INTERVIEW: Fatboy Slim on DJs, egos and Dubai
“Calvin Harris is the son I’d love to have had,” Norman Cook aka superstar DJ Fatboy Slim, who is playing DXBeach at Zero Gravity this weekend, told an Australian TV presenter recently. Was it a sign he’s ready to hang up his headphones, pass the banger baton on to younger talent once and for all? Well, it wouldn’t exactly be out of the question.
Let’s look at the facts: It’s been six years since the 53-year-old released a new studio album and the length and breadth of his music career has been undeniably epic already. In fact, by the time he’d adopted his Fatboy Slim moniker in 1996 – ahead of the release of the Better Living Through Chemistry album to critical acclaim – he’d already enjoyed chart success as the bassist of jaunty indie popsters The Housemartins, and gained a UK number one with 90s classic “Dub Be Good to Me”, with dance project Beats International.
Buoyed by early success, he embraced his new path – and a good few Hawaiian shirts – and got stuck into changing the face of dance music forever. Overstatement intended.
He has since morphed from a ravey antidote to Britpop in the mid-90s, when he kicked out bangers like “The Rockafeller Skank”, “Praise You” and “Right Here Right Now”, to secure legitmate credibility as a DJ. In fact, he’s become a (naughty) national treasure in his native UK.
As Fatboy Slim, he’s the self-coined “hedonistic, delusional show off”, barefoot and bouncing in front of fired-up crowds packing out venues from Ibiza to Miami and, of course, his beloved Brighton Beach.
As Norman Cook, he’s a father of two and (on/off, currently off) husband who lives in a beachfront abode in Brighton on the south coast of England, along a stretch locals call Millionaire’s Row.
So he has come a long way (baby), but give it all up? Not a chance. Ahead of his set at DXBeach on Friday, Norm talks to ShortList about Ibiza’s glory days, never quite growing up and the school run.
You’ve come a long way… did you expect to still be DJ-ing and producing records in 2016?
Frankly, I wasn’t convinced I’d be alive this long! I always hoped for a lifelong career in music in some form, but I assumed by now I’d be off the road and mostly in the studio. It seems to have turned out the other way around!
How different is Norman Cook to Fatboy Slim? How do you transform from one to the other?
They are very, very different characters. One is modest, loyal and responsible. The other is a hedonistic, delusional show-off. You have to decide which is which... It is very important to have the gig rituals to ensure the right one goes on stage – and, more importantly, that the right one goes home to his children!
You’ve said you have no doubt EDM will “crash and burn” – is that moment coming?
My prediction hasn’t come true. It seems to be quietly fizzling out rather than crashing and burning, but it hasn’t happened just yet.
Popular music in general feels a bit stuck now with lots of focus on nostalgia. Where are the new ideas going to come from?
I don’t have a clue. It’s your job as journalists to know these kind of things! I just do what I do and don’t really look at the bigger picture.
You’ve been a commercial powerhouse yourself, though. Is it just important people have a great time whatever the label?
It is to me. If you turn people on first then the commercial side of it follows naturally.
We have a theory DJs are the nicest celebrities ever. Can you tell us something to confirm this theory? Or maybe counter it!?Historically, I would agree; most DJs were people who loved being involved in music but weren’t egotists who wanted to be centre-stage. Recently, the glamour of the way DJs are treated has attracted a few wrong ’uns, but on the whole we have much smaller egos than musicians.
It feels a bit like darts: the Brits crushed it for years but now these new Dutch guys are stealing the crown...
It actually started with great American DJs who would work a lot in Europe because they weren’t so respected in the States. We nicked all their tricks and sold it back to America without them realising it was their own invention. The same happened with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. They sold their version of black American music back to America.
When you look back at your own golden period, with “The Rockafeller Skank”, “Gangsta Trippin” and “Praise You”, do you think “man, I got lucky”? Or was it what you’d been building up to?
I just had a very purple period where all my creative stars seemed to be aligned. It had a lot to do with my being single, very easily influenced and hanging out with the wrong people. To be honest, I have tried to recreate that period, but you can’t go back and I’m not sure I could sustain the pressure that comes with that kind of success.
Does your indie background give you a different ear, do you think?
Yes. I definitely think I have the edge on many DJs and producers, having paid my dues in bands over the years and having studied music for so long.
Brighton vs Ibiza?
If we’re talking football then Ibiza. If it’s purely a fist fight then I would put my money on Brighton. Carl Cox recently spoke about Ibiza being spoilt now.
Do you agree with that?
There are bits about Ibiza that have gone all wrong but there is so much still going right on the island – and it has weathered so many changes since the 1960s that it will prevail. I personally just had a classic summer there with my residency at Cream @ Amnesia, parties at Mambo and, of course, an emotional farewell show for Carl at Space.
Where does Dubai rank for you? Is this somewhere that can ever rival Miami or Ibiza?
I don’t think it can ever rival them because so much of club culture is about being naughty. Most of our favourite pastimes are kind of tolerated in Ibiza and Miami, but Dubai is a bit more strict. That said, there is still much good clean honest fun to be had, which is why I keep coming back to Dubai.
Eat, sleep, rave, repeat… when you’re not DJ-ing what three words would you repeat?
Cook, snooze, school run, repeat.
DXBeach featuring Fatboy Slim
When: Friday, October 21
Where: Zero Gravity, Sky Dive Dubai Drop Zone