various artists: Tuff Jams: Speed Garage--the Underground Sound of London

various artists
Tuff Jams: Speed Garage--the Underground Sound of London

various artists

AS RAVE CULTURE mushrooms, microgenres spring up on a yearly basis. Some of these styles even blossom outside the "DJs-only" ghetto and go on to be heard in the real world many of us call home. Like all electronic subgenres to come before it--from jump up to big beat--the relevance of the UK's newest dance craze, speed garage, is still contingent on the usual factors that presuppose American success. Does it lend well to R&B remixes? Can it be employed as background blare in beer ads or as segue-fodder on MTV? Can it convert you from barfly to believer?

Classic house music shot through with jungle's cut-up aesthetics and Godzilla-sized basslines, the garage sound moved from London's underground clubs into the British pop charts in less than a year. Supposedly, we Yanks are next, and pundits point to the oft-mixed tracks on Tuff Jams as the gospel that will convert us all into speed-garage maniacs. Indeed, the sucker works like a Timex: Listen to it at home and you'll wish you were out on a dance floor.

Todd Edwards's remix of Mantra's "Away"--the aural equivalent of a multicolored strobe light--is the most buoyantly psychedelic disco record I've heard in years. Smart remixes of Rosie Gaines's "Closer Than Close" and Sneaker Pimps' "Spin Spin Sugar" transform unremarkable pop songs into dark, inhabitable soundscapes. And the helium-tweaked vocal sample on Ramsey & Fen's reworking of the Fabulous Baker Boys' "Oh Boy" is the kind of heady head rush that used to be the mark of jungle before it got "intelligent." The problem with microgenres, though, is that so few hold their own aesthetic turf. The problem with Tuff Jams, in particular, is that it's merely a (really good) house collection that comes decorated with the occasional subwoofer-threatening bottom end.

So, is speed garage really a genre, and if so, is it really worth our time? The answer to both: Yes. And the proof is the appropriately titled Basslines. Where Tuff Jams wallpapers your dining room while only occasionally rattling the china, Basslines rips gaping holes in your floor's foundation. Starting with speed garage's top dog, Armand Van Helden--who pumps CJ Bolland's "Sugar Is Sweeter" until it's funky like a back-alley dumpster during a heat wave--the basslines on Basslines become increasingly distorted and less inhibited with every track. From Double 99's unstoppably propulsive wall-of-bass, "Ripgroove," to Gisele Jackson's seething "Love Commandments" (with its carpet-bomb bluster and thrillingly shrill gospel vocals), Basslines rolls by like a post-rave lowrider. Future American hit or not, this will certainly be one of the best dance records of the year.

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