Musician, DJ, visual artist and actor Goldie talks to The Yak’s Lou Nietunz about graffiti, gold grills and getting honoured by the Queen. Water portrait by Zissou.
GOLDIE, this is your second time to Bali? Any first or lasting impressions you can recall?
My wife and I have lived in Phuket for the past few years and we’ve been coming here for the last eight years . . . so to me at first Bali kind of felt like a very big Ibiza, to be honest. I thought it would be even more chill but it seems like there’s a lot of crazy spirit and crazy energy here, you know, good and bad. A lot of strong spiritual stuff going on. If you want to be crazy, you can, if you want to be chill, you can. It’s that kind of place.
There’s a sly hedonism to Bali but there’s also a strong spiritual aspect, and I think it’s a cross-cultural thing with the Hindu religion also. It’s very rich in all of that kind of tradition, so there’s a lot of really strong blood here, so that kind of stuck with me. I managed to get to Jiwa Studio for yoga which was cool and that grounded me, and I managed to do four sessions while I was there. So that’s my thing. I’ve been doing yoga for the last six years and it keeps me grounded after all the crazy stuff I’ve been through for the past 20 years.
Growing up – was your house or family musical?
To be honest, no. I wasn’t with my family. I grew up in the care system at various orphanages from the age of three to 18, so I grew up with a very mixed bag of music. I grew up collecting and buying 7-inch records basically going from anything like Steele Pulse to Human League to Public Image Limited to The Stranglers, so that was my whole upbringing in music. Crazy.
Do you remember the first concert you went to?
I didn’t really go to concerts either, because I wasn’t blessed to have an auntie or uncle to go with. I’d go to a skate park and listen to the deejay play, so from a very early age I was listening to a deejay playing records, and also going out, and living in a black neighborhood and finally after the care system going back to my home town to the reggae influence and what they called ‘Lover’s Rock’, which was a big thing. On a Friday or Saturday you’d head to a tenement house and listen to people playing reggae on one deck in a kind of blues house party, a bit like an illegal rave but more for kids in the ’80s. So that was my background.
I guess my early inspirations were going to New York, going to Miami, and coming back. I remember going to a Public Enemy concert at The Hummingbird in Birmingham, which was a really big thing for me. Later on, my tour manager was the same guy who’d managed that tour, a guy called Cliff who actually went on to manage De La Soul.
You became known first for your graffiti work – how do you now compare art and music as forms of expression these days?
New York City left a lasting impression on my whole demeanour in terms of what I learned for styling graffiti, which has always been the Black Book of my existence in terms of what you learn through B-Boy-ism, a thing that we coined in the ’90s, which was essentially being able to take on an idea and turn it into a two-dimensional sketch and then into three-dimensions in graffiti in a four-dimensional execution. So the music became layered in the same way – outline, fill, color, texture, final outline, perspective.
If you’re on the street with an aerosol can and there’s a big empty wall, the first thing that people say to you is ‘how do you make that picture so big?’ Well it’s called perspective, and if you get that you tend to have an understanding of depth and perception as far as music’s concerned. So the art and the music have always been the same for me.
How did the whole grill thing come to be [a grill is a type of golf jewelry worn over the teeth, fyi]? Any funny pirate stories gone wrong?
Well, I don’t know about that, but I guess it started in Miami – we make grills, it’s what you do. You work in the flea market, you make grills. We were very, very lucky to meet Orlando Plein, and his brother was the first guy to bring grills to America via Suriname, weirdly enough. Actually we’re doing a documentary called Gold Grills, which I just filmed. Anyway Orlando came to Brooklyn and resided at a place called The Coliseum, which was a really famous hip-hop flea market. I’m talking Flavor Flav when he was young, Just Ice, Jay-Z, everyone that had grills, this is where they went. So they all came to New York and then they broke out. One went to Jacksonville, one went to Miami and one went to Atlanta, and that’s how the whole thing came about for grills. So I learned the trade, like with the B-Boy stuff, you learn the craft right, so that’s how that happened.
How did the Stussy collaboration come about?
I’ve always been a part of the Stussy tribe. I came to the UK via the Rave swell, at the beginning of The Stone Roses, football hooligan rave scenes via New York, Miami, back to England and then the rave scene was restarting again. And over my travels in London, I got to know all those Stussy guys which led back to Shawn Stussy in Orange County, and hanging out with him in Kauai was one of the things we did to get our heads around the whole Stussy thing . . .
Your perspective on art and music is really intriguing – how do you see the music scene these days?
Well it has to be, because someone’s got to play the black notes, because no one else is. You know, we have software now which gives you everything in key and in tune, I don’t want that. If you had this software let’s say in the 1920s, jazz wouldn’t exist. So if that’s the case, then you might as well kill me now, because that’s what created all music.
You know, if you look at Beethoven’s Sonata 111, which is cited by Miles Davis as being jazz, it’s all about the black notes, it’s always about the angst. We write music as a salvation in the bad times, so it’s all about finding the resonance of what is right. Each to their own, but the youth culture now is being served McDonald’s when we should be giving them organic food, right? And that’s what music has become, it’s become gentrified beyond repair, so I know which side of the fence I’m on, and that’s good.
Any collaborations you would like to see happen?
Well, I‘m working on this album with Pat Metheny, and he’s always been a really big hero of mine. We’ve become friends over the years.
You have also been involved with some art exhibitions lately?
Yes. I’m always doing art, I don’t sleep. I sleep for four or five hours at most. I did a collection this year that was called The Shaman Women, which is cool, but they kind of get freaked out in Asia, because they really can’t get their heads around the death elements. Chinese, Asians, get really scared with that, so that’s something kind of more for Europe and America, which is a bit weird really. The work looks at the witch elements of shaman women through the ages, and we’re doing that in January at the Belvedere Gallery in Singapore.
You were awarded an MBE this year for your contribution to the British music industry . . . how’s the Queen?
She’s fine, fantastic, great. It was a bit of a shocker to be honoured like that but a very, very beautiful thing to happen.
Living in Thailand as a Scottish-Jamaican do you see any contradictions or surprises?
What’s your dream?
I’m living it.
Last but not least – favourite footwear?
It’s got to be Adidas. That’s my boy’s, that’s my thing. One of my best friends has been running that for a long time, and he’s the guy that does the Spezial collections, a guy called Gary. He’s a real Mancunian, really switched on, knows all the boys from Noel Gallagher to Happy Mondays. He’s always been that guy, carried out of Manchester, came out of Hacienda, got in to break dancing. Adidas all the way.
Good to know Sir G. Thanks for your time.