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Two Steps at a Time

Not long ago, "two-step garage" would have meant a country jitterdance in the shed behind the John Deere. Times have changed.

The newest wave in electronica, two-step or U.K. garage has become a fixture of London discos since its emergence in the late O90s. The tub-thumping, jungle-groove R&B is washing up on American shores, and stateside DJs and MCs are legitimizing the sound in club hubs from New York to San Francisco.

The fusion of house and drum On bass, two-step garage is so-called for its lurching, oft-syncopated meter. In place of the prevalent pound of four beats per measure, two-step uses only two. Unlike most techno, two-step garage incorporates vocal melodies, but the soaring diva-driven arcs of house are absent. In their place are vocal tidbits, harmonized chunks that embellish an electronic sound without dominating it. However, the growing crop of radio-ready two-step remixes finds vocalists less subordinate.

With R&B flourishes, addictive bass lines and a danceable accessibility, two-step is earning a growing fan base, and established pop and hip-hop artists are taking note. Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot employs two-step garage in her current Timbaland collaboration, "Get Ur Freak On." ONSync's new single, "Pop," owes its tech-bump inspiration to the sound, and R&B artists like Aaliyah and Jodeci have lent their rhythms to countless two-step remixes.

But behind the arguably bastardized frontierism of established commercial acts are two-step pioneers like MJ Cole and Wookie. Among the movement's vanguard, the artists are now riding the two-step sensation to burgeoning notoriety and success. Matt "MJ Cole" Coleman, a classically trained musician who began spinning drum On bass in the mid-O90s, has crafted a growing discography with club hits like "Crazy Love" and "Sincere." Wookie, another British solo mixer, has branded his own distinctive style of nouveau R&B, and his affiliation with O80s act Soul II Soul may mean an American outbreak is imminent.

Trend-hungry club goers are notoriously fickle, making the staying power of two-step garage remarkable. And like the exotic beats of jungle in the early O90s, the funky blend of two-step seems poised for a full-scale explosion. In time, a tractor-side romp to remixed Reba may not sound so crazy after all.

--By Tim Perzyk

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