A “journeyman,” as traditionally defined, is reliable but unremarkable. A master of none. In short, the opposite of Goldie—the drum & bass icon, graffiti writer, actor, MBE and cultural polyglot. So, when the man born Clifford Joseph Price named his first album in nearly 20 years The Journey Man, it was with a sly stroke of the spacebar that he rearranged the word to suit him, the same way he’s mapped and scaled breakbeats and melodies since embracing the London jungle and hardcore scene of the early ‘90s.
For Goldie, his new album is equally about the journey and the man, a cathartic long-player meant to reveal its dramatic shading beyond the shadow of his foundational 1995 piece Timeless.
Goldie grew up in foster homes in England’s West Midlands, and he embraced transience as he chased experiential highs. Timeless was the culmination of a decade of breakdancing, tagging, raving, and raging from the UK to New York and back again, and it punctuated Goldie’s moving from spray can art infamy to mainstream notoriety as he founded influential, indelible label Metalheadz.
Now 51, Goldie feels he has finally put that top-to-bottom burner of adolescence to bed through the 16-track whole-car breadth of The Journey Man. Using what he dubs his “seancic method,” a way he works with engineers to guide them in extracting structural patterns and sedative frequencies from the iPhone sketches and black-book renderings of his mental roadmap, Goldie commits sonic alchemy to acetate.
Speaking from his home in Thailand, Goldie reflects on a lifetime of redemptive culture, music as mental rehab, sonic nourishment, layered undercurrents, and how to avoid chasing youth while embracing the inner child.
In about four seconds, a teacher will begin to speak.
Art is only one thing: an application of a medium to a surface. And that can be a needle to an acetate, an aerosol leaving the fucking can. It can be an artist sketching or drawing with a pencil, an MC with his lips to a mic. It’s the application of a medium to a surface. That’s the art. And that’s all that matters.
Graffiti did for the art world what drum & bass did for electronic music. At its fucking source, unless you really water it down with a bad pop star and do it with bubble letters, you’re not going to get it. We have a choice, and the choice we’ve made as a collective is that we’ll always make music that’s true to the craft. And that means it may remain for the select few. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
I’ve never been interested in programming. I’m interesting in manipulating people, individuals… that’s what I do as an arranger.
"We only just got to the end of Moore’s Law. He said at the end of 50 years—and it’s been 54 or 58, I think—then you’ll start to see what we can do with technology. I think it’s difficult for producers to really shine now without sounding like somebody else. I think that’s an honest thing to say. But I don’t think it’s the end of it. New people will find new ways."
I don’t ever have to go into a studio and think I need to make that #1 record. I think of it as like making music in the ‘70s, because the songwriting aspect with very minimal tools meant people were all about applying the soul to the music.
I think that electronic music, because of the way it’s sold to us and all that stuff, it seems apparently that it’s not supposed to grow up. It’s only supposed to be for kids… Somewhere along the line, all the kids are going to grow up, and if they’re brought up on McDonald’s, they’ll all become obese. Maybe my downfall is being a guy who believes electronic music has a place in the adult world, because it soothes the soul. It’s like Bikram yoga—it’s not about losing the weight as the main objective; it’s about getting the mind right. Losing the weight is a secondary thing.
I think it’s going through such a period that people need to be guided in electronic music, because it’s a sweet shop where the owner’s not there and you can eat anything you fucking want. And if you keep eating all the same sweets, all you can, you’ll feel sick after awhile. So it’s about having a palate, having an understanding. If music provides the money that puts food on my table, I want to make sure my table is a healthy meal—because it goes through my body, and I get energy from that music.
You can’t plant trees on a candy road. If culture is upturned, there is no growth for the tree, no roots within that. Culture gave us punk, gave us reggae, gave us hip-hop. And all of those genres gave us everything we have. You take the music from the clubs, where the kids learn culture and how to socially interact and unify with real love, what do you really have?
Drum & bass music is like graffiti. You can’t kill it, because it’s culture. [Former New York City] Mayor Koch spent $72 million but couldn’t kill graffiti, and you’ll always find drum & bass people trying to just go underground again, finding a way into a club, a rave, some gathering.
It’s the only drug I can take that I don’t have to administer with a loss. If I take an aspirin, I’ll eventually get used to the aspirin. But music is different. It’s something I can listen to, and it will always take me to different places. It’s a raconteur taking me to massive waypoints in my life when real shit was going down, and it carried me.
“I think Goldie—the man that everyone came to know—was a coming of age, a fucking arrogant prick, a fucking nightmare for a lot of people. Goldie was created to protect Cliff, the boy that was fucked for many, many years and wasn’t let out.”
If I just did one thing—just did music, or just did graffiti, or just made jewelry, as I did from 18–25, or just made gold teeth, or just did graphics—then people could deal with that very easily. But they have difficulty dealing with a multi-person, even in this world where people have attention deficit disorder with so many fucking tools, the iPhone, iPad, fucking computer, Netflix.
The Journey Man is 35 years. It’s a bigger album for me than Timeless. It has to be. Timeless was a coming-of-age album looking over 10 years, and 25 years later, I need to show what I’ve taught myself from all the beautiful space in between that. In terms of executing something very, very thorough, Timeless was a very good blueprint. But this new album isn’t a blueprint. This is a building on top of that blueprint.
I think Goldie—the man that everyone came to know—was a coming of age, a fucking arrogant prick, a fucking nightmare for a lot of people. Goldie was created to protect Cliff, the boy that was fucked for many, many years and wasn’t let out. Cliff the boy is fucking running rampant on this new album, and he’s very happy, playing in the water, man.
I feel very satisfied, at peace with this music, because it’s no longer me. I’ve vicariously channeled this beautiful muse of the universe. I asked the questions, and it brought me the fucking answers. The riffs come to me, and I just record them. I lay them down, and I cook the vocals, and it comes. So, I’m just happy for the clarity. If that’s soul, I’ll take it all day long.
The biggest gift I’ve ever been given, thank you Pat Metheny, is arrangement. It’s the archetype of reaching for perfection. Things overlap and spiral in on themselves in a very Escher way. It’s always supposed to be that… Isn’t that what graffiti is like: pink, blue, yellow, green, vermillion. That’s supposed to be a car crash, but the way the artists do it then it works, thanks to arrangement.
The one thing I’ve taught myself—and I think I had to do it the hard way—is that we’ve all got eight pints of blood, we shit and we piss, and we look in the mirror and think, Where the fuck am I … Who am I? And that’s important. I think some people think they’re bigger than the music, and no one is bigger than the music, man. I want to leave as much of an impact as I possibly can, and I realize when I wake up tomorrow, it’s the first day of the rest of my fucking life, so I’ve got to make the most of this shit.