stay gold: goldie on growing up, tommy hilfiger, david bowie and the state of music
When it comes to British music and culture, few artists equal the contribution made by Goldie. Playing an integral role in the foundations of Drum&Bass and Jungle in his early days, he has consistently pushed the envelope throughout his 30-year career...
"I have to break myself down in to eras, because I don't come from one, I come from three. Most of my predecessors have a couple themselves; they're seasoned. I looked at the ['Masterpiece' series]; Jazzie, Grooverider, Gilles, and I thought 'Fucking hell it's a nice ask really'. It's a nice problem to have.
[In terms of tracks like] Smokey Robinson & The Miracle's 'Tears Of A Clown', it was hearing soul for the first time for me. I was moving around a load of different foster homes and I had to look happy. I didn't want to look broken-hearted. It's like when a social worker is trying to talk to a kid, if he cries he's seen as a wuss. He's got to stand up and go 'You don't understand me!' because he's angry; and that's what I was like.
I know what it's like to live on beans and dumplings in a tenement yard with no carpet 'cause you want to spend your money on a bit of weed. And you think anyone can tell me anything when I'm that age? But music talked to me. I mean, we had beefs with a lot of things. But going back to the music, for a lot of us, music saved our arse. I was making choices like, 'Do I go and rob someone tonight? Or do I paint?' It was like that.
I grew up on Steel Pulse, Bob Marley, Public Image Ltd., Sex Pistols, The Jam and somewhere in the middle was The Specials. The thing is, I'm a hybrid. I knew what a hybrid was from an early age, because I wasn't white and I wasn't black, so I grew up on this hybrid which most of the kids in this country were also growing up on.
I think, pre-Internet, a lot of us went out and we looked more. When you've got a laptop that's just sitting in front of you, sometimes you're not looking at fuck all. You're looking at the latest trend and you're not really looking beyond it. I say to most kids, 'Close your laptop and what do you really have? What are you going to do? Are you gonna go out? Do you paint? Do you spit? Do you do anything'?
When I got given 'Decoy' by Miles Davis from 3D (Massive Attack) I didn't even understand the record, y'know? I couldn't get my head around it. And I carried on listening to it and, within three months, I was searching for [other music from] Miles Davis and I found a load of stuff from the 1950s and I was like, 'That's a totally different sound'. It was almost this modern Jazz stuff and through that I discovered Metheny and everything else.
That's the thing; you're not always going to find it on a computer. Because that only takes you to 'Buy! Buy! Buy!' It doesn't take you to, 'I want to educate you and I want to be a story-teller'. That's your old man's job and we're losing that craft. You can be very connected, computers are great, they can get you a ticket to Venezuela in five minutes; brilliant. But if you know your music and your history, you can make that work as a tool. If you don't, you're working as a slave to it.
I experienced Hip-Hop first-hand in the Bronx with the boys in New York; people like the Rock Steady Crew and The Dynamic Rockers, I looked at it for what it really was. I think it's confusing for kids to be able to register stuff that's so far away. It's like, 'Do you know your great granddad?' You can't quantify it sometimes. If someone says, 'If we weren't in the war you wouldn't have been here.' Well, in the urban fucking war, a lot of people fought that war against record companies; Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Baambataa - all of these guys - were really doing shit.
I wasn't a nice person to meet in the back end of the 90s. I was in a really bad place… For me, it was about living the dream, and we fucking lived the dream. From Val Kilmer at parties to sitting in Tommy Hilfiger's office and he's got a picture of me [in there]. He's got all of these pictures above his desk of Snoop Dogg, Onyx and me. And I'm sitting there thinking 'I'm in Tommy Hilfiger's office and I've got my P.A. and his assistant taking out suitcases of Tommy Hilfiger'.
The 90s became a blur. I remember David Bowie saying to me, 'Don't wish too hard mate because it might come true'. And it just went berserk. Madonna was asking me to do her album at the time and I just said, 'I'm not doing it, I'm doing 'Mother'. I turned her down. But, we did that.
The difference with us is it's not like the old man sitting there with a stick saying, 'You shouldn't do this, you shouldn't do that.' Do what you want mate, 'cause we did. But do what you want to its fullness. If you're going to rob someone, rob a bank. If you're going to do something, do it properly. I think that we certainly learned that there was no grey area, because you had to jump then, because nothing was going to catch you; not the Internet. Neither was Twitter going to make you 'liked' in any way.
There's a lot of gentrification going on now and Big Brother's here and you can't get away with the Cowboys and Indians we used to get away with. This culture was built on Cowboys and Indians as far as I'm concerned. We were testing society to its limit. New York spent 72 million trying to eradicate graffiti and now it's in LA adorning gallery walls. You can't stop culture. It adapts.
I think we need to give kids more respect than they're given in terms of what their musical tastes are. We've got to get their patience up a bit. Don't listen to the stuff you're told to listen to, go and listen to some other stuff. Go and listen to Wiley's first album; go back. With most genres, to get to the essence of it, you've got to go back.
It's good knowing young culture and music, though, because I come from that. You've got to respect it. You can't stop some kid coming up making that Breakbeat thing, with a bit of Adele, and a bit of Rudimental; you can't help that. It's when the adults make the kiddie music and start trying to sell you some shit, that I disapprove of.
I'm already past the 'EDM' shit because I'm already on the originals. I'm in Detroit, I'm with Underground Resistance, I'm with Derrick May and Carl Craig. What am I in this shit for? It's not progression… I don't eat food from Iceland because if I feed my family food from Iceland every day, they'll become obese. I want good food and good music, and if you know the original, send your kids back to that because that's where it comes from. The other stuff is just a money-spinner, that's just corporate shit. I'm not really in to that.
I think now, with independence, all that stuff with the record companies is just like a fossil. Unless you're Ed Sheeran, who's a good friend of mine actually, he stands out. Certain people will stand out; Adele will stand out. You write good songs, you will stand out. But there's probably another 1000 people trying to be like them.
I still think Grime and Garage hasn't had its day, but I don't even think it wants to. Wiley is a god. He's untouchable. I look at him in the same way as me in terms of accolades for things in D&B, I take a lot of that. But you can't fuck with Dillinja. Dillinja's God as far as D&B is concerned. Going back to the point I'm trying to make, no matter if you sign to a record company, some people just stay under that surface because that's where they are.
But I've got great expectations. I think the Internet will sort itself out, but don't believe it; it's a velvet claw. When you need something tangible; write. It doesn't matter what you write with or on, you've just got to have something to build your story on. Just use your computer as a vessel.
People always say to me, 'What do you think is going to be happening with music years from now?' I don't fucking know. You need to understand, it's not going anywhere. What you do today creates tomorrow. Something that I've always stood by is; if you do it now, today, this is it; this is heaven. This right here is heaven. Do you know what hell is? Not being able to remember any of it when you're gone; so you've got to make the most of the time when you're in."
Text Goldie. Told to Ash Houghton.
Photography Lorenzo Agius [The Love Life Issue, no. 154, July 1996]
Goldie's Masterpiece is out now.