Goldie is already a living legend in electronic music, but having impacted the art and film worlds as well, he is actually a cultural phenomenon in a broader sense.
If you are into electronic music – more specifically Jungle, Breakbeat and Drum ’n’ Bass – you definitely know Goldie well, but even if you aren’t, chances are that you have heard his music, as he holds several Top 10 positions on album and single charts in both the UK and the US. You may also have seen him in films such as Snatch, James Bond – The World Is Not Enough and EastEnders, and if you followed the graffiti sub-culture in the 1980’s, you’ll recognise Goldie as an iconic and defining figure.
But obviously, our primary interest in meeting Goldie in the Red Bull Studios in London was to talk about his music and life in the studio. So let’s get started…
You have to apply the soul to the music, man. It’s nothing without it!
Revolutionising Electronic Music
Goldie got into the UK electronic music scene in the early 1990’s and in 1992 he made his first major impact with his single ‘Terminator’ (released under his alias Metalheadz), which was praised for its pioneering use of time stretch, altering the tempo of samples, but not the pitch.
Soon after, in 1993, he followed up with another defining single called ‘Angel’ in which he creatively and innovatively merged David Byrne and Brian Eno samples with Diane Charlemagne’s live vocals. Then, in 1995, he released his debut album ‘Timeless’, including a 22-minute hardcore symphony. Amazingly, Timeless made Top 10 on the UK album chart and played a massive part in bringing Drum ‘n’ Bass music to the mainstream audience.
In the following years, the album ‘Saturnz Return’ and the EP ‘Rings of Saturn’ were released, and during the 2000’s, Goldie mainly worked under his alias Rufige Kru. Now, he is ready with a comeback as Goldie, releasing ‘The Journeyman’, which is his first studio album as Goldie in 18 years.
Graffiti did for art what Drum ‘n’ Bass did for electronic music.
Seeing Sound The Goldie Way
Knowing about Goldie’s background in both street art and Drum ‘n’ Bass music, we were curious to know more about possible connections or similarities in his view.
“Just because we say ‘electronic music’, we shouldn’t connect it with a dirty word as when we say ‘graffiti’, because graffiti is now a door in the walls of the modern galleries around the world. And graffiti did for art what Drum ‘n’ Bass did for electronic music. Drum ‘n’ Bass was the dirty word, but what comes from the Drum ‘n’ Bass music – what comes from the hieroglyphic – were the bubble letters. Where we can understand it when we present it in a very singular way.”
It turns out that also on the arrangement side of things, Goldie finds a clear connection between the audible and visible aspects. “I have always seen arrangement as being a skillset. Arrangement, which to me has come inadvertently through graffiti, is being able to layer and paint. You know, the images and ideas, which are two-dimensional objects on the wall that in fact has so many layers in between. And those layers from the light outline ideas to the layers, to the fill and to the final execution of the outline, which is then presented to us within a four-dimensional object, which is causing all this craziness. That is how I have been painting with sound.
Sound is just something I see very clearly. And if you have vision within sound, then draw the picture… Draw the diagram of what the shape is gong to be. You know, I always said that my sound is an analogue sound in a digital bubble. It has all of these layers, but they are in this bubble and they are all floating to the surface and exploding at the top. The sounds in my head, the sounds that I hear from the notes being played, aren’t the notes. It’s the sound around the notes – the air that the speakers leave behind, which is like the ghost in the machine. The ‘ghost notes’ so to speak.”
Sound is something I see very clearly. And if you have vision within sound, then draw the picture.
Applying Soul to the Music…
According to Goldie, there is one single thing that is the most important of all when it comes to making music. “We can’t forget one very important thing: You have to apply the soul to the music, man. It’s nothing without it!
I hear all this music and sometimes I hear these people saying it is just math. Yeah, it’s math, but it shouldn’t make sense so please don’t let me hear the math when I’m listening to the record. I don’t want to hear the math or the wheels turning around. I want to hear the record; I want to hear the sound.
You know, you need to give me an illusion, because we loose ourselves in music for the magic of it. We have to… I mean, it’s the perfect raconteuring, isn’t it?”
My sound is an analogue sound in a digital bubble. It has all of these layers, but they are in this bubble, floating to the surface and exploding at the top.
Applying the Tools
So, how does one apply soul to the music and how do you balance this intangible asset against the vast choices of hard- and software tools found in modern studios?
“I look at today’s software and hardware from a child’s point of view. Like if I run into a sweets shop and the owner is not there and I put my hand in every jar, taking as much as I can… But what do I take? I can take all of these sweets, but if I eat them all too quickly, I am going to end up feeling very sick at some point. And I think it’s about taking just enough so the shop owner doesn’t know there’s something missing.
And it’s the same aspect for the music, because the one thing everyone seems to have forgotten about in music is that, look, this is just the software and the hardware.
Why does music from the 70’s, the 80’s and the 90’s sound so good? Because people were applying the soul to it. It’s about what Soul music sounded like coming out of two speakers for the first time. A piano, a voice and a string – that’s it. Just three things very, very well recorded. But not to the point of over-polishing.”
The sounds in my head aren’t the notes being played. It’s the sound around the notes – the air that the speakers leave behind.
A Journeyman at Work Through Space and Time
In many ways, Goldie plays both the roles as the creator and innovator, as well as a guide on a journey throughout the galaxies. He is usually working with other engineers in the studio, but he is the one defining the vision of the project and setting the course.
“I have been looking over the shoulder of another guy engineering all my life. To the point where I’m like, you know, sitting in a room like Captain Kirk going: “OK, we’re going to take it here, and we’re going to go there.” When I sit in the chair to start a project, I’m going to take you to all the planets and I’m going to go everywhere. I’ll brief the engineer and let him know what’s going to happen. I have a diagram stuck on the wall and I’ll visualize where we’re going and what we’re going to do.
Also, the screen you’re looking at in the studio is not really a screen. It’s just a window that goes left and right – infinitely to the right. But what we’re going to do is to time travel through it. I mean, it’s only been a hundred years that we have been able to record audio. One hundred years, and we have been her for how long!? So, now I can go back and forth in my time machine through software and through these two speakers.”
You need to give me an illusion, because we loose ourselves in music for the magic of it. I mean, it’s the perfect raconteuring, isn’t it?
Speaking of Speakers
Well, now that we are touching upon the studio monitor topic, we asked Goldie to talk a bit about the setup in his own studio based in Thailand.
“I have a tree house with my studio in the basement, and that is where the magic happens. It has perfect sound in there – beautiful sound.
I have been so blessed. I can just sit there, put a piece of music on and listen to it through my Dynaudios that are placed 120 cm away at a perfect angle. And I just listen, having this perfect spectrum of about 2 foot where I can move around. It’s the perfect place to be.
The way the sound comes to me and the way I register it. You know, when I listen to music I have to have transparency in the way the sound comes to me, and it has to make the tiny hairs on my arms stand up. Listening to an album, every track has to do that to me, it has to make me feel completely beyond myself.
But sometimes when I’m writing, I leave that zone. I’ll put on just one loop or a melody through those speakers, and from the studio the sound creeps into the hallway, completely changing nature. And sometimes I will go to another room to listen for the ‘ghost of the sound’, hearing the sound travelling and finding the notes that aren’t really there. It is weird, but it is great for my writing process.”
Smash It Up if You Like…
We asked Goldie for a final piece of advice. What the most important thing to keep in mind as an artist would be in his view. The answer? In essence, stay curious, keep discovering and take any measure necessary in order to do so.
“F*ck all the complexity and search for the things you haven’t found yet, because that is what you have to do as an artist. You have to find the sound that is not there. Smash it up, throw it out, break it if you like, but do it. Make the sound, be barbaric, break it to pieces, sleep in the woods – whatever it takes. That is what you need to do.”
In fact, Goldie reminded us of how he has been – and still is – on an endless journey, trying to constantly reinvent himself as an artist. “I remember David Bowie saying in the documentary, Saturnz Return, that: “Timeless is a brilliant album. Even if he makes a pile of sh*t for the rest of his life, it’s fine because he has done ‘Timeless’.”
And everything else that I did after that was actually kinda sh*t! But it is all about an artist trying to find himself. Always. And it is only now that I truly realise what he really meant: I have to reinvent everything, and this new album – The Journeyman – is all about reinvention and about me trying to find myself in different things.”
I have been so blessed. I can just sit there and listen through my Dynaudios that are placed 120 cm away at a perfect angle. It’s the perfect place to be.
Well, we certainly think that Goldie found – if not himself – then something that is definitely worth exploring and experiencing. Sure, we get it by now. Goldie is on a never-ending journey and will probably keep taking his music to new places, but for now, let’s just take a few minutes and listen to a couple of tracks from the just-released ‘The Journeyman’ by Goldie:
You have to find the sound that is not there. Smash it up, throw it out, break it if you like, but do it.