The garage scene has undergone something of a renaissance as of late, no thanks to its veteran DJ’s carrying the torch many thought had burnt out, aided by a new wave of artists trying to make their own mark. Garage now carries more of a nostalgic feel than anything else, but crucially, it is also a sound which can connect multiple generations in a way few other genres can.
Garage has had its highs and lows since its heyday in the early 2000s, but it never died out, even if the MOBO awards scrapped the award for ‘Best Garage Act’ after 2004. In the years past, garage seems to have only got stronger, and amongst those tasked with flying the flag now, as they have been since 1999, are DJ Luck and MC Neat.
The duo boasts three top-ten UK hits will tear up any event they’re booked at and can honestly say they helped pioneer an entire genre to great success. Other artists in various scenes might make similar claims, but not too many can say they’ve done for their genre what Luck & Neat have done for garage.
We sat down with DJ Luck to talk a few things through.
When you started out, did you ever envision you’d be here today in 2016 doing what you’re doing?
No. Every year it just gets better and better. Back in the day you think you probably got another year, then maybe you’ll have to do something else, then you do another year, another year, and that’s how it always was.
After about 2006, it just started getting better and better. It’s a hundred times bigger now, a hundred times better. It’s ridiculous. The younger kids are now singing along to these tunes that were made before they were even born, and they’re sort of making the tunes their own.
Why do you think things are crazier now?
It’s different now and a lot easier to make tunes. But I preferred it back then, it was nice to make a tune and let the tune grow itself rather than pushing the tune onto people. When a tune was out back in the day, whatever it was, house, jungle, garage, rap, it would grow. You’d hear it in the clubs, you’d hear it in the pirates, and you couldn’t get it – that’s what was nice about it.
Now, if there’s a tune you hear on a night out and you haven’t got it, I can get it in a few seconds, which is easy and accessible. But even from the vinyl days, I was always the last person from vinyl to CD, then CD to USB, I just held on to the old thing. I don’t miss the days of carrying records around but I do miss the days of playing on vinyl.
What do you miss about playing on vinyl?
It’s definitely feelings. You’re touching something, you’re looking for a record, you’re putting it on, you’re touching that record, you’re mixing that record. With a CD, you can do a lot more with a tune now, but it’s the touching of the tune and feel of the record, it’s just different.
I’ve got six decks at home and I haven’t used one in years. There’s vinyl in the loft, vinyl under the beds, under the kids bed, under the sofas, it’s everywhere. People are always trying to buy vinyl off me but I can’t let them go. The vinyl tells a story, and when you play it, they bring back a thousand memories.
I was into jungle and I remember putting on certain tunes and thinking ‘I had to go all the way to this record shop to get a record, not finding the tune, then finding what I was looking for on the other side, and being shocked that I had it already it on the B side.’ It’s hard to give away something like that like ‘here take it for a couple of quid’, when I went out all day looking for that record.
You won the MOBO award for Garage back in 2000, do you think that garage needs to be recognised again by bigger mainstream platforms like it was before?
I’d say definitely the MOBO’s has overlooked garage for a good few years. There should definitely be a MOBO again for garage, I’m surprised there hasn’t been one again in the last couple years. Garage, should be recognised by the MOBO awards again without a doubt.
We went to Glastonbury recently, we did the Red Bell Sound Clash – we did that Sound Clash in four weeks, all of them lot had months. What people don’t know, we were the last people to come in. They only brought us in cos other people let them down.
Yeah, that’s what it was. ‘Let’s just do this garage thing now’. Nobody expected us to do what we did. Nobody thought we’d come with the dubplates we came with. We came joint second. Listen, we killed Eskimo Dance. Easily.
So do you think you should’ve won the Sound Clash?
There was one round we should’ve won. I know we won one of them, but we should’ve won the second round. But listen, Mixpak – all dues to them, they still did very well. We went there, we didn’t expect to win, but we nearly won – there was 3 of us that all won a round, so the last round was exciting and we never even knew we’d get that. The whole time when we agreed to take this challenge on, we just wanted to represent garage. To say. you know what, we can still go there and still smash it, and you can just see the work we’ve put in.
(Luck on his chat with David Rodigan, member of Rebel Sound – winners of the 2014 Culture Clash)
After the show, I met Rodigan at BBC 1Xtra, and I said to him, ‘how long did you have to do it?’ He said, ‘we had about three of four months’ then I had said, ‘Really?! We had about four weeks!’ Then he took his hat off and said, ‘I cannot believe you had four weeks.’
We were in the studio 24 hours a day. I was getting dubs from Jamaica, getting dubs from all over, speaking to people and it was hard. Even with the cartoons of Wiley, the Eastenders thing, I’m proud of what we done.
(Luck on Eskimo Dance’s performance at this year’s Sound Clash)
I think Eskimo and Wiley came away and were pretty embarrassed. They thought they were gonna walk away with it. They never played any dubplates. They just played their tunes. Stormzy, come out and did ‘Shut Up’ – why didn’t he change the lyrics? You could’ve changed the lyrics a bit to cuss everyone.
Why did you use all those people in the first round? Stormzy, came out, Lethal B, Chip, you used all your bullets in the first round, and we won that round, the first round you gotta do your own genre of music. So they [Eskimo] came out with grime, Taylor Gang came out with hip hop or whatever, but we won. That’s the most important round for us – as far as I’m concerned, garage came and beat all the other genres of music.
That’s not bad for a few weeks’ work…
People don’t know that. Them lot all had months to get ready. Months. We had four weeks just to say, right, ‘put it together, go and get your dubs and do it’. I have over 60 dubs we didn’t play that night because we didn’t have time. I told Rodigan that and he said, ‘we had some, maybe 7 or 10 or something, but not 60!’ I play some of them in my set, and people come up and ask where they can get that tune – you can’t, I’m not giving it to nobody.
To have 60 dubs left over, even Rodigan was saying you should put it into a mix so people can hear what other stuff you have. Within a year or six months, when I’ve got the time, I think we’ll come together and do that. Some of the dubs were so bad, we just couldn’t put them out. They were cussing certain people so badly, we just can’t physically do that, it’s too embarrassing.
The Red Bull thing just shows how big Garage really is. When we came off stage and went in that back room, we felt like we’d won. There was no sad vibe, we were all just buzzing. We did more than what we wanted to do, just to represent our music to show we can clash, can do things.
If you had to pick your top three favourite shows you’ve ever done, what are they, and why?
My first one would be back in 2000 when we did ‘Party In The Park’. I’ve done a lot of ‘Party In The Park’s’ but this was Hyde Park, something like 150,000 people or whatever, so that was quite a historical moment for us. Then more recently, the Red Bull one. Third is a bit tougher. We did Glastonbury in 2000, then Glastonbury again this year.
Not many artists enjoy a 16-year gap between performances at Glastonbury…
Yeah exactly, things are now coming back around. Different things are coming that you would never of thought of before. The most random places. I played for Spotify in some random place – a WW2 bunker – all the top Spotify people didn’t know who was gonna play, and we went into the middle of the woods, through miles and miles of tunnels. Stormzy was there too. Them sort of random things.
I played for Red Bull on the London Eye. Each pod had a different rave in it. I was in a pod, then there’s loads of other artists in the other pods, and they’re going round, and in every pod there’s 30 or 40 people raving to different music. The mad thing is you could look at the other pods from your pod and you’d see the DJ and the other ravers in these pods on the London Eye, and you see everyone raving in the pod. It was mad.
Vibes wise, sometimes you can play to 400 people and in front of 10,000 people and the vibe can be just as good, depending on the crowd. Obviously the big crowds are good, but small crowds are harder to play to. Even if 5000 people are on it out of your 10,000 there’s gonna be a vibe, in smaller ones, you’ve got to watch the crowd more. Sometimes people ask me why I’m so moody at shows and I say ‘I’m just concentrating’.
Do you see any new garage artists coming through and reaching the heights you have?
The reason I moved from jungle to garage back in the day is because the jungle lot made up all the top people. You could never get any play outs. I wanted to get more play outs then all my friends were moving over to garage and I was like ‘na it’s just girly stuff’, but then the music started changing and the beats started getting better. Then you got your foot in garage and you were getting plays outs.
I hear what you’re saying – now it’s a lot harder for people to break through. If I put DJ whoever on, or DJ EZ, who are you gonna go see? We’ve done our time, done our graft, so people are gonna wanna see them.
I hope new people come through because you need new people; you need that to keep a scene alive. There are certain genres of music that I was in – and they’d put up a locked door – if you’re not one of them top boys, you’re not getting in. A lot of genres of music are like that – if you’re not at the top, you’re not getting in. Garage isn’t like that – the people in our industry are sort of like a big family – you see each other so much and everyone’s cool. There’s a group of us and I haven’t got a bad word to say about anyone on the scene.
I think the best way of getting into any scene – you need to make tunes, if you do that, people will recognise you for them. ‘A Little Bit of Luck’ was an intro dub – it was never meant to be released. It was just a tune I asked Neat to make for me so people knew who I was, like EZ has his one and what not. Then people are coming from all over London to listen to this one tune. If Neat thought it was gonna be such a big tune, I’m sure he would’ve put his name on it too.
So what happened around the time ‘A Little Bit of Luck’ came out?
Neat was bigger than me back in the day so he was getting bookings, but I wasn’t. I was getting these PAs – go do your ‘Little Bit of Luck’ tune then go.
So I said, if you want that tune, you gotta get us for a set. A PA is one song thing and at the time we had only had ‘A Little Bit of Luck’. You walk in, not even 5 minutes, put the instrumental version on, 3 minutes, bang, see you later, onto the next place.
In one year we did over 250 PA’s in a year and I said ‘I’m not doing this anymore, it’s either a set or nothing’. Then they started booking us for sets and the rest is history.
What’s next from you both?
We’re in the studio all the time – we just done a new tune with Wideboys. You’ll start hearing new music from us soon.
You can watch DJ Luck and MC Neat live at LeeFest: The Neverland – Get Tickets Here.