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May 28 2011

The time of grime - in pictures

Don't Call Me Urban! is the result of a 12-year project documenting London's grime scene by Simon Wheatley

January 30 2011

Goldie interview: The alchemist

Abandoned as a toddler, Goldie couldn't have had a worse start in life. But today the street-art pioneer, drum 'n' bass supremo, and TV star is an infectiously happy man. In a candid interview he talks about learning to love his mother, inspiring the next generation and why he'd rather dine with Kim Jong-il than Simon Cowell

Has Goldie ever had an unexpressed thought? I'm not entirely sure. He's just such a talker. He can talk and talk and talk, and two weeks after interviewing him, he rings me up when I'm in the supermarket, and for reasons that escape me, I agree to accompany him to a darkened basement off Oxford Street where, for the best part of 90 minutes, I feel like I'm about to die. Bikram, the extreme version of yoga, performed in a room heated to more than 100F, is Goldie's latest enthusiasm, and although I do at one point wonder whether I'm having a cardiac episode, I come to understand why he does it: afterwards he's strangely quiet and calm, like he's been stunned by a tranquilliser dart. (I'm catatonic, but that's another story.)

It's a relief, actually, to see that he can sit still, because interviewing him is not unlike spending several hours in the company of a toddler who's been overdoing the orange squash. When I arrive at his house he tells me he'd been up until 2am the night before, painting, before starting again at 8am; he's already done the photo shoot and is now showing the awed photographer his trainers collection while simultaneously consulting with Chris, the engineer who works for his record label, Metalheadz, who is waiting patiently to get to work on their latest project, an orchestral arrangement of "Timeless", the title track from his 1995 debut album. Mika, his wife of a year, is in the kitchen baking scones and within 30 seconds of walking through the door, he thrusts one towards me: "Taste that! Isn't that scontastic!" before whisking me off up the stairs to show me the love letters he wrote to her, a great big box of them, all hand-written and intricately designed.

Then it's back downstairs and into the kitchen, talking all the time, bouncing off the walls practically. "Did you feel comfortable when you arrived here today?" he asks me later. And I did. He can still look pretty menacing with the gold teeth and the tattoos and the bling, but he's also the perfect host, warm, friendly, generous with the scones (and the trainers – the photographer leaves with a pair and looks like he might burst with joy) and prone to spontaneous outbursts of hugging.

"I can't believe you ever needed to do drugs," I say, because he's 45 now, but in his younger days, hanging out with the likes of Noel Gallagher, he used to "toot for England". In his case, he says, the drugs literally didn't work. "They had a polarising effect. Cocaine would make me go very quiet and into myself." These days, Goldie says, he has just "one vice left" – he smokes – and for the most part lives quietly in a small village in the Hertfordshire commuter belt (just past the golf course, before the church), as unlikely a spot as you could ever think of to find the man who pioneered graffiti art in the UK and was one of the founding fathers of drum 'n' bass. His daughter Chance ("12 going on 26") lives with him during the week, and although he still flies around the world DJing, he's also, since the BBC2 series Maestro, in which he learned to conduct an orchestra, reinvented himself as a mainstream television performer, the latest incarnation of which can be seen in a new BBC2 series, Goldie's Band: By Royal Appointment.

According to the BBC, it's about "the transformative power of music in young people's lives", and in it he takes 12 youths aged 17 to 24, matches them up with musical mentors including Soweto Kinch and Cerys Matthews, and after three days of hothousing makes them perform a grand finale at Buckingham Palace in front of Prince Harry. It's a perfect piece of casting, because if anybody knows what it is to be a troubled, directionless teenager, it's Goldie.

"When I think about these kids and look at them it's like a clock turning back," he says. "It's like looking in a mirror and having all these reflections of all these young kids. And I also think how fucking lucky that I am, how blessed that I am to be in this position."

THIS ISN'T HYPERBOLE. He was born Clifford Joseph Price in Walsall; his mother, Margaret, was a Scottish pub singer, and his father, Clement, an itinerant Jamaican, disappeared shortly after he was born. When he was three his mother put him into care, while his half-brothers remained at home. For the rest of his childhood he was bounced between foster carers and children's homes as, he says, "this kid, Cliff, who no one paid much attention to".

He could barely remember his mother, nor did he have any contact with her. "But I knew what she smelled like. And I remember down to the day when the social worker came to take me away. Me and my brother rolled down this hill on a trolley, all the way to the bottom and we fell off and were laughing, and then we went back up the hill, and this car pulled up and a woman got out with a guy and they took me away."

The fact he has such a vivid recall for events in his childhood – the smells and the sounds of it – and is able to conjure it up, decades on, means it's really not a stretch to empathise with the kids in the programme, whose lives, he believes, will be changed by the experience. "It's like the opposite of the X Factor," he says. "Think about the people who aren't making it on there. Think about how dysfunctional they feel, how failed they feel, a panel of people going: 'Sorry, you're going to fail.' I find it quite crushing. I can't watch it. I actually physically want to vomit. It's a circus. Simon Cowell is the George Bush of the music industry.

"He doesn't know fuck all about music, I'll tell you that for a fact," he continues. "I'd rather sit down and have dinner with that guy from Korea, what's his name?"

"Kim Jong-il?"

"With Kim Jong-il. I'd rather have dinner with him. I find the whole thing like the Nuremberg Rallies."

But then if Goldie is sensitive to the idea of kids being treated like failures, it's hardly surprising. Outcomes for children brought up in care are unremittingly bleak, and there was nobody in his life who expected anything of him, who thought he'd ever amount to anything. Apart from one lone art teacher. "In the programme we go back and I surprise him at his retirement party. It was such a poignant moment. It was the first time I'd seen him since I was a teenager. He was completely in shock, and I just burst into tears. I felt you just need that one person. That one person who goes: 'C'mon, man.'"

It was because of that teacher that he got into art and because of art that he discovered graffiti and because of graffiti that he got into drum 'n' bass and went on to have a major hit with his first album, and then founded his record label, Metalheadz. There was a time in the 1990s when he was on the cover of every magazine, he dated Naomi Campbell, was engaged to Björk, played a Bond villain in The World is Not Enough and appeared in Guy Ritchie's Snatch. It all dates back to when he was 16 and ran away from the children's home to live with his mother on a high-rise estate in Walsall; by the time he was 17, he'd become one of the most accomplished graffiti artists in the UK, covering the walls of his estate with 60 different murals.

There's a curious circularity at work in his latest show, because it was a Channel 4 documentary made when he was still a teenager that had a profound and lasting effect upon his life. Bombin', a film by Dick Fontaine, brought some of the Bronx-based pioneers of hip hop, a culture that went on to conquer the world, to the UK, including the influential street artist Brim Fuentes, and then took a group which included Goldie and 3D (who went on to form Massive Attack) to New York.

Brim became Goldie's artistic mentor, New York was the place that lifted his horizons, and America was where he would later become "Goldie". What's more, the cameraman on the documentary, Gus Corral, became a substitute father figure: at one stage Goldie ended up living with him for several years. There's a record of all this: look on YouTube and you can find a rather sweet and sensitive-looking Clifford Price, age 16, holding a spray can and being interviewed on Pebble Mill. "But is it art?" the reporter asks him. "Or is it vandalism?" Then there he is, aged 17, on Bombin', still quiet and softly spoken and very obviously in awe of Brim and co. Fast forward 15 years and he shows up in another Channel 4 documentary, The Saturn Returnz, in which, at the height of his drum 'n' bass fame, he goes in search of his roots.

"I was talking to [Goldie's Band director] Craig Blackhurst and he said to me: 'Has it ever occurred to you that your life has been like a reality TV show?' And I said: 'How do you mean?' And he said: 'Your life has been like The Truman Show.' From the age of three, my life has been documented by social workers. There's a file somewhere in Walsall Social Services saying: 'He was a bit difficult today; he was trying to find out about his parents.' Or: 'He locked himself in his room and is collecting beer mats.'"

There is something slightly The Lives of Others about how his life has been officially recorded, and the documentaries themselves make compelling viewing. In The Saturn Returnz, he's a grown man, 33 years of age, but watching him find his father in Miami and ask him about why he abandoned him, he looks like a bewildered adolescent. In another sequence he goes and visits one of his foster carers, Mrs Newell, with whom he lived for three years. "What went wrong?" he asks her. "You hated women," she says matter-of-factly. It was an epiphanic moment, he says. "It was like this big bell in my head just went: 'Gong!' And suddenly everything made sense."

He had to leave Mrs Newell's because "you started on Rita", her adopted daughter. "I drove her mad," he says. "She couldn't breathe. This thing appeared in her throat and she had to go and have an operation on it. I'd just whisper, whisper, whisper at her."

But then it was during this period, he tells me, that other stuff happened, too. It's not something he's ever talked about before, that he didn't even acknowledge to himself until a few years ago, when he was in therapy at the Hoffman Institute, but between the ages of 10 and 12 he was sexually abused by an older girl.

"I think, in this awful Freudian way, that when this abuse was going on, I just wanted to be loved. I felt like I was climbing up inside her vagina, trying to get back into the belly. I remember pubic hairs being stuck in my teeth. I know it's gross. That's gross, right? And afterwards, I remember suckling her breast, and then when she sent me away, I felt completely rejected. It was fucking awful, when I think about it."

In spite of everything, he believes he was better off in care. Jo-Jo, the half-brother who stayed with his mother, "does nothing". And Melvin, the other half-brother? "Nothing." Although this is an improvement on when Melvin was doing something, namely armed robbery, for which he did various stints in jail. Goldie found a different outlet. "I honestly believe art and music saved me," he says. "Art and music saved my life. I am blessed."

SADLY, IT COULDN'T SAVE HIS SON. Last September, Jamie Price was jailed for life for stabbing and killing a rival gang member outside a Wolverhampton nightclub. It's incredibly difficult trying to get the story about Jamie's childhood straight. Goldie has had four children by four different women: "We all ended up banging this bird one night, and my lucky number came up." And while there's no doubt that he's an attentive father to Chance, who's at a private girl's school down the road, it doesn't sound like he's played the biggest of roles in his older sons' upbringing.

Jamie was his second son by his then girlfriend Michelle, who he describes as "my first love". Nine weeks after Jamie was born, "Melvin [Goldie's brother] fucked her. There was nothing I could do. I just left to go to America. He was the guy who everyone was scared of. I'd come back and found my family and then got fucked over by them again."

He had little contact with Jamie as a child. "They wouldn't let me. And then when he came of age, I said: 'Come and stay with me', and he came down here and stayed here, and I was trying to replace the lost years. But it just wouldn't stick. He started stealing. He took a car and crashed it and lied blatantly. And I said: 'That's it; it's time for you to go. I've tried.' And then I let him back in again. I got him back here and he started doing the same thing. I told him: 'You have to be responsible for your actions.'"

"Some people would say the same, though, of the parents," I say. "That you have to take responsibility for your children."

"I'm bearing responsibility. But look: when they're young and they kick the ball next door and break the window, you go round and apologise. When they get to a certain age, they've got to be responsible for the window that they've broken. He rang me last week and apologised. And I said: 'Thank you, son, but you don't need to be sorry to me. You need to look inside yourself. Don't be sorry for me. Be sorry for that mother who woke up without a kid.'"

One of the saddest things, I think, is that Goldie has the wit and talent to engage with street culture intelligently; to take the best parts and do something interesting with it, and ultimately he has brought it to a wider audience. Whereas Jamie engaged with street culture, too, but was simply seduced by the macho violence of it.

"I sat with my daughter Chance and I made her read the story about Jamie, and she was in fucking bits," Goldie says. "And people can say that's cruel, but she'd already heard about it. And I told her: 'That's what happens when you throw your life away.'"

Goldie managed to escape the streets and the casual gang violence of his youth. His life is stable now, he says – and Mika, a designer, who's half-Japanese and grew up in Canada, seems to be as smart and sensible as they come – but it's taken him an awfully long time to get here. "I had so much anger. So much anger. Particularly towards my mother. I was a really, really angry person, and it was ruining me."

"A lot of people would say that you had a lot to be angry about," I say.

"The thing is that it's all about empathy. I thought: I've just got to find empathy. Because I went through all these things, but so did she. And I love her. I love her in a different way from someone who grew up with her. I love her in a certain way. It's an understanding."

HIS MOTHER WAS HERE, staying with him a month ago, in this house, and it seems as if he's finally managed to bring all the parts of his life together. "Your house," I say, "reminds me of the kind of house a child would draw: it's square and solid, with a red door right in the middle of it and a pointed roof."

"You know, you're the first person who's said that. But it's exactly that."

"Is this the kind of family house you dreamed of as a child?"

"It is. I wanted a happy home somewhere in the countryside. Somewhere I could play. And I've kind of created that."

At another point Goldie says he wanted somewhere "to grow up". Growing up the first time around, without a mother or a father, in an institution, perpetually the new boy at a new school, was so painful that he seems to be doing it all over again. When he tells me the story of how he met Mika, in Shanghai, he says: "We were like two 12-year-olds. We were literally 12 for the next six months."

"Do you think you were having your adolescence again, but having it properly? "

"Yes! I'd never thought of it like that. But that's exactly what it was. It was like me finally getting to grow, healthily. We did the courtship, the whole six months, and then she came to London, and we still didn't sleep together."

Really? Is this really the same Goldie who once told an interviewer that he'd lost count of the number of women he'd slept with?

"Yeah really, swear to God. And then she came back again, and it was like: this is going to be awkward, let's just get it out the way. And we did it and we were like: 'There's all this gooey stuff!' We were like kids. It was so teenage. I'd never had that. I'd never had a real relationship."

He's so open, Goldie, guileless in so many ways and when I say that to him, he says: "The part of me you don't know is the part of me that hasn't happened yet." He did Celebrity Come Dine With Me recently, "and they were saying to me: 'You're supposed to have your TV version of you and then you have your other version'".

"That's what celebs do!" I say. "Don't you even know that?"

"There's only one version. There's only me."

"Maybe it's because you have never had privacy," I say.

"I know. That's what I'm learning now with Mika. We have our own language, and it's ours. It's us."

It seems like finally, perhaps, Goldie's very own Truman Show might just be over.

Goldie's Band: By Royal Appointment starts on BBC 2 on 22 February. Goldie is speaking at TEDx Observer on 19 March ( © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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October 12 2010

Ne-Yo unveils team up with Stan Lee

R&B star collaborating with comics guru on Libra Scale, a multimedia project that tells a superhero story through music videos

He's no stranger to collaboration but US R&B star Ne-Yo unveiled his strangest team-up to date over the weekend. The R&B singer shared a stage with 87-year-old comics legend Stan Lee at the New York Comic Con on Saturday to unveil his first foray into the medium.

Ne-Yo has collaborated with the former Marvel president on Libra Scale, a comic strip written to complement his forthcoming album of the same name.

As part of an ambitious multimedia project, the videos to the album's first three singles – Beautiful Monster, Champagne Life and One in a Million – represent a continuous live-action comic-book narrative, with two more videos promised.

The story concerns a hero called Jerome who is granted superpowers with the proviso that he must never fall in love. When he breaks the pact by falling for a girl called Pretti Sinclair, she is transformed into supervillain Diamond Eyes and an epic battle ensues.

On the convention stage, Lee said: "Basically a really good rapper or really good music is super because people love it – and it inspires a man, it makes him feel great Reading a really good comic book with super characters does the same thing. And I promised Ne-Yo that I'm gonna make him feel at home and make sure that he feels comfortable with what we're doing, because he's a very shy guy!

"But seriously ... nothing appeals to young people or even older people as much as a good story and good music, so we're gonna put them both together."

An increasing number of musicians have been dabbling in the comic-book world. Gerard Way, the My Chemical Romance frontman, won an Eisner award for his series The Umbrella Academy, while Melissa Auf der Maur adapted her recent album Out of Our Minds into both a graphic novel and a short film. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 08 2010

The RZA remixes historical art

The Wu-Tang Clan chieftain's new solo work is a set of limited-edition canvas prints featuring his mugshot plastered over a classic American painting

History repeats itself. When Wu-Tang Clan formed in the 1990s, The RZA promised they would totally dominate the hip-hop scene within five years – and they did, under his draconian leadership.

More than two centuries earlier in December 1776, George Washington's ragged and hungry continental army had camped, apparently spent, on the Pennsylvania shore of the Delaware river. The American rebels were losing the War of Independence. What could be done? Washington chose a desperate tactic: he led his army in boats across the icy river to attack the British at Trenton. He survived the crossing, won the battle, and gave the revolution new hope and passion.

Victory or death – and in both cases it was victory.

The RZA calls his new body of artworks just that: Victory or Death. They sample and remix Emanuel Leutze's 1851 painting Washington Crossing the Delaware in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. So history repeats itself – but Hegel, who first said this, forgot to add, the first time as tragedy, the second as a limited-edition set of canvas prints for well-off Wu-Tang fans to hang in their cribs.

The RZA's Victory or Death consists of an edition of full-size canvas prints of Leutze's painting, altered in what some might call a self-aggrandising way, with his individual blood-red handprints on each one.

The American flag loftily touted by Washington's brave band has become the flag of Wu. So this is a history painting appropriated to equate the rise of a hip-hop outfit with the most heroic narrative of the American War of Independence.

And why not? Washington's war did not liberate everybody, it underlined that all humans are NOT created equal. Stealing his image is a modest enough comeback. What is fun to ponder is where The RZA may go from here as a visual artist. What famous American painting could be purloined to commemorate the historical significance of Gravediggaz? I would suggest Grant Wood's eerie work The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, which is also in the Met, or maybe a photograph of the Civil War dead by Matthew Brady – but no, I've got it. The only place to go from here in commemorating himself and his works is Barnett Newman's colossal abstract history painting, Vir Heroicus Sublimis, which translates as Man Heroic and Sublime. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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