As with most subcultures within the UK dance music space, UKG never really “died”, perhaps just hibernated slightly further underground, but thanks to the work of artists like Conducta, the last four/five(ish) years has seen funk-filled four to the floor sounds start creeping across dancefloors again and peppering sets of more adventurous multi-genre UK bass music DJs (think Sherrelle et.al). Need we mention the recent UK number one from Interplanetary Criminal and Eliza Rose?
Steppers Club is a young label at the forefront of UK garage’s recent revival. Three years ago a collection of highly ambitious producers joined forces to create a label which strictly pushed UK garage- and what’s more pushed in their own way. Steppers Club is a label that handles it’s business- everything from production and mastering to artwork design and marketing is handled in-house, it was important for this group of individuals to ensure their tracks were released with as much meticulous attention to detail that was afforded during the production process. It’s this obsessive love for the genre that has built the brand a sterling reputation across the scene, Steppers Club wanted to use their platform to shine a spotlight on UK garage producers from outside of the UK.
Across January Steppers Club are releasing a two track EP each week, which sees artists from their own roster collaborate with international artists. We caught up with DJ, producer and one of the heads of Steppers Club- Zefer to talk about the project.
So Zefer, what have you been up to recently?
We’re in the thick of this international project for January at the moment. We came up with the idea for doing it a couple of months ago so it’s been quite a turnaround. We didn’t feel like we could do it any later than that, in terms of getting it turned around and we decided on a three-month window. So the strict time constraints have created a fair amount of work.
Why did you put the time constraints in? Was that your decision?
Steppers club has been active for just over three years. It was just a few of us that were all at uni, and garage was coming back again and having this resurgence that we’ve seen over the last couple years. So over the last three years we’ve built up and it’s got a lot more structured and we’ve learned to plan ahead a lot more. So when we came around to doing this idea, a few months ago, we had the majority of our releases penned in between that point and the coming May 2023 and we only had one release pencilled in for January. So we thought we could move that later in this run of releases which would free up the entire space in January. It was just a case of making it work with the calendar. And then, we’ve got another big project that will be coming up in May as well, so we wanted to have a gap between those two. .
You mentioned the resurgence? Why do you think it’s had such a comeback?
From my own experience with it as a genre of music, I think you could probably draw quite a lot of parallels with drum and bass in terms of the spectrum of sounds across the genre is quite far reaching. And I think it serves a lot of different music and appetites in the different ways that it can be produced. When garage did make a bit of a resurgence, you could probably say 2019 was the key year for things starting to kick off again, the sound was very NUKG as it was billed- lots of Conducta and Kiwi Records starting to push that fun, melodic sound which draws a lot of parallels with house. More recently, we’ve seen this speed garage revival from Interplanetary Criminal, Breaka, EC2A, all of those guys, they’re really serving the other end of the spectrum where it’s much more bass driven in sound design.
Given there is such a wide spectrum of different sounds that fall within the genre. I think it does serve quite a lot of different audiences in terms of what people look for when they go out raving or what they look for when they listen to dance music. And I think therefore, I’m expecting or at least I’m hoping anyway, that there’s gonna be a real longevity to this wave of the genre because there’s a lot of people that are making it now and there’s a lot of different sounds that fall within the spectrum that would be considered garage.
Tell us about and how the label started?
It was pretty much around three years ago now. Myself and a few other producers started doing releases and it was just a genre that people wanted to make again and there’s this ecosystem that was starting to appear. I think at that stage there were only four or five labels that were saying that they were going to be garage labels and that was what they were pushing and the resurgence of the genre was at quite an early point.
I was in a place where I did my first release that got picked up by a label in August 2019 and in that period in between I’d done most of the other labels quite quickly, and I was there thinking “Now what?”. I wanted to continue to develop my career and not just release on the same couple of labels for the rest of my life. I want to keep developing, keep pushing. On top of that, myself and a couple of other people in the scene that I was chatting with that have since become the team members that run the label with me, we felt that there was a gap for, maybe a more artists run label. We wanted to develop a platform where we were essentially self-releasing music, we would have all of the control over the visuals, the way it was marketed and all of the other things around it. We would basically come together to build a platform that would be bigger than any one of us.
I think that it’s such a personal experience when you make a track from start to finish. Whenever you sign off to another person and hope that they’re gonna deliver it in the way that you would want it to be delivered, I don’t think you’re ever gonna get as much of a personal touch unless you do it yourself.
The first people that we started with were myself, Sensa, Sam Deeley, Minista, and then finally Oppidan who’s gone on to do pretty amazing things over the last couple of years herself. We basically just got together because we all had a similar love of the genre and we’re all quite ambitious, driven people that wanted to not just settle for let’s just release on this label and that label.
We recruited another lad called Tommy who started doing all of the in-house artwork for us and then I’d recruited a couple of people from our university at the time and we started building this team of really young, driven, like-minded, creative individuals. We got to a point where we had this team of people, where everything could be done in-house. We didn’t need to rely on anybody outside, if anything needed doing, we had the resources within our group to do it. And that’s how it’s basically built over the last three years.
We’ve branched into offering services for artists, we managed some artists, we also offer mixing and mastering services. We’ve moved into the event space as well. So we even sell our T-shirts with our label branding it’s just growing and growing and growing and we’ve been really fortunate in that a lot of the people that brought us through in the scene when we were coming up have shown a lot of love and helped us through.
We’ve always had this ethos that we’ve just wanted to develop the community. And we first really put that into action when we held a community day about six months ago, where we just invited all these different people from the scene. We felt that most artists only saw each other in person at shows, and at shows you’ve either had too many drinks or there’s loud music playing, which makes it really hard to network.
We had Conducta and Scott Diaz come through to do talks amongst others on a jam packed lineup. We had a social space and we had some open decks as well. So up and comers could try to impress promoters that were coming along and so yeah I think that that was the first real thing we did where we thought “ We’ve got enough of a platform. Now we can really start to give back and develop the community.” And I think this project that we’re doing in January with all these overseas labels, it’s another iteration of just wanting to strengthen the community. The genre went into a bit of a dark place previously, because from what I understand, it just became very clique-y and it wasn’t a really healthy environment for creativity to flourish.
Tell us more about the international project…
We’d been doing this for a couple of years, we usually have a break in releases every summer where we sit down and collect our thoughts and have a breather. And then we go again. And in the break that we had last summer, we all sat down and said “Why do we actually do it? What’s the reason for this? What’s our philosophy? What do we want to achieve? What are the values that we want to publicise to the community to support what we’re doing?” And as I mentioned, community has always been something that’s been really important to us, we’ve tried to interpret that and work with that in a number of different forms. We have a VA release that comes out once a year which is dedicated to up and comers but another thing that we wanted to foster was the international community. We want to bring people together that are overseas that are making the genre, that perhaps haven’t been given the same opportunities as you can get if you’re making UK garage in the UK.
UKG might not be the most developed sub genre of dance music in the UK, but there’s plenty of promoters. There’s labels and people you can collaborate with. If you end up making good music and getting it in the right hands you will sure enough at some point get noticed. If you’re from overseas where the genre isn’t popular and it isn’t particularly known yet, you could be making insane music, but if there aren’t any promoters putting on events, you’re not gonna get gigs. If there aren’t any labels that are pushing the music you’re not going to get anywhere with that. So we’ve basically felt that we have a responsibility as we’ve been lucky enough to build our own platform over the last couple of years to share the advantages of that.
I must give credit to another label in our scene called Garage Shared that a couple of years ago. They did a VA release which was developed differently to the version that we’ve come up with, it was essentially a VA of seven or eight artists that were all from different countries. We thought that was really cool but we wanted to try and take this ethos and develop it further and rather than just say “we’re gonna take your music and put it out.” We wanted to bring these producers and help them work with people from our roster that are some of the more established names in the genre and then through a more of a cross collaboration and also offer more opportunities to the artists that we’re working with.
When you were on your internet travels have you uncovered any scenes popping off a. Have you found any little secret bubbling spots?
I think the coolest form of it that we’ve seen from our own research is with the guys from Spray Box in Japan. It’s amazing. We found other labels pushing garage overseas that we haven’t included in this project too. It’s very big in Spain. There’s a big scene in Seville there’s a big scene over there, there’s quite a big community. I think it’s literally called UKG Spain on Soundcloud. In Brazil there’s quite an interesting community of people pushing garage over there as well. We’ve found great scenes in Belgium, Australia and the states. But for me the coolest one we’ve seen is definitely in Japan but it’s popping up all over the place.
I’m quite surprised it sounds like it’s everywhere.
Yeah in India as well Krunk Kulture is a label that sits underneath an umbrella company that runs events all over India. A friend of mine went on a tour in India not too long ago and he said the reactions of the crowds out there to the music were just unlike anything he’d ever seen before. So there they’ve been really rooted in events and then building a community and then developing that into a label.
Can you tell us a little bit about the international labels you’ve worked with…
Bubble UKG- Australia
The first guys that we are releasing with our Bubble UKG are from Melbourne in Australia and the two artists that we’re working with are Tuff Trax and IsGwan, these guys are pushing the sound in Australia. Tuff Trax has actually been around quite a while, he’s a name that I think a number of UK garage listeners will be familiar with.
Their sound is based on the original sound and it’s got the authentic old school garage feeling to it in the way that it’s produced. IsGwan delivered a solo track for us which is cool speed garage with really interesting sound design on it. The other track is a collaboration between Tuff Trax and Gemi. Gemi’s one of the pioneers of the new school at the moment. He’s widely recognised as one of the best producers in the genre. So putting them together was a really nice pairing because Tuff Trax has got this really gritty, nice, old school sound to the music that he makes, and that ended up working nicely with Gemi. I think that that EP is a really nice way to start off and it just feels like really good authentic garage.
Fantastic Voyage- USA
So then the next guys that we have releasing with us are Fantastic Voyage- Justin Jay’s label. He’s a DJ from the States, they put forward two artists who are called Danny Goliger and Edward White and we paired them up with Minista and Yemi. The garage that these guys make is quite housy it’s four to the floor, a little bit slower, quite funky. Steppers Club has always been about the dance ready four to the floor, grooviest side of garage, so it was a really good match.
The Danny Gollager and Minista collab is really funky but then also has an element of some warpers garage that comes into it as well. The Yemi and Ed White track actually came out a bit different than what we were expecting; they went for a breaks infused garage track, that’s a bit more ambient and a bit more vibey. The EP gives really interesting flavours of the diversity of the genre and showcases the US interpretation of the genre that we’ve seen over the last years where there’s the housier, soul, and funk, inspired take on it.
Spray Box- Japan
Next up we’ve got Spray box from Japan and the two producers that we worked with on that release were Oblongar and That Fancy I. The Japanese take on garage and the intricacies in the production is just ridiculous. If you take any one in our neck of the woods that makes garage in the UK and put them against anybody that’s making garage from Japan and look at the quality of the production, nine times out of 10 I think they would better our producers. The quality, the production is insane. We paired them up with Sam Deeley- one of the founders of the label and also Jack Junior who’s a real mainstay name in UK garage music from the last 10 years or so.
Spray Box are quite focused on the NUKG flavours, as in the newer sound that has come through particularly between 2019 and 2021, where Jack Junior and Sam Deely use more authentic old school sounds in their production which ended up making a really nice blend. I might stick my neck out there and say, that’s my favourite EP of the project, but I don’t want to take anything away from anyone else.
Krunk Kulture- India
So, the Indian producers that we worked with were Moebius and YNZN.P, what we found with their productions is that they’re taking different elements from underground genres of UK dance music and then really putting their own twist on it and blending a lot of different ideas together. I ended up working with Moebius on a track and I sent him an idea and he completely chopped it up and did his own thing with it. I spoke with Kaisui, who we paired up YNZN.P and a similar thing happened. We’d sent ideas that they chopped up and reinterpreted, which was a really interesting process. Listening to the Krunk Kulture guys’ production in particular, as well as being really intricate, is just very interesting music that you can listen to over and over again. You discover new layers to the music each time you take it in, and I think there’s a lot of bass influence in a lot of the tracks too, you can hear in the Kaisui track there’s some little breakbeats part which shows a nice blend going over the boundaries of UK garage into other neighbouring genres.
This sounds great, so as well as the releases the international artists are taking over your shows on Reprezent?
Yes, the way that it’s looking at the moment is that every artist on the release is doing a guest mix and then we’ve sent a few questions to each artist just about them and their influences. And then on top of that, some of the UK based artists are coming on to do live interviews before they then do their guest mix in person.
This is throughout January?
My residency on Reprezent is on the first Friday of the month. But we’ve got that and then we’ve got every Friday in the month as well in the evening, so all the shows go out on the same day that that specific release goes out. So the Australian lot will have their release on the first Friday and then their radio show is on that evening and the same with all the other ones.
Cool, we’ll definitely tune in! Is there anything else you wanted to tell us regarding this project?
I think it’s just really important for us that we start to connect the dots more. The genre still has a long way to go, I hope. I’m still hearing so much fresh music coming out on a regular basis from different producers in the genre. One person we can credit a lot of this to is Conducta for the work that he did to make it popular again, bring it back and push up and coming producers and I think the other members of the genre and the people that run the labels and the tastemakers in it have a real responsibility to continue that mentality in how we take things forward. For us, this is the most important thing about what we do and we really hope that this project can be the start of opening some doors, a bit more and connecting people regardless how far away they might live from each other. Just opening that same love for the genre that and that we all got.