90s jungle pioneer Goldie on music, addiction and healing
The music producer turned streetwear icon goes in conversation with Stüssy’s Hugo Mendoza.
This story originally appeared in i-D's Utopia in Dystopia Issue, no. 362, Spring 2021. Order your copy here.
Goldie and I met in 2019 while he was in New York celebrating 25 years of Metalheadz, his era-defining drum and bass label. I reached out to him via DM and told him to slide through the Stüssy shop, where I work, in NYC. When he came he did so on the humble. No ego. He pulled me to the side and said: “So tell me homeboy, tell me about you”.
We bonded over the fact that I’m from The Bronx, a place he’d hung out during his teenage years in New York, while he continued to search through the racks at Stüssy shouting “Got this, got that, got this, got that!”. He was schooling me on his early graffiti days, rolling with Tats Cru when this culture was just unfolding.
The impact his debut album, Timeless, had in 1995 is undeniable. Goldie managed to shake up the sound of music across the world, with great style to go along with it. It was later, as a twenty-something-year-old that I would discover this incredible record, and realise the guy behind it was influenced by a little bit of everything.
Working for Stüssy, Goldie is a familiar name, aside from those photos of him and Björk you’ve seen a hundred times, Goldie was a key player in the expanding popularity of the brand in the mid 90s, and his influence and style runs deep through Stüssy’s DNA.
Goldie has energy like no other person I know, it’s like he’s ageing backwards, he’s on some Benjamin Button shit. In the short period of time that I’ve known him, he’s made me feel like we’ve been friends for years, I was excited and honoured when he asked me to have this conversation with him for i-D, because even after the countless conversations we’ve had at, I knew there was more to Goldie to discover and find out about.
I learned that it’s always important to reinvent yourself and to always keep evolving. I know that’s a cliché, but no one does it quite like Goldie. Keep your energy young and your spirits high, do yoga, meditate, go hiking, detox your body, these are just some excerpts from the book of Goldikus.
Hugo: How are you doing?
Goldie: The fact that you’re sitting there wearing a La Haine T-shirt just makes me so happy right now. You look fresh. You know what I’m saying?
It’s a classic.
Do you remember when we met? I called you up at the Stüssy shop in NYC and you were like, ‘What the fuck, it’s Goldie on the phone’. But I was impressed with your demeanour, how you carried yourself.
I think I told you to come to the shop before anything. Because, you know, I wanted you to see the new wave, see everything that’s going on right now, and then it just went on from there, man.
It’s this cultural acceleration that’s happening, man. I was just thinking, I’m so blessed that my young’uns, and you know I get to call everyone a young’un at my age…
My daughter is like, ‘Dad, I’m going out this weekend raving and I wanna bust a few of your things’. I couldn’t wear my dad’s shit. I couldn’t. If you were Jamaican, you could get away with your dad’s 20-year-old Gabicci jacket. That’s it. It’s crazy how all of a sudden it became vintage in the same way that drum and bass music became the Motown. Do you know what I mean?
What were you fucking with back in the day, when you were going out raving? In terms of clothing?
Before any of this street culture came, it was… there wasn’t really anything. In Steve McQueen’s new TV series Small Axe, there’s an episode with a kid being taken into care – very much like me. He didn’t know his culture. He was brought up by white folk who were beating him up all the time and he was wearing these very same shoes I used to wear. They were like painted plastic shit, man. Like weird. Just weird shit. I hadn’t seen them in 40 years! But you know, the world has got a lot to thank the b-boys for.
Before that it was just punk – a donkey jacket or a Harrington, you know. Maybe some skinny jeans rolled up with Dr. Martens boots. Then, moving into New Wave, you know? I was a massive Human League fan, believe it or not. Human League were the shit. Because my hair wasn’t afro, I could kind of flatten it with the wave cream and bring it down a little bit and kind of bring it back like something out of Beat Street. A really bad Jheri curl.
You grew up in Wolverhampton, right?
I grew up in Wolverhampton, but I was moved around the Midlands because I was in the care system. When I was in the care system, I lived for skating and drawing. I lived on roller skates.
I can put on a pair of quads right now and kick someone’s ass. Right now. At 55. This was before skateboarding was a thing. I was working in the skate rink. I was put in care and suddenly being in the rink it was like being exposed to Black culture for the first time. The music, the energy, the culture, the food. It was all still filtered through being British, though. We’re listening to Squeeze as well as James Brown. Real eclectic mix – we’re heading towards ska and 2-Tone. America came later for me.
I know your music background runs deep, but before that came graffiti, right? So how did you, in Wolverhampton, get into graffiti?
Well Brim Fuentes came to the UK from the Bronx. It’s pretty much…
Yeah, I remember that.
Brim came, he saw and he conquered. He transfixed us. He came and he just became the motivation. Subway Art really is still the bible. You know? People like Futura, Brim, Bio, Nicer, T Kid… but before that you were talking DONDI, Scene, Kel, those guys. And then there was a documentary about the scene in the UK called Bombin’, which I was in, and then I went to New York. I was 17 and a half years old, I hadn’t even turned 18.
Jesus Christ. And what year was that?
I was writing Dupe then, so it was 1982. Before I was Goldie, even. I was in New York, the very fucking foundation.
I’m from the Bronx. I’m Dominican. And in some ways, somehow, graffiti was kind of like the gateway for us, for minorities, to just go and do something creative. Kind of do some shit with our time that wasn’t drugs, you know?
I walked across the Bronx when I first went to New York with Brim. We walked like 20 blocks, and it was rubble. It was rubble. Everything had been burned down.
Yeah, it was nothing.
In a way, I was blessed to have seen the Bronx in that era. I got there and I had Brim explaining to me that the Statue of Liberty doesn’t mean shit. The culture was like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the Bronx. Graffiti saved us, it saved our lives, saved us from gang shit. We were on the edge of mainstream culture, but the culture we were creating then was pushing the wider culture forward.
Graffiti is still one of the only art forms which doesn’t lie. You go out. You paint the fucking wall. You see it. You can photograph it but you can’t just rip it off the wall. It’s there. The style is there. And the importance of that culture is that it is not disposable.
So, what was your style back in the day when you were writing shit? Who were you rolling with?
Mainly Brim, but also Bio and Nicer. 3D from Massive Attack. We were the Transatlantic Graffiti Federation. Me, 3D, Brim, Vulcan, T-Kid, Nicer and Bio. My style really came out from Bio, without a shadow of a doubt. In the hood, you’d see these trains come past and you’d think they were beautiful, but you could see there’s a Dominican train, a Puerto Rican train, an Afro-American killer top-off bottom hole car. Look at that white boy train. laughs The trains moving through New York City were my internet, this moving art gallery. Messages, smoke signals, really primal. What kind of music were you listening to back then? Oh man!I remember hearing Kiss by Prince for the first time then. Blew me away. Then all the mixes on WBLS, Kiss FM, killer rag grooves, it was like a homecoming for me, man. Culturally, that’s where we all came together. And that’s really important.
At what point in your life were you like: ‘Shit, I want to make music’?
Music, like graffiti, has always been there. The first time I was in a care home after I’d been separated from my first foster parents, they’ve got this file on me, all the kids are bullying me, and I’m in this room they’ve put me in and there’s this gramophone. I start playing it, and it’s The Logical Song, by Supertramp. I remember playing it so much. It just spoke to me, they had to drag me screaming away from the gramophone because it just… this song made so much sense to me. Music was preordained. It was already in my brain. It’s already in my DNA. But trauma does something to a young kid. I never thought I’d learn how to play an instrument – I never had any faith in myself, in finding Black culture, so I was really into all this punk shit. The Pistols, Squeeze, The Stranglers. When I came back to England from New York, I came back via Miami…
Yeah, I was gonna ask you that. I know when you went to New York that must have been a real culture shock, but Miami was probably even crazier.
Let me put it in order for you, because then I’ll get to the music. New York was one thing. New York and New York culture and BBoyism gave me breakbeat. Then I went to Miami in a goose down jacket I got on Fordham Road in the Bronx. I’m full of ego. Fur collar. Baseball cap. I arrive in Miami and I’m fucking boiling. And I’m in Miami to meet my dad for the first time. He was Jamaican, and Miami to me became about Carol City, the Jamaican area of the city. I quickly adapted. I got a portfolio of my work together, going to clubs in Miami, trying to do some Art-Deco-style graffiti thing around Miami Beach, and I end up in the flea market, painting cars. I was learning to make jewellery.
You were making jewellery in New York already? Or you started making jewellery in Miami?
I started a bit in England but then I saw all these rings in New York and I’m like, “I can do this shit”. I learnt how to adapt quickly.
Were you familiar with guys like Shirt King Phade? When you were doing all that airbrush stuff?
Yeah, he was my boy! I saw Phade in Miami recently. Miami wasn’t really popping in the graffiti scene but it was like all these different cultures compressed on top of each other. Then I came back to Wolverhampton after this, and it was like I’d been dropped in from another world. Wolverhampton was changing. Freebase was coming in. My brother was a nutcase. So I went to London, knocked on my mate Gus’s door – he was the cameraman on Bombin’. I just asked to stay with him for a week or two. I moved in with Gus. Started hitting up Camden. Started seeing people like Neneh Cherry, Steve Strange, Nick Kamen. There was the Wag Club which was our little Studio 54 if you like.
At what point did you get introduced to jungle and drum and bass?
We didn’t get introduced to it. We invented it. We made it. We created it. Hip-hop I was introduced to. But Jungle started coming out of rave music. There was this club night called Rage at the Astoria on the Saturday. I saw Reinforced doing a PA there for the first time, with Marco and 4hero. I went to the front of the stage, like hit me up, here’s my number. I needed to get this guy’s attention. I’m this lunatic with blonde hair and gold teeth, trying to talk to them about graphics. I eventually got to meet them and was like ‘let me redesign everything’. I was hustling then, trying to sell snow to Eskimos, you know. That was in Dollis Hill. Then in Crouch End, William Orbit had a studio, with Mark Rutherford, and then there was Howie B, who was engineering for Jazzy B, who was doing Soul II Soul. The Wild Bunch coming in from Bristol. We’d all meet at the Wag Club. It was another cultural explosion.
You were making music by then?
I hired the studio in Crouch End with Mark Rutherford and we’ve got all the breaks. All of our favourite hip-hop records. Our samples. And one thing that graffiti taught me was arrangement. You place the sound. You do the outline first then you work all the colours from light to dark. There you go. There’s the piece. You’re already transforming. You go 2D to 3D to 4D. Boom. So I made music like I did graffiti. That’s where the music-making really started off. And because of that it sounded totally original.
And did it come natural to you?
Yeah, it just came natural. I had no musical background whatsoever.
Besides the shit you were listening to?
No. I have never, to this day, engineered a record.
That is insane.
This is the thing which people get fucking miffed about. I have never engineered a record. I will draw a record and I’ll show you what it’s gonna look like. And I will design it and sketch it out and show you, you know, the breaks are coming in here. Sixteen bars. Move out. 32 bars and you get this baseline. Repeat this. Ghost it. Take the tops out of that. Make it go thin. Get a filter. Reverse it. Right. Cool. And I will draw the piece out because I see this shit, it’s like graffiti, it’s all about working that perspective. Scaling is a BBoy mechanism, man. You’re up close to a train, painting, and you can’t move, but you’re making this thing which is small seem fucking huge.
Making music is painting for me. It’s synesthesia. I see the bass lines in purples and blues. I see the vocals in yellows and oranges. I see the high hats in greens. I see it. It’s like I see it. It’s not a problem. You see, the difference is it’s only about the concept.
You see, graffiti is an outline. Once you’ve done your outline, you’ve painted the piece, basically. You’ve just got to execute it. That’s what it is for me. My thing, in a really twisted way, is manipulating engineers. Bending them. I’d have arguments with people and I’m like, ‘Listen, I know you think it’s gonna sound in-fucking-sane but it’s not. Put it the fuck there. And you’ll hear the difference.’ Because I’m dealing with schematics. I’m dealing with the way the sound’s going against this particular sample, this sound against that. They put it down and they go, ‘Oh, fuck. Yeah.’ Music is math. But music is magic, dude.
How old were you when you made Timeless?
I was 27. People forget that you know. My first record was at 27. I didn’t start yoga till I was 44. I didn’t grow up at all, yet. I have a mental age of 12.
So what was your state when you were making Timeless? Because I know that must have been after you had come back from New York, and from Miami. You were pretty much the living breathing mental melting pot of just so many different things.
I was fucking crazy. I’ve got to say to you. I was borderline. I was doing a lot of drugs. I was doing a lot of psychedelics. The energy levels… I mean even now it’s difficult, it’s difficult. I have to learn the discipline of the return movement.
With drum and bass, it was like I was going back to the 70s almost, you know, in New York. In London we’d be wearing the goose downs and baseball hats because people were wearing shit like that in the 70s in New York. And it was kind of like it was repeating itself in a cooler way.
What’s strange for me is that I was on the edge of a massive cultural change so many times. The only culture that I was in the wake of was punk, and if I had been two years older, I would probably have been throwing myself off stage and throwing up and doing glue. You know what I mean? I was hanging out with guys who were there who were a bit older than me. Fritz, who became my driver and my best friend, he was with the Pistols. Steve Jones is his best mate. He asked me to DJ at the Pistols’ comeback show at Brixton Academy. I’m on stage playing my music, and all the fucking punks are throwing pound coins at me. Because they’re like ‘Get the fuck…’ – they hate the music. But that’s what the Pistols wanted. They knew that was what’s gonna happen and I’m like, ‘You know what? Fucking come on then!’ The first night I collected 72 quid.
Culturally, I just missed that punk wave, but I was on the fashion and then I was off. Hip-hop, New York, bombing trains, Miami bass, and back to England just before rave, and there were all the football hooligans around. I caught a lot.
If you dig into your records you can hear those edges – New York, Miami, rave…
Yeah, all those edges of culture I just caught were remade in Timeless. It’s like a coming-of-age album, it’s an honest interpretation of my life. And I knew they wouldn’t understand Saturnz Return, my second album, because it was about that return movement, the realignment of the stars, looking back at my life and the trauma and the disaster. Timeless exploded and then they want part two of it, but it doesn’t work like that. I’m about digging up what I want to dig up. They crucified me for Saturnz Return because it’s like Black opera, and I knew they were gonna do that anyway. But I learned the hard way, the circle I walk, it’s such a distance that you can’t ever get to the centre.
Timeless for me is in its own world. Will Jazzy B get it? Would the Miami bass heads get it? Would Bio and Brim understand it? At first, everyone was like ‘What the fuck is this?’ But wasn’t that the same effect Funkadelic had on me when I first heard it? Timeless is about cultural energy, putting it in the crucible and melting it down, and you put it in your own mould.
Were you surprised by how much success you got in mainstream culture? Timeless was a fucking disaster for my personal life. Let’s face it, just think about what commercial success means. But I wasn’t surprised it was commercially successful. You need that arrogance, that ego. That’s what’s crazy with my discovering yoga is that it is all about leaving the ego at the door.
How has yoga helped you overcome your vices and your demons?
I gotta say to all you young’uns, look after yourselves. Because I’m fucking crazy as fuck. A leopard doesn’t change his spots but he needs to change the fucking arena he is hunting in. I struggle with addiction. Fucking 35 years I’ve struggled with addiction now. I was getting abused when I was fucking nine years old. I was angry. I got the record deal and I was just like, fuck everyone. Then you start making things like Mother and people go, ‘I don’t understand what he’s doing. I loved the first album. Second one’s fucking shit’. All of a sudden people think they can judge you. But to me, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, that’s what they’ll remember me for. Mother is Black opera. Shout out to Michael Koppelman, who introduced me to both Stüssy and yoga.
Shoutout to Michael K, man.
Michael’s quiet, man. Michael ain’t like me. I always wanted to know how he was so zen. And it was yoga. I hated it the first time, and then I started going back, and I still hated it, and then I did it again and suddenly it was like the baggage was gone. There was a five-year period where I was fucking using hard and then going to yoga. It was crossing over. Eventually I started to realise what living in my body really meant, how it really felt.
I remember doing Saturnz Return and driving in a Porsche, with the roof down, going back to the children’s home I grew up in, which didn’t exist anymore, because it had got knocked down. So it was a memory of it, it was in my mind. And the memory creates the emotion, the affect. There’s no time because the time is irrelevant. Because you’re not thinking about the time. You’re thinking about the pain associated with it. You don’t know the time. You forgot the time. Time goes by. It’s just a device. You were in love, or in pain, and it’s not there – just the memory of it. One without the other won’t work. Love, time and memory. What we do today creates tomorrow.
All right, let’s wrap it up.
It’s been a big one. I didn’t think it would be this big. Where we at? Where we at? Where were we?
When did you decide you wanted to move to Thailand and why?
I just got sick and fucking tired of people on me. I wanted to reinvent myself. No one knows me here, I can breathe and live. I came here to retire, to be honest, but I can’t retire. If you’re an artist you can’t really retire. I’ve probably been working more now than I was when I did that stuff that I did. There are too many distractions in London. But we’re doing loads out here. It’s good. I mean, I do get slower, you know. I run out of energy sometimes in the day. You know, I have a moment where I just need to lie the fuck down man. I’m still Peter Pan, but like Peter Pan with a fucking gold walking stick. I need to calm the fuck down. I’m very much alive and I do feel an urgency, an urgency to get more done. You know, my dad's 96. Still in Miami.
I spoke to him last week. Strong as an ox. But we had a lot of mental illness in my family, my head, all the drugs, all the abuse. I suffered as a kid. But life is good here. I get up, I paint, I go for a hike, I listen to some old school hip hop, a bit of Miles Davis. I don’t take things for granted, I count my blessings, I try to inspire people to do things themselves. Every day is the first day of the rest of my life. You know? Tomorrow might be the end of the world. But I'd rather be here than living in the 14th century picking potatoes. We're here. It’s good.
We’re doing great.
Hugo, you go man, you little motherfucker. You’re doing fucking good. I’m so glad that you’re running this call. I shouldn’t even ask you this. Where the fuck did you get that T-shirt?
It’s from Carhartt.
You better tell them motherfuckers to send me that T-shirt right now. That’s all I’m saying.
Text Hugo Mendoza
Photography Gus Coral, Eddie Ochere, Henry Chalfant and Martin Jones. Collage Neil Simpson