An old school b-boy with a next school sound, Goldie's gold-toothed gangsta lean makes Flavor Flav look like Urkel, while his '80s stints as a Miami hustler, graffiti artist and break-dancer have made him the hyperlink between hip hop's tail-wagging accessibility and the fickle, anonymous, underground drum 'n' bass scene from which he came. His 1995 album Timeless (London-ffrr) cataloged drum 'n' bass in all of its exhilarating-but-icy break beat glory for a major label audience.
But this year's Saturnzreturn is more about Goldie than about drums or basses, beginning with an hour-long orchestral track ("Mother") -- his vocals (!) fitting in somewhere between inner child payback and hooked-on-classics karaoke. The track is as ambitious as it is awkward. The double-CD also boasts a hipster's variety show worth of guest appearances: guitarist Noel Gallagher on the straitjacket jungle-rock of "Temper, Temper"; chanteuse Bjork on the sappy but achingly sincere A.R. Kane-ish "Letter of Fate"; KRS-One "represents like the Internet" on "Digital"; David Bowie sings on "Truth." But it's Goldie's personal purging, not his beats, that anchor Saturnzreturn, making it drum 'n' bass' first first-person record -- just as Trent Reznor's Pretty Hate Machine was the first for industrial music in 1990.
But whether Saturnzreturn is a product of talent or just ego (probably both; he doesn't play a note on it, but only produces and sings), Goldie's star power could put drum 'n' bass over in America. Sure, Roni Size has made the case that the genre is the new acid jazz; Photek has emerged as the form's binary samurai, and Adam F is its hotheaded rookie. But you don't see them head-to-toe in Tommy Hilfiger duds, brawling with Tricky over Bjork, dating supermodel Naomi Campbell, noshing with Paul McCartney, opening for Jane's Addiction, and doing movies with Bowie and Val Kilmer.
Or, for Detroit's sake, deejaying at Hamtramck's Motor, which Goldie will do this Sunday night. So far, Detroit's interest in drum 'n' bass, even the more commercial "jungle," has been ancillary at best. Where, say, San Francisco clubs spice up drum 'n' bass with scratch deejays, go-go dancers and MCs, drawing as many gawkers as dancers, drum 'n' bass in Detroit has been limited to a few small parties, straddling the hip-hop and rave scenes, not joining them. Detroit's club scene prefers bass music, and so far only 105.9's DJ Zap has dared to mix UK drum 'n' bass into the more linear, urban Detroit bass playlist.
But as Goldie once said, "Music should be naked," and up until now one could surmise that's why he's shirtless in all his publicity photos. As a relative newcomer to deejaying (he began only last year), being behind the turntables at Motor this Sunday and in front of his Detroit techno heroes such as Carl Craig may indeed be where his musical sensibility is most naked, no matter how much Hilfiger he wears. Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org