What Is Garage Music…Exactly?

Garage music encompasses several sub-genres that have proved essential to the full development of House music and EDM.

Defining “What is Garage Music?” is challenging due to its overlap with other EDM styles.

Garage music, sometimes called Garage House, originally developed in New York’s Paradise Garage club in the ’80s, with heavy influences from Gospel and Soul.

Garage music has a deep cultural history and is the product of several musical influences.

There are several genres of Garage music now that all came from the same source, and it remains a niche sub-genre of electronic dance music today.

Let’s take a deeper look into “what is garage music”…exactly…

what is garage music in black test on green and yellow diagonally split background

What Is Garage Music?

Garage music is a genre that began in the 1980s in New York City.

Garage’s development coincided with the Chicago House’s development but quickly grew into a style that distinguished it from other forms of EDM.

The typical classification of Garage music is Garage House, also known as New York House and New Jersey Sound.

TL;DR Summary: 

U.S. Garage House, originating in the 1980s from New York’s Paradise Garage club, is a dance music genre evolving from disco with a focus on soulful vocals and a 4/4 beat. Distinguished by deep, melodic basslines and organic instrumentals like pianos and strings, it played a foundational role in the broader evolution of American House music. While it shares some roots with UK Garage, such as soul and R&B influences, the two genres have distinct rhythmic structures and histories.

Garage music heavily uses Gospel and Soul-style instruments, such as piano, sampled from popular songs from these genres.

This highly creative style of House music is more based on samples than tone generation and manipulation.

Garage was developed by DJs rather than producers, such has been the case with other forms of EDM.

The late Larry Levan – ‘The Godfather of U.S. Garage House’

Garage was popularised in the 1980s in New York and quickly became popular internationally, especially in the UK, where this unique dance-orientated DJ House music became a big favourite in clubs.

The genre is driven by the typical drum machine beats, synthesizer tones, and musical structure of House music, which makes it very difficult to distinguish in some instances.

Still, it has unique features, such as the heavy use of female vocal samples.

This music is made for dancing. It is creative, fun, intense, and highly immersive.

Is Garage the Same as UK Garage?

UK Garage and U.S. Garage House are distinct genres with different characteristics and histories, but they share some commonalities due to the evolution of dance music and its interconnected influences.

Here’s a breakdown to help differentiate and highlight their similarities and differences:


#1. Roots in Soul and R&B

Both genres borrow elements from soul and R&B, especially in the use of vocals.

This gives each a certain emotional depth and melodic richness.

#2. Club Culture

Both genres were heavily influenced by and developed within club culture…

…making them inherently danceable and geared towards sound systems in club environments.


#1. Origin and History

U.S. Garage House (or simply Garage) emerged from the U.S. in the 1980s, particularly from the Paradise Garage club in New York City, from which it took its name.

It was an evolution from disco, with a stronger focus on the 4/4 beat and soulful vocals.

UK Garage developed in the UK during the early 1990s, influenced by House music but with additional influences from jungle, reggae, and other UK urban sounds.

#2. Rhythmic Structure

U.S. Garage House usually has a straight four-on-the-floor beat, reminiscent of disco and classic House.

In contrast, UK Garage is known for its shuffled, syncopated rhythms and breakbeats, making it rhythmically more complex.

#3. Basslines

UK Garage often features more intricate and wobbly basslines…

…while U.S. Garage House tends to have deeper, more straightforward and melodic basslines.

#4. Tempo

UK Garage often operates at a tempo range of around 130-140 BPM…

…while U.S. Garage House may be a bit slower, aligning more closely with traditional House tempos of somewhere around 120 BPM.

#5. Evolution and Subgenres

UK Garage gave birth to sub-genres like Grime, Dubstep, and 2-step.

U.S. Garage House played a foundational role in the broader evolution of House music in America, influencing genres like Deep House and Vocal House.

In summary, while there are some shared characteristics and influences between UK Garage and U.S. Garage House, they are distinct genres with different rhythms, structures, and cultural contexts.

5 Key Characteristics of Garage Music

#1. Soulful Vocals

One of the defining features of U.S. Garage is the emphasis on strong, soulful vocals.

Often, these vocals are full-length rather than sampled, and they usually carry a strong emotional or uplifting message.

#2. Organic Instruments

U.S. Garage frequently features sounds from organic instruments like pianos, strings, and horns, often sampled from soul or disco records.

These elements give the music a warm, rich texture that sets it apart from other, more electronic forms of dance music.

#3. Four-on-the-Floor Beat

Unlike UK Garage, known for its syncopated rhythms, U.S. Garage often employs a straight four-on-the-floor beat similar to disco and house music.

The kick drum usually hits on every beat, creating a steady rhythm that drives the track.

#4. Deep and Melodic Basslines

The basslines in U.S. Garage tend to be melodic and deep, serving as a fundamental layer that supports the soulful vocals and organic instrumentals.

This creates a rounded and full sound that is essential to the genre.

#5. Emphasis on Groove and Atmosphere

U.S. Garage often focuses on creating a specific mood or atmosphere, achieved through use of reverb, delays, and other effects.

Tracks often have long, evolving arrangements that build up gradually, creating a sense of emotional journey or narrative.

U.S. Garage was particularly influential in the New York and New Jersey club scenes and has had a lasting impact on the evolution of dance music in the United States and beyond.

U.S. Garage Examples

If you’re still not quite sure what Garage music is, maybe it’s time to listen to a few great examples:

#1. ‘Notgonnachange’ (Frankie’s Classic Club Remix) – Swing Out Sister

Already a fabulous song…

…somehow made even better with a bit of Frankie Knuckles magic remix dust.

#2. ‘Free Your Mind’ (Yesterdays Mix) – Dance Advisory Commission

A stone-cold Garage classic.

#3. ‘What Do I Gotta Do’ (Eric Kupper Club Mix) – Urban Soul

Some beautiful Roland Clark vocals to enjoy.

His velvet-smooth yet slightly shattered falsetto voice sits perfectly with this melancholy-tinged song. 

What can I say?…if none of this little lot tickle your fancy…

…I guess U.S. Garage House is just not your thing!

Where ‘Garage House’ Got its Name

Garage House music got its name from the legendary New York City club, the Paradise Garage.

The club operated from 1977 to 1987 and was known for its influential resident DJ, Larry Levan.

Paradise Garage in the ’80s

Levan’s unique mixing style and his eclectic choice of records helped define the sound that would become known as “Garage House,” named after the club.

It’s worth noting that the Paradise Garage wasn’t a garage in the traditional sense; it just looked a bit like one with its twin garage-style doors.

Wrapping it Up!

That’s our lot.

Hopefully, you now know a little more about exactly what garage music is.

If not, well, there’s nothing more I can do anyway!

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