The Alchemist

Goldie, DJ, producer, artist, composer, actor, rebel, pioneer. What ever tag you want to place on him the hugely influential star has been ‘creating’ in all its forms for most of his life, most notably as one of the pioneers of drum and bass and street art, and more recently, this West Midlands wayward had smashed down the boundaries of classical music and the art establishment, crossing distinctions of class, culture and education in one fell swoop. On one hand a maverick who owns his world and everyone in it, on the other, a boy struggling with notions of abandonment and a need for recognition. I admit, I was nervous about this interview, booked around an exhibition of his artwork followed by a DJ set in Northampton. My head was full of preconceptions, about his artistic influences and about his no nonsense temperament. My teenage years were often sound tracked by his music, and in my role of local magazine editor I never thought our paths would ever cross. Whatever my preconceptions were, Goldie was about to blow them all apart. The exhibition was made up of a series of works from his ‘Love over Gold’ and ‘The Kids are All Riot’ series, along with a selection of earlier pieces. Having made his name as a Graffiti artist in the 80’s, walking through the exhibition you could trace the progression from urban through to fine art. Evocative female forms and abstract colour lend themselves to print and texture, but its clear graffiti is still at his core. Graffiti was the foundation stone for much of Goldie’s adventures, I ask if he thinks there has been a big shift between the early rebel days of graffiti art and how acceptable and ‘pop culture’ it has become in recent times. “Now you can put it in a gallery and it’s acceptable. I mean I did my first one man show when I was 18, I’m 44 now. Then it was outlawed, it was outrageous. It was in a Wolverhampton art gallery. It was a bit of a punch in the face to the art community, the government really as far as I was concerned. I’d been ferociously doing stuff on the estate that I lived in; I think I did about 60-70 illegal paintings. In the end it was a matter of breaking the system because it was an estate that they badly designed in the 70’s, which was crying out for it. One it was so grey, and two they couldn’t catch me there because it was so inaccessible to police cars. Those estates had been designed over and over again with taxpayer’s money when they could have just built better housing in the first place.” “It’s that mentality when you arrive somewhere, I arrived there when I was 18 out of care and saw it from a different perspective, that’s always been my outlook with everything, even with music. I arrive at a point on a train and there are carriages in front of me and there are carriages behind me and I just have to work my way through the train and work out what my position is within that structure, and respect who else has laid down the track before me and where the journey can go. My purpose is wanting to find my way as an artisit. I find it very easy to sit and paint, it’s the distractions of normal life that throw me out.” Distraction seems to be part of the Goldie persona, as he sits opposite me, somehow aggravated and enthralled in one package, so is art where he finds his peace? ‘Yeah, that and music. It’s all the same alchemy. It’s taken me the last 43 years, it’s only the last 2 years that I’ve realised what my job title is. I’m an alchemist. I practice the dark arts of messing with the form of something structurally solid. Especially gold, I was melting gold when I was 20, and when you start to melt gold you see something solid change its form. That really stuck with me for a long time, I never really realised what I was doing. The importance of a changing form.” “If you look at art, the way the artworld has changed, whether it’s Banksy or whether it’s Mode2, artists have had to adapt along with the culture, along with social change. An artist will learn very quickly, especially from the urban-street art level. I think youth culture got fed up, got very smart to the fact that Coco Cola put a fucking billboard in my highstreet, and I’m constantly told that I have to buy Coco Cola. The bottom line is I didn’t ask to see that, but I’m forced to see it. And art reflects society, when kids get smart enough to then do poster art, to make all the posters at home get some fucking clue, roll it up and go and put it up very quickly you know.” “We learnt a very live skill of graffiti in its raw, primitive form. Having a four-hour window to try and do something quite elaborate, with very dim light. You don’t know the difference between red and pink in that dim light, you don’t know the difference between red and brown, you don’t know. So you have to mark everything up really well and just try to take it to the best of your ability. I always found with that, I always wanted to do the best of everything. I wanted to do a great piece that you would literally wake up the next day and the whole wall was done, not just pieces thrown on, it would have to be the entire wall, character and letter form and background. So I think that was what my forte was, I was an all rounder.” This drive for perfection and for taking a concept through to its very possible completion is a reoccurring theme in everything Goldie has turned his hand to, and at the heart of it all lies a deep philosopher. “It’s the same when I was making music at an early age. Very quite advanced music to what was going on, people just didn’t get it. But their not supposed to get it, that was the whole point of it. I was always really angry about that, the purpose of me being angry about music is I have to think about it being outside of the box of the normal lifespan I have.” “I think I’ve had previous lives, I think that each time I have been here before there was a purpose set to do. I failed miserably, on all of these past lives, and in this one I’ve had 5 different times to re-set it. You know when I was getting abused and getting fucking cobbed by some fucking foster parents or some abuse in some children’s home up to the age of 12, which is a really dark part of my life, I picked myself up and got into roller skating, and played for the national roller hockey team and became something else. And then I got into dancing and northern soul, and then went to New York. I’ve seen culture; I’ve been very lucky to see different casts of society in different places. I went to New York at a very early age.” “I am super spiritual, I always have been. It all stems back to my Mother.” Mother, of course, was the title of the hour-long piece in his second album Saturnz return. “I had to make mother, its part of my healing process completely, and for me its one of the most prolific pieces of music I have ever made.” So does he plan to revisit this work now, as he is with some of his other early compositions? “I will do eventually, I’m revisiting timeless first with 2 youth orchestras this year, and fully realising it. Obviously I have a great blueprint electronically, and now I know how to spread it across an orchestra, ha ha!” Goldie is obviously beaming with pride for his orchestral work, having come second in the 2008 BBC programme Maestro, which led him to be commissioned to write a piece for the proms. So had he found working with an orchestra has this changed the way people view him? “People have always looked at me in one guise or another, and from their perspective they always think I’m walking in a straight line. But the difference is if they look really closely at what I’m doing I’m always walking with a slightly left curvature, which means I’m actually walking in a very large circle. It’s taken a lot longer because I’ve chosen everything to take with me. Whether its jewellery or melting gold or whether its canvas or printing or screen-printing t-shirts or whether its sculpture, I mean I started off on sculpture when I was 12 you know. I made a fucking pram out of plascticene, it was so good I went to the front of the class and teacher said, ‘you have to show everyone this wonderful piece’. It’s a pram, with a baby in it, I mean how Freudian is that? I just wanted to be mothered. And I just crushed it, threw it on the floor and ran out you know. The will for me is to find out who I really am, I’m always fucking about with the dark arts in the sense of trying to get back to that, without regressional therapy or anything, it’s a really organic way of doing it.” So you see creativity as therapy? ‘It’s therapy yeah. There’s a track on the first CD of mother, the third track, there’s only 2 tracks on the fucking CD, but the 3rd one is hidden because there’s no ID, you have to wait for three minutes, then it just pops out of no-where. I made this track completely by accident, it was a process I had to use. It was a suicide letter that I wrote called ‘Letter of Fate’, which was a track on the second CD. To get the effect in that track I had to turn the tape over, the physical tape, on the machine to get the effect of the vocal sounding like it was reversing. What happened was I went for a piss, and I was fucking off my tits you know, I go for a piss and I’m walking through a hallway in this really eerie studio called Ridge Farm which is really fucking out in the sticks, it’s a really creaky old wood place and there are loads of spirits there. And I’m walking down the hall past a mirror and I thought I saw my reflection stand still. What the fuck! Maybe I was tripping, whatever it was I heard this noise coming from the studio and it was my tune. It was letter of fate, but backwards. So I was like, ‘stop. Lets get the tape, lets mute out all the strings, lets just have that one thing playing’, and Will O Donavan, they guy who was like a tea boy when I first met him, working with Harry Bernstein at Mayfair studios when he did the soul to soul stuff. Will says, I know lets put instruments in the piano and when we hit notes it’ll resonate. So we piled this piano full of fucking instruments, and we both just sat on both sides and started hitting notes whilst this things playing and did 3 takes. Whenever I listen to that piece its like I’m a 14th century monk.” “The bottom line is sometimes you stumble on things that are meant to happen when they’re suppose to happen. That track is called The Dream Within, even though it’s the same track but upside down, inverted. When I listen to it, and I couldn’t listen to it for about a year, it’s a 14th century monk, definitely. I was that monk somewhere else, definitely. And it was a weird thing ‘cos… I’m street savy man, I’m not like you know……” He sighs and trials off, taking a second to battle between his inner street kid and his inner philosopher; “But I’ve got a really open mind. Its like people saying, oh you can’t believe in that. Why can’t you believe? Why can you believe that this mobile phone calls ya mate and goes through the air, you can’t see it, but you can believe it. You can believe in that science but you can’t believe in other other spiritual stuff that’s going on? We’ve lost that because science has fooled us all into thinking that spirituality doesn’t exist. We can find god, we can split the atom, we can find him. Your not going to fucking find him in this form. You can’t find him in your physical form right now, walk up to him and shake his hand.” “I’ve found a lot of stuff has tripped over from that era, the whole ‘Mother’ project, and it was meant to be. It’s like a new form of buddism for me in the sense that I’ve come back into this life with the biggest challenges.” He gathers his thoughts, it seems the philosopher has won this battle; “Lets think about it. This is my alchemy. My Einstein theory. The two things I have always had the biggest issue with are abandonment and being mis-understood. From abuse and everything else. There are two things I’ve always had to deal with, the two things that have always challenged me. And they always will, I’ll never forget them. But I couldn’t have chosen the two most fucking complicated things. I chose drum and bass as a music form, a genre, the bottom fucking rut, right down there. And to work its way up in sound and arrangement, and the second one is graffiti. I mean I couldn’t have chosen a more scorned art from. So I kinda set myself up for this in a way.” “Culture spreads, it evolves. I always say to people, we were the bastard child of rave, now we have the legitimate child of dubstep. We’re the father of this legitimate art form. Which is good that cultures moving and I’ve always held on fast to what I believe in.” “But I’m always going to be challenged, I think for me now it’s that classical wall thing. And I’ll kick the doors in on that, and the ‘Timeless’ project next March will be a fantastic celebration, if you like, and I’ll feel a lot more peaceful then. I think that once that’s accepted then finally ‘Mother’ will be accepted with a full orchestra, which is already half done anyway.” Is that need for acceptance your biggest driver then? “Yeah, I think it’s the fact that,” he stops and pauses for a long time, seeming to really think about how to articulate what he feels; “I think that the resilience I’ve gained, I mean even if you tell me I’ve done well I’m not going to believe it.” But if did believe it wouldn’t you just give up? “I think that’s the torture of being embodied in this. I’ve got to live with this fucking guy. I’ve learnt ways of dealing with it; we are all a universe to ourselves in a sense. I wear my heart on my sleeve I know no other way of doing things. I wake up sometimes and I’ll write my dream down and it might sound absolutely mental. I’ll be like what the fuck its that. But I’ll mean something to me. In that world there are no rules. I have these mental dreams, we all do. But we just sometimes don’t wanna talk about it, I think with me I manifest as much light as I do dark.” Its obvious that exploring this dark side is the inspiration for much of Goldie’s creative process. “Its alchemy, alchemy can be a dangerous thing, in terms of if I’m accepting all these different concepts I must also accept the fact of entrapment and man kinds fucking greed and its horrible side. For me it’s the effeminate, it’s the mother you know. Women, both as mother figure and as temptress, are a re-occurring theme throughout both his music and his art, and the female form is the basis of ‘Love over Goldie.’ I wonder if exploring his relationships with women is his ultimate creative inspiration. “People don’t clock that you see. The difference is that I did that show purely for the empathy of these women, I mean Nadia (one of his models) has just done a masters degree in sociology. She used to be a porn star. For fucking years. I never met her, I refused to meet her until the art show. I said to the photographer, these are the poses that I want to do, I want her to look over her shoulder I want her to look coy. I named all these textures and I reason I did it that way, was because its no different to me standing with an engineer. Yes I can learn to engineer, yes I can learn to take photo’s. Its like an escapology. I’ve got to do it in my own dialogue, so I can learn not to be mis-understood and people will know what I’m saying.” “Its also there to slow down your vocals so you can learn to speak like normal people speak. Because then they might understand you a little bit better, because my process of speaking, because its constant, it doesn’t go anywhere else. It comes straight from the heart, it doesn’t even get processed.” “So the point with Nadia, when I get these pictures of her, I have a picture of this women and its like right, I’ve got to paint this woman. I got the idea walking through London there are all these phone boxes with all these sex photographs, I’m like, you know, these women have got a full sense of power.” So women are empowered in your art, it’s about them owning their own sexuality? “Yes. And when you hear their stories its completely the opposite, its like Goldie isn’t it? I’m in your face but really I’m fucking scared I’m gonna get beat up or get cobbed by some fucking uncle. I think finding what that was, was trying to feel some empathy, and also my own thing with my own mother and my relationship.” “I did the Hoffman process about 5 years ago and that really fucking changed my life, because the Hoffman is rehabilitation for the spirit. It really changed my life and my perception because I was ripping my mother to pieces, but I didn’t realise. She was a kid once, she had her own shit. Her father was an alcoholic and beat her and whatever else. So I looked at empathy for that show, and I tried to put another look on it, people don’t always see the connection. That is the entire premise, empowerment. What is empowerment, what is empathy? I’m forgiving my mother.” He pauses, and it seems that just making that statement out loud brings an air of peace to the room, its like a chapter has closed. So what does the future hold? “I think there are some images that I really want to play around with. One of the images I’ve been looking at is the Burlesque thing, the showgirl piece was the first concept, its gone 20 times better then that now. I’ve got some stuff with some beautiful detail. I’ve found a photographer whose really talented. He photographed me years ago and I finally got him on board.” “I feel like I’m such an old soul, really old. I’m thinking of doing a set of things where kids have got slightly bigger hands which have got all veins in like old peoples hands, and eyes slightly bigger and ears slightly out.” So your exploring how children are forced to live as adults, having to face adult situations? “It will be going that way. I think going around in that very large circle I spoke about, you know jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I think I have mastered them all now. I look at stuff, and I break it down, and I think this is amazing.” “I think that I love what I do and I love art and I love the fact that if someone gets it, that 1%, its what I live for.” Interview by Jo Burns [email protected] www.littlejo.net www.amplitudemusic.com
The Alchemist