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Goldie on the past, present and future of drum'n'bass

As the jungle icon and Metalheadz founder releases a curated compilation of d'n'b's finest moments, he reflects on the music's continuing vitality – and where it's going next.
Written by Dave Jenkins
Published on
If drum’n’bass pioneer Goldie sees an envelope, he’ll push it. If you tell him there’s a genre boundary, he’ll look you in the eye and step right over it. As for rules? Where he’s going, he doesn’t need rules.
These have been the consistencies in everything Goldie does, right back to his seminal Rufige Kru blueprints and game-changing, genre-galvanising albums Timeless and Saturnz Return. It’s tangible in the output and roster on his label Metalheadz, which recently celebrated 25 years with one of the fattest raves that London’s Printworks has seen to date. Naturally it’s also evident in his selections as a DJ; a man like Goldie is never further than a metre away from an unreleased piece of music that won’t see the light of day for at least another year or two. Such is the case with a life entrenched, neck-deep in drum’n’bass.
Drum'n'bass is the sound of Great Britain, in a way
Another major responsibility of such a lifelong commitment to the cause is to make sure the whole picture is revealed and the whole story is told – so the next generations of fans understand the history and roots of the music. Which is the case with Drum’n’Bass Life – a new compilation album released this month curated personally by the Metalheadz founder. 60 tracks and three decades deep, it’s a rare moment for Goldie to step back from the rampant futurism he’s been synonymous with since day one and zoom out to tell the whole story – a story that continues to enthral and excite to this day.
Drum’n’bass in 2019. Almost 30 years later the music is still thriving, exciting and looking forward…
It’s unbelievable. It’s a staple diet, it’s the sound of Great Britain in a way. Look at how grime has found its identity and culture now. Drum’n’bass did that in the '90s. And I strongly believe any form of music or artistic movement that has its identity and culture rooted in the UK in this way will last forever. In terms of the recent album Drum’n’Bass Life, that’s what I’m celebrating. I’ve always done very specific niche albums and avant-garde stuff. But that’s very different to situations I find myself in as a guy who plays music at 3am. I can throw down a special Metalheadz set all day long. But some places that are maybe further afield, places where the culture isn’t quite so ingrained as it is here, you need to ease people in a bit. Set the foundations. That’s what this album does. It’s got those important way-marks that have been crucial to my sets and my love for this music over the last three decades.
You must have been spoilt for choice picking the tracks...
I was! Just look at the spectrum of where we’ve come from. It’s this huge tree with so many branches coming off it and branches coming off the branches. It represents everything we’ve grown up on in the scene. And every generation that’s passed. My daughter was commenting on it, saying how she remembered growing up to a lot of these tunes. How she didn’t quite get them as a kid but now does. I feel like I’m playing fucking Motown, mate.
It is a modern-day Motown in that sense. These records sound amazing 20 or 30 years later.
You’re right. In terms of electronic music, drum’n’bass has become the modern-day Motown. Its roots go that deep too. It had such strong pre-internet foundations, there’s so much to unravel for anyone who wants to really imbibe the history and embrace it like we did. A lot of people who were involved in those early days made one or two records and their lives moved on, they got other jobs and had other lives, had families, settled down, whatever. But those individuals had such an indelible footprint on our culture, just as much as any of us who continued with it.
A photo of Red Bull Revolutions In Sound performer Goldie in the Metalheazd capsule on the London Eye.
Goldie in the Metalheadz capsule at Red Bull Revolutions In Sound, 2013
Drum’n’bass goes through these phases where it’s deemed ‘uncool’, but none of us give a fuck and continue to put our hearts into it
The Motown equivalent is also true because it’s something that we persisted with, whether it was ‘cool’ or not. We didn’t do it for anyone else, we did for ourselves and our people who understand the culture and want to be part of it. Drum’n’bass goes through these phases where it’s deemed ‘uncool’, but none of us give a fuck and continue to put our hearts into it. Then, without fail, it becomes popular again because a new generation come through, they find the music, they realise how well it's stood up, how unique it sounds and the power it has and they get into it, digging it and joining the dots.
With 30 years of the music there’s a lot to dig through.
Isn’t that beautiful, though? And this album is part of that for anyone who’s just starting to dig. In a way it’s my guilty pleasures album. I’m known for a lot of artistic and conceptual releases but now at this stage of my career it’s nice to have a chance to just shout about the classics that I love and admire and feel have moved the culture along. There’s no pony on there, every tune on there I still play now. It’s been very refreshing to step back and just go ‘these are the tunes I love.’
This is the sound of a post-rave sesh when you’re on the decks and just pulling out classics going ‘remember this one? How about this one?’
Haha yes! After-hours, smoker's delight, decompressing from the night. That’s exactly what we did back in the day too – we’d get home from the club and try and work out what we’d heard, how we heard it. We’d pull out the records we had and celebrate the and analyse the music as much as we could. There’s also a section on the album I call ‘B-side babies’ too, tracks that never got the hype or impact they deserved at the time but have become classics over time.
B-Side Babies! Love that term.
You know what I mean? Those are the tunes that really inspire me because there’s something about them that’s made for the future. And whether it has impact at the time or impact in the future, the best songs become psalms. They’re fucking biblical, mate. Phantom Force, Up All Night, True Romance, Metropolis, Pulp Fiction, I could go on and on and on.
I interview a lot of new artists who release on Metalheadz and we always talk about that late night call you give them with feedback and advice on their release.
Oh wow. Do they talk about that?
Every time! It’s a unique part of the process that’s really valued and appreciated. Not all labels have that personal touch…
That’s nice to hear. Nothing's ever a given but when I work with these guys and I hear so much potential and talent how can I not get in touch with them and make it even more personal and help them bring even more out of themselves? Even down to playing these guys’ tunes with classic tracks like Phantom Force is a way of validating these news tracks and placing them in the continuum. It shows respect for the new music – to show them they are the new generation and we have faith in them. It’s not just me doing that. Andy C does this all the time. There was that video of him mixing Benny L’s Vanta Black with Inner City Life at a massive rave.
Yeah, at Wembley – a lot of people thought it was a new remix.
Exactly. And that is a whole other discussion; how even the culture and artistic style of mixing can create that magical third tune that didn’t exist until the moment you put those records together. But what I loved about that particular mix was that it reminds you that no matter how experimental or avant-garde we get, Metalheadz has the passport to all areas. We’re like the security in that sense. And whether it’s Benny L, Black Barrel, Grey Code, My Nu Leng or any of these guys, I’m so inspired and impassioned about their music and their love for it. If I can give them some time to help them continue on their path, then I will always make those calls.
Not a lot of A&R people from prestigious labels do that but it’s so important for a label to do that. I compare it to my graffiti – I got taught to paint by the best writers in New York who I found in a book and travelled to find out more from. That set the standard for me. It was a very high standard, but I knew that’s how high I had to take it if I wanted to make any type of contribution to the artform myself.
That’s exactly how I’ve always treated the label. It’s about laying it down in a readable way with defined letter forms to show where we’re at and what we’re about. And to take it back to this Drum’n’Bass Life album, that too is a way of me spelling things out very clearly of what has come before us and how high we need to keep the benchmark. I’m very happy the benchmark, for a large part of the genre, has remained that high ever since.
Goldie's Drum & Bass Life is out now on Universal Music On Demand. Order here