“Jump, don’t ever stop”. One fascinating and melancholy thing lately has been watching dance music grow old. Not just as a genre, coming to terms with itself as something that has a history outside the annihilating 3AM now of the club. That work has proceeded as you might expect (lots of homages). But also as a public, a group of people who invested their youth in its sound and momentum, and now have boxes of records, decks in the shed and over-30s raves on a Saturday. Pride, and bittersweet fondness, no more or less than most of us take away from music.
All parties end. “Do You Really Like It?”, thanks to the creak in its MC’s voices, their slightly stilted flow, and the sad harpsichord runs it rests on, sounds like a genre grown old. It’s the kind of record that could have fitted at either end of a style’s flare up – a workmanlike pop distillation of UK garage’s most recognisable elements. 2-step skitter, local shout-outs, a touch of off-the-shelf elegance, and a singalong chorus to push things over the top. It might have been a cash-in hit at the start of garage’s rise, introducing people to it (“What does it take to be a garage MC?”). Instead it shows up late, as the sound was darkening, slipping back underground: the pan-London unity vibes of “Do You Really Like It?” dissolving. So it sounds elegiac as well as friendly, a group hug goodbye. The party utopia it promises – a wonderland “where the music ain’t loud but lavish” – isn’t just overseas, but retreating into the past.
A year or so after this record got to number one I moved back to London, and the first thing I did, after unpacking, was tune my radio to find a local pirate station. I was hoping for the sound of the future, some raw London edge. What I hit on was three men, who sounded like old men, gabbing on about old days, getting stoned on air and hitting a sound-effect machine (“BOOOOOM!”) between arguing about who was going out to get the Rizlas. They were veterans of the speed garage days, a whole five years gone, taking over the radio for one last Sunday fling. It was frustrating to me at the time, but I remember it now better than many shows I did catch. They played no music but this corny, lovable record would have fitted right in.