“Culture spreads, it evolves,” says Goldie. “Young people are coming out, and it’s important to understand that they’re having their time. It’s their scene, but that scene’s come from ours.”
It’s a point that’s well made across the three discs of his new compilation. The Alchemist: The Best Of Goldie 1992-2012 is a 36-track resumé that stretches from the dark and brooding “Menace” (off 1992’s Dark Rider EP for 4 Hero’s Reinforced label) to the brand new – and beautifully jazz-tinged – “Single Petal Of A Rose” (a title borrowed from Duke Ellington).
Naturally that extraordinary debut album Timeless is well represented by a handful of blissful, near-perfect cuts such as “Angel,” “State Of Mind” and the peerless “Inner City Life” (here in its “Bad Boy” remix version). But there’s also plenty to explore from the early period when Goldie was hustling his way through hardcore and jungle towards the flawless vision he unveiled on that record – and plenty from the aftermath too.
The collection also includes a string of Goldie’s best remixes – though, sadly, it doesn’t feature his dazzling 1994 rerub of Cutty Ranks’ classic “Armed & Dangerous,” which was lovingly retooled with samples from Eighties Ladies’ rare groove classic “Turned On To You.” Mixes for Garbage and Ed Sheeran are present and correct though, joined by his reworking of “Isobel” for one-time fiancée Bjork as well as his much-lauded “Toasted Both Sides” mix of Bush’s 1996 alternative hit “Swallowed.”
It’s a vibrant, varied collection that, overall, serves as a reminder to those dabbling with dubstep and the like, that—when it comes to electronic dance music – Goldie wrote the playbook.
“The whole thing about this music is that not one person can do it on their own,” he explains. “It takes a lot of people to put a piece of wood on the fire. Obviously, that’s no different from the way that any invention happens – you look at one idea and add another one and then someone else adds a piece and it all gets put together. It’s an ongoing process. So much groundwork has been laid by the house people and techno artists and hip hop artists … but everybody has a contribution to make if they’re interested in making music for the right reasons.”
Goldie’s success, his dogged determination to turn his ambitious artistic vision into sonic reality, his willingness to continually reinvent and confound in equal measure, has been achieved against the odds though.
Born to a Jamaican father and a Scottish mother in Walsall in the UK’s West Midlands, the young Clifford Price was put into the UK’s foster care system at the age of three, though his mother – a one-time pub singer – kept his younger brother. He still remembers, he says, the day the social workers came to take him away.
The boy who would become Goldie spent most of the next 15 years in a series of foster homes and local government institutions. He often suggests that his taste for eclectic music was the result of growing up in that environment, forced to rub shoulders with other youngsters separated from their families. “In one room a kid would be playing [local reggae outfit] Steel Pulse,” he explains, “while through the wall someone else had a Japan record on and another guy would be spinning Human League.”
The drive that has marked him out as one of electronic music’s most enduring survivors initially manifested itself in other forms though. He found solace in roller-skating and pushed himself to excel, earning a place as goalkeeper in the B Team for England’s national roller-hockey squad. After discovering electro and hip hop, he grew his hair – the “goldilocks” that won him his nickname – and joined a breakdance crew called the B-Boys in nearby Wolverhampton. He also discovered graffiti.
“They called me ‘the spraycan king of the Midlands’,” he says proudly. But his talent was undeniable, bringing him to the attention not only of Britain’s Arts Council but to Dick Fontaine, producer of a Channel 4 TV documentary on graffiti. Bombin’ captured a visit to the UK by New York artist Brim Fuentes at a time of intense social unrest on the other side of the Atlantic – the result of crippling unemployment and social inequality engendered by the policies of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Brim met Goldie and his B-Boys crew in Wolverhampton’s Heathtown area.
Next day, he travelled a dozen miles or so to the Handsworth area of Birmingham – home to, among other musicians, Steel Pulse – and witnessed the aftermath of rioting that had left four dead, 35 injured and dozens of local stores burned out. Several months later, Fontaine reversed the process and took Goldie to New York where his meeting with hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa was filmed. The experience fired Goldie’s passion for the revolution brewing in the South Bronx.
“I went back to New York,” he later explained, “started painting the trains and getting involved on the streets.”
Then he moved to Miami, working in the flea markets, “painting trucks for drug dealers” and developing a sideline in gold jewellery that included the distinctive “grill” which became a trademark on his return to the UK.
Back in Britain, a new girlfriend Kemi Olusanya – later one half of acclaimed drum & bass DJ duo Kemistry & Storm – took him along to the Rage club night at Heaven in London’s Charing Cross. He was immediately entranced by the mix of house and breakbeat that DJs Fabio and Grooverider were spinning. “I saw dreams,” he remembers.
Goldie found himself seduced by the atmosphere, the euphoria and the urgent, chemistry-set connections of rave. “It really flipped me out,” he confides. In the raw, hybrid style of Shut Up & Dance, A Homeboy, A Hippie and A Funky Dread and the bruising DIY output of Ibiza Records, too, he discovered a world of possibilities.
“Then I saw Manix and Nebula 2 at The Astoria,” he adds, “and it just got to me instantly. Once breakbeat catches you like that, nothing else really registers. I couldn’t deal with house after that. In my view, Detroit techno was always more like a mature version of house. But breakbeat is the bastard child of techno.”