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WONDER 'it's always been about forward music...'
DJ Wonder AKA E2's Wayne Gardner was beating a path towards the future of garage before any of the roads where sign-posted.
From DJing on Rinse at 2am with Dizzee when it was broadcasting out of a hut on a building site to being a founder member of Roll Deep, Wonder has been there at key points during this homegrown music's development.
As an 18 year-old he was enrolled in a business course at college. When one of his lessons was cancelled a DJ friend suggest they go and have a mix instead. From that first play on the decks Wonder was hooked. He changed his focus from wanting to do 'something in computers' to being swept up in the whirlwind energy of the last days of garage and the dawn of grime.
Hooked he enrolled in a '12 week community college introduction to music production course' round the corner in E1. Another young man from the area enrolled on the same course at the same time by coincidence. Called Danny Weed, he was the younger brother of the singer Dom P from the one of UK garage's biggest crews Pay As You Go.
Making friends Wonder immediately found himself in one of the most exciting musical places in the world in the early noughties – as Wiley's crew created the futuristic new British computer sound. Wonder quickly rose as a DJ within the movement. He went out to Ayia Napa in 2002 playing raves like Sun City. Returning to London his status had sky-rocketed and he was given the 7pm primetime slot on Rinse. In 2011 Rinse is properly established with plenty of column inches eulogising it, a legal license and an extraordinary roll call of stars it has given a first chance and a platform too (Devlin, Skream, Wiley, Dizzee, Plastician, Skepta, Katy B).
'It was an exciting time. We would be doing three radio shows a day and bookings at night. Travelling, going to shows. Other artists were coming through. N.A.S.T.Y. Crew, Ruff Squad.'
Come 2003 however, Wonder had started to explore a new darker sound that was incubating at a little club on Curtain Road, Old Street an a night called FWD>. DJing alongside a new group of producers from far south of the Thames, Wonder's sound was changing from the skeletal minimalism of grime into a more sub-focussed 'dark garage' sound.
In 2004 former Pay As U Go member and Rinse FM founder Geeneus released Wonder's first big production hit. It was called 'What' and sold 3,500 vinyl on Geeneus's Dumpvalve Records. 'Back then dub step wasn't established yet, so it fitted in the grime scene. When dub step was established I started mixing up my set with dub step and grime. Now these scenes seem separate and defined. Back in the day you had to create you're own scene. There wasn't a lot of labels involved. Investing your own money, pressing up your own vinyl, distributing your own vinyl. When I first started producing in 2002 having a vinyl release was quite a big thing.'
With it's shuffling syncopated hi hats, grimey Eastern-scale lead synth and rolling sub-bass 'What' was the 'wot do u call it' track linking grime and dubstep in 2004. Grime's Mercury prize winning young break out star Dylan Mills AKA Dizzee Rascal snapped up the instrumental that year for his second album 'Showtime' – renaming it 'Respect Me'.
Wonder became tour DJ for Dizzee first , travelling Europe and America bringing British bass music to new audiences. The internet was starting to bring his music to fans far from E2. 'I remember going over to Amsterdam and these two boys knew all the unreleased dub plates I had even without them being released'. Dizzee's Showtime tour visited 25 US states. At the end of it Wonder decided to step up and start working on his first artist album
2008's Welcome to Wonderland blended his characteristically dark and eerie soundscapes with a host of top talent from grime, UK hip hop and beyond.
God's Gift contributed a fiery dancehall inflected track. N.A.S.T.Y crew's leading light Kano dropped a typically quick-witted, sharp-tongued commentary on relationships. Walthamstow's ex-boxer MC Bruza rides 'Shout' with his punchy flow. Meanwhile Sway was white hot from off the back of his 'The Signature LP' and sounding fantastic over a grimier texture. 1 year before his pop breakthrough year in 2009 Mr Hudson sings a love song over a techno-garage roller. South African-born Mpho Skeef blessed 'More' with soul as British as rain on concrete.
In hindsight Wonder's 2008 mix of grime vocalists, pop singers and dubstep flavours looks like a glimpse of what the mainstream would look like in 2011. Wonder's proud to have been part of a homegrown movement that has taken its rightful place at the centre of the nations listening habits. 'I was with Slimzee the other day and he played me a radio show from 2004/2005 of them DJing on Radio 1 on the Dreem Team show. That was the only garage/grime being played on Radio 1 back then. Compared to now you're getting grime and dubstep played on the A list.'
But like the station he manned at the very beginning Wonder compulsively moving forward and never recycling. In 2011 he is getting back in the lab, concocting the sequel to Welcome to Wonderland. With a new interest in the deep technological sound of minimal and tech house as reflected in his Rinse FM show mixes and a slew of amazing and surprising collaborators lined up for Wonderland 2, 2011 might just be a wonderful year.