A few weeks before our interview, I bump into Goldie by chance on the corner of London’s Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. It’s hot, and Goldie is wearing a white t-shirt, a chain with gold bird pendant and a snapback. His teeth are shiny. You’d expect him to be unmistakable in real life, and he is, but I still look twice, making sure it’s him as he picks up a copy of The Evening Standard.
It’s always strange seeing famous people on the street, and spotting Goldie – a cultural icon, one of the defining voices of drum ‘n’ bass, an influential graffiti artist and one-time Bond villain – is no exception. He nonetheless blends right in, absorbed into the biomass of disgruntlement that is central London at the rush hour.
I introduce myself, and we walk into Tottenham Court Road station together, down to the Northern Line. He doesn’t live in London or even in the UK any more; he lives in Thailand with his family. He describes a paradise, criticism of the UK implicit in his tone as he glares down the escalator. His daughter apparently goes to school in a forest where she learns maths, barefoot. I try to bring up Thailand’s fairly deplorable human rights record and insane lese-majesty laws, but he brushes both subjects off.
Goldie’s life and career have each followed an idiosyncratic trajectory. From a childhood in care, to adolescence at the vanguard of the early graffiti and b-boy movements, to clubbing with Bowie, to dancing on Strictly…, to an MBE; he has occupied every position possible from the cultural margins to the heart of the establishment. This journey doesn’t come without baggage, and so it isn’t surprising to hear Goldie describe the importance of fashion as a kind of social shield. “One thing that has always reverberated around my head,” he tells me during our interview, “I’ll always remember an old black man saying to me once: ‘It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got in your pocket. No one’s ever going to know if you’re rich or poor as long as you look fucking sharp, and you’ve got a suit, and you’ve got a kerchief in your pocket.”
While he may be enjoying life in Thailand, Goldie also acknowledges a debt to the UK’s capacity to both accept and facilitate cultural transformations. He references early b-boy culture, and Bristol’s Wild Bunch soundsystem collective – which included members of Massive Attack and Tricky before their fame – not just for their musical influence but also their fashion, their capacity to fuse discordant elements into a cohesive and stylish whole.
“I think there’s a lot to do with b-boy culture that’s really put fashion on the map in that sense, do you know what I mean?” Goldie says. “You’re reading about DJ Milo and those guys, and they’re all wearing designer trousers, with a fucking baseball jacket, with a Mercedes fucking sign. 3D [Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja] walking around with fireman’s clips from a jacket, threaded through his fucking laces.”
As Goldie tells it, the same environment that facilitated these transformations also enabled a deeply productive cross-pollination in music. “England is obviously a massive hope for cultivating cross-bred fashion in terms of cross-bred music,” he continues. “Namely drum ’n’ bass music, which is cross-bred between rave culture and breakbeat.”
Goldie often refers to himself as an “alchemist,” or even “director” with respect to his music. The disciplines he operates within – graffiti, drum ‘n’ bass, even breakdancing – can all be characterised by their complexity; the sophistication with which myriad elements are brought together into a harmonious whole. His directorship lies in his ability to weave these disparate elements together; to offset, for example, a skittish breakbeat against melody. His alchemy becomes clear in the interplay of these elements, the rhizomatic, crystalline expansion of his musical palette that made his first album, 1996’s Timeless, and which blossoms forth again on his recent LP, The Journey Man.
In conversation, Goldie often slips into a kind of easy self-aggrandisement, which doesn’t come across as arrogant, so much as a fairly honest reflection of the facts of his achievements. He is proud of his new album, for example, but in quite a practical way. He views it as the pinnacle of a career’s exploration of a certain palette of sounds.
With this self-assurance, then, it makes sense that now, in Thailand, he seems to be less fussed by the old black man’s valued advice. “I’ve almost inverted on what fashion is now,” he explains. “For me, that’s letting it all go – wearing a pair of joggers and fucking flip flops and a white tee. Not wearing the gold is a really big statement for me, because it’s almost like I’ve achieved gold.”
Photography: Theo Cottle
Photographer’s Assistant: Alex Kurunis
Styling: LAW mag
Goldie appears at Ableton Loop, Funkhaus Berlin, 10-12 November