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Heart of gold

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In the 1990s, Goldie became one of the most influential figures on the drum’n’bass scene and a permanent fixture in British tabloids thanks to his notoriously hedonistic lifestyle. As the years rolled by, he remained one of the world’s most famous DJs but gradually toned down the excess. On his recent trip to Cambodia, 7Days caught up with him to discuss music and a determination to give something back.

It’s probably not the best idea to attempt to doorstep a man like Goldie.

As I sit, waiting in the lobby of his hotel, the only thing on my mind is those famous gold teeth, bared and snarling at the trembling journalist who had dared interrupt his short trip to the Kingdom.

Then comes a call, followed by a race across Phnom Penh at speeds you could only really get away with in this country.

Goldie is at the new Pontoon nightclub but has to check in for his flight back to Thailand in less than an hour.

One of the world’s most famous, certainly most recognisable, DJs is padding around the site of the new club.

I can barely hear his words above the din created by drills and grinders but make out enough: “Sure, you can interview me. But in return I get to punch you in the face.”

The thought is terrifying. Thousands of dollars worth of chunky gold ring connecting with my flabby cheek, especially when delivered by an arm as carefully sculpted as Goldie’s, is not how I would normally choose to begin an interview.

Then comes the laugh, the glint of gold, and a playful tap on the arm. “Come on, we’ll go outside in the sunshine.”

To anyone with even a passing interest in electronic music, Goldie is a big deal.

After being brought up in care homes and by foster parents, he became interested in the nascent urban scene in his native Wolverhampton, UK.

After feeling his way in via breakdance and graffiti, Goldie shot to wider prominence with his first album, Timeless, which was released in 1995.

It garnered tremendous critical acclaim and confirmed the man christened Clifford Price as one of the most important figures in the breakbeat and drum’n’bass genres.

His second album, Saturnz Return, included collaborations with the likes of David Bowie and Noel Gallagher. A star had been born.

As we stand in the searing afternoon heat, the most obvious question tumbles out first: Just what is he doing in Cambodia?

It is around this time that I realise Goldie is a talker. Words fly from his mouth like a swarm of bees, buzzing into the warm air and often veering off in a variety of directions.

He is also extremely generous with his time, occasionally placating his wife, who was clearly becoming anxious about getting to the airport, with: “Don’t worry, just give us five more minutes.”

In the end, we speak for almost 20 minutes, but that length of time with Goldie is like an hour with anyone else, such is the slew of words which tumble out at breakneck speed.

On the matter of why he is here, the legendary DJ and producer reveals that he and his wife, Mika, have become involved with an NGO (that wishes to remain anonymous) that works with vulnerable children in the Kingdom.

“I’ve got an interest in this kind of thing because I’ve got a background of growing up in institutions, so I think there is a connection there. We sponsor a few kids here because I like to do my bit. It’s all right having a glamorous life but I definitely feel connected to that kind of stuff.

“I’ve had the big houses, the cars; all the trappings of a privileged life but soon you get sick of the riches and decide you want some wealth. How do we estimate what wealth is? I think you can estimate wealth by what you put into it – it’s pointless breaking off a chip of a Mars Bar when you can have the whole bar. I think the most valuable thing anyone can give is their time. You meet these young people and influence them, and that’s great.

“I’m just grateful that I get the chance to come and do things like this. When you live in a street where every house has a Ferrari, there’s no value to what you’re doing. I like being able to juxtapose that with what I’m doing – I’ve got no qualms about sitting in economy, do you know what I mean?”

That rhetorical question brings to an end almost two minutes of non-stop chat.

This is what it is like talking to Goldie, akin to being caught in a whirlwind made of words.

He answers his own questions, throws in odd metaphors about Mars bars and rephrases points he has already made.

It soon becomes impossible to take in everything he is saying, but not for a second do I question his authenticity.

He speaks passionately about helping those less fortunate and is an incredibly warm interviewee, constantly tapping my arm and laughing.

He also litters his monologues with curses and retains a strong Midlands accent.

For a man almost as well known for his hell-raising antics as his groundbreaking music (as well as high-profile relationships with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Björk), it is apparent that he has curbed the excesses of his younger days.

And it seems it was his marriage to Mika just over a year ago that helped provide that final push.

“We got married in a Buddhist ceremony in Phuket last year so we wanted to come back to this part of the world and just reflect on a great first year of marriage.

We’re just about to have our first baby and we’re very happy, so we thought we’d come and check out Cambodia while we were here.

In the same amount of time as it would take us to drive to Birmingham, we thought why not go and see this kids’ foundation that we’re sponsoring.

We wanted to see where our money is going. I’m not some rich fucking philanthropist but I do like to do my bit. I think everyone can do their bit.”

While this new, improved Goldie is not shy in discussing his wilder days, and also seems proud of being a decent human being, he alludes to the fact that this was not always the case in the past, when he was perhaps too focused on both music and his own ego.

“Nine times out of 10, the man in the street can say: ‘All right, mate. Do you fancy a beer?’ I try my best not to be detached from that.

There was a time, about 15 years ago, when I probably had my head up my arse. I didn’t give a fuck about anyone or anything – apart from my genre of music.

“I couldn’t have chosen more difficult things. I chose graffiti – the shit end of the art world. And I chose drum’n’bass – the shit end of music. But that was my choice and I realised that choice had worked out OK in the 90s. I had the chance to go and do Madonna’s album and other people like that but I thought, ‘Do you know what? I don’t want to do your stuff because I don’t think I’ve finished with my own genre and what we’re supposed to do with it.’ I like to think I’ve done that now and that we were able to set a bit of a benchmark for that scene.”

Goldie is not a man prone to understatement, but one certainly slipped out there.

His effect on drum’n’bass cannot be overstated, where he played a major part in shifting it from the underground to, if not quite commercialisation, at least a wider audience.

That this was not achieved through his own music, which often remained complex and niche, but rather through the commercialisation of Goldie himself, is something he is well aware of and not afraid to confront.

“You’re always going to get commerciality. I guess I’m one of the more commercial faces out there but the music I play is definitely not,” he says with a big laugh.

“You can stick me on [the UK reality TV show] Strictly Come Dancing or any of that other stuff but that is just me trying to keep up an awareness of who I am and keep things balanced. What I mean is, while I’m somebody doing all this high-profile, caricature of myself stuff, I’m still playing underground music and I still create underground art. People might ask why and it’s mainly because it keeps my pulse going, it keeps me young and it keeps me in check … I’ve done all this commercial stuff but feel I have maintained my integrity.”

Dedication to his art is something Goldie returns to time and again.

Almost as if he feels the need to ram the message home in light of the “high-profile, caricature of myself stuff” he has appeared on in recent years.

It is clear his worst nightmare is becoming ‘Goldie, the guy from TV’, as opposed to Goldie, the musician and artist.

To this end, he was hoping to play at Pontoon on his recent trip but missed out on the club’s opening by a little over a week.

Stood outside a nightclub during the daytime, he feels “like a clown without make-up” but is pleased to announce that he will be back in the not too distant future, when he will try to educate the Penh in the ways of drum’n’bass. Whether we like it or not.

“I’m coming back to Asia in April to do an art show in Korea. I’ll also be playing in places like Singapore and Japan so we’re going to do a gig at Pontoon as well.

The place will be finished and I’d like to try to give everyone a bit of a buzz from some underground music. I’m not sure if everyone will fucking get it but I like that. I like going to a place that’s a bit different, I don’t want to be playing on fucking Koh Samui strip where people don’t actually care.

“In England, when people don’t know what something is, nine times out of 10 their attitude is that they’re not interested. We’ve already fought for this music, to make it heard, and the same for urban culture. Then you can come somewhere like here, where there’s about one drum’n’bass night a year and try to reach people. Why the fuck would I come here and play commercial stuff? I’m not going to compromise, I’ll play music whether people like it or not. It will always filter down to those who enjoy it.”

As the owner of his own independent record label, currently on its 93rd release, Goldie clearly remains his own man when it comes to music.

He speaks at length about the death of the album, describing himself as “all about the long-player”, and laments the way he feels music is going.

“I think that nowadays, kids go out but they aren’t educated by music; it’s very disposable … House DJs are like footballers. They press a button, look great and mess around a bit. There’s no science in there … I’ve come up through music and art and one of them has been compromised because music has become downloadable and it’s free. I think a lot of people now think that music is supposed to be free, which means a lot of the artists don’t get paid. It’s like cutting your hands off. Music isn’t meant to be disposable, it’s something that has value.”

Goldie has now been holding court for almost 20 minutes and, while I’m positive he could go on for hours, the squeal of rubber on tarmac as his plane takes off is edging closer to reality. With the eyes of his beautiful wife burning into me, I slip in one last question: Is he looking forward to coming back to play in Cambodia?

He answers in a way that only Goldie could.

“Of course. On a level tip, it’s just great to introduce people to something different. I like opening doors. If you want to come through it, fine. If you don’t, if you just have a quick look through, it doesn’t really matter. Just don’t close the fucking thing on your way out because someone else might want to come in.”

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