Genre Masterclass: How to make a UK garage beat
In the Genre Masterclass series, we explore a new genre each month by showing you how to quickly and easily nail the most basic elements in your DAW.
That being said, I can’t think of a better way to start a genre-focused tutorial series than by taking a look inside the most salacious and syncopated of dance music’s many sub-genres, UK Garage.
The earliest garage strains originated in New York in the ’80s as heavily curved variations on the house music template. British DJs and producers soon took notice, amplifying the style into what is known as Speed Garage before the next generation of British music makers took it a step further in the ’90s. UKG producers transformed the genre’s 4/4 kick drum pattern into a new style called 2-Step, using syncopated kick drums skipping one or more beats in the bar alongside shuffle hi-hats, offbeat Percussion and triplet rhythms.
While many UK garage tracks still have a 4/4 kick, it’s the noticeably swinging 2-step rhythm that has become synonymous with the genre, giving it the syncopated groove that fans know and love.
Combine this with chopped up R&B-like vocal samples, a heavy bassline and some synth stabs and you have the basic recipe for the UK garage sound, a hugely influential genre that laid the foundations for the emergence of dubstep and grime Has. 00s
I’ll show you how to set out the basic elements of a UKG beat in Logic Pro, starting with a drum pattern, bass sound, and some vocal samples.
Listen to the finished beat we’re trying to recreate below.
Let’s start by choosing a few samples to use to build our beat. I made a mini sample pack for starters, making sure to include one or more kicks with a nice mid-hit to cut over my sub-bass noises, alongside some impactful rimshots and a selection of clean, crisp hi-hat.
I opened a new project at 127 BPM and loaded my drum samples into Logic Pro’s Drum Machine Designer by simply dragging and dropping them into each square to create our drum kit. I am now able to play these one by one to check they are up to date before we put our beat together.
Create an empty pattern region in your drum kit’s track, then open the step sequencer. I started by adding a punchy kick on the first beat of the bar and an eighth note after the third beat of the bar to emulate a two-step rhythm. Then I added claps on the second and fourth beats of the bar.
Add a syncopated hi-hat pattern and a rimshot or two on the offbeat, then hit the “i” icon in the Step Sequencer and adjust the Swing value to between 50% and 60%, paying attention need it set to 16th note swing. Now change the pattern length to 32 steps and duplicate it by adding a rhythmic variation or two in the second bar.
Next, I created a simple unconventional open hi-hat pattern on a new track. On this channel I added bitcrusher to give the hat crunch, used a noise gate to trim the sound, and added a hi-pass filter with an LFO that modulates the cutoff over 16 bars so the hats on – and be hidden.
Now let’s add a bass. You can find a lot of great presets for this, but I use NI Massive to create a simple organ bass patch. Initialize an empty patch and set Osc 1 to the Smooth Square waveform, tune down an octave and make sure the wave position is at 0%. Then activate the Modulation OSC and set this Ring Mod mode which modulates Osc 1.
I want to use an envelope to modulate this, so click and drag the four-way arrow next to Envelope 1 to the box under the RM slider in the Modulation OSC section. Then click on the 1 and drag up to add modulation. Now turn on Filter 1 and select the Daft filter type before adding resonance and connecting the cutoff frequency to our internal envelope.
Next, I activate Osc 2 and overlay an organ-like waveform. Select Fend II from the drop down menu, set the wave position to 100% and plug the amplitude into Envelope 1 before adding modulation. Finally, select C Tube in the FX1 section and dial in a touch of overdrive. After playing my bassline on a MIDI keyboard, I used a simple sine wave sub-bass to take it two octaves down on a separate track for added pizzazz.
Vocal chops are a key element of British garage music. To add mine I dragged in a vocal loop, right clicked and selected “Convert to New Sampler Track”. This automatically detects the transients within an audio region and creates a MIDI instrument in which each transient is assigned to a note. This could be done manually if the automatic detection doesn’t cut out the desired chops.
Experiment with playing your vocal sample instrument over your beat. I settled on a short riff that only uses two vocal chops. The first accentuates the second beat of each phrase, while the other closes each phrase with a stuttering, swinging motif. I used Logic’s AUPitch plugin to ensure the vocals were in key and working with my bassline.
To create a spatial feeling, I doubled the vocal track and shifted each element left and right. Then I added an instance of ChromaVerb to each track, with a short decay time of 1.1 seconds and a wet slider of 50%. How you want to process your vocals really depends on the sample you’re using and your own preferences.
Now we have the basics of a UKG beat. From here, try looping this section up to 16 bars and create a B section with some new ideas, maybe a different drum pattern or new vocal chops. There’s certainly room for more elements in our track – a good start would be to add some crisp synth stabs or plucks to create a melody that goes with our bassline.
If you really want to get an authentic 90’s UKG sound, try to get your hands on a 90’s kit – or just mimic it in software. Hardware samplers played a large part in UK garage production, with Akai’s S900 and S950 rackmount samplers being particularly popular.
You can mimic their gritty 12-bit sound with some carefully applied bitcrushing and a touch of saturation. The Korg M1 has popped up on a slew of influential Garage tracks (call the Organ 2 preset) and while one of these might set you back a few hundred, the plugin version is just as good and only £50.
While there’s a fair share of synthesizers, UK Garage is primarily a sample-based genre, with most of the drums coming from pre-made samples (as opposed to synthesized drums) and vocal chops coming from a cappella vocal loops.
You may already have a favorite place to get your samples, but if not, there are many free resources online where you can find them. A good place to start would be our archive of free samples, SampleRadar, which offers over 80,000 free music samples including female vocal loops and UK garage samples.
1. Sweet Feminine Pose – Flowers
A shuffling 2-step groove and R&B-laced vocal chops: this classic is the prototype of a British garage track.
2. YU QT – U ARE 2 MINE
A hard-hitting, contemporary take on the UKG sound from a key New Wave exponent of the genre, this one hits all the right buttons.