As someone who was in nursery when garage was becoming the sound of the nation, I’ve always been jealous of those who lived it. I’ve seen the pictures, heard accounts from the veterans, but I’ve always been aware that this period could never be replicated – an “if you know, you know” moment.
The Sunday scene, as it was known, was a handful of Sunday night raves that had people travelling from across London and beyond. UK Garage (UKG) promoters couldn’t get access to the venues on a Friday or Saturday night, so punters paid the price on a Monday morning. That was, until the scene grew to be taken seriously for primetime slots with nights like ‘Twice as Nice’, that was famed for seeing Posh and Becks, Wesley Snipes, and Jay Z in attendance over the years.
MC Creed, Kele Le Roc, El-B, Wookie, Shola Ama, Oxide and Neutrino, So Solid and more have paved the way for the soundscape of today’s British sound. It spilled from the top of council estates by way of pirate radio stations including Freek FM, Kiss, Deja Vu and Rinse.
“Pirate radio, for me, was the heartbeat of UK garage scene. Without it, there’s no doubt that the garage scene would not have gone as far and as wide and would have not been as popular [as it was].” – Scott Garcia, Rewind 4Ever: The History of UK Garage (2013 Documentary) | Boiler Room
Last month, Boiler Room hosted ‘Inside: 20 Years of UKG’ to celebrate the sound that has been dominating British culture since the 1990s, with performances from the likes of the mighty Kele Le Roc, MC Creed, Nay Nay and Elisabeth Troy. We have a few exclusives to share with you, and we spoke to Kele Le Roc and the host of the night: Rinse FM’s Emerald.
Kele Le Roc
gal-dem: Does it feel like it’s been 20 years since the garage sound came to life?
Kele Le Roc: Time has flown, it’s gone by so quickly. I mean it doesn’t even feel like it’s 2018. I’m just really pleased that 2 decades later, I’m still here doing something I love. I’m able to pay my bills and I’m doing what I do for a whole new generation, so I’m really grateful.
What has garage done for the UK culture during these years?
I feel like garage has kind of been the birth of many other genres that have spawned off of it. It’s very UK and it’s very… us! It’s something that we can be proud of. And no disrespecting the other music, but one of the things that I’ve always loved about garage is that it’s such a positive music. It’s so bubbly and uplifting and it just brings people together. I genuinely love it and that’s how I got into it.
What was the vibe like at the Boiler Room’s ‘Inside: 20 Years of UKG’?
It was phenomenal. I was coming down after it started and Elisabeth [Troy] called me up and was like, “where are you it’s going off!” Everyone was up for it, the crowd was lovely, the performances were going off. It was just a really good night.
What is your favourite track to perform?
‘My Love’. When I first started singing, it was my ideal to use the power of music to make the world a better place. ‘My Love’ is about love, and love is the highest vibration. So when people ask me “you’ve been singing this song for so many years, don’t you get bored of it?”, I say I never get bored of it because it helps pay my bills, it helps me sustain my lifestyle and I’m so grateful that 20 years later I’m still able to sing this song. It’s about love and to be honest, I see it in people’s eyes. I see that this song has made their world and their lives a better place. So I’m blessed just for that one song.
gal-dem: What did you learn working on the UKG Reloaded podcast project?
Emerald: Working on that was amazing because it was always a scene that I thought I missed out on. It was such a great era for music in London especially in terms of crossover and giving young black people an actual, real shot in the mainstream. It was such a huge boost for working class culture.
I learnt so much about how the press and police got involved and kind of shut it down and “black on black crime” became this buzzword for the whole thing that happened with So Solid Crew. It became such an issue for them. The feeling I got from loads of the interviews is because they were making such a splash in the mainstream, they were making all of this money. The people on top weren’t happy because they weren’t making money out of it anymore. So, they [powers that be] shut it down.
How did you feel when you were asked to host UKG at 20?
I was really nervous but my second reaction was that I was really honoured. Once I was there it just felt right. I didn’t have to force anything I was saying and didn’t have to write anything down because I feel such an attachment to UKG. Through doing the documentary, it gave me an understanding of the significance of that night and I felt like I could speak from the heart.
It was so great to shine a light on all the artists and performers who came down that night because they really and truly deserve it. Garage is definitely not dead.
What was your highlight of the night?
I’m gonna have to say Elisabeth Troy because those old MJ Cole tunes like ‘Sincere’ are the really beautiful ones and the ones that make you feel really emotional. Seeing that performed live by Troy, whose name doesn’t pop up that much – her credit wasn’t on those tunes when they came out – gave me a new appreciation for those tunes. Her energy was so beautiful and to see her raving in the crowd with everybody else afterwards was great. I just have such respect for her.