Drum’n’Bass is a true Brit original and although it was Roni Size who gained the art set seal of approval by scooping the 1997 Mercury Prize for ‘New Forms’, Goldie is its undoubted star, and whom the British public have taken into their hearts.
The fact that he is as familiar to BBC viewers as to readers of Mix Mag or Jockey Slut tells you a lot. Through acting roles as a Bond villain and a gangster in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, a short-lived tenancy in the Celebrity Big Brother house and a perversely triumphant runner-up spot in BBC 2’s Maestro, the one-time underground DJ peddling ‘unplayable’ records saw his currency rise meteorically. His love affair with music began in Wolverhampton in the ‘80s, with the ‘holy trinity’ of Hip Hop culture – beats, break dancing and graffiti – and inspired by the emerging Rave and Indie scenes, he’s been instrumental in making ‘Drum ‘n’ Bass’ the phenomenon it now is in clubs and living rooms across the globe.
Whilst the aforementioned ‘New Forms’ was being feted by critics, Goldie’s ‘SaturnzReturn’, released a year later, arguably set its sights higher. An hour-long Drum’n’Bass ‘Symphony’ about Mum? Unlikely, preposterous and undeniably affecting: how prog is that? Goldie had already experimented with the symphonic form on the title track of his debut LP, ‘Timeless’ but ‘Mother’ took it to a newly-ambitious level. It’s a piece you really need to clear the decks for an hour and immerse yourself in. Set in four distinct movements it weaves its spell with complex layers of samples, strings, percussion and contrasting vocal performances from the man himself and constant collaborator Dianne Charlemagne. Critically reviled as ‘overblown’ and ‘pretentious’ upon release, it’s stood the test of time in a way that much popular music hasn’t, and it’s tempting to see the appropriation of the symphonic form as a precursor to Goldie’s involvement in real Classical music viz ‘Maestro’.
And that’s just disc one.
Disc two went to town showcasing his diverse musical influences: Hip Hop (‘Digital’, featuring KRS-One), Rock (‘Temper, Temper’, featuring Noel Gallagher) and most notably Jazz. Goldie had namechecked the likes of Miles, Pat Metheny and John McLaughlin before and ‘Timeless’ featured Jazzy arrangements courtesy of 4Hero producers Marc Mac and Dego and guitarist Adam Salkeld. ‘Dragonfly’ upped the ante again, its skittering rhythms and nimble flute summoning suitably insectoid vibes. This is timeless art music of the first order, given the David Bowie seal of approval – he guests on the ambient piece, ‘Truth’.
As Goldie himself said when I had the pleasure to interview him: ‘It’s a kids dream, isn’t it? I thought Bowie was pretty audacious to do that – a geezer who’s been writing his own music for forty years to step outside of that – I feel proud that he sang my song’.
This is the kind of music I point to when I want to distinguish between ‘prog’ as a lazy genre tag and music that’s really progressive: yeah it’s ambitious, OTT even; yeah it assimilates various genres of pop and the tracks are typically long but this is music of its time, utilising the best technology and talent of the day, not robbing the grave of ’60s and ’70s icons.
And it sounds as fresh to me as early Yes, Crimson or Floyd and just as ground-breaking.