Alchemical Transitions: Goldie Interviewed

His past is powering our musical futures…

Goldie is talking absurdly. And typically fast.

“There’s a great scene in La Haine, where there’s a f*cking riot going on. And then suddenly there’s a f*cking cow that walks across the street!”

The musician, actor and artist laughs before continuing: “A lot of my mates didn't understand that, but it was taken from absurdity, from the 1950s movement, and it’s when life becomes so crazy it gets ridiculous.”

It’s a hot day in July when we speak, and Jamaican Independence Day is almost upon us. We are talking to the lauded drum & bass producer ahead of his anticipated DJ set as part of Wray and Nephew’s Jamaica Rum Tings events in London and Leeds.

The (August 6th) 1962 separation of the Caribbean’s most musical of isles is a subject close to Goldie’s heart after he recently played the character Joker in a theatrical production called Kingston 14, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. The play that saw him step out of the shadow of his James Bond and EastEnders cameo roles and take centre stage in a production that tackles both sides of Jamaica’s ecstatic and painful dawn of self-determination.

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‘Inner City Life’ (1994)

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He recalls a scene where a rival prisoner is tortured so awkwardly that the audience, despite the key juncture, often just giggled. “By default, Jamaicans have been so beaten down that when they get into a place that is so absurd then they just laugh it off,” he says. “It’s exactly what the sound systems did in Kingston. You’d go to a sound-clash, there’d be a shoot out with guns – but two minutes later they’ve got the sound back on and everything is back to normal! That is madness! But that is also the Jamaican way. Some people take that for ignorance but it’s not, it’s called survival.”

Born Clifford Price in 1965, Goldie had an upbringing with strong parallels to Jamaica’s own. Effectively left to fend for himself after his mother put him into social care, his resulting story has been a unique resurrection, often against the odds. It’s seen him wilfully adapt technology, rivalry and creativity to make his life a much better place.

“I’m educated,” he spits. “You know how? I’m educated through failure and survival.” Here is a man who openly talks about his past, often in visceral terms. “I was always this synthetic kid brought up by the establishment, and I’m not going to speak out here as you’re smart enough to read between the lines, but I was incarcerated for a very long time within my own situation. And I always had an air of feeling better than everything because I aspired, I dreamt a lot. So I was incarcerated from the age of three until 18, so if you incarcerate anything or any creature of any sorts, then stand back, and let’s see what happens.”

And it’s here that the pressure-cooker similarities between our interviewee and the topic of Jamaican self-determination bubble to the surface. Goldie repainted his future through self-expression, via an autonomic fusion of graffiti and his alchemical coercion of jungle and hardcore into a new strain of viral dance music.

And it’s not too far fetched to claim that music almost solely saved Jamaica from collapsing amidst the anarchy of independence. After the British government pulled out of their Caribbean sovereignty in an incredibly abrupt timeline, the island quickly slipped in poverty stricken chaos and violence with little infrastructure or experience for self-governance.

Yet it was the lords of sound-system culture, such as Duke Reid, Coxsone Dodd and Prince Buster, who had the ears of the people at the dawn of the 1960s. They helped guide the seething population to a calmer, more unified whole by tinkering with the DNA of Americanised R&B at lawn dances to give the world ska. Politicised and utilitarian songs such as ‘They Got To Go’ and ‘Simmer Down’ soundtracked a rising society that was in danger of ripping itself to pieces – but thanks to the safety valve of expression it retained charge of its future.

Music was the control. It transcended all the other violent bullshit. Goldie references one of his mentors to further the point of osmotic change.

“Talk to David Rodigan – ‘Squire’ or ‘The Boss’ as I like to call him. He went to Jamaica and he met Bob Marley. And he highlighted exactly what Jamaica had gone through. It was just absorbing Americanisms; absorbing gangster movies from the 1940s. Jamaica was getting too influenced by that. In the same way that Paris was influenced by hip-hop and we were all influenced by MTV – so the impact of music on a set of people is just phenomenal.”

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You are what you eat, and I’ve grown up with both underground music and overground music…

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Born to an absent Jamaican father, Goldie moved to America to chase his love of graffiti while coincidentally further indulging his Jamaican heritage. His time in Miami saw him soaking up the domino players’ skill on East 77th Street, or driving through Liberty City at 2am listening to Capleton or partying at a club called Miami Nights on 183rd Street in Carol City. But his deep-rooted love of bass first formed in the English Midlands, when he was growing up in Walsall with little to live for but the vivid music scene in the surrounding area.

“We’d go to our local reggae club, to the Half Moon club, or Whispering Willows in Wolverhampton. Then once that’s done we’d get into a three-litre Capri and drive to Derby or Sheffield and we’d go to a blues clubbing. That was massive. Blues in a yard – it’s like an illegal rave for today’s youngsters, right? So UK roots culture was huge in terms of what my upbringing was. I feel sad that people that are younger than me missed that. It’s kinda like what your granddad would tell you, and that culture is gone, it will never come back.”

Such proximity to the reggae industry, even in its rawest form of an illegal blues yard dance, ensured Goldie continued the traditions from sound-system culture. He was well placed to feed off both the Jamaican-isms of jungle and the northern grit of hardcore to help create something fresh, an evolution that spawned one of the most far reaching music genres ever – drum & bass.

Goldie is acutely aware that the musical power harnessed around Jamaican independence reverberates to this very day, a force that carried him into his work as a label boss.

“I look at dancehall music and reggae music like I look at drum & bass, like I look at graffiti and its source… no f*cker wants to know about it. Yet it’s influence? Everything comes from it. With my label Metalheadz especially, and people forget this, but ‘Metalheadz’ the name came from the acetates. Because I’d go to the Music House, go to Tubby’s (both London vinyl production studios), then I’d get a blade and cut the edge, cut the lacquer all the way till you got the plate and showed the aluminium. I remember giving (drum & bass DJ) Grooverider a dubplate saying ‘this is METALHEADZ’, and that’s where the name came from, and that came from Jamaica.”

Now 52 years after Jamaican independence and nearly 20 since the release of his seminal debut album ‘Timeless’, we’re treated to a series of fresh mixes from Goldie. Ministry Of Sound has handed over the reins of their ‘Masterpiece’ set: a triple-mix CD voyage into the history and influences of serious heads. In the past it’s featured Andrew Weatherall, David Rodigan and Carl Craig, serving a breadth of musical vision that may surprise some people.

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‘Temper Temper’ (1998)

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“You are what you eat, Goldie enthuses, “and I’ve grown up with both underground music and overground music.” His first disc tackles formative influences, the mix named ‘The Alpha’. This hears Junior Murvin rub shoulders with Terry Callier and Soul II Soul amongst many others. These are tracks that helped forge Goldie’s musical personality as a teenager.

The second mix, ‘Journeyman’, features his peers in the field of hardcore and drum & bass, with cuts from Nookie, Roni Size and Krust. His track ‘Kemistry’ is named for Goldie’s former girlfriend, a co-founder of Metalheadz and fondly remembered DJ. She sadly died in a freak car accident in 1999, when a cat’s eye flipped off the motorway and passed through her windscreen.

The third mix is a series of very modern cuts from the Metalheadz label. “I have had a very diverse life,” reflects Goldie. “I’m not sure how you get from Radiohead’s ‘Just’ to Top Buzz’s ‘Living In Darkness’, but somehow my life has resonated through many walks of it.”

It feels like everything in his life is interlinked. Hindsight has helped foreground that Jamaican sound-system culture has continually inspired the birth of jungle and, in turn, its nimble evolution at the controlling hands of Goldie to become drum & bass. Beyond this point it then warped into slick 2-step, the DIY-driven homebrew of grime, and the bass weight obsession of dubstep. “Culturally I look at jazz and blues,” he says, referring to what he’s after in new Metalheadz singings. “I look at sound systems, I look at drum & bass, I look at dubstep – each time these genres moved along we gained something from the last one.”

Goldie signs off by widening out the dialogue. He sees the amazing story of Jamaican independence as happening in other equally supressed environments.

“You could be impressed by people tapping into the electricity in the Bronx to run parties in the 1980s. I think that the sound of people taking responsibility happens. Isn’t that what happened in New York in the ’80s, after the gangs killed each other? People took responsibility upon themselves and communities pulled together. We rise from adversity on a general scale, when it comes to urban people of black origin. It doesn't surprise me, it is just survival.”

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Words: Matthew Bennett
Photos: Marc Sethi

Goldie’s ‘Masterpiece’ mix is released through Ministry Of Sound on August 18th. Find the artist online here

This is an extended edit of an interview featured in issue 97 of Clash magazine - details and purchase links.

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