Locked On records has served the UK garage community with an unwavering dedication to sonic savagery for a quarter of a century. What started out as a ragtag group of junglists and ravers supplying Pure Groove Records in North London with their monthly assortment of DJ mixes and wax demos has gradually evolved into a 300-track deep archive of adolescent anarchy. Spearheaded by its founder Nick Worthington, Locked On has assembled a legacy of fostering organic artistry that truly reflects the sounds of the underground and alternative scenes emanating across the capital in the late ‘90s. By placing emphasis on authenticity and investing in people rather than trends, Locked On brought the basslines and the wicked wordsmiths that tame them from beneath the bubbling underbelly of British dance music and into the spotlight.
What is now a dusty computer repair shop at number 679 on the Holloway Road in North London was for decades a sanctuary for unabashed 130BPM anthems called Pure Groove Records. Brothers Tarik and Ziad Nashnush and co-founder Peter Worthington evolved the Pure Groove brand from a market stall to a fully-fledged record shop during the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1988. Throughout the next decade, they would begin to nurture a new wave of garage, jungle, grime and hyperfunk DJs as British bass music evolved from a niche and publicly demonised movement to a renegade religion with the most devout followers.
In 1996 Peter launched Locked On from their base at Pure Groove and in doing so pioneered the ‘two-step revolution’, a subset of the garage just as crucial to the formation of today’s sonic landscape as Bashment, Ska and Dancehall. Their first release came courtesy of the now decorated DJ Todd Edwards who first established Locked On as a ‘need to know’ spring of emerging talent amongst local DJ’s, crate diggers and sound system savants. Grime DJ Logan Sama recounts the early community enthusiasm around Locked On as “like supporting a football team: a kind of blind trust and devotion”. He later added, “I used to follow Locked On because they had power and a strong history – I would buy anything they pressed up”. Their leading legacy as a product of the community, beginning in the markets and reinvesting their success in the local economy placed Locked On above the ranks of ‘record label’ and instead enshrined them as a representative of youth culture to the world with the full backing and support of their ends.
This symbiotic relationship between label and locals enabled Locked On to discover and sign some of the most influential, gritty and raw riddims, plucking many MC’s straight from the decks of nearby Pirate Radio stations. During the course of their heyday, Locked On became credited for uncovering and launching the careers of legendary artists like Leee John, Nu Birth, Zed Bias and The Artful Dodger as well as crafting some of the most formative two-step records of all time. Tracks like ‘Hyperfunk’ by Antonio, ‘Anytime’ by Nu Birth and ‘Straight From The Heart’ by Doolally racked up countless spins in clubs across the country and formed the audio template for the first generation of UK Grime DJ’s and groups.
However, perhaps their greatest contribution to UK music, besides the inspiration found by countless creatives amongst the ramshackle shelves of Pure Groove, was the discovery and wholehearted support of The Streets. When asked in a 2019 interview about those first formative years with Mike Skinner of The Streets, Tarik stated: “Mike handed the demo into us because he loved the label, and knew the shop. When he called in to check on it, whoever answered the phone said ‘the tape got chewed up,’ to which he said, ‘but I gave you a CD!’ Luckily, he brought in another copy – that was a near miss.”
What nearly fell through the cracks due to the lacklustre lies of an intern was the unearthing of a generational talent that fused the beloved Locked On garage basslines with a trailblazing rhyme scheme and style of delivery that lent heavily on the emerging Grime scene. The Streets transported Locked On into a new era with interest from recording behemoth XL arriving swiftly after the release of their debut track ‘Has It Come To This?’.
Now, in celebration of their storied history, Locked on are launching a new merch collab in partnership with Matt De Jong that places emphasis on the history of the label and the artists that helped form it. Support the building blocks of British bass & dance music and make sure to cop some limited edition swag from the Locked On store!