A master of the decks, never once falling from grace in the past 22 years of his DJing career; going from gigs to clubs, festivals to month long raves, playing for a crowd of 50 to masses of hundreds of thousands, Carl Cox has done and seen it all. Yet he’s still doing it over again and still makes everything he touches turn to dancefloor glittering gold.
The Barbadian born, England bred electro house techno DJ was the first to achieve the #1 position on the auspicious Top 100 DJ poll back in 1997, and the triple deck wizard seems to have barely slowed down since. JUICE scored a sweet chat with the fantastic Mr. Cox and got to know everything about his 150,000 record collection to his chef skills and the progression of music since the days of analog. Always amicable and incredibly pleasant, the DJ who’s done it all let us lap in his musical glory for a little bit…
How’s 2010 been for you?
This year has been quite amazing, really, based on every single party that I’ve done since the beginning of the year has been completely sold out, very positive vibe; people smiling and very happy with my sets. It’s been a very good year, all the festivals, all the events that we’ve done from the biggest parties to the smallest parties. They’ve gone really, really well so I’m really happy with 2010.
This is your 3rd time playing in KL, what keeps bringing you back here?
I think the people keep bringing me back, every time I’ve played here I’ve had such a really good time, even from the beginning of me coming here over 10 years ago, there’s still a really good vibe here and every time I get to play it always ends up being legendary so yeah, I think it’s the people that brings me back here.
What drew you to the genre of hardcore and acid house?
Well, the thing is what is hardcore and what is acid house? We can have thrash metal, rock guitar kind of hardcore sound and you can have on the acid house side – a 303 machine just basically playing sequence. I think in between those kind of genres of sound, there’s a certain element of music which has been our 21st century of music. It’s been what we want in our music today. So within that on one side you have the hip hop genre and the rnb sound and what goes with that and the other side you have the house music genre of what is an embodiment of techno, house music into drum n bass and even into dubstep. So, to be honest with you I think right now I don’t think there really is much of a genre, I think it’s more of what our music is now. What it is and what it means to people today, what the sound is. And the sound really comes from what I was involved in 20 years ago, which was initially the acid house sound and initially a hardcore techno sound. But now, it’s kind of a melting pot of everything of what is used to be to what it is today.
How do you manage to stay fresh and keep pushing the envelope for electronic music for yourself?
I think a lot of it is to do with me; based on what I want to give people. We are in a digital age now, we’ve gone into it so from my perspective from being involved in this music 20 years ago, there wasn’t a digital age. We were recording music onto tape, anything that was here and coming from an analog point of view and it was going into the digital age. And I think for me, I’ve always been interested in the future of what happens next. Many years ago I used to drive a car with manual, and now you can drive a car automatic. So this is the progression of where we’ve ended up and I’ve always been interested in that – no matter what it is. The thing is about music is where before you needed a big massive recording studio to make your music and now you can record all your music on your laptop in your bedroom. So this for me, is what keeps it fresh. What happens next, what can I do to make this sound and what can I do to create it? I’ve always had an ear on what people are creating so I’m able to take that creativity, put it into what I think is something that is interesting and mix that in with the music that I get to exposed to today from all over the world. And because of all this progression, is what I think that keeps it fresh.
What’s your driving force? You’ve been in the business for so long, what keeps you continue performing?
From a very early age, I’ve always been a performer and I’ve always enjoyed the position of being that person, I mean instead of being stressful for me to be in front of a turntable or a CD player or a computer, to be able to stand there for hours and hours and play music and share my music with people who would like to listen to my music and enjoy themselves by it. So if I have that understanding by what I’ve created from when I was very young, to where I am now today – that’s the thing that gets me up in the morning. It’s knowing that later on tonight for instance, I’m going to be playing in front of a great crowd that will want to listen to some really good music based on what I think is very best of the element of what’s going on today. I’ve never lost that from day 1, so for me I have the perfect job I suppose (laughs). Something that I want to get up the morning for.
Was there a particular moment that you realized you had this massive pulling power to draw in the clubbing masses?
I suppose in 1988, where my name then became synonymous with house techno music, rave parties, a gathering of people that really wanted to listen to this music and for me, no matter if it’s 20 people or 50 people or 1000, I’ve always been able to get people who want to stand there for hours and listen to my music. And I think when the name of Carl Cox really did arrive was in 1988.
What’s been your biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in getting to being a top listed DJ?
It’s not the biggest challenge really to get there, it’s still being at the top of the pile for over 20 years! I think that’s the biggest challenge, if you ask any DJ now today, even the most popular DJs ,”Are you going to be around in 22 years?” then that’s a challenge. To be on the top of the pile for 22 years. Normally, DJs or even recording artists basically work really, really hard for 10 years, get to the number 1 spot hopefully in your lifetime and basically you get there, and the only way from that point is down. You kind of fall from grace and you go, “OK, that was your time.” Where my time has been from 1988 – boom, all the way to 2010. And I’m still here! So my biggest challenge really is having this lucrative career at the top of the tree and I’m still pushing after all this time and people are still coming to Carl Cox events and they’re still packed out and for me, I’m obviously blessed in some ways that I’ve been able to have this career. The biggest challenge is really staying on top of everything.
With all this new electronic music coming out, do you think that trance music will be able to survive this new generation of clubbers?
I think it will. Trance will always have it’s place in music history. I think now the entry level of trance music is purely based on how excited it can be if it’s your first element of sound that you’re exposed to. So when you’re listening to Tiesto or Marco V, Armin van Buuren or any of the DJs that are playing this kind of sound, it’s exciting with all the lights moving, and it builds up and breaks down and it’s like dun, dun, dun, and you’re like, “Wow, that’s amazing”, and then you’ll start to find what you really like in music (laughs). So for me, it will always have it’s place. If you’re 17 or 18, and you want to go to a rave concert, you’ll go who’s the biggest DJ right now? OK – Tiesto, and you’ll go check his show out, it’s amazing, the lights are going, everything. And after this, you start to nurture yourself to see what you really want from a club or a event or from a DJ to play music to take you to where you want to go. So for me, I think that trance is in this way has it’s place in history still because it’s still very exciting as music to be exposed to.
What’s your favourite gig that you’ve played at this year?
Wow, you can imagine there’s been a lot (laughs). Even last week I played with John Digweed to celebrate 12 years of his record label party in Brixton Academy in London and it was absolutely amazing. The people in there was about 5000 people who had the very best time from 12 til 6 o’clock non stop. And for me to go in there and play an amazing 3 hour set and people jumping and going crazy was just phenomenal. But then I just finished a season of Space in Ibiza for the last 12 weeks and every single week was just phenomenal, even the last week in Space I played the closing party with me and Loco Dice was just outstanding. And then we have all the festivals that I’ve played at – Kazantip in the Ukraine was just a phenomenal festival, that went on for nearly one month – hailed as the longest rave party in history. I suppose those name a few, really (laughs).
Name us a crazy fan story…
Wow, there’s quite a lot of those (laughs). There’s one crazy fan story where I was at a club in Majorca called BCM, I had just walked in to play in the club, and there was big queue outside the club and I had this one crazy English guy come running over to me out of the queue. And he said, “Carl Cox, you’re amazing man. I’ve been following your sets for years and I’m really glad you’ve come to Majorca to play in BCM and I’m honoured to be by your side. I’m looking forward to your set tonight”. Then he said, “You’re the best #2 DJ in the world!” And I was like, “Best #2? Who’s #1?” and he goes, “Oh you know I really enjoy Paul Oakenfold” and I thought that’s fair enough. I just thought the way he presented himself and everything, you would’ve thought he would’ve seen me as the best number 1 DJ in the world. I’ll always have this quote where I’m the best #2 DJ in the world (laughs).
You’ve got a massive record collection. Do you still buy records and how frequently do you do so?
No, I actually stopped obtaining records in 2005. That’s the last time that I bought a record, cos I looked into my garage and I basically have over 150,000 pieces of records going back since 1968 to 2005. It’s ridiculous. I don’t have any more room for records. In my life. Any more. I have them all wrapped up in my garage and there are amazing tracks if you can imagine in the sense of collection of music. As I said before, I’ve always been into the progression of where are we coming into the digital age, where I used to play records and when I was playing them I used to take a lot of them with me. The biggest problem I had was my records being stolen or they wouldn’t turn out so I wouldn’t be able to play a gig and all this sort of stuff. And I just had enough. So when CD players came out, then I though I can record a lot of these records that I’m playing onto a CD and then basically have all my music with me when I’m traveling so therefore I can always do my sets. Then I became really a purveyor of playing CD players really well, so I never went back to vinyl anymore and also a lot of record companies that was making music at the time was diminishing so I wasn’t able to play all the upfront music anymore because that music was being downloaded for people like myself to upload into anywhere in the world so I can play them on club nights. So, things started to progress in such a way that eventually, there’s the diminish of vinyl. For me it was a shame really because I grew up with vinyl and going to record stores and standing there and listening to records and walking away with a pile of great new music and now all of that’s gone, I end up up with files on my computer which I just download and play. When I look back in my history, and I look at my garage and there they are – 150,000 pieces of them.
That’s ridiculous, do you remember which was your last ever record you bought back in 2005?
No (laughs). To put it simply. I have no clue! It was a long time ago.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I listen to all sorts of music. But I have to say if I listen to anybody, it’s Tinie Tempah and Plan B. They really capture the essence of what people really want to listen to when it comes to good music. There’s room for this music, it’s kind of a nurture sound, but it’s not sickly pop music also. It’s really a great embodiment of where we are now with music and they set a really great precedent of if you’re going to do this, this is the way it should be done. And I like that. And for me coming from the old school, the way they perform their music and their songs are very heartfelt in the way they perform them, it’s really hard not to like that. I end up playing that my music in my car and on my ipod quite a lot.
If you ever have free time, what do you do with it?
Well half the time I try and get some bloody good sleep (laughs). This is what I really don’t get much of. If I do have any downtime I spend it with my family and friends because I don’t really get an opportunity to do that anymore, as much as I would like to. You can’t have it all when you’re in this position as a performer and an artist of what I’ve created over the years. If you can imagine me not being around my family and friends for the last 22 years, when I do spend time with them it’s really special. It’s something I look forward to very much when I get the opportunity to do it.
Can you name me one thing you can’t live without?
I think my passion. I couldn’t live without it. I can live without my iPhone, computer and ice cream (laughs). But if I didn’t have passion I don’t know what I would do.
If you weren’t a DJ, what would you be doing?
I’d be a chef. I love cooking. I enjoy sharing the love when it comes to food.
What’s 2011 looking like for you?
I think more of what it was like for 2010, but next year I’m looking to perform my new album All Roads Lead to the Dancefloor. It’s finished recording now, and I’m really pleased with it and I’ll be doing rehearsals and my first semi live show in Australia at the end of this month at Stereosonic in Perth. I’m looking forward to doing that this year. It’s a very open minded festival when it comes to artists.
When can we expect All Roads Lead to the Dancefloor to come out?
In March 2011. We’re dropping two new singles by the end of the year with remixes to come and I’m really excited for the release. It’s been a long time since the last album which I felt did really well and with this album for me it’s a little bit more dancefloor based on my sound and it’s what I’ve created for the future.
All roads lead to Carl Cox at www.carlcox.com.