In the summer of 1995, a new club night opened in a lost corner of east London. We join Goldie for a trip back to his groundbreaking Metalheadz Sunday Sessions at the Blue Note in Hoxton Square…
“You went down the steps and opened those double doors, and the heat used to hit you,” says Goldie, remembering the simmering atmosphere at his legendary Metalheadz club night. “This really was an underground club, but you were welcome if you got your head down and enjoyed yourself. There was a queue round the block on a weekly basis. It was such a phenomenal vibe – brilliant! Week in and week out…”
In July 1995, Goldie and fellow DJs (and Metalheadz label bosses) Kemistry & Storm launched a new weekly event in a rundown part of east London that would become one of the UK’s most influential clubs. Metalheadz Sunday Sessions, hosted at the Blue Note in Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, started just before Goldie released his classic debut album, ‘Timeless’. The venue was soon a hub for the most futuristic and experimental side of drum ’n’ bass, a genre that was exploding in popularity at the time. Back then, Shoreditch and much of the East End was neglected and rough, with none of the gentrification associated with it now.
“Shoreditch was desolate, it was like the meatpacking district in every city,” says Goldie. “There was fuck all around on Curtain Road.”
Looking for a space to host the Metalheadz night, named after his and Kemistry & Storm’s label, Goldie and his business partners thought the Blue Note, run by Acid Jazz label boss and DJ Eddie Piller, might be a good fit.
“Eddie had his Acid Jazz thing going on at the club, which was a bit of a find,” he says. “A guy called Sav Remzi who was managing the place at the time said, ‘Let me speak to Eddie and maybe get you in’.”
Securing the venue for Sunday nights, Goldie viewed the time slot and the 1am closing time as a blessing. Having been a fan of all-day music events in his youth, he decided to start the evening early, at 7pm, and close by 12.30am.
“There’s a part of me that is melancholy, that laments the passing of the all-dayer – I loved them. I spent my youth going round the country on trains, to daytime events at The Powerhouse in Birmingham and to Rock City in Nottingham. Once you were in there and you soaked into it for a few hours, you forgot it was daylight outside. I felt it was really cool to fit into that, and also because, culturally, we were trying to do something different.”
Goldie’s musical style and tastes were rooted in the jungle scene that had evolved from hardcore in the capital, before spreading across the country. But he had little interest in the ragga-driven, MC-led version of it, which in 1994 had made stars of artists like General Levy and Shy FX. To him, jungle – or drum ’n’ bass as it was increasingly known – was best appreciated as an instrumental form of music, where extra emphasis could be placed on sound design, production and the low-end. The Blue Note was a place where he and the resident DJs could concentrate on the evolution and mutations of this sonically adventurous form.
“It was just different branches of a tree, that we knew were quickly growing,” says Goldie. “We felt that the music was the dominant force and that you should hear the compositions in their entirety, in the mix. That was seen as elitist, but you know what? If that’s the word for it, I don’t give a fuck. I’d already experienced sound systems and MCs, and hip hop and MCs on every level. So to have this music that resonated its emotions through sound, without dialogue, was always something for me.”
After the launch and a few weeks of quiet dancefloors, the word soon spread, and the club became packed to capacity, with fans eager to catch DJ sets from residents like Fabio & Grooverider, Kemistry & Storm and Doc Scott.
“You could play the same tunes every week,” says Goldie. “But the way the DJs played them, the artform could really shine through. It was very creative music, and that needs a different kind of light. The crowd knew that.”
With Jamaican food served on the top floor from opening time till 8.30pm, and board games set up for those who wanted a breather, attendees who descended into the bowels of the club were greeted by a ferocious sound system built to accurately depict this chrome-dipped, bass-heavy music.
“The best thing about the place was the sound engineer, Troy Bonney, and the Eskimo Noise sound system. It was the best system at the time because they built it. We really tuned the music, it was stereo in that place. We’d always push the envelope with sound. Every week, Troy was like Scotty from Star Trek – ‘It cannae take no more captain!’.”
Over its five-year tenure, the club became hugely popular with many stars of film, music and fashion. Everyone from Kate Moss to Björk and Laurence Fishburne headed into its inner sanctum. The most famous of them, Goldie says, made a whole album in tribute to the club.
“Bowie came about four times. He sat on the steps rolling his cigarettes. ‘Great club you got there, Goldie. Great vibe.’ Everyone would leave him alone and he’d go back in. I can put my hand on my heart and say that, when you look at that album he made, ‘Earthling’, it was totally influenced by those nights at the Blue Note.”
Metalheadz Sunday Sessions actively drove the development of drum ’n’ bass, with many producers making tracks specifically designed to put the Eskimo Noise system through its paces. Tracks from the Metalheadz catalogue, as well as releases on labels like Grooverider’s Prototype Recordings and Nico’s No U-Turn, became anthems when played there on dubplates (a special pre-release acetate, exclusively produced for DJs), before being hailed as classics upon release.
“We used to make tunes for people to play in that club,” says Goldie. “Those first 20 Metalheadz releases are the bible of drum ’n’ bass music.”
Just over 25 years since he released ‘Timeless’, Goldie still finds those legendary Blue Note sessions unforgettable, they’re all finely etched on his memory for evermore.
“Thinking about smells when I was a kid, like the smell of fresh cut grass, I get that feeling from the Blue Note, because it’s so embossed in the memory of a lot of people. It was just an amazing fucking place, man – counterculture at its best.”
A 25th anniversary remastered edition of ‘Timeless’ with remixes and rarities is released by Metalheadz