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-You live in the country now?
I live just outside Gatwick Airport, halfway to Brighton. But I grew up in South London. Round Carshalton, and Sutton.
-I'm from Crystal Palace. And when I was in my late teens, I spent a fair bit of time around West Wickham, which isn't too far from there.
Our boundary was Croydon. The places we used to go to was always in Purley, Croydon. If we went beyond that it would be another story, Bromley and all round that area. There was no M25, we had to go over Crystal Palace, drop down, and then go through Lewisham and Catford and onto the A2 to go to Dartford, to Flicks. So Crystal Palace was another barrier for us too. We would come through the backstreets all the way up to Streatham, where we used to go ice skating. The whole area was the manor of Carl Cox! I used to go to Carshalton College. People from everywhere came from suburbia to this college. People knew that I loved doing parties, so they would come see us, and we would come see you. And most of the time, nobody had any cars, so it was all to do with the 157 bus.
-The 157! How many times I remember waiting for that bus! I went to school on the number 3, and that was one of the most unreliable buses of all time. And when I started going to gigs up in London, the cloeset the night bus stopped was at Streatham. And it was such an issue getting home. I remember sometimes getting a night bus to Streatham and I would just have to walk back to Crystal Palace from there, which was three miles or more. Because I couldn't afford a taxi.
Or if you really wanted to get home, nick a motor.
-Never did that! But if I say that I got into music very much through the punk thing, would I be right in saying you were more of a soul boy?
Yeah. I was. But I still had friends who were into Sham 69, Billy Idol, PiL, and I would go to some of these parties. Especially the 101 Club in Clapham Junction, see a band - it's all good. For some reason there was some association between punk and soul. It was all about showing out and what side you were on. There was a point where you would have a soul party and you would have punks in there. And there was a point where, even as a DJ, you would still play punk music. It would never happen now.
-I guess you went from the soul thing, to hip hop, and then from hip hop to house, much like Pete Tong and Paul Oakenfold.
The thing is, I was always into disco music. Because when I was at school, I used to go to Crackers, on Wardour Street, and the 100 Club, on Oxford Street. Friday afternoons, they would open the door about half past three, four o'clock, and it would go on until about eight. I would go hear a DJ called George Power. We would leave school early, get the bus up into London, and then go down into the club and just rock it. It was unbelievable. I would be in there in school uniform, and just have it to soul and funk music. And you would find all the soul heads would go there, but meantime they'd play disco music as well. Saturdays we would go to the 100 Club and rollerskate, where Robbie Vincent would play. I've always been in to music that has energy, and it would be mixing with gays and straight. There was also a skinhead element at the time, and they would go gay-bashing, and if there were a few blacks in there, they'd go after them as well.
-There was so much of that around 1979-1980. Terrible violence between youth cults.
Every Bank Holiday it would happen. The Soul Funk Mafia (close-knit group of elder statesman DJS with a young Pete Tong hanging onto them) would move down to Brighton and do this big thing, and the skinheads would be down the whole high street. And then a lot of the blacks didn't like it and had a go at them, and they had a go at us. And it would mar the whole thing.
-We must be about the same age. I notice that in all your interviews I never see your age mentioned. Is that deliberate?
Not at all. I just don't think people can contemplate my going back that far.
-I'll guess. You're 38?
39. I was going to clubs when I was 13. I used to go to Tiffany's at Purley when I was 13, and I used to pay 10p to get in on a Sunday night and rock it from 7 to 12. No beer, just coca cola if we could afford it, but that's how into it I was. And I did that religiously for about two years.
-I know that you were the DJ in your family. Was it a big family?
I've got two sisters - mum and dad are still together today. Then me. My role in all this stems from Caribbean roots. That's where they came from, and they always partied when they had crop-over, at the end of the season when they harvested the sugar cane to sell all over the world, they were like, thank fuck for that, let's have a big party. And it still remains today, crop-over. I was born in Manchester, then when I was born they went to south London - Tooting first, then Carlshalton where I grew up. Every two months or so they'd have a dinner party, a bit of music, dad would go out and buy some records, he had a single player where you could put ten records on there, you'd queue them up then when it ran out you'd either flip them over for one or two good b-sides, or you'd change the selection. So my father was initially the DJ but also the host, and my mum would do all the cooking and food, and also make the punch, and everyone would be merry and jolly and then the music would run out. So my father was like, If you're going to stay up, stick some records on and don't move. I'd be like, Christ, okay then, I had all these records and they're all dancing to them.
Instantly, my mum and dad saw I had a talent to select music. I became Cox's boy, who put on good music wherever my mum and dad went. People would have parties and say 'Don't forget to bring Carl.' I would go record shopping with my dad. And then I would hear something - a new James Brown record I thought was brilliant and I knew they would dance to - and get him to buy it.
-The great thing about this is you found your vocation really young.
My mum and dad, though, thought it would never amount to anything. You were either a pirate radio DJ, like Radio Caroline or some off-shore radio, or else a local pirate, or you ended up on Radio 1, which seemed impossible.
-Could I ask you the moment you remember hearing something, and knowing 'this is house music,' and it hit you, and then the same with techno.
There's one record I remember Greg Edwards always used to play on Capital. Greg was on Saturday nights, and he always had the most upfront sounds. There was this record called 'Running Away' by Roy Ayers, and the first time he played it I was completely in heaven. I didn't need any women in my life, my family, not anything. I was like, This is it, if they make more records like this, I will be so happy. And they did. The Blackbyrds, Donald Byrd, Norman Connors. Every Friday I would get as much bread as possible, get on that 157 to Croydon and just buy buy buy. All my friends thought I was nuts, because McDonalds had just come out at this time and they would all go out and buy double cheeseburgers, and I'd go off and have gotten myself a record. They'd have come back and eaten it and gone 'wicked!' And I'd come back and say, 'This record by Brass Construction is unbelievable!' So I would say 1976 was the start of me actually knowing what I wanted to listen to.
"'Acid Trax' by Phuture came out and I was just 'Okay, forget all hip hop and all old school rare groove right here, this is it."
Carl Cox on the moment it all made sense.
(Photo from the Homelands festival 2001.)
When it came to actually defining electronic, I would say Kraftwerk would definitely be the people that put a whole different angle to what I was listening to. Because it had nothing to do with people jamming or anything, it was orchestrated, straight up, programmed, sequenced new sounds that you had never heard before. But then again. I liked 10cc or ELO, where they was phasing strings. My ear has always been tuned into new sounds.
-For you, busy DJing and part of the clubs anyway, then as the records came through from Chicago and Detroit you would have been able to hear them at the time.
Straight away. All the records I just mentioned were the personal preferences of what I would like, I wouldn't say that I would go out and go 'Hey, even though you really like Aretha Franklin, here's Kraftwerk.' I've always been into defining sound. I remember listening to 'Time' by Pink Floyd, I would get all my mates into my front room, my mum and dad would be out, we always had four speakers because we was always into music, and just listening to the chimes, the bells. And then the alarm ringing, it would just shit everyone up! But when it came to disco music, I just liked the way how it was orchestrated in such a way that a record could take you somewhere. 'You Make Me Feel Mighty Real' was one of those records - it had a 4/4 beat, it had energy, it had breakdowns, it had a diva singing his heart out - his/her, whatever! - you hear it today and you think 'wow, no one can sing like that to a record like this.' Never will I think. That was my early house music, disco music.
So then it went through the whole hip-hop era, black MA jackets, people defining who they liked - Public Enemy, EPM , Run DMC - and the early house records were trickling in. And I think the purveyors of that was Arthur Baker, who did a track called 'Jump back' with Wally Jump Jr. It had a straight 4/4 beat, but it was still song orientated, that straight 4/4 beat was ...all the hip hop was 98 bpm, but with this, I could feel something was happening. And then, Bang! Trax records came out, and Chip E, Steve Silk Hurley, and it was like, Right, now we're getting somewhere. And then 'Acid Trax' by Phuture came out and I was just 'Okay, forget all hip hop and all old school rare groove right here, this is it.' I would do my parties, and I'd play old rare groove and hip hop and soul' and I would say 'Right, You've got to hear this, Phuture,' and people would just stop (folds arms) and say 'What the hell are you doing?' I was like, You've got to check this out, the 303s the 909s. I just had to go there. And it's quite funny because all the people who thought I had freaked out then are the people who are making the music now, enjoying the music.
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