pop; Pioneering the jungle gold rush

How to give jungle real bite in the pop market - Goldie takes drum 'n' bass overground. By Ben Thompson

On a Monday night at the Blue Note art gallery in Hoxton, a private view is in progress. A funny mixture of media folk, art people and what might modestly be termed the Jungle Massive come together in a couple of rooms to look at pictures with titles like B-Boy and B-Girl and Goldicus. A bit of paper tells us that in these paintings airbrushed backdrops are combining with wild-style graffiti and angular graphics to create a "fresh, urban style". I'm not quite sure about them, but the interface between music and paint is often a messy one: some people don't like Captain Beefheart's art either.

Outside the gallery a man is leaning against the back of a BMW. His teeth would make an airport metal detector play a haunting melody. He shares his name - Goldie - with a Blue Peter dog. He is, by pretty much universal accord, "jungle's first superstar" and is about to release a very fine album. When he gets off the mobile, someone from his record company tries to reassure him that it is a good idea to release his 105 minute tour de force Timeless in a limited edition, as the resulting high initial chart position will make the world "sit up and take notice". But this view has been somewhat overtaken by events; the world has already sat up and taken notice.

Slipping down to the local newsagents the next morning for a crafty read of the magazine rack, someone is already there, reading articles about Goldie. He has plenty to choose from. Among many other achievements, the multi-faceted 30-year-old has managed the rare feat of being on the front cover of indie-centric Melody Maker and dance-tastic Mix-mag in the same week. It's a strange sort of distinction - like being simultaneously number one in Iceland and Israel - but it means something. A few months back, sometime Goldie collaborator A Guy Called Gerald released an album called Black Secret Technology (Juicebox) that was in many ways the equal of Timeless in innovative excellence: but no one was beating down his door to get him on their front cover.

What Goldie has is something that everyone seems to have decided jungle (or drum 'n' bass, or new urban blues, or whatever you call the great clattering contorting head-trip of contemporary break-beat music) needs - and that is a face. This time last year, the man pledging to lead it to the promised land was the hilariously under-qualified General Levy. But Goldie is a very different proposition.

Only two causes for concern have been noted and the first one of these is stupid. What you might fairly call the "noble savage" position decrees that jungle should stay subterranean and scary and atavistic because it is more exciting that way. On a more rational, less implicitly racist note, there is a slight danger that the mechanism which has served jungle so well - small, fiercely independent labels with great names like Suburban Base and Moving Shadow, reminiscent of the great R&B pioneers of the post- war USA - might be fouled up in the switch from underground to overground.

Listen to Timeless though, and any doubts about this becoming an album as well as a singles and compilation-based music are swiftly banished. Timeless is the most complete and uplifting long-player ever made in Stevenage and with it Goldie and his industrious engineer - Moving Shadow boss Rob Playford - have created the perfect showcase; not only for jungle's inspirational vitality and technological derring-do, or its oft-overlooked capacity for soulfulness, but also the sheer breadth of musical possibility it encompasses. When Goldie calls in jazzers Steve Williamson and Cleveland Watkiss, as he does on the blissful "Adrift", it is not for effect: they are simply the best people for the job.

From the darker than dark "Saint Angel" to the pavement rhapsody of "State of Mind", the range of moods is breathtaking, celebrating the room you can find in the city - the happy little cracks that open up sometimes in the wide-open spaces of your head - as much as the awful pull of the vortex. If Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross" was a dolphin, it would be Goldie's "Sea of Tears". If Massive Attack's "Unfinished Sympathy" had a friend for ever, it would be "Inner City Life".

And as if the music itself weren't enough, there is Goldie, the man who made it. Absent black Jamaican dad, white Scottish mum, brought up in West Midlands foster homes, he makes a bit of a name as a graffiti artist and achieves the highest ambition of all underground music personalities by appearing on Pebble Mill. He goes to New York and Miami, makes customised gold teeth, is all but sucked into the sort of criminality most UK gangster wannabes can only dream of, then comes back to Britain to hear DJ Grooverider on the decks at Rage in 1991 and be redeemed by the beat.

"Tapping into people's innards": that's how Goldie describes what it is that he is up to. So far he has shown an admirable readiness to project his own ideas rather than be a blank screen for everybody else's. Some day a film will be made about his mysterious mid-Eighties graffiti-painting friendship with Massive Attack's 3-D and Soul II Soul and Bjork production wizard Nellee Hooper, and it will be like a British musical version of Stand By Me, only much, much better.

n 'Urban Blue', an exhibition of work by the artist Goldie is at The Blue Note Gallery, Hoxton Square, N1 till 11 August. 'Timeless' (Metalheads/FFRR) is released on Monday

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