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The man with the Golden Touch

 

By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

 

1995 was a good year for Drum ‘n’ Bass. Goldie came out with the genre’s classic album -  Timeless. It’s Goldie’s debut and arguably his best work till date. Some critics say that Timeless is to D‘n’B what Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is to Jazz.

 

The music is completely different. Different from what most of us recognize as popular music. From the eerie opening, which sounds like it’s a massive comet arriving from outer space to its 21-minute length when most popular music we hear is less than six minutes long.

 

From the unmistakable sweep of synthesizer strings to the warmth of the lead vocals; from the lyrical attractiveness of the stately melody to the stuttering breakbeats of the programmed percussion.

 

That Timeless is one of the best selling dance records of all time is itself an anomaly for a sub-genre of dance music that is generally embraced only by a hardcore of youthful fans.

 

There is something about this two-CD set that has grabbed the attention of listeners who have never been clubbing for hours on end on a drug-abetted excursion into the trance state of incandescent and total surrender to the big beat - a beat which is variously described as the cosmic heartbeat or merger into the throbbing at the center of God’s consciousness.

 

We’re a long way from Kansas with this one. Disc One contains the extended title composition plus five meditations and explorations of various themes contained in the title selection. Disc Two is a collection of singles that led up to Timeless plus two edits of the title’s main theme, which is known as “Inner City Life.”

 

In fact, “Inner City Life” itself spawned a CD-length recording of remixes. The versions run the gamut from a three-minute radio edit that became a hit single, to an eleven minute version that was an extended investigation of the main theme. Also included are mixes that emphasize the house elements, the drum ‘n bass elements, the soul elements, and the classical-jazz elements. In other words Timeless became its own industry.

 

One major reason for the success of “Inner City Life” is the incandescent vocal work of Diane Charlemagne, a young singer whose soulful voice has operatic range. She provides a welcoming aura of human warmth to a recording that might otherwise sound cold and even sterile.

 

Although it may sound odd for me to say so, Timeless is the Love Supreme of D'n'B; it is both a stunning summation from one of the major creators of that music, as well as a seminal statement of the drum ‘n bass genre.

 

Ultimately, Timeless is successful not because of Goldie’s skills as a musician but because of the force of his will and personality.

 

If there was ever a self-made man, Goldie is it.

 

Born Clifford Price on December 28, 1965 in Wolverhampton, England, to a Scottish mother and Jamaican father, Goldie was put up for adoption and spent most of his formative years bouncing between a series of orphanages and foster homes. Early on he decided he was going to make it, not just survive but actually achieve.

 

His first foray into artistic expression was as a break dancer. Soon he got involved in graffiti, and became internationally known as a tagger. He was included in Bombing, a documentary about the art-form.

 

That appearance gave Goldie immense exposure and credibility, which in turn led to what many would consider the opportunity for a charmed career as a visual artist.

 

However, in the 1980s he broke from England and headed to America, spending a year or so in Miami, where he hustled (both legally and underground). In Miami, Goldie got into selling gold plating for teeth. His own gold grills became an iconic trademark.

 

When he returned to England, a magical experienced transformed him. He started hanging out with the female DJ duo, Kemistry and Storm, and discovered a new scene and lifestyle.

 

DJ Kemistry (Kemi Olusanya) is credited with turning Goldie on to the club scene and D‘n'B music. In short, she became his muse, his girlfriend and his business partner. In 1994, Kem and Storm joined Goldie in founding and running the Metalheadz record label, which also led to Goldie becoming a DJ and to the Metalheadz collective running weekly club sessions.

 

Kem introduced Goldie to 4Hero, who in turn became Goldie’s musical mentors and are credited as the source of his education as a producer. Additionally, Kem and Storm were indefatigable talent scouts with unerring eyes for new talent.

 

It is important that the contributions of Kem and Storm—not only to Goldie’s artistic development but also to the development of the record label and to D'n'B as a genre—not be overlooked or forgotten.

 

While this was a new and exciting development for Goldie, Kem and Storm put their own careers as DJs on hold in order to devote time to running the company and setting up the club scene.

 

Somebody has to do the work, and traditionally, the girlfriends or wives of major artists labor anonymously in the background even though their work is often a sine qua non of the artist’s career. They are not merely helpmates, they are often enablers.

 

In a brief autobiographical statement, Goldie notes:

 

“By ‘95 the Metalheadz label was well up and running. Then came the Metalheadz Sunday Sessions at the Blue Note. The atmosphere was just unreal and drum ‘n’ bass was the music of the moment. In ‘96 and ‘97 I collected awards for Timeless, my DJing, the Metalheadz label and my compilation album Platinum Breakz.

 

“It was fair to say I’d arrived, but I was by no means burnt out and I was looking for new ways to challenge myself as an artist. In my second album Saturnz Returns the tones and tempos were more varied, the experiments bolder and the tracks definitely more personal. No one could sing about my own misfortunes more than myself. I just wanted to be sincere in my work.”

 

After two and a half years of managing the business, DJ Kem and Storm decided to pursue their own career as a DJ duo and left Metalheadz.

 

Then, on April 25, 1999, the unthinkable happened. DJ Kemistry was killed in a freak automobile accident while returning from a gig—“a cat’s eye road reflector thrown up by a van smashed through a car windscreen and hit her in the face.”

 

What would have been a tragedy for most people, was a catastrophic loss for Goldie who had a history from birth of struggling with abandonment and the absence of long-term, intimate relationships. A short 1995/96 relationship developed with the pop/experimental singer Björk, who is featured on “Letter of Fate,” a track from Saturnz Return.

 

Goldie moved on to become a media icon. While continuing to DJ and produce compilation CDs, he took up acting and appeared on both television and in movies, most notably as a villain in the 1999 James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough.

 

In 2002 Goldie even took the time to get married to Sonjia Ashby. Although the marriage did not last, he fondly recalls, “the wedding was the best experience anyone could ever have: "I went the whole nine yards – it cost £180,000.”

 

Now in his early 40s, Goldie is working on a new movie and recording project, Sine Tempus, a coming-of-age movie. Goldie told Rahul Verma, a columnist for the British newspaper, The Independent, that the movie is “the most unbelievable underground British film that’s shot in such a beautiful way. The film is 180 minutes long and will blow everyone’s mind.”

 

Some argue that Goldie is over-rated as a musician, as an actor and as a producer. His more severe critics assert that were it not for the talents of his helpmates, particularly DJ Kem and the excellent engineer-producer Rob Playford, who is credited as the co-writer of Timeless, Goldie would not have had the ability to create Timeless; nor would he have been able to run Metalheadz, the seminal record label; not to mention he never could have organized weekly club sessions; nor would he have been able to even make a mark as a DJ.

 

Goldie has always acknowledged the importance of working in a collective, even as he has spent a lifetime trying to become a successful individual.

 

I believe it is the tension of the individual striving for recognition contrasted to the co-creator working in a collective, the desire to be great frustrated by the need to be accepted in a family, the clash of cultures (black/white, England/America, serious artist/media icon) which gives an urgency and potency to his creative work.

 

In short, he is driven by demonic angels, and all of this is successfully expressed in Timeless, and that’s what makes the recording so important. Timeless is a document that articulates one of the greatest struggles of our time, a struggle that is at the core of Black music: the hybrid’s search for authenticity. It’s a timeless struggle, that just goes on, and on, and…

 

 

Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 

 

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