The Glitterbox Interview: Fatboy Slim
Summer now at his door, it’s like he’s never been away. First week back and Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim's DJ itinerary is as colourfully chaotic as it has ever been. Gigs in home city Brighton, Southampton and the glamorous twists and turns of Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix will precede several major festival gigs and an essential classic house and disco set for Defected night Glitterbox at Space 14 August.
Cook’s story is well thumbed. During the Eighties he strummed successfully as bass guitarist for chart-topping indie poppers The Housemartins. He had already established himself as a key DJ – DJ Quentox – on Brighton’s burgeoning hip-hop and club scene (whilst studying at the local Polytechnic), opening the door to an extended career in electronic music when the band eventually split. Cue deft sampling and hefty beatsmithery as a variety of cut-through dance aliases including (but not confined to) Beats International, Pizzaman, Freak Power, The Mighty Dub Katz and, of course, Fatboy Slim.
It was the latter, first adopted in 1995 with the release of single ‘Everybody Needs A 303’ that most emphatically ignited across the globe thanks to a joyously free ‘n’ fancy blend of samples, grooves and beats. Fatboy was to become contemporary, cultural staple.
As Fatboy Slim’s DJ exploits have hyper-expanded (from beach boutiques to giant spiders at the London 2012 Olympics), so his discography has kept pace, capturing and re-programming the hearts and minds of ravers forever. International hit singles such as ‘Right Here, Right Now’, ‘Praise You’ and, latterly, ‘Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat’ (alongside Riva Starr), as well as albums like You’ve Come A Long Way Baby, Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars, Palookaville and, as of this month, compilation The Fatboy Slim Collection (a perfect, quad-CD distillation of the Fatboy DJ experience featuring plenty of his own production stamps throughout) are testament to his boundless appeal and uncanny knack for setting the perfect party mood.
Here, we catch up with Mr. Cook to discuss the next few months of Fatboy activity…
So Mr Cook, the summer starts here?
It certainly does. My wife [TV presenter Zoe Ball] has been busy with Strictly [BBC celebrity dance programme Strictly Come Dancing] and the tour afterwards over the past few months and one of us needs to be at home for our family [14-year-old son Woody and five-year-old daughter, Nelly] so that’s been my job. Now we’ve swapped over and I get to tour the summer. It feels like I’ve been off the road for too long!
You’re going to be making your Glitterbox debut soon....
It’s going to be nice to see Space from a different perspective. It’s great to be playing a different event at my absolute favourite club. For the past 10 years I’ve been committed to one thing there and you start to go through some of the same motions. Glitterbox will have a different crowd with a different atmosphere and that’s really cool.
And you’re doing something different at Creamfields this year?
I played the main stage last year and when the organisers asked me to come back I told them ‘what do I do this time that’s different?’ They offered me my own arena and a chance to curate the DJs there but that’s basically just putting up a few banners and asking your mates to play. So we sat down, brainstormed and the phrase ‘Smile High Club’ popped into my head. It set off the idea of a club vibe at a festival...it just felt different and that was that. But, look, The Smile High Club isn’t only about having smileys everywhere, we’ll be doing random acts of smiley-ness whenever we can. There will be magicians and airline stewards wandering around performing stupid acts, for example, and we’re planning a Guinness World Record for the largest human smiley. The crowd will be given coloured capes to build the face; we’re going for 4500 people...the record’s 4017 right now. All of this should hopefully create an amazing atmosphere.
That is different....
I’m doing the Club at SW4 too. The festivals are up for all of this which is great but not everything will be confined to the arenas. We’ve already started a campaign in London and Liverpool where people can graffiti their own smileys onto blank posters. We’re looking for the best ones. Last week someone stencilled on a picture of [TV presenter] Carol Smillie which made me, yes, smile. This whole concept reflects my overall approach to DJing and music – it’s about keeping things fresh and having fun.
Will you look to incorporate the Smile High Club at Glitterbox in some way?
Yes, I’m thinking about ways of bringing smiles on the night. One rule I do have concerns the moody strippers clubs often employ to dance in cages...I have a problem with that! You can check my rider for Glitterbox...it says that I won’t play if there are any moody strippers. That is, unless they’re transvestites or the dancers’ bodies are painted yellow with smileys all over! It’s all about the smiles!
Norman, what’s your view on Ibiza as clubbing entity in 2015?
The chasm between EDM and serious dance is wider than ever. There are two distinct tribes. But then people can chop and change and I quite like that. Some people want a bit of both scenes. Every year, of course, I say that the EDM bubble will burst. It still hasn’t but, today, EDM is so far away from what we started with dance music that many people want to head back to basics. As for the VIP thing, it does create a shite atmosphere but there has to be a necessary compromise. If a club is all VIP that’s not great, but if big brands are sponsoring good events with good music then a VIP space can be tolerated. Those events will still have real audiences. In some clubs the VIP area is kept away from everything anyway!
At the end of the day, there needs to be a logical conclusion to this kind of issue. I’m reminded of when I’ve taken [Fatboy party] Big Beach Boutique to Brazil. There the chasm between VIP and regular punter is dangerous...there’s a massive gap between rich and poor. But the VIP crowd has backed the event, and they’ve had a space right behind me close to the action...and my arse...whilst the main crowd has danced on the beach in front for free. That’s worked well I think!
The Fatboy Slim Collection – tell us more...
It was much easier [to put together] than the World Cup album [last year’s Fatboy compilation Bem Brasil]. I’ve never done a Fatboy’s bangin’ anthems-type album before and the process of trawling through different tracks and sets was fantastic. It was a real trip down memory lane. I went onto the internet to find my old set lists and mixes, and some of it I couldn’t even remember doing! But I loved it. It was a sheer joy to put together the best tracks I’ve ever played; I’m in some great company. Some people will remember these tunes fondly. For the EDM kids, it’s more of a history lesson which is great too.
Best bits aside, what are your current stylistic preferences?
I have to look at it all. I play a broad sweep of music...always have. You might call it ‘party acid house’ if you really pushed me but that still doesn’t cover the half of it. I probably check the EDM aisle less these days if I’m honest but I’m still across everything. It simply has to be party music...moody isn’t for me, I like things to be uplifting.
What plans do you have for the studio?
I’d gotten bored after 30 years of doing stuff. I’d lost my passion for making music. The digital age brought with it a number of advantages but it wasn’t as exciting. I mean, that buzz from discovering the 303 or unearthing amazing records to sample...that was so cool. All of that has gone today where everyone can easily find everything. But when I worked with Idris [Elba] recently it kind of rekindled my interest. I’ve now remixed Ninetoes’s ‘Finder’. I absolutely loved the track last summer and it’s become my first proper remix in five years. Who knows, perhaps my appetite is back?
You’re 51 – is there a shelf life for someone in your raucous line of work?
I have an endless supply of 18-year-olds to feed off of. Their energy, when I’m DJing, keeps me motivated...keeps me feeling young. I am a 51-year-old man, yes, but musically I’m still an irresponsible 18-year-old lunatic. In this day and age dance music is absolutely massive and you can work all year round. In 2014, I played 92 shows and loved it. Sorting my tunes every week; preparing edits for my sets, and then sharing my experiences with everyone is a joy that keeps me going and going.
So there’s a lot more to come....
I won’t do the studio until I have the right idea but, as I say, who knows now? As for the DJing, I’m happy to keep moving sideways rather than try and escalate all the time. I can’t compete with the scale of things that acts like Swedish House Mafia have achieved, so there’s less pressure if I move sideways and just look for the gigs that interest and engage me. My 14-year-old son played Cafe Mambo with me last summer, too, so God knows what beast I’ve unleashed there!
Words: Ben Lovett
Glitterbox is at Space Ibiza every Friday from 12 June - 25 September, with Faboy Slim appearing 14 August - full line-up details and tickets here
The Fatboy Slim Collection is out now on Sony Music UK
Glitterbox makes its London debut at Ministry of Sound Saturday 25 July - full line-up and tickets