INNER CITY LIFE - GOLDIE'S RADICAL ROOTS

INNER CITY LIFE - GOLDIE'S RADICAL ROOTS

LOOKING BACK AT GOLDIE’S RADICAL ROOTS

Goldie is famous for his gleaming gold teeth. You might assume that’s how he got his nickname, but that was actually down to his hair. “My hair was quite light and worn in ‘locs’, so they called me Goldilocks,” he explained in an interview with RA. “Then the breakdancing came and I cut the locs off, so I just became Goldie.” The teeth came much later, when he was in Miami. He was there visiting his father for the first time, when he was 21, and he got the gold teeth because “everyone had gold caps in Miami”.

The innovator – who rewrote the future of the jungle scene with landmark releases that still sound like they were kidnapped from tomorrow – has a unique story to tell. From children's homes in the West Midlands through stints in New York and Miami as one of the UK's most celebrated exponents of graffiti art to rubbing shoulders with an exceptional list of musical collaborators including David Bowie, Noel Gallagher and KRS-One, Goldie has defiantly, definitively, done it his own way.

"I'm an alchemist," he likes to insist. "I practise the dark arts of messing with the form of something solid."

Though marriage and his passion for bikram yoga have proved a calming influence, these days he's just as full of inspired, out-there ideas as he was back in 1993 when he did his first cover interview for the rave magazine Generator. "My music is about fallout," he said back then, "about the damage that has been done to the system." Today, the ideas are still sparking. "Drum‘n'bass has done to electronic music what graffiti has done to the art world," he muses, before launching into a rapid-fire synthesis of art history, dancefloor evolution and his own hyperactive brand of self-actualization, which loosely translates as: "Why do something ordinary when you can do something extraordinary?"

It sums up the reason why, in 1994, music critic Simon Reynolds famously observed: "Goldie revolutionised Jungle not once but three times. First there was Terminator (pioneering the use of time stretching), then Angel (fusing Diane Charlemagne's live vocal with David Byrne/Brian Eno samples to prove that hardcore could be more conventionally musical), now there's Timeless, a 22-minute hardcore symphony." Each of these were moments that shaped the musical fabric of the decade and beyond, presaging Goldie's transition from the underground rave scene into the world of bona fide A-list superstars.

But it didn't start out like that. The boy who would become Goldie was born Clifford Price on 19 September 1965, just as The Rolling Stones hit the top of the charts with Satisfaction. His dad Clement, originally from Jamaica, had been plying his trade as a foundryman in Leeds. His mum Margaret, who had been born in Glasgow, was a popular singer in the pubs and clubs of the West Midlands. Barely more than a toddler, Goldie was just three when she placed him into foster care (though she kept his younger brother Melvin). He still remembers the day the social workers came to take him away.

Over the next 15 years, he bounced between a series of foster homes and local government institutions around the Walsall area. His eclectic musical taste was forged in those same local authority homes listening to the sonic tangle of other teenagers' record collections. On rare visits to see his dad, he'd lie sprawled over the living room couch, listening to Jazz FM, marvelling at the lavishly-tooled ‘80s productions of Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, David Sanborn and Michael Franks, adding further layers to his complex musicography.

After discovering electro and hip hop, he grew his hair – the "goldilocks" that won him his nickname – and joined a breakdance crew called the B-Boys in nearby Wolverhampton. He also discovered graffiti. He was dubbed the spraycan king of the Midlands. His talent was undeniable, bringing him to the attention not only of Britain's Arts Council but to Dick Fontaine, producer of a Channel 4 TV documentary on graffiti. Fontaine's 1987 film Bombin' captured a visit to the UK by New York artist Brim Fuentes. Brim met Goldie and his B-Boys crew in Wolverhampton's Heathtown before heading a dozen miles away to Birmingham's Handsworth, where the producer filmed the aftermath of rioting that had left four dead, 35 injured and dozens of stores burned out. Several months later, Fontaine reversed the process and took Goldie to New York, introducing him to hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. For Goldie, on his first trip abroad, never mind his first trip over the Atlantic, the Big Apple was love at first sight.

"I started painting the trains and getting involved on the streets," he says, remembering his total immersion in what was still, at that point, an emerging culture. Art and music as symbiotic technologies. Rubbing shoulders with the Big Apple's best graffiti artists, his own distinctive style was accelerated and enriched. A move to Miami followed. He worked in the flea markets, he says, "painting trucks for drug dealers" and developing a sideline in gold jewellery that included the distinctive grills that became a trademark on his return to the UK. The magical properties of shaping, working and bending precious metals to his will – as close to alchemy as the modern world gets – became an analogue for the way he prefers to operate in the studio, chasing quicksilver dreams, mercury-fast rivulets of imagination into impossibly lush, breakbeat concertos.

Back in Britain, Goldie found himself seduced by the sweet heart of the rave. Though it took him eight attempts to get entry into the club, at London's Rage in 1991 he marvelled at the alternate sonic worlds being forged by Fabio and Grooverider behind the decks. At first he helped out doing artwork and a bit of A&R. But soon he was in Reinforced's Internal Affairs studio watching intently. "I was watching what they could do," says Goldie, "trying to gauge the possibilities of the technology." Soon he was getting involved. "I remember one session we did that lasted over three days," he says, "just experimenting, pushing the technology to its limits. We'd come up with mad ideas and then try to create them. We were sampling from ourselves and then resampling, twisting sounds around and pushing them into all sorts of places."

What followed was a series of inspired break-driven releases such as Killa Muffin, Dark Rider and Menace. Then Terminator, with its writhing drum loop, dropped and suddenly Goldie's name was on everyone's lips. He followed up with the equally revolutionary Angel, tilting the axis towards the lush, trippy textures that made 1995's debut album Timeless the drum‘n'bass scene's first platinum album. Incredibly, given what was happening elsewhere in the scene at the time, the recording of the album's epic title track began as far back as 1993, when most other producers were still focused on the original sonic tropes of hardcore rave.

Timeless was a masterpiece – of production, of songwriting, of sonic perfection and breakbeat futurism. Even today, it still sounds as astonishingly new and inspired as it did back on those early pre-release cassettes circulated by London Records in the early months of 1995, when Goldie was still living on the 18th floor of a North London tower block.