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The Alchemist: Goldie

Unfalteringly charismatic, decidedly positive and uncompromisingly energetic, the man operating under the moniker of Goldie that we’ve come to know and love has never been the most straight forward of interviewees. Whether commanding the attention of jungle music’s biggest figures in the classic 1998 Talkin’ Headz documentary, or appearing as a manic dinner party host in Celebrity Come Dine With Me, Goldie is man of many characters, and not one to be led on questioning.

Responsible for defining one of the most ruthlessly forward-thinking electronic genres throughout the nineties through his early Rufige Kru releases, the religiously attended Blue Note nights in East London and the creation of one of electronic music’s most ground-breaking albums in 1995’s Timeless, Goldie has repeatedly defied categorisation. Returning to the sound that made his name, Goldie’s twenty year retrospective collection The Alchemist: The Best of Goldie 1992-2012 sees the original Metalhead look back over two decades in the game.

With a new generation returning to the ground-breaking output of his Metalheadz record label, we journeyed out to Goldie’s family home to catch the man talking over his career, the dubstep connection and the high times of Blue Note days, in all his freewheeling glory.

So, basic as it may sound, turning the clock back twenty-odd years or so, would you have ever imagined you’d reach this far?

Yes. Conquer the world! You never know what you’re gonna be when you’re a kid do you? You never know where you’re gonna be – people that I know fall into jobs, or people that I know are just in the maddest places – that’s life, it works backwards sometimes.

Continuing to work backwards, last year saw Metalheadz turn in it’s 100th release – how did that make you feel?

Well, I was painting in New York a month ago – 15 of us, in the Bronx – [legendary graffiti collective] Tax Crew reunion. You think about what that B-Boy mentality did for me when I was 17, and also the fact that I wanted to do something positive generally, not just wanting to be around my ends and in my postcode – get out early and go to New York and the rest of it. You might say “what the fuck’s that got to do with Metalheadz?” – it’s got a lot to do with it because I think it’s that crew mentality [we had]. If I was a savvy businessman we’d probably be sitting here on a load of dough and it would be really commercial music.

I think the difference is with this new generation, what people don’t understand, this is the first time within electronic music, where you’ve had an electronic scene that came off the back of a non-electronic scene. We’ve had Kraftwerk and that kind of thing, but I’m talking about a genre of underground music that came off the back of hip-hop and rave and was called drum & bass, and all of a sudden you’ve got dubstep – the son of drum & bass in a sense. We were the bastard son of house, they disowned us if you like – just like Detroit and Underground Resistance and those kinda guys were disowned by the house music that went commercial in the late eighties and early nineties.

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You were doing something new back then…

I was looking through footage – I always look back on stuff – there’s this video footage of me coming to the Blue Note on film, and holding up my gold disc and being like “we’ve made it lads” y’know like “let’s party on” and the lights going off and everyone just going fucking nuts. I don’t think people do that anymore. I think the thing with Plastic People and those kind of clubs was brilliant, DMZ and those kinda guys really bought into that Blue Note mentality, and those are the guys I really take my hat off to.

So it’s that underground vibe, that you look for still today…

Yeah. I mean you get people like… (pauses) A guy did a mix called ‘I Never Went to Blue Note’ I think it was called…

Ben UFO…?

Yeah! And I think it’s brilliant stuff like that – y’know like [original dubstep producer and Ollie ‘Skream’ Jones’ older brother] Hi-Jak going to Blue Note when Skream couldn’t even get in there. We did it and it’s a beautiful thing.

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If you look back on your history in particular – there are kids out there who are 14/15 – to which you’ve always been there. They were born when you were already established. How does that make you feel?

Yeah it’s mad that – it’s kinda like me looking at Strictly Rhythm or something – they were always there. I think it’s also the wealth of it – not the riches of it, I mean we had the riches, I remember when every drum and bass artist we had were driving around in Ferrari’s, Bentley’s – we used to drive up to Jim [Baker – half of monumental jungle outfit Source Direct], meet at the garages on the motorway and go in some parade of Ferrari’s – it was mental! I mean y’know, if you give urban kids money mate they go nuts, and that’s what we did.

But I think it’s a testament to where we’re at – I have to be humbled by it as well, and I think I should be graceful and go “y’know what, it’s a new generation now, dubstep’s serious, it’s a new bunch of kids” I just hope they handle it like we did – understandown your shit, own your copyright. Metalheadz was kinda almost like a business model of how to deal with it right. I mean, we didn’t have social media man! I think if we were born now in this generation, with all that you’ve got now, god knows what we’d do – and I guess that’s what dubstep’s doing now.

With the new generation, what do you make of a lot of the digital software used by new producers today – how has it affected the sound, to your ears?

A lot of things kinda sound the same now, to be fair. What we were doing was taking digital sound and putting it in an analogue bubble. For me it was always about crafting what arrangement was. People forget I was looking over the shoulders of engineers when it was going vertically, when it was on Creator! And people go “oh why doesn’t he engineer, he can’t even engineer” – well because I don’t fucking need to, I paint mate and that’s what I do. For me, it’s about blocking out arrangement, pushing the canvas away a little and getting really creative with it.

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So with all your experience, what advice would you have for young, creative people now?

Get outside the machine. Joyride the technology – there’s too much technology that you just press a button on and it does it for you, and you can hear that, anyone can hear that. It’s a new generation now and it’s not gonna go away – eighteen years of drum & bass music. Forget my work, there’s eighteen years of drum & bass music period.

So where do you see yourself and your peers in that history?

We’ve always been the Basquiat’s or the Bauhaus’ of drum & bass music really. It’s even mad when people call us [pulls face] “leftfield” even – like “woah really? Because it’s not got a drilling kick-drum stabbing the life out of you??” I generally have a passion for this music that I can’t explain – I’m not quite ready to hang my guns up yet – I think this next album is beautiful.

The Alchemist: The Best of Goldie 1992-2012 is available now on 3xCD and download.

Interview: Louis Cook
Photography: William Biggs