British DJ Masterstepz, aka Ian Thompson – a club DJ and former radio disc jockey on London urban music station Choice FM – flies to Dubai on September 16 for an eagerly-awaited gig at Sensation.
But it’s not the first time he’s visited the city – he estimates he’s travelled here for holidays and work at least eight times in recent years. His No.1 Fridays gig on September 16 is going to be particularly special: he’s flying in to celebrate his birthday. Thompson will be playing hip hop, R&B and soulful and commercial house (though he insists he’ll play ‘anything – whatever the crowd wants’), and he’ll be joined by two guest MCs from his homeland to inject a touch of UK garage into the set.
Having been hearing an increasing amount of talk about UK garage towards the end of last season, and with local clubs such as Chi stepping up the frequency of their garage nights, is the oft-parodied genre making a comeback? ‘I’ve heard this so many times,’ Thompson says of the London-centric garage scene, which saw its popularity peak in the late ’90s. ‘Garage is never, ever coming back. People miss hearing it, so in the UK they’re putting on old-school nights, but you couldn’t do it every week because you’d just hear the same music over and over.’
When quizzed about the demise of original garage music, Thompson says it’s a case of death by popularity. ‘It got so big that people were getting greedy and trying to own it. There were too many MCs.’ And though evolution is mostly key to survival, that turned out not to be the case for this particular genre. ‘It started to evolve from what it was originally; singing about the music and soulful house with artists such as Artful Dodger, Miss Dynamite, Craig David and Mis-Teeq. Then people like So Solid and Heartless Crew came along and it became all about MCs – it became grime.’ He claims the latter genre, characterised by London-accented rap over thudding basslines, has also recently gone the same way.
According to Thompson, garage also lost its direction when it became commercial. ‘It became so popular that the underground sound just went, and the next thing you knew you’d hear it on TV ads.’
The people who first enthused about garage soon started getting older, while – in tandem with its growing mainstream image – new listeners were decidedly younger. ‘That’s when people started going to Ibiza, instead of Ayia Napa, where they found US DJs playing great music. They didn’t have 100 MCs talking rubbish over it and rewinding the record every minute, as they had in Cyprus.’
Almost 10 years since its peak, the one thing that garage can still do is serve its purpose as a nostalgic treat. Think of it as Abba for Generation Y, with considerably tighter trousers and marginally better footwear.
So which genre is next up for an untimely demise, destined only for one-off nights? Thompson argues that music categorisations across the board are becoming increasingly indistinct. ‘[Music] is all over the place right now. There’s a lot of this Europop stuff at the moment. A few years ago, you would never see Chris Brown making records like this, and now they’re all working with David Guetta,’ he laughs, suggesting that this cross-continent music-making is a cynical move to boost their profile. ‘People are making music not to sell records, but just to have it out there worldwide. You can go to any country and you’ll hear Chris Brown’s “Beautiful People”.’
The suggestion is that five or 10 years ago, no US musicians were producing music like this. ‘But now everyone is coming out with a Europop song. Pitbull, Ne-Yo, Kelly Rowland, Jennifer Lopez, Nikki Minaj… Look at Usher: it saved his career. He made that record, “O.M.G,” and that was it.’
But as this is an urban night for urban music fans, we expect the majority of requests will be for hip hop, garage and R&B – exactly what Masterstepz does best.