"Ladbroke Grove," the big hit off the British rapper AJ Tracey's debut album, is a UK garage tune. It sounds like it could have come out in 1998. "Ladbroke Grove" was produced by Conducta, a Bristol artist and DJ who uses it to open his latest mix, Kiwi Krush. He's the indisputable leader of new-school UK garage, and every few months he releases a state-of-play mix for the genre. (A past edition was called The Kiwi Manifesto.) Kiwi Krush feels especially auspicious, coming so soon after "Ladbroke Grove" and four releases into Conducta's "NUKG" label, Kiwi Rekords, which has produced several bona fide garage anthems in less than six months. Sharda, Mind Of A Dragon, Sammy Virji and Conducta are among those keeping UK garage exciting, and they all contribute to this 32-track mix. Kiwi Krush makes for a marvelous introduction if you're not already familiar.
The sound of Kiwi Krush—and modern UK garage—is in line with the classic tracks, but it's not meant to be a trip down memory lane. Ultra-melodic and focused on vocals, nearly every song has a hummable hook or earworm bassline. Kiwi Krush presents a timeline where UK garage never mutated into dubstep and grime, where the 2-step beat and chipmunk vocals still rule. The mix is alternately tough and romantic—some tracks approach bassline, while others are champagne jams with pianos and jazzy chords. Sammy Virji offers up jazzy pop garage goodness, as does Tuff Culture, whose "Fancy Car" has cool-blue piano chords. The bassline on Anz's "Open The Curtains Sis" I can only describe as monstrous. Mind Of A Dragon only shows up once, but his edit of Donaeo's "The Party's Over Here" is infectious.
Pillboy Miskeen, an obscure London producer whose only publicly available track till now was published three years ago on SoundCloud, is responsible for two blockbuster tunes. "Vinewood Twin," a low-key instrumental with a tinge of melancholy that makes it irresistible, is a highlight. It cools the energy on the mix before THEPHATCONTROLLA's "Oh Jah" takes charge with slap-happy snares and more boundless energy. On tracks like these, UK garage is presented as a genre still full of potential and ingenuity, not as a vehicle for nostalgia. Kiwi Krush sounds vital, each new track pulling you off in a new direction with catchy vocals and basslines around every corner. Already an accomplished producer and DJ, Conducta is a natural ringleader. But Kiwi Krush shows that it's not just about him. There's a whole new generation of producers making one of the UK's most joyous club sounds their own.