For a genre that burned up the charts in the UK and found pockets of fan fervor around the world--cities as varied as Pittsburgh, NYC, and Ayia Napa all fell under its spell in the late 90s and early 00s--UKG seems to be something people namecheck more than listen to these days. Outside of those lifelong fans who experienced the movement firsthand, however far removed London, and despite renewed interest in the genre within the UK over the past four or five years, artists and DJ's like Wookie, DJ EZ, R.I.P. Productions, MC Creed, Norris "Da Boss" Windross, Tuff Jam, Ms. Dynamite, Dreem Teem, Grant Nelson, Dem 2, El-B and of course Sticky, to name but a few of the scene's biggest and brightest stars, don't quite command the name recognition they once did.
Now, like virtually every principle nuum genre, understanding the genre's brief but explosive development requires more than just a couple solid documentaries or a few compilations (though they certainly help!) Much like the early days of hardcore, UKG was originally born out of a love for skipping and raw American house music dubs with Todd Edwards and Todd Terry representing two Gods whose influence was far-reaching. With some of the earliest UK garage tracks starting to emerge in 1994, by 1996 a pool of productions and producers had emerged in such that Windross saw his record box got from "95% US” to all UK by 1996 when “it became a British sound." Raw and soulful, UK garage eventually became UKG by 1998 when 2-step entered the picture. Where UK garage was very much an extension of house music with its 4X4 kicks, 2-step saw that pulse fragment and drop out on the two and four, the snare becoming twitchy and jungle-informed to create a sound that 2-step pioneer Wookie describes as coming from slowing down drum'n'bass and speeding up R&B.
Many of the scene's biggest hits came from re-purposing vocals from US black popular music and taking production cues from the likes of Timbaland. But as the sound matured and evolved past purely pop purposes, a sort of avant-pop dance music was born that to this day sounds fresher than most contemporary house music to these ears. By dropping out the steady bass pulse and creating far more nimble beats, producers vacated a space within their productions for bowel-churning b-lines to intertwine with bubble-y toplines to create what can be described as populist head music. Or at least that's how I would describe today's track, "Triplets II" by scene star Sticky, who along with Wookie's "Battle," created one of the scene's most enduring latter-day hits with the Ms. Dynamite-voiced "Booo!" Released in 2001 as the B-side sequel to his sophisticated symphony of a club banger "Triplets," titled as such to reflect the track's snaking tri-folded bass melody, "Triplets II" opens up on a sweetly melancholic canned string lines that caught my ear the second it tingled the drum hairs, sending me on a twenty-minute hunt to figure out just what this magnificent piece of MIDI madness was; if I didn't enjoy the hunt so much I'd just download Shazam. The neck-cracking, forward-focused drums kick the whole thing into "start mode" as sustained stabs quickly enter the mix to shore up the initial hook, a pensive string-led counter-melody weighing down the heartstrings like adjustable penis weights. Once the probing, emotionally nomadic sitar string comes in, a nod to the Bhangra being sampled by everyone within US hip-hop and UKG, it's a red herring to those for whom this isn't their first dance that a mighty storm is brewing in the low-end. Tortured, tear-drenched bass triplets storm the mix before doubling up to mirror the song's primary topline with which it enters the sort of high-low gun battle in which no dies and everyone moves onto the next level. A true testament to what can be accomplished with just a few of the right elements, "Triplets II" is nothing short of a masterpiece and, of course, led to yet a third installment the following year. True class.