Goldie: “People never give props to drum 'n' bass for what it's done for electronic music"
Goldie speaks to Ralph Moore about writing tracks for Bowie, the underappreciation of drum 'n' bass, and his motivational 'Kubrick Theory'
An encounter with Goldie is always memorable. I first met the gold-toothed DJ-turned-Bond-villain back in ’98 when he released ‘Saturnz Return’ on London Records, sitting in his Rolls Royce while his legendary press officer, the late Eugene Manzi, watched and waited for him to explode (he didn’t). The interview for NME focused on the legendary talent featured on that album - think David Bowie, Dillinja and Diane Charlemagne. Two out of three of those 'Saturnz Return' collaborators have now died, making Goldie something of an elder statesman in the jungle scene.
The second time we met was at the equally legendary Muzik Awards, where he was running around with Kate Moss, Noel Gallagher and a big bottle of champagne. The third was when he played a blistering Mixmag Lab LDN DJ set at our office on Pentonville Road and asked for a plate of fish and chips as his rider, after parking up on the curb outside in his red Rolls Royce, his self-confessed version of the red 38 bus.
But something else has happened to Goldie of late. He’s discovered inner peace: “Me and my wife Mika were married in Cherngtalay Temple on Phuket island,” he told The Guardian in 2015. “We used to come back every year and eventually thought, ‘why don’t we live here?’ So now we do!” Not only has he moved to Thailand with his wife and daughter, but he’s also been working on a second Subjective album with his production partner, Ulterior Motive's James Davidson. Due for release on March 25, ‘The Start Of No Regret' was produced remotely by the pair over the last 18 months, with Davidson working from his studio in Bournemouth and Goldie in his home studio in Thailand. Goldie is full of praise for Davidson. Indeed, the recent single 'Sunlight', which features Lady Blackbird, already sounds like a classic.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: "I love the way that this album time travels through so many poignant aspects of mine and James' life,” he says. Elsewhere on the LP, you'll find appearances from Greentea Peng, Verve Records vocalist Natalie Duncan and the mighty, multi-award-winning composer and actor Cleveland Watkiss. It’s got a lot of soul.
Born in Walsall back in 1965, Goldie is still the driving force behind Metalheadz (the label he founded in 1994 with Kemistry & Storm) and is fiercely proud of what he’s achieved across various fields: music, acting, and graffiti are the three main branches. But he’s now a Bikram yoga devotee and remains tight with everyone who ever mattered to him, as his daily posts on Instagram so joyfully attest. Friends, colleagues, jungle pioneers and ex-partners are all along for the ride - and there’s a story and a post for every occasion.
In our interview, he spoke at length on topics such as his 'Kubrick Theory', being ahead of the curves, and references to British musical greats like UB40 and The Stranglers. That’s all part of the proverbial ride: Goldie doesn’t do small talk. “Right. Let’s crack on!” he demands.
I have a bunch of questions. But before we get into the new album, I wanted to say that I have a theory about you having a bit of a renaissance as an artist and musician - and I suspect that is because you seem to have all the fun all of the time.
Oh, thank you!
You’re also very good at giving nods to the people you met along the way.
I think it's because I developed a massive ego in the ‘90s - I had a lot of Freudian issues, [I was] very fragile. After all, I had grown up in the care system. I wasn't supposed to make it, was I? People thought I was just an angry young man. In my reincarnation from that life, I chose drum 'n' bass music and graffiti - underdog art forms. People never seem to give props to graffiti for what it's done for the art world, or what drum 'n' bass has done for electronic music. When record companies want a remix, they come to the street guys - like the Lenzmans, the Calibres or the S. P. Y's, they come to us. It's a genre that's very misunderstood. [Drum 'n' bass] is like the uncle that never gets invited to the party because he's going to tell the kids the truth!
What is the thinking with the second Subjective LP?
The point of the album is that it's almost a wolf in sheep's clothing [for people who can't] deal with 'The Journey Man' - it took the public 20-25 years to deal with 'Timeless' so [the record] is me giving it to you in bubble letter form. Let me give you simple bubble letters that are well balanced. There's nothing wrong with bubble letters, as a graffiti writer you look at them and you think, whoever wrote them has style. James came along at the deep end with 'Journey Man' and proved beyond all measures that he was "It," he was beyond any engineer I've ever worked with. Concept-wise he listened and understood what I was going for, and [the results are] mind-blowing. All artists have someone - David Bowie had someone, Jimi Hendrix had someone - we all need people. I think I've always been on an island to myself and my age now, I wanted to pass what I know onto James because he's a beautiful kid.
I want to talk to you about the importance of soul music. How do these voices come to you? Do you find them? Does James find some of them?
One of those things that I never got the credit for is [that] I've always written [songs] - I've been very adamant about that. The singers will tell you - on this phone, there are hundreds and hundreds of voicemails of melodies to all of my songs. I've always recorded the melody and I’ve always written. I call it "The Kubrick Theory" because there's a scene in Eyes Wide Shut where [Kubrick reportedly made Tom Cruise walk through a door 95 times and tormented him, saying "Hey Tom, stick with me, I'll make you a star."]
For me, that whole [concept] has been the story of my life. Because my life was controlled by so many care workers and social workers, they always told me where I had to go and what I had to do. So controlling my music is a way I can claim back some freedom. Writing the lyrics, the melody, the structure — that's how I do that. José James said that when we did 'Truth', I'd written that track for David Bowie, and it was a ballad. He phoned me up and said: "You know, I admire you for doing this. Because you want to make a ballad, and you just did it. And I've got to take my hat off to your managers, you stayed with that attitude, and you can't fucking lose. So it's gospel, spiritual. It's very, you know, American Gods, I'm standing up on the edge because it's where I am. It's real-life in Polaroids. This fucking music is soul music, man!
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How do these soul singers come to you?
I call them up! Sorry, I went off on a tangent. Lady Blackbird was introduced to me by Gilles Peterson. Natalie [Duncan], I first asked her to do ‘I Adore You’, José James loved ‘The Dreamer’ album, Gilles was pushing that so he put us together and we worked on that together in New York. Terri Walker, I’ve known for a while, great soul singer and we also worked together on ‘The Journey Man’. [Belgian-born jungle producer] Phase is an artist on Metalheadz, his wife is on three tracks including the intro. She has a phenomenal voice and is also a voice coach.
Someone else who appeared on the song is Cleveland Watkiss.
He just got an Ivor Novello! I spoke to Cleveland yesterday. We talk a lot, but I spoke to him at 6:AM yesterday – actually he was already up, we both get up early! – and I said 'Thank fuck they had the decency to give you an Ivor Novello', because of the innovations that guy has made and bridging people together. He used to be at The Blue Note every week, he didn't want to be just an MC, he wanted to be hosting and getting on d‘n’b tracks. It all started about 12 years ago when he phoned me up out of the blue — he wanted to get into this skating thing, and I was having none of it and we nearly ended up getting into fisticuffs over it. I was like: "Kubrick man, I'll close the fucking door." He now thinks I was right, that I was pushing him. I sent him a video for 'Adrift' that I haven't released yet and it's phenomenal. It is me up in the lakes in the water, I had two guys who are divers with me when I was filming it and we carried the tanks up the mountain. We got into the lake and I meditated on this lake. It's an incredible lake, it's a basin that used to be an old tin mine. It's fucking crazy!
When we first met, I was just out of university - from my memory of that time, ‘Saturnz Return’ didn't get the props that it deserved. Do you feel like people are slow to appreciate what you've done?
I don't know, what do you think? You're saying that not me?
Well, you mentioned it earlier!
Look at ‘Mother’. In the present light of things, it should be a Black opera with a full production company. Because that's what it is. It's a story of my life from inception. Even if we don't get the funding that other people get, I still think it should be an opera. Of course, when I die, someone will go and do it. It was [part of a] different album, but it's an album that I stand by and I think ‘Mother’ will still be the greatest composition I've ever done as a piece of music — which I don't think I’ve surpassed in electronica. You’ve got to remember, people thought I was crazy using orchestras back then. Now everyone's doing it! The garage guys to Tongy, everyone!
One of the things that you've clearly been saying is it's taken time for people to understand your work.
Yeah. Here are some bubble letters for you guys. I hope you like them! I’m getting it out for you. This is an easy album to absorb. Whatever you want to do, even if that’s the washing up. It's a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's good fun. It's really good fun. And it's also the art of simple complexity. What is the art of simple complexity? How to make something that’s complicated and also very simple! Got it? That's what I thought.
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So it’s about luring your audience in and keeping their attention.
I'm not even sure keeping them there is what I want to do. Some of the greatest albums – The Stranglers, UB40’s first album 'King' – I listened to 'King' yesterday – there are certain albums that you go back to. Look at Michael Kiwanuka! That fucking album! Prolific and a phenomenal artist. Look at ‘Solid Ground’. I sent it to my daughter and she went ‘oh my god Dad, that is so beautiful.' That's what music is about, man. I don’t give a fuck. I live in Thailand. I walk in the mountains and swim and hike and do yoga. Tell me something I don’t fucking know! I still get to enjoy making the music that I love.”
Great chatting music with you this morning: I guess this is the end of your day?
I’m just beginning again. It’s five o'clock, I'm in for the paint shift!
The second Subjective album drops March 25 via Three Six Zero
Ralph Moore Is Mixmag's Music Director, follow him on Twitter