Goldie’s music has always been hard for his followers to accurately characterize, perhaps for lack of good language—or, perhaps, they’ve decided that it doesn’t matter, because it’s the DJ’s life story that seems to preoccupy them. I know, for example, that Goldie used to make and sell gold teeth in Miami—but I forgive myself, because with Goldie it is impossible to know too much. No fewer than six pages of the 16-page booklet accompanying his new double CD, Incredible Sound of Drum ‘n’ Bass Mixed by Goldie, detail his improbable trajectory to fame as first ambassador of drum ‘n’ bass: a bleak childhood in Wolverhampton; foster homes; infatuation with punk, then funk, then reggae; a ska explosion; a stint in petty thievery; even a professional roller hockey career! Then Goldie hooked up with breakdancing and graffiti crews, lucked into a DJ apprenticeship with the Wild Bunch, assumed a new identity as a DJ, and made an album, Timeless. And then (whew…almost then…) fame, Bjork, no Bjork, and, more recently, a movie career.
The Goldie story is so rich in street details that it’s easy to forget that Goldie makes music. Timeless and follow-up Saturnz Return managed to slip by me (I’ve heard them but never was knocked enough to ask), though they have made him a major name, literally “the face” of the jungle genre for those who care—fans who, unsurprisingly, mostly reside in the U.K. Those records combine jungle beats with soul singing and occasional synth washes, and are hugely influential—but hardly timeless. Goldie was identified as an innovator in part because he was the first junglist to use time-stretching technology on his tracks, making it possible to preserve the pitch of sounds when their duration has been altered, thus allowing jungle’s sped-up rhythms to retain the illusion of real-time percussion.
Incredible’s vibe, however, is distinctly different; Goldie’s breakthrough records are going to sound aged next to this one. Incredible is actually a DJ mix album, one of those records for which a master DJ takes the tracks of name musicians, other DJs, or his own, chops them up as though he never wants to hear them again, erases their soul, and rearranges them in ways that the original artists would never have imagined.
Goldie’s mix album is a spare, muscular record of hard-hitting drum ‘n’ bass with hardly any vocals. Incredible sounds more detailed and harder-edged than earlier stuff and quite dark for long passages. Occasionally, the mixes conjure a vision of a hard life in monotonous, decaying U.K. housing projects. (Or perhaps it’s the afterburn of all those profiles in The Face—I can’t decide.) It further establishes Goldie the jet-setter as the master synthesist of urban breakbeat culture, a scene that moves so fast that DJs are grabbing and spinning metal acetate records, the playable master copies of albums before they have been mass-produced on vinyl (hence “Metalheadz,” the tag Goldie has used for his club night and touring crew of DJs and performers).
Disc 1 (“Spectrum”) offers tracks like “Unofficial Ghost” and “See Red,” punishing, hyperkinetic statements with odd key shifts and howling keyboard squalls behind them. “No Reality” pulses with a phasing, out-of-sync sound; two different drum beats battle for sonic space. “Rainbows of Colour” runs a psych-soul vocal over wicked bass lines and occasional funk guitar. Disc 2 (“Retro”) opens with the extreme and abstract “Manslaughter,” and Goldie continues the digital madness through the chilly, cyberkinetic “Gesture Without Motion” and the damaged “To Shape the Future (Reckless Mission Dub).” The 26 tracks make for a whuppin’ run, to say the least.
But because his genre is so wildly promiscuous, it’s hard to say whether Goldie has a landmark work on his hands with Incredible—the kind of moment that the Basement Jaxx have with Remedy, their terribly catchy revisitation of house music. The trick with Goldie is that you may, if you’re lucky or on something (such as a dance floor), be totally enveloped by Incredible and realize that you and the world have dissolved into all-powerful beats. Or you might just wonder if what you’re listening to is music at all. CP