I’ve been watching my name stare out at me accusingly from Tom’s list of “team members” for a while now, and so thought I better drag myself away from my own blog and contribute something for once. And what better than a review of the UK Garage mix of Freaky Trigger’s favourite song?

I’ve been following Robin and Greg’s conversation with some interest. Analyses of UK Garage’s commercial appeal have dominated representations of it in the media, perhaps in an attempt to explain just how it blew up right under the media’s nose despite numerous warning signs. What seems to have been lost though in the talk of Garage as the “new urban soul” or “transcultural pop music” is its savvy combination of not only commercial influences, but also cross-genre experimentation. In the average Garage track you’ll hear glimmers of house’s textural manipulation, hardcore’s sampladelic intertextuality, jungle’s breakbeat and sub-bass wizardry and contemporary R&B’s techno futurism. It’s just that when the whole mix is blended and poured out so smoothly by groups like The Artful Dodger, it’s hard to see past the lustrous soft sheen.

I reckon Garage mixes of US R&B singles will become ubiquitous soon, because the contexts of the raw material shared between the originals and the remixes aren’t too different: stuttering beats, cluttered arrangements and melodramatic divas. Hence material designed for one genre can be recontextualised within the other with little difficulty. And it’s only in the context of the garage arrangement of “Thong Song” that I realise what a great garage diva Sisqo is: lusty, soulful, melodramatic, and with a predeliction for sex and the high life. While the original version of “Thong Song” sometimes verges on being both sleazy and frivolous in the face of the de rigeur icy cold R&B that otherwise dominates the charts, the garage remix belongs to a genre dedicated to pleasure and over-succulent with sexual tension, and thus makes all too much sense.

The Artful Dodger are a great choice as remixers, because their tracks gloss over the rawness that still informs most Garage (I don’t know how receptive US artists are to someone like MC Neat growling all over their tracks just yet), and instead walk a fine line between tearjerker melancholic beauty and reassuring fluff. I suspect nothing will quite top their otherworldly mix of Valerie M’s “Tingles 2000”, but here the Dodgers come close by making the inspired choice of switching the bombast of the original for an almost laidback gamelan funk – it’s the sort of thing I kind of expected when I heard about Beta Band’s “Sequinsizer”, only you can dance to it. It’s in the arrangement details that the Artful Dodger really excel, pulling together random, dislocated snippets of melody and tonal colour into a seamless web of sound that I reckon has very little to do with their much vaunted classical training. The effect is similar to that of the orchestral bleeps used on R&B tracks like Kelis’ “Caught Out There” or Destiny’s Child’s “Perfect Man”: a surround-sound environment of non-musical noises that only happen to coalesce into a song by accident.

Meanwhile, the beats are kept pretty simple, playing out a standard 2-step rhythm. The real joy lies in the delectably programmed rustle of the snares trailing each beat, which sound like the snapping of Sisqo’s lady’s thong straps against her thighs as she swivels her hips to the beats. It’s the pure kinetic energy of tracks like this that place them on the forefront of popular music, while simultaneously being the soundtrack to the summer of so many. In a musical environment where experimentation is so often equated with structureless sprawl, the ruthless repetition that dominates so much popular music gives it the framework within which it can be more experimental than any twenty-minute jam.