Sammy Virji on Leading UK Garage's Global Revolution: "I Was Just in the Right Place at the Right Time"

We sit down with UKG champion Sammy Virji during his hotly-tipped tour across North America to learn about going viral, collaborating with his heroes, his longstanding friendship with Hamdi, his father's lasting musical legacy, and more.

7 min
Sammy Virji Beatportal
Apr 8, 2024
·
By
Logan Sasser

UK Garage (UKG) is taking over North America. And it’s all thanks to Sammy Vijri.

Virji makes music that’s impossible to ignore. His hooks get stuck in your head for weeks. His garage rhythms lightly tap your subconscious while washing dishes or taking an afternoon walk.

No matter where you go, Virji’s music is always there, reminding you to smile and dance like no one is watching. His music is a guaranteed boost of endorphins, which is only amplified when he’s on stage.

I’m not the only person who feels this way — the crowd (including myself) at Virji’s sold-out show in Denver, Colorado, lost their collective minds for the entirety of Virji’s 90-minute set. On stage, Virji was smiling and dancing every second of the way. When I went backstage to interview him after his set, he was still smiling.

“I guess I’m known as the guy that’s always smiling,” Virji said during an exclusive interview with Beatport. “When the crowd is going crazy and the music is good, I can’t help it. Especially tonight, Denver was absolutely mad.”

Honestly, I’m impressed with how much energy Virji brought to Denver, given the non-stop touring schedule he’s maintained since his DJ Mag HQ performance went viral last summer. “That set was a huge turning point in my career,” Virji said. “I’ve been around for ages, and it’s always been going pretty well, but that DJ Mag set introduced me to new fans from across the world. I’m so grateful for that.”

It’s true: Virji is officially worldwide. But this newfound stardom represents a moment much bigger than the Sammy Virji project: It represents a UK Garage global revolution.

Sammy Virji 2

UKG is a genre defined by what Virji calls “those swingy drums” — chugging percussion that establishes a pleasant and predictable groove that acts as a canvas for artists to paint with massive basslines, buttery melodies and high-octane rap verses from artists like Flowdan (who Virji collaborated with on “Shella Verse”), Kwengface, and Bugzy Malone

UKG is a genre that DJs and long-time EDM fans are familiar with, but, by and large, UKG is not a genre that has topped the charts or gained mainstream dance music appeal until recently. In 2024, Sammy Virji is changing that.

But, if you ask Virji, he’ll insist he’s not necessarily the one steering UKG toward global recognition; he’s just along for the ride. “It’s wicked to see garage music having this massive moment and new resurgence, but I don’t think that has anything to do with me. I’m just at the right place at the right time.”

To be fair, Virji isn’t the first artist to find global success making garage music. But, he might be the first properly “viral” UKG artist in the modern digital age, and he’s certainly responsible for introducing a new generation of American dance music fans to the wide world of UK garage.

Admittedly, I’m someone who mostly falls into that category. Before I discovered Virji’s music, I knew how to spot the iconic UKG rhythm, and I enjoyed a few garage tracks from artists like Hamdi (Virji’s friend and frequent collaborator), and the classic “Re-Rewind” by Artful Dodger. But, by and large, I was a casual listener.

Then I heard “Truth (With Flava D)” and suddenly, I was hooked.

“Truth” is an exhilarating and surprisingly wonky tune that sets fire to the dancefloor no matter what time of day it comes on. But Virji didn’t create this masterpiece alone — he had help from Flava D, a modern icon, tastemaker, and overall legend in the UK garage scene. She’s also one of Virji’s biggest influences.

Sammy Virji We 3 Music

“Flava D is one of the reasons I started to pursue music in the first place. When I started making music, my number one goal was to make a tune with her. And now we have one. I mean, she’s even met my mom. Stuff like that is still insane to me, but I love it.”

Diving into Virji’s catalog of garage anthems, bassline bangers and melodic rhythms, I noticed a few familiar names scattered throughout his discography — including Hamdi, another UK artist who has also reached global stardom with viral hits like “Skanka” and “Counting.” As it turns out, Hamdi and Virji go way back.

“We’re both from Oxford, so it’s always been easy to get together and make music. I think the first time we made music together, he actually came over to my dad’s house and we made ‘Show Me’ way back in 2018. Then, a few months later, we played a back-to-back set at the Outlook Festival in Croatia. To this day, that’s one of the sickest sets I’ve ever played.”

Six years later, they’re still collaborating. And Virji’s recently released “Counting” remix might be their biggest hit yet.

But Hamdi’s original “Counting” isn’t UKG — it’s dubstep, through and through. Much of Hamdi’s discography, especially of late, is pure dubstep. That’s one reason Virji is so drawn to Hamdi’s music; Virji is a dubstep fan at heart. “I love dubstep,” Virji said. “That’s the genre that got me into electronic music originally, so it will always have a special place in my heart.”

Skream, Benga, and Plastician were some of the first artists Virji discovered in electronic music, so it makes sense that’s the genre he migrated toward when he started producing music on his dad’s computer at 12 years old. But Virji was a musician long before that, thanks to his dad’s musical influence.

“My dad and I didn’t make music together when I was growing up, but I was always surrounded by it,” Virji said. His dad, Fayyaz Virji, is a career musician, trombonist, piano player, composer, producer, arranger, and “kind of a musical genius,” according to Virji. So, for as long as Virji can remember, he’s always been involved with music.

Although Virji’s adolescent piano lessons didn’t pan out (learning scales and replicating other people’s songs bored him), he quickly realized his affinity for creative freedom through music.

Sammy Virji 3

When Virji started to consider music as a career, his dad offered a startling piece of advice: “Don’t be a musician.”

But Virji’s dad wasn’t trying to crush his dreams. He was just painting a realistic picture of how difficult pursuing a career as a professional musician can be. “Being a professional musician isn’t always a sustainable lifestyle. My dad understood that,” Virji said.

Thankfully, it seems like Virji has cracked the code to stability, at least for the time being. Along the way, his dad has given him much more practical advice about touring and musicianship that he’s carried with him across the world. In 2022, the duo even released the track “5 Star” together. Do you hear the trombone in the background? Yeah, that’s Virji’s dad, absolutely ripping.

VIrji might not have followed his dad’s footsteps exactly, but he did carry on the family tradition of musicianship — and there’s no sign that he’s going to slow down any time soon. His music has been featured in movies and in the Fifa 2022 soundtrack. He’s touring the world. He’s made music with his idols.

Put simply, Virji is living the dream. So of course he always has a smile on his face.

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Logan Sasser is a freelance music journalist living in Denver. Find him on Instagram.

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