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From Graffiti to Drum 'n' Bass: Talking Tags and Tech with Goldie

Goldie, arguably the most famous drum 'n bass and jungle producer ever to do it, just launched a graffiti app called ARTA. He wants it to honour the tradition and history of tagging, while modernising its culture.

Photo by Jessica Van Der Weert, courtesy of Goldie and ARTA.

Even if you've never bought a can of spray paint, you probably recognize the name Goldie. Born Clifford Joseph Price, the man is one of the our most famous living electronic music producers, if not the most famous drum 'n' bass and jungle musician still in the game. He may be the only person who's both DJ'ed a Boiler Room set and been appointed an MBE.

Before he became known for his pupil-dilating tracks, Goldie was a big player in the global graffiti scene. He was prominently featured in the classic 1987 documentary Bombin', and is remembered for participating in Britain's biggest art battle alongside Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack. "Painting is in my veins," the artist is known to say, and he continues doing toss-ups and tagging trains to this day.


While his music career has grown tremendously, Goldie wants to re-affirm his dedication to tagging and modernising the culture around it. Last week, he launched a crowdfunding campaign for his latest project, an app created with developer Henry Chalfant that fuses IRL tagging with digital interactivity called Art Rail Transit Authority, or ARTA.

The part-game, part-archival tool allows users to both create digital tags and import graffiti photos, as well as place the images on trains within the app. ARTA also allows graffiti artists to share their work with other users, and see what other crews have tagged (or tagged over) within the app's digital realm.

With just under a month left in the crowdfunding campaign, we talked to the legend about the three-year endeavour to bring ARTA to life.

VICE: Can you elaborate a bit on the full capabilities of ARTA?
Goldie: You can create tags from scratch or you can import photos and place them on the trains. So really it's as far as users want it to go: They can just start off importing pictures and placing them on trains (with movement, rotate, scale, etc.), and then maybe spray a bit on top, and then add some text, and then buff some layers out.

To break it down further, you show your talents on tube trains within the app in a competitive or non-competitive sense. Trains travel around the cities in the app (New York, Tokyo, Detroit) and can be interacted with by others players, including your crew members and rival crews. In other words, other users can manipulate your tags, digital or physical. You can also build up a digital collection of cans, colours, fills, fonts, and base layers for your lay-up tags, as well as keep your best work in your in-app piece book and get it printed onto T-shirts.


What's the archive section about?
In the archive, you can check out classic tags, hero cars, video interviews with the OG [graffiti artists] from NYC, as well as my own personal photographic archive of graffiti images. We're also planning ARTA radio within the app that will include shows by DJ legends from across the globe, as well as a communication platform. It's fully, fully immersive, man – three years in the making.

Pulling it back, why did you originally want to make a graffiti app? What inspired the idea?
The technology became available and my whole thing has been joyriding technology – hijacking it for our own means, if you will. From doing it with the music I make, to now doing the same via ARTA. The eureka moment came because there was nothing like this, at all, and it really needed to be made for people who love graffiti.

What exactly will the crowdfunded donations go toward?
We are in the final stages of tweaking ARTA, but the funding is for a banger summer launch event to celebrate the app, featuring various graffiti crews and performances by artists like me. It will be the meeting of two worlds, digital meets tangible.

Do you think the graffiti community will trust an app? Taggers and writers can be paranoid.
They already trust it and that's because it's created by graffiti writers for graffiti writers. This isn't some brand trying to get kudos or ride on the coattails of an organic culture. This is the absolute real. We showed it to a lot of heads before launching and the feedback was amazing. It gave us the confidence to carry on with it. I could've taken this to a brand, but why would I want to? I've always fought to be independent.


You've been active in the graffiti community for decades. Why do you think this very physical act should become digitized?
It will enable writers to showcase without the limitations of physical region. It's all about interaction. It's simply another way of playing out and expressing something that you're very passionate about.

Prior to the internet, how did you stay up on taggers in other cities? How would you find out about who was big, where the legendary spots were in each city, etc.?
When I first visited New York, TATs Cru welcomed me. We shared skills and schools of thought, so there was immediately a knowledge built around our friendship. Then music blew up for me in a major way and I was able to travel everywhere in the world and absorb local knowledge, which helped me to seek out spots, writers, and crews. Even this summer just gone, I was getting up in Bogotá, man. Art and music are universal languages.

Do you hope ARTA will introduce graffiti writers to talent they wouldn't find out about otherwise?
Of course. It's a form of communication for the digital age. Just as gettin' up on trains back in the day showcased writers' skills across the city, this will do the same but without borders. ARTA is a fully interactive platform where you will be able to see who has done what and comment and rate their stuff. The higher you get up the chain, the more you can unlock in the app, from fills and fonts to rare archival footage. Plus, it gives you access to communicate with writers around the world in real-time.


Above, a photo of Goldie in 1987 by Martin Jones.

How has graffiti culture changed most noticeably since when you first got into it?
Well, it's kind of accepted now. In the beginning it was a social menace, man. Now it's known more for another term: street art. But we'll always be here, subliminally making these cityscapes that bit more beautiful.

What else are you working on these days?
I'm working on a collection [of canvas paintings] now called "Shaman Women." I'm using lots of different materials and disciplines and basically putting into practice what I learned through graffiti. I'll always be TATs and I'll always be Metalheadz.

For more on ARTA, including how to donate, visit Goldie's website here.