Goldie's voyage into another galaxy: DJ Mag cover story
Tracing the journey of the d&b kid from the Midlands...
Goldie is back with an amazing new album. And not just any old album either. Hugely ambitious in breadth and scope, 'The Journey Man' is — without doubt — his magnum opus. It isn’t next level — it’s next galaxy.
The 16-track odyssey uses his mid-'90s masterpiece 'Timeless' as a jump-off point before lifting off into the stratosphere. It’s a very grown up album, reflecting the maturity of this electronic music icon, and is infused with future jazz and soul so beautiful and multi-layered that it seems to have come from a higher plain.
He’s been on quite a journey, this drum & bass kid from the Midlands. DJ Mag editor Carl Loben hangs with the renowned junglist to get some deeper insights into the man…
WORDS: Carl Loben
It’s a bright, cold day in December, but the sky above the market is the colour of television — tuned to a dead channel. The Writer watches intently as The Artist drives slowly towards him in his big white land-cruiser — eyes fixed dead-straight ahead.
Pulling up at exactly the appointed time in the quiet Angel street (appropriately enough), the two exchange pleasantries. The Artist’s reputation precedes him — his tendency to joyride technology has produced some of the most futuristic sonic fusions in the known universe. He’s a pioneer. He’s famous — infamous. He’s one of the most important artists of the last 30 years.
A force of nature, The Artist can tear through a room or a scene like a tornado, leaving an indelible mark on all caught up in his maelstrom. He can inspire and ignite with his talk — boy, can he talk! — and be bullish and braggadocious, but is also as likely to be supportive, encouraging and humble at a stroke.
The Writer tentatively clambers up next to him, and at first it almost appears as if The Artist is some sort of genetically-engineered replicant. He looks identical to the real-deal on the surface, but could easily be a replacement. A stand-in. Is this the real guy — the Original G? He seems different, somehow — more… relaxed. Those eyes, though… burning deep into the soul. The pupils and irises are almost whited-out, flickering, as if projecting a million eyelid movies from within. Envisioning future possibilities. Glimpsing new worlds.
A merry little surge of electricity is triggered by The Artist’s forearm as he automatically reaches for the land-cruiser’s stereo. The Writer braces himself. The Artist has been responsible for some mind-melding next-level junglism in his time, and The Writer is half-expecting an apocalyptic breakbeat blitzkrieg — in the style of some of his Rufige Kru work — to blow a hole in his brain.
Instead, first out of the speakers is a gorgeous female voice, disappearing wisp-like into an echo void. Judicious cymbal-work and a languid funk bass soon unfold into a delightful jazzy d&b cut — dripping with honeysuckle soul. “The Journey Man… keep chasing to the sun,” the female lyric goes. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful. This track couldn’t have been made by some robot. This is the essence of humanity.
The Artist grins as the second track begins, gold teeth glinting in the glare — although his gnashers and general bling seem more understated today. A robo synth rides atop a crystallising cauldron of bubbling liquid metal before steely breakbeats begin scuttling underneath like a cockroach infestation. The Artist begins conducting the different elements of the d&b tune at the wheel of the motor — fingers flittering at the polyrhythms, a fist pummelling the bass parts. The track hints in places towards his early Reinforced work, but is resolutely set in the future. And definitely sculpted by a human, as well.
“It’s 3/3 this track, 3/3 to 4/4 and back to 3/3 — messing with time signatures,” he babbles. “The first person I played this to was Marc Mac [from Reinforced/4 Hero]. And he just sat there. I’m in Thailand, on Skype like Luke Skywalker, and he was sitting there listening like this [he smiles in an all-knowing zen-like manner]. Part of the movement changes, and he laughs…
“Like his training is complete. He still wouldn’t give me the code to switch me off, though! Marc and Dego gave me these fucking impregnable set of codes and programmed me, and I can’t stop. I always say to Marc when I phone him up, ‘Marc, please can you give me the codes?’ He’s like ‘Nah’, and laughing. ‘Just give me the fucking codes, man!’. I felt like Rutger Hauer — ‘If only you’ve seen what I’ve seen with these eyes!’ It’s difficult to break the programme, cos every time the programme kicks in. I’m at my lowest point and I’m like ‘Fuck it, I want to make music’.
“I probably signed my own death warrant when I made the track ‘Terminator’,” he continues. “I became The Terminator, I’m like the 0.719 — I can’t stop.” He starts zooming in and out of imaginary targets with his hands, making a camera-like rectangular shape. Like some director of a sci-fi film.
The land cruiser stops outside the capital’s most notorious nightclub. It’s somewhere The Artist has played over 120 times, somewhere that’s been crucial to the post-millennial development of the forward-thinking music movement that The Artist has forever been associated with. In a victory for the forces of darkness, it’s been temporarily shuttered by the authorities. Off grid.
Melancholic jazz, visionary drum & bass, gorgeous piano and spiritual arias wash over the pair as they sit in the vehicle outside the Farringdon institution — listening to The Artist’s new work. They smoke, they take pictures of its front door adorned with messages from assorted well-wishers. Its future seems bleak, but the uplifting positivity in The Artist’s music seems to inject glimmers of hope. They drive off again, through unforgiving traffic, before finally pulling up under an arch near London Bridge a couple of hours later.
So many layers. Such warmth and beauty in the music. Whirlpools of soul, buckets of inner city urban blues. The Writer is speechless. Literally. The Artist has been explaining elements and meanings to various tracks throughout the car journey, but The Writer hasn’t been recording or writing anything down. He needs to hear more — on the record.
“What do you think, then?” The Artist asks, turning off the engine.
After a few seconds, The Writer manages to find some words. “This album isn’t next level — it’s next galaxy!”
Fast-forward a few weeks and The Writer is waiting for The Artist at a swanky Covent Garden restaurant. It’s a fresh new year, and to the delight of music-lovers everywhere the Fabric nightclub has opened again. He arrives in a customised fake fur pimp coat, but isn’t feeling the vibe. “Let’s go to the hotel, it’ll be quieter,” he says. The Writer is relieved as the assorted well-to-do clientele are chatting quite effervescently over their oysters, which could hamper the dictaphone recording.
They walk the streets of London, chewing the fat. They pass a modest Indian restaurant. “I really fancy an Indian,” The Artist says. They go inside and order food. They stick to soft drinks. “I’m not much of a drinker,” The Artist confesses.
Over the next two hours — coincidentally, the length of the ‘Journey Man’ album — The Artist is animated, funny, provocative and hugely entertaining. He’s a ball of energy, he’s one of a kind, and he spins The Writer’s head like very few interviewees have.
Goldie has always worn his heart on his sleeve. In his 2002 autobiography Nine Lives he’s very honest and open about his difficult childhood in care and foster homes — where he experienced physical and sexual abuse. Before music, it was art that saved him. He painted well over sixty pieces of detailed graffiti artwork on his estate in Wolverhampton in his late teens, and got headhunted for a documentary about hip-hop culture called Bombin’ that was being made for Central TV by a guy called Gus Coral and his friend Dick Fontaine.
Goldie became the ‘tag’ of a young Clifford Price after he shaved his dreadlocks off, and breakdancing and graffiti led to him meeting a young 3-D — who’d later star in Massive Attack — and the T.A.T graffiti crew from New York. Taken to the Big Apple as part of the Bombin’ documentary, he visited the T.A.T crew again a couple of years later before heading down to Miami in search of his biological father — and some warmer weather. There, he got into making gold teeth (after having his own trademark gnashers done himself), spraying cars, peddling his artwork… doing a number of borderline illegal things to get by, all the while somewhat oblivious to the rave scene that was kicking off back in the UK.
When he returned to England after a couple of years, he didn’t stay in the Midlands but moved down to London. He pitched up at Gus Coral’s house, the guy who had made the Bombin’ doc a few years before, and ended up using his flat as his base for the next few years while he made his way in London doing bits of design work and the like.
He met the Soul II Soul collective, connected with producer Nellee Hooper from Bristol, and started sitting in on studio sessions with Howie B, who was engineering for Soul II Soul. He began to sketch out song ideas of his own, and soon hooked up with a gorgeous new girlfriend called Kemi who worked at the Red Or Dead shoe shop by Camden Market.
Kemi and her friend Jayne, who later became the DJs Kemistry & Storm, took Goldie to their favourite club-night — Rage at Heaven — where the DJs were Fabio & Grooverider, Jumpin’ Jack Frost and Mickey Finn. Goldie pretty quickly decided he wanted to make the futuristic music he was hearing at Rage himself. He edged his way in with the Reinforced crew, and he was away. “I fell in with the right crew cos that crew were looking at bastardised Detroit music from Europe, rave culture, and breakbeat,” he says.
Goldie formed Rufige Kru, began releasing tunes, and then changed the game when he made the track ‘Terminator’ in 1992. Pioneering the time-stretching technique of speeding up breakbeats so that they still stayed in time, he effectively blueprinted drum & bass’s future — rising out of hardcore to forge its own identity. He started his own Metalheadz label with Kemi and Storm and then, in 1995, he took the underground d&b sound into the mainstream with the incredible ’Timeless’ album, which featured the achingly beautiful hit ‘Inner City Life’. ’Timeless’ was a benchmark, a line in the sand — the launchpad for an incredible voyage through all of life’s shades.
His time in the spotlight has been well documented. After an eventful, rollercoaster two decades, he reprised ’Timeless’ at the Royal Festival Hall with the Heritage Orchestra twenty years on, and during this process the idea for ‘The Journey Man’ started germinating.
“Five years ago I had the initial alchemy,” Goldie begins. “Relocating to Asia. I was a bit spent here, to be fair. I felt like the d&b glory days were almost gone. It became a parody of itself, and to a large extent there weren’t enough artist albums that were strong enough. It became all these compilation albums that lacked a little bit of direction — it changed a little bit.
“As an artist you need to reinvent, and I think it was good that dubstep came along and did something different,” he continues. “Or else I felt that it was like the kid who was running ahead a little bit too fast for itself, and fell on its knees a bit. I’m glad that drum & bass never got the Internet — dubstep blew up too fast, and drum & bass had such strong foundations. That was very important for the growth of it. It was also a culture that could actually hold-fast over a period of time, and weather a lot of the storms.”
Goldie actually lives in Thailand now. “Why did I move to Thailand? My partner, and muse [and now wife, Mika Wassenaar], we’d been seeing each other ten years and we decided to build a house there. Why Thailand? Well, it’s a part of the world that I enjoy, it’s a part of the world where I can go and nobody knows me — I can walk around and be no one, and learn that I know very little about the world.
“We built the house over a three-year period, and moved there officially two years ago,” he continues. “Ironically, as soon as I moved there, I had to come back for an MBE!”
He starts talking about the importance of renewal and revitalisation. “Thailand for me was about reinvention, being totally chilled, and very clear water — literally, and physically speaking,” he says. “To clear my own water. As an artist I thought ‘I think I can top this’, I think I can do an album that takes everything that I was taught from ‘Timeless’ — my adolescence coming-of-age album, may I remind you — to show you the adult twenty years later.
“It’s like the Thin White Duke [sometime collaborator David Bowie] said to me, ‘If you make a pile of shit after ’Timeless’, quids in, it doesn’t really matter — you made a great album’. That echoed around my head. David would always say to me, ‘Reinvention is the best thing you could ever possibly do’, and I thought ‘If I could reinvent myself, and maybe reinvent the genre cos I thought that the genre… [his voice trails off into chewing his curry].”
“In the back of my mind, drum & bass as a genre deserves more,” he says, recovering his train of thought. He’s on irrepressible form this evening. “It’s given us great food, it’s paid us good mortgages, it’s given us great cars… has it given us happiness? To a certain degree I was very happy with where we were, but I thought we could be happier. It gave us a richness, but not the wealth.”
He embarks on an analogy about drum & bass in general being like a kid who developed “this kind of locked-in syndrome, whereby this great genre of music almost imploded and locked itself in. We tried to protect the genre from going outside and becoming washing up commercials in Germany,” he smirks.
After ’Timeless’, Goldie reckons that it’s taken him 20 years to get his head to where it is now. “This isn’t disposable media, and it’s a dirty job — but we’re part of an alliance,” he says. “You look at dBridge, Exit, Metalheadz… we’re true to the craft. So is Mala, so is Coki — true to the craft. You look at that aspect, and I thought ‘You know what? I think I can make a legacy album. I think I can do my magnum opus’. Someone’s got to do it, but it’s a lonely place. It’s important for me that magnum opus is what it says on the tin.”
‘The Journey Man’ is Goldie’s magnum opus. His words aren’t bluster or hype. It’s a very grown-up album — deliberately so — from somebody finally at peace with himself and the outside world. It’ll surprise a lot of people, while those who have already heard it — his inner sanctum — are still picking their jaws up off the floor.
Goldie starts talking about artists making music for people who are more or less the same age as them. “People want to be current, so the adults are making music for the kids,” he says. “Let the kids make the music for the kids. Let the kids grow into the adults, and grow into the music. That’s what we did — we grew into the music. I never discovered Motown until later on, and then I discovered Northern soul — I discovered music backwards. That’s the best way to discover music.
“When we were young, it was making people dance the same age as me,” he continues. “Those people that are grown up… we need something else. I’m fucking sick of EDM, I can’t stand it. I fucking ‘ate it,” he spits. “But people have got to grow up. So the album is more important as a piece of cinematography. And when the credits roll and you stand up to be counted, it’s like ‘What you got? What have you got to say?’ Because it’s an important album. It’s the most important thing that I’ve ever made.”
DJ Mag wants to know how he did the album’s initial sketches. “Well, I did the drums to start with,” G outlines. “In the back of my mind was working with the Heritage Orchestra. We notated ’Timeless’ and we took it to another level at the South Bank, which was amazing.” It was.
He starts singing the praises of Adam Betts, drummer with the Heritage Orchestra, and how the new breed of drummers have studied all the greats — and learned how to play the complicated, intricate riddims of drum & bass too.
“I did all the drum sessions at Battery Studios in Harlesden — went through everything,” he outlines. “It’s right round the corner from my old stomping ground with Reinforced, where it all started, ironically. I went through all my classics, and beyond. Can, Captain Beefheart, Beck — everything I could get my hands on. And then, my imagination. Then I left it for a year before I listened to them. Did the sessions, moved to Thailand. Like bottles of wine, just maturing.”
He says that bouncing everything to DAT was one of the important lessons he was taught by the Reinforced kru back in the early days. “Keep scratch DATs — I’ve always kept them. You go back to them — analogue sound in digital bubbles. Digital sound in an analogue bubble. Analogue sound in a digital bubble. Layering.
“So when I went back to those sessions, they were remarkable,” he continues. “97 directional motif sessions, or thereabouts. Variations, variations, variations. Then I whittled that down, by listening over the period of a month, to 25 or 30. I started re-naming breaks — ‘Maggie 1’, ‘Maggie 2’ — creating some nice stuff. One day I’ll post them. But then I spent two years — in my head, in a book — writing down the ideas. Creating legends, structures, and the colours and what they were gonna be. ‘Horizons’ was the first thing that came — ironically, it’s the first track.”
After the playback in the car (written up in pseudo sci-fi style in the intro to this feature), DJ Mag had the idea of going through a track-by-track with Goldie of this landmark album, replicating some of the insightful stuff he’d said back then, but the irrepressible DJ/producer races ahead with his explanations — jumping from topic to topic, posing his own rhetorical questions and answering them. Ripping up the rule-book, essentially (again).
He starts rabbiting about ‘I Adore You’, the first single from the album recorded at the point he was moving to Asia. Made with the Ulterior Motive duo, it was Goldie revisiting a demo his daughter found on an old iPod. “‘Dad, you’ve got to finish this tune’, she said, so I finished it for her. ‘I Adore You’. It’s also about lamenting for a father and a daughter’s love. And, with the video…”
The video turns pretty dark at the end, with actor Stephen Graham — of This Is England fame — pummelling a couple of fellow inmates in frustration at not being able to see his daughter. “It’s very dark, cos it represents the truth,” Goldie says. “It represents a man, angry in prison, who misses his daughter. He went in there as one guy, and comes out really angry — angrier than when he went in. I know a man like that, you know a man like that, I know a lot of people like that. A mate from school is doing a stretch, down on his luck. Also, for me, the prison represents my incarceration in the ‘90s, of being so high — and actually, I wasn’t really there for my kids in the way I should’ve been as a father. I was incarcerated — imprisoned. There’s a duality to it. My son being in prison, me being on the outside…”
His son, Jamie Price, was imprisoned in 2010 for a gang-related murder in Wolverhampton. “I tried to give him opportunities, but he went the other way,” Goldie said at the time, but before DJ Mag can ask him any more about this he’s off to the next topic. No doubt more will be revealed when his second autobiography comes out this autumn — All Things Remembered. “It’s an explosive story of abuse, revenge, graffiti, gold teeth, sawn-off shotguns, car crashes, hot yoga, absent fatherhood, and redemption through reality TV,” publisher Faber state in the press release.
“After ‘I Adore You’ I thought, ‘Hang on a minute, I think I can write a really great album’, and I just started writing,” Goldie continues. “And it all started coming. Get up at five in the morning, walk along the beach. Sunrise. On the other side of the island, sunset. Boat trips, beaches. Yoga. But I thought that I didn’t want to make an album just hugging trees either.” He wanted to make sure he got some firing d&b in there too.
Once he’d written everything — the words, the sounds, the ideas, the concepts — over two years, it was actually recorded pretty swiftly, he says. His pal James Davidson from Ulterior Motive — who builds aircraft simulation machines in his spare time — flew in, and they set to work on ‘Prism’. “Everything you hear on the album was done day after day, consecutively, every day,” he says. “In two months. It’s almost unbelievable. And then we spent another three months mixing it here [in London]. I did all the vocals remotely in Thailand.”
“There wasn’t a day when we weren’t in the studio in Thailand, working… it’s called the Treehouse,” he continues. “James hasn’t seen daylight, we have a day off at the weekend to go to the beach, then it’s back in the lab. I’ve never worked with an engineer with that level of skill — since Playford.”
He talks about how Rob Playford, the Moving Shadow boss who he worked with on ’Timeless’, was a good engineer and he loves what they did together, but he’d sometimes come up against brick walls with him in terms of sonic limitations. With James, he says, he can explain an abstract concept, and he can realise it for him sonically. “There’s no like, ‘Oh, I dunno, we can’t do that’. I can literally sing a break to him, my language that I have, and he translates it exactly as I had it in my head.”
He’d met Jon Dixon, part of clandestine Detroit techno collective Underground Resistance, at Outlook Festival in Croatia, and found out that he, too, was a fan of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny (see box out). They stayed in touch. Dixon started sending him piano sketches, and three of these morphed into tracks on ‘The Journey Man’. Dixon told Goldie that when he heard what he’d done with his piano part for ‘Run, Run, Run’, he cried.
“I think the gift, for me — with the album — is the arrangement, and how to pull the best out of musicians,” Goldie babbles. “How to get the spirit out of them — to get them off the page, for a start. That’s something Bowie taught me a lot about. I was taught to be patient, and to work with different people — and push them all. Sometimes challenge them, though — upset them a little bit. His exact words — ‘upset ‘em’. Poke yer fucking stick in ‘em.”
We’re talking just after The Brits, at which Bowie picked up Best Male and Best Album for ‘Blackstar’ — a year after his death. Goldie points out that loads of people paid homage to Bowie at The Brits — “which is the last thing he would’ve wanted” — but he was probably the only person in the room who had worked with him. And nobody asked him what it was like to work with him. “A drum & bass kid from the Midlands wrote a track for him,” he muses.
Bowie sought out Goldie and the drum & bass scene in the mid-'90s as he correctly identified it as the cutting edge of music at the time. Bowie had always done this — cherry-picked from movements, magpie-like — and his subsequent album ‘Earthling’ was his first album recorded entirely digitally.
When they worked together, Goldie flipped the switch on the Thin White Duke. Instead of getting him to guest on a drum & bass track, he wrote a ballad for him. Goldie has revisited the ‘Truth’ track for ‘The Journey Man’ by way of a tribute (see box out) for this album, while for ‘Redemption’ he hit up ‘Mad’ Mike Banks from UR to see if he could sample ‘Hi-Tech Jazz’. “Then he phoned me up and he said, ‘Damn you, it’s like you came to Detroit in a spacecraft and tore this fucking Detroit techno tune out of the ‘hood, and just flew out back into space again’,” Goldie recounts.
‘Redemption’ is the first techno record G has ever made. The 18-minute epic switches up halfway through, and Goldie’s now thinking about doing more 4/4 stuff in its wake. “It’s opened up a can of worms,” he says. “Cos now I’m like, ‘OK, hmmmm, fucking hell, that’s easy!’ After dealing with the hieroglyphics of d&b for so long, ‘Doing techno? Fucking shit it — easy’. Don’t fear, I’m not going to turn into a techno DJ overnight. I’ll leave that to Marcus [Intalex]. His techno stuff’s brilliant, Trevino is amazing. Trevino was very influential…”
‘The Journey Man’ is 35 years of life experience squeezed into two hours — recorded in eight weeks. “Art is life — totally,” he says. “It’s about preparation. So it was already germinating in me; I had the shapes, I know what they’re gonna look like, I know what they’re gonna be…”
In response to DJ Mag’s observation that some people aren’t making albums anymore, he says: “I think it’s a good statement to do a long-player. If you want to make a mini-album, great, fine, whatever. I’m just going to do the best of my ability with what I can do.”
DJ Mag puts it to Goldie that he is more than 'a skilled worker who has successfully completed an official apprenticeship', as the title 'The Journey Man' would suggest. “The album's title is purposefully meant to be two words. [He holds up the artwork] ‘Goldie - Journey; The - Man’. I’m just trying to become the man,” he says.
He starts talking about the cinematography of the album, and then says this: “I’ve got a great get-out-of-jail clause… I didn’t make the album. I didn’t make the album, I didn’t do it. The universe…” He looks to the heavens. “A massive vagina went ’Spluurrrt’, opened everything up and gave me an insight to do what the notes are meaning in the sky. I’m a conduit.
“There are twelve people in my head that sit around a table and talk a lot,” he continues. “They fucking talk a lot. One of them’s like a fucking drug dealer, another one’s like a fucking chemist, another one’s like a sculptor, another one just talks shit, I don’t know what he’s fucking doing. One of them’s full of light, full of beans, one’s a kid… and they’re always fucking arguing over the years when all of a sudden they go ’Ssshhhh, gotta let the kid speak’. It’s when the kid speaks that it comes from the best place. And I think that’s what this is — this is about childhood. It’s not the coming of age album like ‘Timeless’ — the adolescence. Cos the adolescent is a bit of an upstart — a bit aggy. It’s not, it’s the kid we see when we look at a kid’s painting. Or when we see our kids singing along to a song — that’s the one I want to see, cos he — or she — has been missing for a very long time.”
Drum & bass is twenty-five years old or more now. A lot of people have grown up with the music, and may still be involved with the scene or have moved on, but generally want something a bit more home listening for when not in the club. For others, ‘The Journey Man’ is just gonna be a beautiful collection of jazzy, soulful, spiritual, evocative electronic beats-based music — the soundtrack to the summer. It’s certain to put Goldie centre stage again, and give drum & bass a big mainstream boost. Was part of the idea to hoist d&b back up by its bootstraps?
“I felt like the trousers had been pulled down and there’s a little willy there, and I’m thinking ‘Guys, come on…’,” he grins. “Do you know what I mean? I want to be a cat amongst the pigeons, I’ve always been a bit like that. I shook up a few people a few months ago — not to mention any names, but they got shook up and that’s how it should be.”
In the special drum & bass issue of DJ Mag late last year, Goldie had a bit of a rant about the commercialisation of drum & bass. He admits that gentrification is inevitable, while DJ Mag suggests that without this magnificent album in his locker, he may not have been able to say those things...
DJ Mag wants to know why Goldie has remained so connected to drum & bass — such an integral part of it all the way along. It’s a genre he helped to birth, and he’s effectively been its spiritual heart for a quarter of a century, helping to increase its visibility with every one of his TV appearances or interviews, promoting it wherever he goes. “It’s part of my fucking bloodline, man,” he replies.
It’s kept him connected to reality — being part of a scene, a gang, an extended family crew. “It’s the same model as a breakdancing or graffiti crew, I realised this very early on,” he says. “Which is why I love Roll Deep and Target and Boy Better Know — that it’s about crews. The crew is the family. And family is what will save you. Because when society falls apart…
“You see, drum & bass was the sound of the UK, it was the resonance of the country. Hip-hop was over here, in a very fashion-conscious way, and it didn’t quite have the culture here. And the reason why was… why did hip-hop happen in France, more than it happened here? Because they had precincts there, and the ‘hood here wasn’t as volatile — apart from when there was the riots in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Yeah? And then of course it settles.
“If I was from Detroit now… I mean, it’s the whole thing, what did they do with techno music? It’s come back into a respectable genre, but there was a time when it went completely ‘What the fuck is this? We created a monster’. I think every genre will go through it, and every new genre that comes along will go through the same thing. But why I love it is because I’ve seen it when it was the resonance of the UK. Reinforced as a camp had its sound, and that sound I was a part of — that model was my tribal markings.
“So why I couldn’t leave the culture is because…” He chomps some more on his food, taking time to finish his mouthful. “A jellyfish is useless on a beach. Great in the sea — electric in the sea. It works at great depth, and that music for me is everything, cos it represents the time machine for technology — a time machine that I can travel through. I came into this as an artist looking at a machine that allows me to time travel — sampling. I go back and forward in time. I can take any piece of time. That’s what it’s all about — how can I reinvent?”
Goldie can one minute hang with the grime posse at the NME awards — in fact, he’s written and recorded a track with Skepta which he plays to DJ Mag in the car, an incredible burst of raw energy named ‘Upstart’ that’s in the Prodigy ‘Firestarter’ mould and could also leap to No.1 — and the next be a jazz connoisseur hobnobbing with classical folk. A shapeshifting visionary, he was particularly early on the orchestras in dance music thing back in the day. “I told Pete Tong [his A&R man at the time] twenty years ago I wanted to do this,” he recalls, “but no one got it. I still had an 18-piece orchestra on ‘Saturnz Return’ [his second album in 1998], I was way ahead. ‘Saturnz Return’ was important for me because of ‘Mother’ — it was important for my sanity to do that.”
“It was important to realise the orchestra thing live too, to show people how sound travels through the air — big difference,” he continues.
When you did ’Timeless’ at the Royal Festival Hall, did it feel like vindication, DJ Mag asks? “Total vindication. Total ‘I told you so, bitches’. It was total vindication, and even more so at Ronnie Scott’s at the weekend. When they give electronic music people awards for being Best Live Electronic Act or whatever, I laugh — aloud. This is the only real live, live. No click-track, no backing track — nothing. Humans playing every sound, in unison, from bar one. Everything is played by humans.”
One of Goldie’s forays into the world of TV and film was Maestro, the 2008 BBC reality show where celebs with a passion for classical music learned how to conduct an orchestra. This led to spin-off show Classic Goldie, where he learned to read music and had his ’Sine Tempore’ piece performed at the Royal Albert Hall. What did he learn from the Maestro experience?
“That I can control music through my fingertips,” he says. “You’re conducting a band, if you like — it’s a new approach. One question we found was ‘What is Goldie gonna do onstage? Is he gonna play some percussion, sing a little bit?’ He’s gonna provoke the drummers and have it right off. He’s gonna get into the keyboardist’s head and get someone off the page from looking at the notes, saying ‘Look at me, show me what you’ve got’. That’s what I’m gonna do — it’s alchemy. Let’s raise this shit. Take it back to what it used to be — a bit rock & roll.”
He starts talking about the role of a conductor in an orchestra, about how nobody questions that. He talks about how he put the orchestra drummers centre stage, and that he’s “bending light”. And it’s true, if he just played percussion, or a bit of keys or whatever, he’d just be one part of the ensemble. Instead, because it’s his work — he wrote it all — he’s inspiring the totality of the whole thing. He’s brought everybody together, and pushed the assorted talented performers more than they’ve ever been pushed before. It’s his art. Nobody questioned the composer Mozart for not playing every instrument himself.
It’s all paid off. ‘The Journey Man’ really is an exquisite album of forward-thinking modern urban soul. It’s one of the albums of the decade. It’s long, but give it a chance and it richly rewards. It uses ‘Timeless’ as a jump-off point, and heads off into the stratosphere. DJ Mag says if it doesn’t get nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, there’s something wrong with the UK music industry. It really is ‘next galaxy’.
It’s pushing not only drum & bass into new shapes, but the whole of electronic music up a number of levels. “Expanding a genre that already exists is difficult,” Goldie says. “When it’s new, it’s something new — a new genre. ‘Anything goes — let’s do anything!’ And also a set of parameters have been made, and they need to be broken. And that’s my main thing — breaking the parameters. Joyriding the parameters.”
“How on earth am I gonna top this? Give me a couple of years,” he says, off-handedly. “I think I’ve got enough repertoire now… I’ve got melodies just floating around me, so many fucking… [He remonstrates with the activity in his brain]. I’ve set myself so many exercises that I do as rituals when writing music as well — in the preparation. Like, seriously — sacred wood gets burned regular. I do some serious fucking rituals, man.”
DJ Mag has heard Goldie say on more than one occasion that yoga has saved his life. “It’s totally saved my life,” he says. “Still now. I wouldn’t have been able to make this album without yoga — there’s no way on God’s green earth. Because it clears the water.” He looks down at your hack’s list of questions, and spots the word ‘AURUM’. His eyes light up. “You remembered that?”
In his Nine Lives book he talks about self-medicating with gold — from his teeth to jewellery, even down to his adopted name. “Yeah, I’ve been medicating with it for a long time,” he says. “And now I’m melting the gold, and when the solid silver hits the top of the gold and moves across the surface, I’ve realised that that’s the real alchemy. The chaos that moves across the surface is silver — and white hot is where I’m at right now. Cos I’ve worked out what that pattern is now — the formula of that, chaos. I think that’s why I’m gonna be relentless with all of it. I feel very confident.”
He also alludes to having been through the Hoffman Process, a course designed to resolve negative feelings of feeling unloved and unlovable picked up in childhood. “Bob Hoffman recognised that as children we unconsciously adopt the negative behaviours, belief systems, moods, attitudes and insecurities of our caregivers in order to be loved. These patterns of behaviour pass from generation to generation, and it is only when we recognise and deal with them that the cycle can be broken,” says the blurb on their website.
Today’s Goldie is more of a Zen Goldie. He can still be as manic as fuck, but he’s calmed down considerably. Is he enjoying his life? “Yeah, fucking immensely. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. The music talks a little bit, doesn’t it?” he smiles. “There’s a lot going on in it. I can sit and listen to ‘Run Run Run’ on repeat, I listen to my own album on repeat — cos it’s not me…
“I paint to the album now, like crazy — it’s great,” he continues. “Painting and painting and painting and painting.” He’s returned to his painting with a vengeance in the last few years, and is so successful with it that he actually doesn’t have to make music anymore.
He talks about archetypes he’s sown into the hem of the album. Goldie is big on archetypes. “There’s a lot going on that people can’t immediately clock,” he adds. “Also, if you play the album backwards it says ‘Kill your friends and chop your own head off!’”
So there we have it. Despite putting on white contact lenses for the DJ Mag cover shoot, Goldie isn’t some sci-fi replicant, or a scary more-than-potential bad boy. He’s a self-educated, self-taught musical and artistic genius who’s one of the great characters of our scene. He’s made a beautiful next-level album that’s gonna lift up the whole of the drum & bass community, and we should celebrate him for being such a unique individual. And for still being alive.
He’s been on quite a journey, and lived to tell the tale. Now here is the man. “I just want to change things,” he relays. “I’m saying the same thing now as I was saying when I was 17.” He adopts a broad West Midlands accent, referencing the Bombin’ TV interview with graffiti artist Clifford Price 35 years ago, spray-can in hand. “‘I just wanna change things, y’know?’”
* ‘The Journey Man’ is out on June 16th on Metalheadz/Cooking Vinyl. Goldie & The Heritage Orchestra tour concert halls around the UK in the autumn. www.goldie.co.uk
GOLDIE ON BOWIE
“I found when David died… he rings in my ears sometimes, he really does. I had some moments with David, sitting on the steps at Blue Note in conversation. I took him to Dillinja’s house one time, I took him to meet Dillinja in a fucking car. We’re driving around and I’m like ‘I’ve got fucking David Bowie in my car’, driving around London.
“He’s the last true artist that I’ve ever really thought about. Everyone wants to honour the man in different ways, and my way of honouring him was revisiting all the darkest records I’ve ever wrote, at the lowest point in my life, writing a ballad for a guy that wanted to make a drum & bass record, and I did what he would’ve done and said ‘Fucking no, we’re doing this’. And then he went on to make ‘Earthling’. We influenced him a lot. The energy of drum & bass really influenced him, in the same way that grime would’ve influenced him. Skepta would’ve really influenced him, Stormzy would’ve really influenced him.”
GOLDIE ON PAT METHENY
“Pat Metheny ‘Are You Going With Me?’ is the greatest record of all time — for me, in my life. ’Tu Vais Avec Moi?’ is ‘are you going with me?’ in French. My wife’s French, French-Canadian. 35 years to follow a master, who taught me everything I know about arrangement to then meet the guy, interview him and question him about tracks. For him to tell me the story about it, and for me to ask him that if it ever becomes… and he sends me the parts. Just read this email:
‘Goldie, rapped up the tour tonight, and as promised first thing I did was listen. Finally, some open ears. Man, it is fan-tas-tic. Great treatment, great everything, you did such a beautiful thing with this piece, my piece, and all the musicians have done such a beautiful job with the changes, the chords. All of it is so excellent. I hope you’re doing great, and thank you for doing this — it’s a real compliment to hear your take on a thing like that. Regards, best, Pat Metheny'
“Inverting the Pat Metheny record to that extreme, with different instruments playing different things — what else could you want? I think the only person that ever came back with a truly great version [of something of mine], for me, would be Matthias Vogt's ‘Inner City Life' remix.”
'THE JOURNEY MAN' TRACK BY TRACK
The album opens on this gorgeous jazzy d&b cut, vocalled by awesome R&B soulstress Terri Walker. With a nod to the soul-jazz of Kamasi Washington, and 4 Hero’s work around the time of ‘La Fleur’, it sets the tone sweetly.
The first drum & bass track on the album is pure sci-fi. Steely, metallic breaks, switches in time signatures, and a sample of his ‘Darkrider’ cut from 1992. One for the ‘Headz headz.
Like an undiscovered Portishead or Massive Attack track, ‘Mountains’ glistens with widescreen cinematic glory. “It’s a kind of love letter to my past for allowing me to get to this point,” says Goldie.
A percussive avant-funk track that nods towards ‘80s acts like Animal Nightlife and 23 Skidoo. Goldie calls it “a total b-boy track”, as the words reference his time as a battling breakdancer eyeballing the competition.
'The Mirrored River'
Smooth, soulful d&b cut with a pure-as-fresh-water vocal from Natalie Duncan. “You take away the beats and this is a gospel record,” says Goldie. “It’s about my cleansing. I feel like I’ve been reborn.”
'I Adore You'
Sounds great on the radio, but is imbued with more passion and authenticity than most d&b you hear on the daytime airwaves.
'I Think Of You'
Goldie calls this his homage to the Sunday night Metalheadz sessions at the Blue Note on Hoxton Square in east London in the ‘90s. A real deadly Photek ninja vibe to this one.
As a tribute, G revisits the track he wrote for and recorded with the late, great David Bowie. A moving jazz standard vocalled by José James, it’s heartfelt bliss. “There’s another version which won’t go out till October — by Natalie Duncan — and it destroys everything, it’s just ridiculous,” he says.
Starts as a journeying slab of Detroit techno-influenced drum & bass, before switching halfway through into actual Detroit techno. An amazing 18-minute voyage.
'Tu Viens Avec Moi?'
His version of the Pat Metheny opus ‘Are You Going With Me?’ is, quite simply, an incredible slice of languid future jazz. Another odyssey for Gilles Peterson fans.
'The Ballad Celeste'
The amazing voice of Natalie Duncan really brings out the emotion on this lilting lullaby. “After being, y’know, in addiction and lying on your wife’s chest, thinking ‘Fucking just save me’. ‘No restless nights with a headless horse, setting sail for sleepy hollow’. It’s a fucking grotesque opening line — beautifully sung.”
'This Is Not A Love Song'
Nothing to do with Johnny Rotten or PiL, this is a soulful lament that again features wondrous keys from Jon Dixon.
'The River Mirrored'
G had house diva Jocelyn Brown in mind for the vocal for this flipside to ‘The Mirrored River’. “I reached out, but then her management got involved and got really arsey and said ‘What’s your target market?’ and I’m like, ‘What’s your fucking target market?’ So I did two versions, just to be like the yin and the yang — Sade and Eartha Kitt. Terri Walker sang it in the end. It’s two very different takes on a chalk and cheese aspect of a record.”
Drum & bass, with the beats on-point, the bass cheeky and a bit rude, and the synthetic atmosphere akin to being adrift on the ocean.
'Tomorrow’s Not Today'
Riding a twisting, cavorting breakbeat, jazzy keys and harmonies combine for a soulful forward-thinking cut about rebirth.
'Run, Run, Run'
Again, amazing. A heavenly piano piece, sung by male vocalist Tyler Lee Daly. “Cos when you get to the top of the mountain — as in mountains — there’s another one,” Goldie says.