‘Pirates’ review: banging tunes and DJ sets in the UK’s garage heyday

Azzido Da Bass, Wookie and Ms. Dynamite propel this fun-packed paean to '90s UKG

Equal parts late 1990s nostalgia trip and exquisitely-soundtracked charm offensive, Reggie Yates’ big-hearted big screen directorial debut is a giddy love letter to the UK garage scene that raised him. Long before his days presenting Top of the Pops and becoming the voice of Rastamouse, Yates was a teenage pirate radio MC, ensconced in the heady world of UKG. An addictive London-specific movement, it was born from the heavy world of jungle and drum and bass, the sound layered with the slickness of R&B and funkiness of house music. Powered by great tunes with soulful vocals, sleek and chic outfits and a classier kind of clubbing fuelled by champagne, garage would eventually morph into grime as an MC-focused sound took over led by the likes of So Solid Crew.

In 1999 garage was at its peak – just about to go totally mainstream, but still holding onto its underground credibility. 22 years down the line, the music still sounds spectacular, with whole scenes in Pirates given over to dizzying tracks like Azzido Da Bass’s squelchy ‘Dooms Night’, Wookie’s ‘Battle’ and the Ms. Dynamite-fronted ‘Booo!’ In-between these epic tunes comes a simple premise: three best mates trying to get into garage’s most prestigious club, Twice as Nice, on Millennium Eve.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as just buying tickets and putting on your best Moschino shirt. The trio of pals’ relationship has become fractious since Alex Wheatle and 1917‘s Elliot Edusah’s straight-man Cappo decided to leave London for university a few months previously. His mates – a fabulously slapstick Jordan Peters (Gangs of London) as Two Tonne and Reda Elazouar’s wide-eyed Kidda – are still committed to their own, not terribly successful, pirate radio adventures and feel abandoned. Nevertheless, the countdown caper continues apace as they hunt down tickets for the party, new outfits for the dance floor and girls to flirt with in Cappo’s clapped-out car.

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There’s little more to the story than that, but the bouncy comedy is brought to vibrant life thanks to the assault of ’90s memorabilia thrown into the high-energy mix, from clunky flip-phones to CK One perfume, Tamagotchis, the notion of renting DVDs from Blockbuster and the long forgotten craft of clip art. Yates’ beloved north London too is as much a character as the three leads, as they bumble through the streets of Tottenham and Stamford Hill with a special cameo from the Seven Sisters Snail, a much-loved piece of local graffiti that’s been a mainstay of the area since the ’70s. Seeing the long-awaited movie debut of Pickled Onion Monster Munch is also a pretty special moment.

At just 80 minutes long, Pirates’ impressive leads don’t ever really get the chance to flesh out their characters beyond the basics, but its short runtime means the film’s relentless pace never dips and there are guaranteed giggles throughout. Oh, and some of the best tunes you’ll hear in a cinema all year.

Details

  • Director: Reggie Yates
  • Starring: Elliot Edusah, Jordan Peters, Reda Elazouar
  • Release date: November 26
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