International Superstar Carl Cox is known as “the world’s greatest DJ”. His 30 year career has seen him remain a constantly influential figure, responsible for shaping the UK rave scene. Celebrating 13 years as a resident DJ at the number one club in the world (Space – Ibiza), Carl is a musical ambassador and a veteran of acid house and a champion of techno – you name it, Carl’s been there and done it. We caught up with the “three deck wizard” just before he jets off to Europe, to talk about why he believes that dance music seen has never been bigger, playing a DJ set 1500 metres up a mountain in an igloo and how he wants to host a party on a space shuttle for Sir Richard Branson!
What are you up to at the moment Carl?
I’m back in Blighty; it’s been a pretty mad week being away. I was in Montreal doing a White Party called Bal en Blanc which was amazing. Then before that I was in Washington DC, doing an amazing club called Echo Stage, before that I was in Philadelphia playing at The Electric Factory, and before that I was in New York City playing at a club called Output. So yeah back in Blighty, with 2 feet on the ground, the sun is shining and I’m enjoying my time off!
Busy! Relaxing until next week when your shows kick off again!
Yeah that’s right, I’ve got this weekend off and start work again Wednesday. I’m doing a couple of clubs in Paris then I’m off to Romania, then back to England actually to do the Southport Weekender, which I’m really looking forward to. Then I’m off to Germany and New York again so it’s a bit to-and-fro at the moment until I start my residency in Vegas at a club called Light and then after that it will go into the Ibiza season.
What are you looking forward to the most this summer?
I always look forward to my season at Space because it’s quite concentrated and what’s really good about what I do there is that rather than me going out to everyone, everyone comes to me. So if they wanna know what I’m doing, what music I’m playing, what DJs I’m supporting, the sound of the music that I’m supporting, then it comes out of Space in Ibiza, it’s the worlds dance-floor basically. This is my 13th year at Space as a resident and to see how we have been able to maintain what we do there at a very high level, still after all of these years, it still amazes me. Based on how hard we’ve been working towards making sure that it’s one of the best nights on the island.
Congratulations – How do you continue to keep it fresh?
[Laughs] I don’t know the answer to that! I think because of my outlook on how I treat my opportunity to be able to do this season in, season out. The DJs that I experience, the vibe from all of the clubs that I play to around the world, and the people… If they really like that then they want to come to the halo ground of Space to see me do what I do. I’ve got a great team of people behind me who are also on the level where I’m at, so the production, the lighting, the PR, everything works in unison with itself. Over the years we’ve trained ourselves to know what we are about, as a unit. It’s not just about what I do, of course I am the end game, but I have a really good team behind me who enjoy the fact that I basically support one club on the island and give that club the attention it needs 100%. People walk away and go “you know what, I’ve had a great night, and I wanna come back”. We’re doing a good job there. We have been doing that job for many years and it’s not easy. We still have Amnesia, Pacha and Privilege doing their thing and new clubs popping up all around us and we still remain the number 1 club in the world, based on what we do and what I’m involved in and that helps a lot.
Which do you prefer, big room sets with all of the production or smaller intimate crowds?
I prefer smaller intimate crowds. If you speak to any actor that does movies or films, they will prefer being in a theatre. If you have a one on one, an affinity with the people who are coming to see you. People are coming to see you in a small intimate venue, it’s because they are coming to see YOU! Not the whole of what surrounds you, which is great by the way. I have got no problem with that because it’s a celebration of what you have created and what you’ve achieved. But at the end of the day if you’re in a room playing to 400 – 500 people or less then it’s almost like playing to your closest friends. Therefore in a sense, the music that you play is much more definitive and more personable based on that they really want you to dig deep into your music vaults or crates of music to basically give whoever is in front of you the very best time possible. You can’t hide behind anything when you’re in a smaller room. You’re right there with everyone. They can see the mistakes, they can see you sweating, they can see you choosing your music, and they can see you performing as a DJ more than if you were in a big room – they can’t see any of that. When I’m doing the Ultra for instance, when you walk in it’s spectacular, it really is, but you miss the things that I am doing that are so minimal and small, the touches and things, the loops, samples and things that I am creating – you miss all of that. You hear it come out of the speakers but everything that I do is so intricate that it’s hard to follow what I am doing creatively as a DJ. But when you’re in a small room you see all of those intricate things. They can see that you’re working really hard to create the moments of music that you do as a DJ, and I really like that. People can look over at you on the turntables or CD players and go “Ah alright, that’s what you’re doing”.
How do you adapt what you’re doing for different sets across the world?
Ummm that’s kind of difficult because it’s not about adapting, it’s like I say – I’ve got 5,000 tracks with me, and a lot of that music goes way back, a lot of the music is for main time peak/stadium kind of sets, some are for dead underground kind of afterhours party music. There’s so much music in there that I can choose. I never pre-programme anything; I have no idea of what I’m going to play on the night. I just go on there, see the people, choose my music and go bang! And that’s how it starts! Then I kind of take the journey where I think the night should be and turn it into the Carl Cox kind of night and by the end of it all I’ve got an understanding of where the people are. So it’s something that I’m tuned into. That’s something I’ve always been able to do, home in to what I believe people should be listening to or enjoying. I really enjoy the idea of not knowing where it’s gonna go.
What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done or played in a set to entertain your crowd?
It’s quite funny because I did Snowbombing about 2 weeks ago up in Mayrhofen (Austria)…. So I’m on the line-up and The Prodigy are playing and I’m playing in a main room called The Racket Club. There’s a big sound system, lasers, a light show beyond belief and everything else that goes with it, and also I was playing back-to-back with Nic Fanciulli, but they’ve got a little place 1,500 metres up on the piste and they have created an igloo club. It’s only for 200 people and I went up there and I wanted to play definitive (my schooling has been coming from 60s and 70s, playing Funk Soul, RnB music and into Hip Hop) so that’s what I wanted to play. I said to the people that’s all I’m gonna do. I didn’t want to waste people’s time, you know 200 people going up 1500 metres into coldness, in an igloo, so I told them and explained that it’s going to be special. When we did get up there it was… cold [laughs], the igloo was freezing and there we are. Once you’re up there, you’re there for 3 or 4 hours – You can’t go back down, so you gotta make the best of it while you’re there. But because of the music I was playing (they have never heard me play that type of music before – well some had/some hadn’t), but I was just enjoying the music that I grew up with through my childhood. And I was able to play more or less whatever I wanted so I played Eddie Grant – Electric Avenue, I was playing Bee Gees – Should Be Dancing. It was almost like a wedding set. I was playing Kriss Kross [sings] “who’s gonna make you jump jump” and all sorts of things. It was just wonderful to be able to do that. And the people’s reaction was just great. They were having such a good time. It was so spontaneous! I was able to play what I wanted and show people that the depth of my music actually goes WAY back, nearly 30 years! Having people jumping around to this was absolutely amazing and that for me is probably one of the best, most spontaneous parties that I’ve ever done to date.
What’s your opinion on artists that compromise their sound for popularity?
Well it’s easy isn’t it now. Before, to get recognised, you had to work in the back rooms of pubs, wine bars or dirty warehouses, ya know? If you were in a band you’d be in your garage jamming out. Hopefully you’re gonna get spotted and you do all these demos and stuff to get recognised. Now if you make a video on YouTube and maybe a track that you’ve created in your bedroom and you get over 1,000,000 likes then someone will go “ah that must be popular, that’s really good, I’ll sign him/her”. So it’s a way of marketing and being able to get yourself in front of 50,000 or 100,000 people – so that’s the route! You know? You’re gonna take it. And now everyone can see that route, everyone wants to take that way to becoming a pop star. You’ve got The Voice, The X-Factor and all that kinda stuff and I think people now take the easy route. They don’t really wanna have to do that hard work anymore, you don’t have to and the internet has allowed that. People can take a video of you and they say “this guy looks like he’s doing something really cool so I’ll follow him or her”. This is the way it’s going. Years ago we never had that aspect. It’s clear if you look at Martin Garrix for instance – 17 year old DJ who’s now DJing in front of 60 or 70,000 people at Tomorrowland, I mean that’s pretty amazing – He’s not even old enough to go into a nightclub! This type of thing is happening and it’s happening BIG!
How do you think the dance music scene will continue to evolve in the future?
To be honest with ya, it’s already evolving into our future because it’s the now-generation who are getting into people like Martin Garrix who’s 17 years old and the people that are going to see him play are 18/19 years old. These are the next generation of producers, DJs, co-ordinators. And there’s thousands of them. It’s worldwide. This scene is not going to slow down at all. It’s just going to get bigger, probably more commercial, but then you’ll see a divide by who goes right and who goes left. At the end of the day there’s room for everybody as far as I’m concerned because there’s a new aspect of people getting into this music now whereas years ago there wasn’t. There was only a certain amount of people that were getting into this music and if they all get too old to go out or to buy music anymore because now they’ve got 4 kids and they’re living in Thailand or whatever and the scene has just moved on from them. I’m 52 years old now – I’ve been into this music for the longest time, into dance music particularly playing house and techno music for 28 years straight. All the people that were coming out with me 28/29/30 years ago hardly don’t come out anymore because they’re too old, they don’t wanna get mixed up with the young generation blah blah blah. But for me, because I’m a performing artist and because I don’t look 52, but my attitude towards the scene is still fresh, I still wanna see new music, new DJs, new artists, new sound systems, new lighting, new laser systems, I wanna see new clubs open up, and that’s the passion that I have for this scene still and it’s not just here in the UK, but worldwide and in America especially.
Who’s new on the scene that you can recommend people looking out for?
A lot of people now commercially wanna see the next generation DJs, in their commercial form. And someone like Martin Garrix (I know I’ve mentioned him 3 times already) but he is opening the door for the next generation of DJs/producers coming through. If you wanna culture yourself then you can go and checkout Jamie Jones, Art Department or Eats Everything, these kinds of guys and hear a deeper sound and I think are just awesome anyway. For me they are really still connecting with the now-generation who wanna hear that little bit deeper and be involved in something a little bit different. These are the kinda guys that are doing what they are doing on the left hand side and obviously not on the more commercial side. These guys are still doing what they do in such a major way that it’s really difficult for another new DJ to come through but at the moment Martin Garrix is the next generation, so you’ll start to see more DJs of his calibre coming through.
What about life outside music, what do you get up to on your day off?
[Laughs] Errr interviews! This is my day off! So there isn’t a day off for you really? No not really but I’ve got motorbikes and stuff and I actually get out there and have a look around where I live and just enjoy the fact that I’m able to have the freedom to be able to go out there and just be who I am as a biker. I meet my friends and my family of course and this is the only opportunity I get to do that so that’s the kind of thing that I like to do when I’m not making music.
I’ve got some quick fire questions – First is, who inspires you?
Good question, I’ve never really had mentors or anyone that I look up to, to get me to where I am now in terms of inspiration. But the people that I did look up to at the time were Frankie Knuckles of course, God rest his soul, because as you’ll know he’s gone, he left us about 3 weeks ago. DJs like Larry Levan – these are old school DJs that in my early days were producing some amazing music and I used to follow them. And Grandmaster Flash of course!
Top 3 tunes
[Laughs] Another good question! There are so many tunes that are out! I’d have to say:
- Joe Brunning – Soul Matters
- Nicole Moudaber – See You Next Tuesday
- Trevor Rockliffe – It’s Just A Party
Most expensive record you bought?
Albums were really expensive back in the day but the most I ever spent on an album was about £12. It was an album by Roy Ayres which was an exclusive at the time and came out on coloured vinyl, which was all the rage at the time.
Top festival tip?
Remember where you parked your car!
Cheesiest tune on your iPod?
Cliff Richard – Summer Holiday
Favourite place to party?
It would be Ibiza for sure!
Wise words of wisdom for up and coming DJs?
If you’re gonna DJ, play what you believe in, don’t follow any fashion!
You’ve achieved so much in your career, are there any goals or projects left on the Carl Cox to-do-list?
[Laughs] At the moment Richard Branson is trying to devise a way of being able to get people to travel out to a space station near the moon somewhere! If I really wanted to achieve something it’s to get on that spaceship of his or whatever it is he’s going to create to get to that space station and do a party on there! That is what I would like to have as my tick in the box moment.
Sir Richard Branson is one of my idols, have you ever met him?
I’ve passed him quite a few times and never had the opportunity to say hi…. It’s quite bizarre but true. He is a geezer you know. He started Virgin Records and before that he started a student magazine to begin with. He was one of the people I have an affinity with based on how he started. He had a passion for what he was doing and that’s why he did it. He had obviously a public school upbringing and that kind of thing but he did it yer know and he did it really well. When he put his first record out (which was Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre) he was basically a non-stop player from beginning to end on both sides. That was basically a revelation in putting music out and that went through the roof. And because of that he was able to get more money in and start his record stores and the rest of it is history! At the end of the day he did it and he is still considered as a person that you can aspire to based on what he’s done and how he’s done it.
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