2-step garage, or simply 2-step, is a typically English genre of modern electronic music and a relatively popular subgenre of UK garage. One of the primary characteristics of the 2-step sound - the term being coined to describe "a general rubric for all kinds of jittery, irregular rhythms that don't conform to garage's traditional four-on-the-floor pulse" - is that the rhythm lacks the kick drum pattern found in many other styles of electronic music with a regular four-on-the-floor beat.
A typical 2-step drum pattern features beat-skipping kick drums, with a shuffled rhythm or the use of triplets applied to other elements of the percussion, creating a "lurching, falter-funk feel", and resulting in a beat distinctly different from that present in other house or techno. Although tracks with only two kick drum beats to a bar are perceived as being slower than the traditional four-on-the-floor beat, the listener's interest is maintained by the introduction of unusual snare placements and accents in the drum patterns, or scattered rimshots and woodblocks, as well as syncopated basslines and the percussive use of other instruments such as pads and strings.
Instrumentation usually includes keyboards, synthesizers and drum machines. Other instruments added to expand the musical palette include guitar, piano and horns; these additions are almost always sampled. The primarily synth-based basslines used in 2-step are similar to those in the style's progenitors such as UK garage and before that, drum and bass and jungle, but influences from funk and soul can also be heard. Vocals in 2-step garage are usually female, and similar to the style prevalent in house music or contemporary R&B. Some 2-step producers also process and cut up elements of an a cappella vocal and use it as an element of the track. Much like other genres derived from UK garage, MCs are often featured, particularly in a live context, with a vocal style reminiscent of oldschool jungle.
Influences from hip hop and drum and bass, particularly the hardstep and techstep subgenres have also been noted by critics. The fact that the scene had a significantly different atmosphere to those that surrounded precursors with less aggression at live events was also noted by some critics.
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Excerpt from "Gorgon Sound" by Horsepower Productions, demonstrating a later, more experimental 2-step rhythm.
In this example, 2-step's usage of sub-bass can be clearly heard.
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2-step rose to prominence[when?] as a genre on jungle and garage-based pirate radio stations in London as an evolution of, and perhaps reaction to developments in contemporary genres such as speed garage, with early 2-step shows often airing at "mellow moments in the weekend" such as Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. DJs would mix UK garage productions with those of American house and US garage producers such as Masters at Work and Todd Edwards, pitching up the imports to around 130bpm to aid beatmatching. DJs favoured the instrumental (or 'dub') versions of these tracks, because it was possible to play these versions faster without the vocal element of the track sounding odd. Soon, UK producers began to emulate the sound of these pitched-up, imported records in their own tracks.
As the popularity of the sound spread, nights dedicated to it began to crop up, especially in London and Southampton. Label owner and dubstep musician Steve Goodman commented on the Hyperdub website on the debut of Forward>>, a highly influential nightclub in 2-step and later derivatives of the "UK hardcore continuum" - a phrase coined by Goodman to sum up the constant evolution in the hardcore/jungle/garage sound, and later adopted by other writers documenting the scene, such as Martin Clark.
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In 1999 and 2000, 2-step reached the peak of the genre's commercial success. Some critics noted that party organizers favoured 2-step events over nights themed around jungle, drum and bass or other musical precursors because the 2-step nights invited a larger female attendance, and a less aggressive crowd. Much like drum and bass before it, 2-step started to garner crossover appeal, with a collaboration between 2-step producers Artful Dodger and R&B vocalist Craig David reaching #2 in the UK Singles Chart in late 1999 with the song "Re-Rewind".
From 2000 onwards, 2-step as a genre experienced a decline in popularity, but the more experimental releases in the genre from artists such as Horsepower Productions, Zed Bias, Wookie and Steve Gurley stripped away much of the R&B influence of the genre. This style took on a number of names including "dark 2-step", "new dark swing", and the more general term, "dark garage". This style became a major influence on later styles of UK garage influenced music, such as grime, as well as becoming a direct precursor to dubstep, which took the emphasis on bass and the instrumental nature of later 2-step compositions to their logical conclusion. In 2006, this latter, more experimental style experienced a resurgence in interest, due to the release of the Roots of Dubstep compilation on Tempa, and producers wishing to revisit the roots of the dubstep sound.
In 2016, on the Max Martin-produced song Rockin' by The Weeknd, they make use of a two step rhythm.