One of the most seminal record labels of the UK underground is Locked On, the garage label founded in the stock-room of the Pure Groove record shop that defined a movement.
Born in North London in 1996, Locked On began life as a compilation series, put together by the figures behind Pure Groove and went on to release some of the biggest records in UK garage from names such as Todd Edwards, Zed Bias, Tuff Jam and The Streets, bringing shuffle to the masses.
The distinct sleeves, widely recognisable and used so many of Locked On’s releases means that whenever I’m record shopping, catching a Locked On record in the boxes has always felt like finding a treasure. The artwork has become a hallmark of high quality and exemplary outputs which have often been as remarkable and important for the remixes on the other side, introducing me to any number of new names and aliases which have rightly become some of my favourite tracks.
That’s what’s so amazing about a label as abundant and timeless as Locked On. It not only featured some of the most genre-defining garage sounds, but was often a home for the producers that were creating them.
As Locked On became a record label in its own right, moving from being a compilation series to releasing 12’’s, it became aligned with XL Recordings and began releasing records that were touching the very highest peaks of the top of the UK charts. Artful Dodger’s “Movin’ Too Fast” featuring Romina Johnson, Monsta Boy’s “Sorry (Didn’t Know)” featuring Denzie and “Sambuca” by the Wideboys are all songs that had been released by Locked On and continue to be regarded as anthems well over a decade later.
Perhaps Locked On’s most significant contribution to UK music culture came through the releasing of a debut by the then unknown figure Mike Skinner under the pseudonym, The Streets. “Has It Come To This,” The Streets’ first single in 2001 was the beginning of one of the most original and exciting music outfits borne from these shores in the 21st century. Unleashing relatable lyricism over ‘geezer-garage’ beats, ‘Original Pirate Material’ was released in 2002 and went on to be The Guardian’s ‘Album of the Decade.’
Whilst constantly pricking the consciousness of UK dance music at the time, Locked On consistently pushed the sound of the underground and pirate radio, releasing the dark 4/4 sounds that influenced scenes to come, including grime, speed garage and bassline. US Alliance’s “All I Know (Da Grunge Mix),” Zed Bias’ “Neighbourhood” and El-B’s “Digital” are all examples of the precursors to genres that have defined parts of early 21st century UK electronic music.
It’s a label with such a wide ranging catalogue that offers an incredible insight into garage that digging on Discogs or in your local record shop can throw up any number of bangers. Far beyond the A-sides are a comprehensive snapshot of momentous moments in UK music. I often think that I’ve got a fair few from their discography but I’m always discovering something new and amazing which is testament to just how prolific and extensive Locked On was.
There aren’t too many labels that delivered so consistently, but this one has kept me hooked for years. I am, and will always will be, Locked On.