Diamonds from Cole

MJ Cole 2-steps his way over the Atlantic

Calling from Miami, where he's been doing 5 a.m. gigs and 7:30 a.m. morning radio shows (a combo deadlier than amphetamines and alcohol) during the yearly Winter Music Conference, U.K. 2-step garage producer MJ Cole admits he's feeling "kind of damaged."

But you wouldn't know it from the enthusiastic way Cole discusses 2-step garage, the latest U.K. hybrid genre to return to its roots. You see, while 2-step may be the kind of amalgamate that only seems to come from Britain, 2-step's genetics include Y-chromosomes such as reggae and breakbeat and X-chromosomes such as house and R&B from North America.

The 2-step movement emerged after Brits took garage, a style of gritty New York house named after famed club the Paradise Garage, sped it up and dressed it down to create speed garage. Then, they knocked out the 4/4 beat, creating the syncopated but smoother breakbeat movement known as 2-step, which reincorporates the designer label hip-hop and R&B that drum 'n' bass lost, but without losing street cred.

"That's really the beauty of the whole 2-step thing for me," says Cole. "You can encompass all these things. It's not a hugely prescriptive genre, which is why people often find it hard to describe, which is probably a good thing."

Classically trained at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, Cole got into dance music around '86, when at 14 he "discovered parties and ladies and things like that." Cole produced numerous speed garage and drum 'n' bass tunes before he and his fellow Brit producers finalized the 2-step formula.

After contributing several seminal 2-step tracks, U.K. label Talkin' Loud released Cole's debut album, Sincere. Full of tight kicks, pizzicato strings and wood block ticks, Sincere shows off Cole's impeccable musicality and attention to detail.

"An album to me is what symphony was in classical music," says Cole. "It's something you're able to see deeper and deeper into it every time." As producer, arranger, engineer and masterer of his recordings, Cole for the most part works alone. His palette of sounds are all sympathetic to the vocal, but not everything is necessarily complimentary. His tougher dancefloor dub mixes, for instance, differ from his mellow armchair album cuts.

The most interesting aspect of 2-step as a hybrid is how it juxtaposes R&B crooning with hard posturing, something reflected in the diverse audiences embracing the genre. "I haven't really played any gigs that are exclusively martini-sipping crews," says Cole, "which is a good thing. In London, you can play in certain clubs where the audience is one particular way or the other, champagne shiny shoes brigade or ruffneck trainers underground pirate radio station crews, but it's good to have a good blend."

So, whether 2-step is speeded-up house or slowed-down drum 'n' bass is as inconsequential as whether you put gin or tonic in a shaker first. As long as a DJ like Cole knows what he's doing, you end up with a smooth blend with a kick, no matter what time of the morning you call it a night.

MJ Cole plays MJQ Concourse Tues., April 10. Show time is 10 p.m. $10 at the door, $8 with a flyer. For more information, e-mail selector23@hotmail.com.??