An excerpt from

Renegade Snares

Carl Loben and Ben Murphy

The buzz of the South Bank in London is a long way from the South Bronx in New York, where a quarter of a century previously one Clifford Price (aka Goldie) was hanging with the TATS CRU of graffiti writers. Graffiti still adorns the skate-park underneath the concrete gables just along from the National Film Theatre, but Goldie’s work these days is taking place in rather more salubrious surroundings — in the prestigious Royal Festival Hall.

It’s the ultimate endgame for a style of music that Goldie played such a big part in shaping. His Timeless album in 1995 catapulted drum & bass into the mainstream, and Goldie with it. An aural masterwork that still stands up two decades later, it’s now being revisited by Goldie in a new form.

We’re here for the second show of Goldie’s full orchestral interpretation of Timeless with The Heritage Orchestra. It’s the most powerful refutation imaginable for the haters who said drum & bass was “too fast, ain’t gonna last”. Drum & bass has been derided and overlooked, written off and ridiculed, but is now perceived as high culture. It’s in the Royal-fucking-Festival Hall. It’s transcended functionality.

Goldie was on a limited budget, comparatively, when recording Timeless. He’d scored a major record deal, yet orchestras were expensive. For the care home kid from Wolverhampton to want orchestras in the first place showed the bold ambition of the Metalheadz man.

Inside the Royal Festival Hall, with its boxes up the walls straight out of a ’70s sci-fi movie, there’s a breathless expectation about the crowd. Despite the odd junglism tee, most don’t look like old ravers. It’s a mixture of theatregoers and classical concertgoers, mingling with a fair share of heads.

There’s loads of kit onstage, and when The Heritage Orchestra emerge from the shadows, all wearing Timeless T-shirts with a twisted Metalheadz skull design on the front, clutching violins, cellos and other instruments, they’re greeted warmly. Goldie stands nonchalantly at the side of the stage, before he emerges on cue. 

There aren’t many musicians in popular music that have the chutzpah to harness the immense power of a full orchestra and simultaneously rock the joint to its foundations like a sweaty rave. But Goldie is that man, and just one of the key players in the formation and evolution of modern music’s last new language. This live performance tonight is elegant, fierce, explosive, reflective; exquisitely organised chaos, the paradoxical balance that defines the genre.

The crowd are on their feet, the two drummers smack the skins for all they’re worth; the horn section conjure the vengeful spirit of darkcore rave synths. In the quieter moments the musicality of Timeless unfurls through the massed string section. It’s a stunning spectacle, and in the eye of the storm, Goldie vacillates between meditative reflection and crazed concert conductor, egging on the players to ever-greater feats. His faith in the power of drum & bass is infectious.