The spectacular rise and crash of UK Garage into (and then out of) the mainstream in the United Kingdom lead to a huge glut of records in the marketplace.
Yet even some of the classics are still in short supply and highly coveted by DJs and collectors today. For example, Tuff Jams Vol 1 – arguably one of the ten most important UKG records ever made – can be maddeningly hard to come by. This, like DB Selective’s In Da Groove Vol 1, isn’t rare because nobody’s heard of it or there were only a dozen copies made, but the demand just far outstrips the supply. Everyone wants one.
Here’s our master list of rare (and good) UK Garage records, some of which exist for the most part on crackly YouTube videos and a few rare collections.
Kerri Chandler: Hallelujah (James Lavonz Remix) (Unda-Vybe 1998)
Unda-Vybe built an impressive catalog during their brief existence, but the record everybody wants is the one nobody can get.
Kerri Chandler’s “Hallelujah” is not rare, it was released in 1996 with remixes from Roy Davis Jr on King Street and reissued digitally just last year. Notably absent from the reissue: James Lavonz’s firey UK Garage remix which appeared on some kind of white label pressing by Unda-Vybe in 1998 and pretty much vanished from the face of the earth shortly thereafter. The A side features a big-time Tuff Jam remix, but the B2 by James Lavonz (half of Krush Groove) has become a (hate this term, but it’s appropriate) holy grail for UKG DJs. Lavonz strips this down to skeletal beats and chops up the vocal into a new, gorgeous groove.
Kalani Bob & Remegel: Cheese & Pickle EP Vol 1 (Groove Yard, 1995)
Imagine if Green Velvet had been raised in the heart of London at roughly the same time as the real one was growing up in Chicago. You’d have something like Kalani Bob and Remegel – two guys I know nothing about and whom no one really seems to know anything about other than the devastating two volume Cheese & Pickle EPs on seminal UK Garage label Groove Yard Records.
“Dreaming Of Brie” and “Deep Breath” are the classic cuts from Cheese & Pickle Vol 1, the former showing its age a little in ravey sort of sounds but more than making up for it in startlingly originality. There is a lo-fi aggressiveness to this – like they beat the crap out of whatever broken down instruments they could lay their hands on until they emitted the sounds they wanted suffering an electronic death. There’s a moment in “Dreaming Of Brie” that reminds me of someone flipping a switch and the house falls down around them – it’s a technicolor explosion of sound from the most minimal framework.
Kalani Bob & Remegel are just the perfect symbol of UK Garage mythology: they came, they jacked, they left without a trace except these two rare EPs.
DEA Project: Love Me (DEA Project 1997)
“Love Me” is such a good song and deserves a much wider audience. One of the most irresistibly sensual, sexy UK Garage tracks, “Love Me” appeared on DEA Project Vol 1, the modestly titled debut from UK Garage cult heroes DEA Project (“Dub Enforcement Agents”). Many DEA Project tracks reached peak circulation as white labels – their tracks are embedded in the sets of loads of UKG DJ from the late 1990s – but “Love Me” stands tall two decades later. DEA was a trio made up of R. Lally, Lloyd Holder and Anthony Hawley, who makes records now under the alias Para/Para-Beats.
DJ EZ: Pump It Up Star (Undercover Kutz 1998)
EZ (ee-zed) is one of the rare DJs of the last 20 years who made his reputation primarily as a DJ. Thanks to an ear for sound, a technical mastery of the 1200s, a finger on the pulse of the underground and a courageousness behind the decks that made him champion loads of the other artists here before anyone had ever heard of them, he’s earned a place at the forefront of Garage from day one (the best-selling Pure Garage mix series didn’t hurt either).
The 4 Track EP was I believe his first foray into production and while it’s strange to call a figure for a long time considered the UK’s top DJ “underrated,” the original production work here certainly is. Clearances might make this a bitch to reissue except for as a bootleg.
Master Stepz: Melody (Outlaw Records 1998)
A nice blend of dub, drum & bass and UKG elements stirred together by the guy that had the balls to call himself “Master” right out of the gate. Ian Thompson made grimy UKG that still had enough glitz to make it in the swanky clubs. “Melody” is like that, and features your stock MC clips over a proto-2step shuffle. Thompson came to UKG via Hip Hop, and you can hear that in the dedication to crisp hits and crystal-clear hats in most of his tracks.
After a larger club hit with “R U Ready” (featuring Richie Dan on vocals), Master Stepz wound up with a slot on Choice FM, with a couple of Ministry of Sound mixes following. About a year ago he resurfaced with Melody 2.0. The original sounds a bit thin & tinny in comparison to modern bass music tracks; the new version fills it in and thickens up the body and the drums especially. Remixes range from the bassline-driven Est 1987 & Wonder K edit to Sammy Porter’s hands-in-the-air Garagey remixes.
MF Project: Body Grooving (Central Station 1998)
You could make an entire list of rarities covering nothing other than Speed Garage records. Or Jeremy Sylvester records. “MF Project” was headed by “Miles Fontaine” and Discogs is a Rosetta Stone for sorting out Jeremy Sylvester’s plethora of aliases. This was reissued by Marc Cotterell’s Plastik People Recordings in 2017 but doesn’t seem to have dampened the reseller market for the original discs. You could also replace this one with Strickly Dubz “Realise,” another Sylvester project.
London Vibes/Fungus Mungus Vol 1 (SW15 2000)
You can’t make a list like this without including the mysterious white label London Vibes or Fungus Mungus. This record was “released” twice, with the same tracks given different titles. Why release two records with the same tracks but different names? No one knows. Four Speed Garage tracks by “Cutmaster Ace” and “Mr. Ses” were released in these two editions in the Summer of 2000 on a white label.
The A2 track – “Take Me” on Fungus Mungus, “Escape” on London Vibes – features one of the most extreme time-stretched vocal sample in Speed Garage history with chilling breakdowns and a euphoric rise.
If this was all clever marketing, it kind of worked – here we are talking about it today, though we can’t say what exactly it is that we’re talking about. The original is unbelievably rare, and even few digital rips are known.