By |Published On: March 30th, 2021|Categories: Interview|

Way back in the mid-nineties drum’n’bass was my first, and pretty much only, musical love. I’d been introduced to “junglism” by my mum and aunties and General Levy in the charts sealed the deal. Pirate radio was my source for all this exciting new music and I was hooked. In those early days tunes like ‘Far Away’ by Doc Scott, ‘The Spectrum’ by Wax Doctor, ‘The Angels Fell’ by Dillinja and, of course, ‘Inner City Life’ by Goldie were among the tracks that really touched me. Little did I know they were all connected to the same root source – Metalheadz and the man himself, Goldie.

At that stage I had limited access to knowledge; didn’t have enough cash to be a record collector, wasn’t old enough to go to raves. In fact, I didn’t even know much about Goldie himself until he appeared on a late-night Channel 4 series called Passengers. I was deep into graffiti too, and, when I found out Goldie was an influential graffiti writer, he became an idol of mine. At the time there was no one else in the public eye, that I knew of, who I could relate to in so many ways; mixed heritage, a graffiti writer and one of the most innovative drum’n’bass artists around.

As time went on, Goldie became a celebrity, which was an amazing thing to witness as a teenager. Someone from such a difficult background making it into Hollywood movies, hanging out with world-famous musicians and being respected by them (David Bowie comes to mind) was inspiring.

For me, Goldie demonstrated that it was possible to be a maverick, an outlier, to come from B-Boy culture, the UK’s subversive underground, and still make it. 25 years later, here I am sat in front of my laptop with Goldie on my screen referring to me as “Mr Barnes” as he sits in his studio in Thailand ready to let me into his world for a short while…

This was never going to be a straightforward Q&A, as Goldie himself said to me, “I have no answers, only questions”. What transpired was a mind-expanding transmission of insight from someone whose mind represents the core tenets of B-Boy culture – innovation, originality, symbolism, style, grace and evolution. As a fan, it was utterly fascinating, as a journalist it was equally profound.

This is how it started…

Me: “I wanted to chat to you about legacy, and not just legacy with regard to the label, but also yourself as a personality. And I wanted to start by saying, your legacy is directly connected to me because, as a teenager, you were one of my biggest idols – I was into graffiti, drum and bass, I’m mixed race. I looked at you as being one of the only people in the public eye that I could relate to. So there’s a direct link here between you inspiring people like myself, and now I’m a music journalist, so it’s all come full circle.”

Goldie: “That’s what legacy should be about. The idea, for me, when I switch the machine on, and I see a mixed race guy with dreads and he’s not the guy who’s just doing the research for the big guy who’s going to come along and [take over] it’s actually the guy doing the interview, then we’ve won.”

In 1997, I first heard an excerpt from ‘Mother’, Goldie’s hour-long classical/electronic opus, on Radio 1, most likely via Grooverider. It blew.my.mind. This guy, who I was already idolising, went and worked with an orchestra to create an audacious piece of music that was a whole hour long. What?! In 2019, I went to an event called Pitchblack Playback, where the Saturnz Return album was played in full, from start to end, in total darkness. Being cocooned in layer upon layer of sound, especially the complexity of ‘Mother’, was an mindbending experience. So, hearing Goldie talk about the composition, at length, and in more detail than I’d ever heard before, was… well, read it for yourself.

Saturnz Return’s ‘Mother’ will have its day. I might be in the ground when it does, but ‘Mother’ is probably still one of the greatest compositions I’ve ever made, purely because of the audacity of something that’s an hour long. (Does whiny voice of production trolls) “Nah man, you don’t even use computers. Don’t even engineer.” Okay. All right. Okay, let me take my hat off. I’ll give you all of the sounds from Timeless. (Grabs a bunch of cassettes). I’ll give you eight weeks. Right, okay. I’ll give you any vocalist you want (Grabs some more cassettes). There you go, see you in a bit. If you can’t do that with all the technology that you have now, when I did it back then with technology we didn’t have… I think I’ll take my cassettes back!

 

 

“They wanted “Timeless 2” and I was not prepared to do that. When ‘Mother’ was being made I knew that I would be crucified for it. That difficult second album even made it into a book. They made a film about it – Kill Your Friends. “DJ Rage, extends his hands after blowing everyone out of the studio for three months. His beady cocaine eyes turn around as he presses play. 14 minutes later, Schroeder knows his job is well and truly over as an A&R man.” It got ridiculed. But the thing about that… 72 channels on a desk, full. Two-inch tape, completely full. Two computers; Cubase and Logic locked. I phoned up the guy who designed Cubase at four in the morning in Berlin: “It can’t be done, it can’t be done.”

“We’d lost ‘Mother’. Five in the morning, we’d lost it. The JP9000 desk just shut down and we were fighting to find the manuals to recall it. Crazy night, and we got it back, a couple of passes earlier. Imagine having to make a record that is in a crucible, a very big one, it’s going to get put into a mould to create the said composition; Do you know how many hours left to go back and forth to make that treck? The thing about it is, it will always be the greatest composition I’ve ever done because it hasn’t even been realised. Because, when they turn around at the end of the BBC Classic Goldie episode and the head of strings sits there and goes, ” You know, this I think I liked Goldie’s piece, it was interesting. But you know I almost think that there was a bigger piece waiting to jump out.” Yes, it’s called give me a fucking budget you c***!”

In 2016, Goldie teamed up with the Heritage Orchestra to perform Timeless in its entirety at the Southbank Centre, for James Lavelle’s Meltdown Festival. I was there and, like the Pitchblack Playback event, the experience was unreal, especially at the end when everyone who’d been politely sitting down and tapping their feet to the beats rushed to the front of the stage and had a proper rave. One guy even whipped his top off. Proper.

“When James Lavelle phoned me and said, “Look, Meltdown Festival, Timeless.” I mean, that’s gonna happen. What a fucking night. Two nights of seeing Timeless realised, not only proved the point of affirmation, to the point of conducting the drummers, whilst the conductor conducted the orchestra, a whole new way of working the hybrid. Pete Tong called me and said, “I really love what you’re doing, man. Can I speak to your man?” I put him in touch with Chris Wheeler (co-founder of the Heritage Orchestra) and of course they went on to do Ibiza Classics… I did it first.”

And back into ‘Mother’ we went for a deeper dive…

“The thing about ‘Mother’ is, here’s the thing. I used all the recording budget. I went, “Fuck you. I’m gonna use the entire recording budget.” Gavin Wright was the head of strings. God bless him. He’s no longer with us. He was the head Viola, and John Altman, who is instrumental to ‘Mother’ because I’d known Jonathan for years, he was a session player, but an amazing composer. I had an Olympus trip at the time, an Olympus recorder. I’ve always, and still to this very day, recorded all of my vocal ideas, all of my ideas onto this recorder. And of course, now you can go, “(sings a melody)”. I can now put that into a computer and it can create the MIDI for me, I could just knock out all the bad notes and just cheat all the other ones. You couldn’t do that back then.”

Goldie spent the majority of his childhood in care. The way he speaks about it is candid and, at times, haunting. It’s impossible to quantify the sense of rejection and displacement, being uprooted and handed over to strangers who don’t understand you. The fear, sadness, confusion and anger that arises, which those strangers fail to understand and be compassionate about. It either breaks you or makes you. Or maybe it breaks you down and remakes you via a new mould, ‘a new crucible’, as Goldie might say.

“When they take away your power, because they say, ‘Clifford has been a very bad lad. You’ve got to sit there, you’ve got to do this.’ The idea of me not having that power and gaining it with money and a record deal. That becomes twisted, because you start to chastise people that you shouldn’t be chastising. So that becomes an abuse of power. And you become an addict because of that, because he was always an addict lamenting for the mother’s love that wasn’t there. So the very fact I don’t engineer, with these bods [production trolls] going, “(While pretending to type) You don’t engineer.” Let’s see what you can do. Like I said, there’s a sound. Because the difference is the Sceancic Method. I get to manipulate people in the same way that I was manipulated, but not in an abusive way.”

Over the years, I’d started to understand ‘Mother’, a little. Listening to it, deeply and intently, you can feel the emotion Goldie was channelling through it. But that understanding was still limited to my personal interpretation of what I was hearing. Now I can listen to the first part of the composition and actually envision what’s happening after he took the time to describe parts of it to me, in detail, deciphering some of the coded audio language.

“When you listen to ‘Mother’ again, it starts with gas, air and water as a universe, and then it bubbles away. ‘Oh’… so it starts with gas and air. But then it gets in the water, or within the water. Or maybe it’s the water in his mother’s belly, ‘Oh, never thought of it like that’. And then the water and the bubble and the belly starts to move. And all of a sudden you hear the conception of his father’s penis into his mother, into the egg and the egg starts to grow. And then we use a string. It’s a really quiet sound, a string. Oh… conception (gasps) and then he starts to grow. Then we start to hear, the life of the flower opens. (Recites the lyrics) ‘I can feel my mother, inside her a dim light ahead.’ ‘Wait, you’re a baby or an amoeba, so how could you be conscious?’ Or maybe it’s something about hereditary, carrying of the soul through Spirit through the ages?

“I don’t need to explain my music. But the idea of when it gets to birth, and we hear the whips and we hear the sounds, and we think, ‘What is that?’ (Makes sound of ricocheting whips). All of the abuse, the fucking straps and the whips and the belts, then all of a sudden the breakbeat starts to come. But it starts simple. Then it starts to get complex because the kid’s learning to use these weapons of choice. He moves into all the breakbeat and then he starts to get clever and they merged… All of a sudden it gets terribly sad. It just tears itself away! ‘Ah, what point is that? That’s the point where he was taken into care!’ He gets torn away from the mother and then we see this whole thing where he’s moving around trying to find who… his voice comes in, he moves out. He’s fine, he’s fine. And (does the staccato sound from ‘Mother’), the staccato means travel. The journey comes, he gets stronger and stronger, and they start to move, move. And then he starts to really control. Then the anger comes. (Sings) ‘No one feels my pain!’ Starts moving down all the way down and we hear a bell. It’s the bell of realisation, the bell of consciousness, the bell as a map.”

Emotions came to the surface as Goldie spoke about his late mother. We encounter a poignant moment where, visibly upset, he describes healing the deep rooted pain both he and his mother felt from the severance that occurred in his childhood.

“Whenever I was in a room with my mother, alone, there would always be a moment with her where she’d be upset and I’d say, ‘Don’t worry about it, mum. I think, subconsciously, you have to understand, mother, that you knew your first son would be stronger. And I was going to survive it all.’ And that’s how I’ve always looked at it. We had such a peace when I said that to her. She came down on the train for a couple and I really spent time with her, to heal. because I couldn’t really communicate with her about it. This is after Saturnz Return.”

Later, he also discussed her death.

“When your mother dies, the one thing I will confirm here to anyone reading this… when was the last time you felt your belly button? When was the last time you felt the thing the very thing that connects you to your mother? That’s strange isn’t it, you look at it, but you don’t associate it with being connected to your mother. When your mother goes, not your father, when your mother goes, this elastic band, which it is this cord, the umbilical cord, it will pull itself away from the ship deck and it will lash around with the weightiest of waves. So it will take out everyone you know, friends and foes, and it will lash around until it eventually comes back to you and it dissipates. And I stood with that.”

At the end of my time with Goldie, he spoke to me about his Subjective project, with James Davidson of Ulterior Motive, and played me some of their new music. This part of the exchange will remain private, needless to say he told me, “This is the part of the of the interview where you go to tell your friend and say, ‘I did this interview with him and we just had to stop at a certain point because Goldie wanted to play me something just to fuck me up.’ This is gonna stay with you for a very long time because you’ll be able to listen to it in like a year’s time and go, “How? Why? How the fuck did he do that? Why would you do that to me?”.

Well, if I can remove my professional hat for a moment, it must be said that, yes, Goldie did play me some things that fucked me up. Trying to maintain the formality of an interview when you’re in front of someone that inspired you during your difficult formative years was never going to be an easy task and, admittedly, I gushed a hell of a lot. But I also listened intently and allowed myself to be absorbed by the innards of a mind that works in very different way to my own. This was a strangely schizophrenic experience, as teenage me and journalist me were both present during the interview taking their own notes and enjoying it different ways. A special one with an iconic exponent of British underground culture, whose legacy channels B-Boy culture into every aspect of his own idiosyncratic world; music, art, creativity, comedy… inspiring myself and many others to follow our own unique paths.

 

 

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