and the Balearic, back-to-the-clubs types, quickly became a nationwide phenomenon that was simultaneously underground and chartpop. After its 1991-92 heyday, hardcore contracted to darkside and then jungle (underground, London-centered, multiracial but dominated by black sonics/behaviors), then re-expanded to drum & bass (ultimately a national/international, bourgeois-bohemian network, multiracial but dominated by white sonics/behaviors), then mutated into speed garage (back to a London/multiracial/ working class thing, but quickly escalating to a national fad...) prompting 2-step (London-centric, multiracial, with as trong Asian component; plus unexpected intersection with American R&B although this remains a "one-way alliance," unreciprocated, so far).
My own role as an ethnographer is a bit like one of those researchers who lives with the tribe, gets too involved, and compromises his objectivity.
Why ethnomusicology as a model, and not just "subcultural studies"? The trouble with the "resistance through rituals" tradition of cult-studs is its left-ist bias and insistance on locating in every form of popular culture it studies some kind of "contribution to the struggle," however opaque or obtuse or tangled with 'false consciousness'. 'Resistance' is too loaded a term; in some cases, what we're dealing with is more like "resilience through rituals", or resistance in the sense of intransigence. So the persistence of Jamaican folkways in jungle, the rootsical traces you can hear in UK garage, constitute a sort of anti-colonial, anti-hegemonic alterity that endures despite the upwardly mobile, outwardly assimilationist and conservative sheen of the music. "Anti-hegemonic" may be overstating the case, though, with a subculture that seems to have more to do with Baudrillardian, contradiction-fraught notions like "transgressive hyper-consumption" or "resistant micro-capitalism"; precarious strategies of survival that collude with as much as they resist the Thatcher/Major/Blair order.
The crucial distinction is between class identity and class antagonism. Phenomema like UK garage and US R&B have a class identity; they mark themselves out in terms of class and race. But there's nothing oppositional about them, or at least overtly oppositional. The insubordinate energy of hardcore and jungle isn't there; it's aspirational working class, playa rather than gangsta. Bat from UKdance believes that London's multiracial, working class "street" culture is intrinsically where it's "at"; you have to follow the London massive as they are always the leading edge, and the massive have gone into R&B and garidge. So his affiliation is to the class rather than the specific music form it generated (jungle). Not sure if I buy Bat's stance (what if the massive suddenly got into New Age or Britpop?!?) but I do agree with him that the massive's secession from jungle in 1997 fatally depleted that music of its vibe and energy. This argues for really complex interrelationships and feedback loops between the sonic and the social.
20/ In a sense, speed garage only needed to emerge because drum & bass steadily banished its vibe-creating elements (ragga influences, diva vocals) as it adopted a techno mindset (auteurism, the notion of music as quasi-autonomous aesthetic realm divorced from the social). Like minimal techno, drum & bass has oh-so-abstractly painted itself into its corner of anhedonic (meaning: the inability to feel pleasure) experimentalism. The cunning of UK garage is the way it's taken the skills aquired during the jungle era--the rhythmic and texturological science--and directly transferred them into a context of enjoyment rather than "education". In a broader sense, the frenzy of jungle and the delirium of hardcore have also been cunningly resituated inside a smoother, mellower, more "adult" and "musical" sound--reflecting the way that the hardcore tribe has grown up but refuses to relinquishes drug-and-dance culture. 2-step is ten times more exciting than the UK garage of 1990-95 precisely because of these encoded traces of hardcore and rave.
21/ Reasons to be hostile, part three: The elitist dress code (no trainers, no caps, often no jeans; sometimest the injunction "dress smart/glamorous") designed to keep the young and the poor out. The designer-label fetishism and flagrant materialism: I saw a guy walk around with the neck label of his Moschino shirt pulled out from under his sweater, just so you could be sure of seeing how much he'd spent; T-shirt logos like "Dolce & Gabbana Is Life" suggest a rather shallow worldview. Cocaine itself, that ultimate signifier for expenditure and waste: a drug whose high lasts about twenty minutes and that, because of its rapid comedown , encourages the user to repeat the dose until the supply runs out. Whereas Ecstasy creates a Zen-like plateau state of serene joy for a good six hours, and then leaves you with an afterglow that lasts another 24 hours. And despite the explosive euphoria and sunshine spirit of the music, UK garage can be a grim, unfriendly scene, oddly fusing the snobbery of the deep house purist with the moody, rude bwoy menace of junglists.
22/ That itchy , anxious quality in speed garage makes me think of a delusion that sometimes afflicts abusers of drugs like amphetamine and cocaine that stimulate the central nervous system: the belief that insects are crawling under your skin. Intravenous abusers of speed and cocaine sometimes scratch at their arms until blood is drawn in order to remove these " crank bugs", as speedfreaks call them. Like darkside hardcore and jungle (musics metabolically overdriven by E and whizz), 2-step is insectile music, full of clicks and chitters and mandible-scrapes (the insects's musical world is relentlessly percussive). The music's rhythmic tics are themselves like kinaesthetic infestations that penetrate your body, muscular parasites that burrow inwards and possess our nervous system. To give this CCRU-style idea an appropriately Deleuzian spin, could the body-without-organs be defined as the "desire" "felt" "by" a subdermal swarm of intensities, a "desire" to break the individual's skin and form a macro-swarm with the intensities of the massive? Is that what "vibe" is? Sub-individual intensities communicating with other sub-individual intensities....electricity....
23/ UK garage involved a reversion to traditional sexual roles. In contrast to the androynous baggy clothing of rave, women wear more revealing clothing. Men tend to look musclebound; there's a big connection between speed garage and the East London gym culture.
24/ Cocaine is basically a snob's expensive, short-lived surrogate for long-lasting, value-for-money amphetamine; in clinical literature, these two central nervous system stimulants are not differentiated. The cocaine/garage interface creates a sort of grown-up, upmarket version of the hyperkinesis induced by hardcore/ E's 'n' whizz. In his phenomenology of intoxication book On Drugs, David Lenson discusses a phenonemon called "reverse tolerance". It's the opposite of the normal syndrome of building up tolerance to a drug and being forced to take more and more to get the same effects. Instead, those who've been through periods of intensive use of stimulants can find that a low dose of the drug will get them disproportionately high; it's as though the brain has learned a short-cut to this higher plateau of drug-sensation and only requires a small trigger dose. Could it be that "garage ravers" only need relatively small doses of cocaine to trigger sensation-memories and flashback-frenzies encoded in their brains back in the old skool days of hardcore stimulant abuse?
25/ A doctor friend tells me that one definition of neurosis is anorgasmic sexuality. One of the characteristics of cocaine intoxication, its mechanism of desire-for-desire, is that the release/relief of tension through orgasm is forestalled as long as possible. Sexual satisfaction is dreaded. Compare this with what CCRU's Mark Fisher favorably identifies as "anorgasmics": abandoning the "testicular-thermodynamics" of climax-oriented sexuality in favor of polymorphous plateaux of pleasurable tension. "Alienated and loving it".
26/ At a garage club, I've only ever seen one person in a state approximating "hypersexuality": a woman doing the most twitchy, alienated-looking dance I've ever seen; with her clenched fists level with her jaw and meeting under her chin, her arms were pulled tight up against her body and the elbows nearly met at a point just above her navel. She was frugging urgently and fussily, twirling around in a sort of grim rapture, her face racked by this rictus snarl of coked-out disdain, at once absurd and terrifying. She was like the incarnation of Colours feat Stephen Emmanuel's "Hold On (SE22 Mix)", its vocal spasm-riff ("wh--ERE?! wheresitgonewhereitsgone? wh--ERE? wheresyourlovewheresyourlove?") conjuring a nympholeptic frenzy of desire without locus or focus.
27/ Bizarre, and apparently coincidental echoes of darkside hardcore in KMA's darkside garage: Six's use of the pitch wheel to warp the bassline of "Cape Fear" paralleling Goldie's pitchshifting of the breaks on "Terminator" (make them seem to speed up vertiginously while staying in tempo--a similar destabilisation FX to 'Cape Fear', where the bass suddenly trembles and threatens to give way underfoot, like the floor's turned to jelly); the spelling of "Kaotic Madness" echoing Kaotic Chemistry (the darkside alter-ego of Moving Shadow's 2 Bad Mice, which was Rob Playford and cohorts). Fact tidbit: "Cape Fear" and "Kaotic Madness" both started life as jingles for Six's brother DJ Madness's pirate radio show.
28/ UK garage has resolved (or rather, suspended in a productively unresolved tension) most of the major conflicts and binary divisions that have structured rave culture this last decade: musical v machinic, soul v. posthuman, organic v. synthetic, song v. track, pop v. underground, breakbeat v. 4-to-the-floor. In 2-step particularly, songs become tracky and tracks become songful; melody is percussive and percussion is melodic; the vocals constantly make you wonder if this is a human being or a machine, soul or technics. Answer: it's both, and neither, simultaneously.
Perhaps the most crucial conflict that UK garage resolves is between tradition and futurism. Raymond Williams, the grandfather of cultural studies, analysed culture in terms of "residual" and "emergent" elements. Residual was what persisted from the past (e.g. country music in the USA, superstition etc); emergent is what's marginal now but will one day be mainstream and hegemonic (e.g. "camp" in the Sixties). But the reality is that almost any cultural artefact that has any popular currency (ie. not the totally antiquarian or the utterly avant-garde/academic) will in fact be a tissue of residual and emergent elements; that could work as a "the present". Dance culture rhetoric tends to overstate the emergent properties of a musical phenomenon. For instance, discussions of "breakbeat science" in jungle (including my own) stress the science, the posthuman futurity of the programming. Yet the "science" would have nothing to manifest itself in or work through without the historical materiality of breakbeats--the human, hand's on, real-time rhythms laid down in the 1960s and 1970s. When breakbeat science is at its best there's a vital tension between the humanity and the technology, the residual and the emergent. Too much technique led to the over-programmed, micro-edited , vibe-less beats of latterday drum & bass; relax the technical virtuosity too much, though, and the results sounded too naturalistic, too residual.
2-step best has achieved a vital poise, a tense balance, between the residual and the emergent. So in conclusion, let me reinvoke Phuture Assassin's phrase Roots 'N Future. "Roots" plural, because they're multiple, hybrid, intertangled, but always specific--we know where we've come from. And "phuture" singular, because tomorrow by definition is abstract, open-ended, and unknowable.