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-You were saying earlier, you're more a house/techno DJ, which is how I see you. Can you define what it is about techno that's kept it going? It's 15 years old but's still going strong. It never gets that big but it never goes away?
The thing is for me, I always try and look for elements that push the concept of sound. And techno-orientated music enables me to do it. Techno is something to do with how it drives home somewhere. It takes you to an element of surprise, not knowing where we're going, scary but wonderful at the same time, and I think techno always defined the rave scene, because that's what it was always about. And I think the purveyors like Jeff Mills, and Richie Hawtin, and even Laurent Garnier, still take you down this path of God knows where we're going. Richie Hawtin's last album ('Close To The Edit') was based on just cuts and edits from other techno records, just little blips and bobs and stuff, just defining the initial sound of techno without it being too arty or up your arse. He'll never sell a million copies of it but it is still the truer form of new music that you will find. And what will happen is Pete Waterman will say 'Oh, I like that, let's take a loop of that and stick it in the next Kylie Minogue song' and then you'll think 'Hey that's my bloody loop and he's making fortunes out of it.' But at least we're the pioneers of it. I can't define it, because a lot of the younger producers are coming through and making their own version of techno, whether they're from Croatia or Japan or Slovenia, and it's another story, another twist to this. They're putting more funk and soul in, putting an 80s backbeat onto techno music, and it's still driving energy and it's still got breaks and stuff, but you still groove to it and you still scream and shout, without it being in your face, marketed trance, or progressive oriented music. But then you've got another twist to it, the whole tribal sound which (Danny) Tenaglia has defined, as sexy, groovy, underground, dirty, twisted, and that's got elements of techno it as well. It's dark for fifteen minutes and you're like wow, that's the most intense thing I've ever heard in my life and it never went a beat over 135 bpm.
-It seems like techno remains a very experimental format where people are always pushing for the next thing, but by definition it has to remain underground, so even if it stays underground for a couple of years and there's not too much happening, then Richie Hawtin will come out with something, or Laurent Garnier or yourself, and you'll say 'ah it's still moving, there's this constant reinvention.'
It's always evolving. And what's happening is it's evolving so fast, that you don't actually get a chance to divulge it (I think he means 'Digest it')' With techno music, you'll be like 'wicked tune' and a couple of dee jays will be playing it, and then immediately 'next, another tune.' That tune never had a chance to grow and develop into an anthem, unless it was something like 'Spastik' by Richie Hawtin or 'Strings of Life' going back. Something incredible. It moves on so quickly. And that's probably its initial downfall in selling music. Because no one ever knows what the hell that was.
-But that's also part of the whole faceless thing, in that it's never been so much about the artist as the moment.
There are people like Luke Slater, who can perform his music live when he gets at it, but there's no way he'd be sitting around having a conversation about this. Because as far as he's concerned what's important is that he carries on doing what he's doing in the sense of making music, and if NovaMute want to promote and market him in such a way, he won't say much. He'll do a few shots and he'll just wait for his next album. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes that's a bad thing. For my vocation in something like this, I've made it to such a high point, to such a place, that I feel compelled to go through it, to bust through it. I started when I was listening on the headphones to Greg Edwards in 1976, and I still have that same passion and energy for myself to be involved in now. And if the doors are open for other people who have no idea what this is, but they'll enjoy it, and it's funky, let's have it.
-Did you not do some jail time? Was it rave related? Or crime related?
(Laughs.) Totally rave. There was one party I did called In Search of Space. It was at Grays in Essex. My sound system was always great. I bought this system out of a catalogue and it just built into this amazing house party system. It started at 500 watts, and now it was 4-5000 watts with sub bass and everything. To get myself on these parties, I hooked up with these other people who had sound systems. We did this party up at Grays. I felt there was something wrong with it because it was all too easy. We got paid half the money up front. I managed to set it up before 12 o'clock, we saw all the people waiting outside, it was really well promoted. We got it all fired up, 12 o'clock, let's go, as soon as we fired it up, bang! the police came. All the people we saw outside were police.
-You say it was a set-up?
Big time set-up. It was all to do with busting the ICF (Inter City Firm, renowned West Ham football hooligans). Because I used to do a lot of parties with the ICF. There were only four or five main people in the ICF and I was one of them - allegedly. They put on all the parties in East London. I knew who I was working for, and I wanted the parties to go on, I knew no one was getting hurt, and this is how it was going to go. Meanwhile, the police got to one of the ICF, and he betrayed them, in that he got paid off. He became the front man to do these parties. So he was like, I can get Carl Cox to do the sound, and it was all police money. I ended up in the nick for the whole weekend and then for 2 months after that I had injunctions against me to stop me playing. And then I was completely surveyed for a year.
--So they wanted to stop the criminal element being involved in the rave scene.
Yeah, and it had nothing to do with me. It was just that they saw me as a vehicle, take that vehicle out. Since then I've never done another illegal party since.
-I remember reading about this rave you did in Canada, that went horrendously wrong!
Ottawa. These kids had put on this party for two days, supposed to be 10,000 people each day. The line up was incredible, lots of people from England. I said I ain't going if I don't have a work permit but the promoters said 'It's okay, your names will be sorted out.' We got to Canada and got through. But there was no pick up. We called the promoter, found him,and he said, 'We're busy can you get a taxi to your hotel.' So we said ok, we did that. We got to the hotel, they said 'your rooms have been sold, we've got nothing for you.' We tried to find the promoter and couldn't find him. So we went to the Westin, and I got my credit card out. So far - no work permit, had to get a taxi, got to the hotel and our rooms have been sold, now I have to pay my own money to stay in the Westin... I'm like, this is not looking good.
I didn't see anyone from the promoters until I was picked up to go to the party at 1.30 in the morning. I'm fuming now. No one's telling me anything. But all I can think is that this is my first time in Canada and all these kids have come for me. This is the only time I've done this and I'm thinking I can't be in Canada and not go to the party. This guy comes for us in this old Datsun pick up, there's all chickens in the back, it's a wreck. We get to the party and see Lenny D, and he's like 'This party is shit, there's only about 10 people here and the sound system went down halfway through and the buses that brought people down from Montreal hadn't got paid so they stranded people.' So the only place we could go to was this one area on the football field where there was about 300 people. We haven't see any of the promoters, they've all skipped off. So my idea was to make really good out of a bad situation. I went on, and the people there had the best time 'cos we were all in the same boat. Halfway through, the sound system cut off, and the PA people said 'that's it, we're not playing any more unless we get paid.' So I had to get on the mike and say 'These sound people are not going to switch the sound back on unless they get paid,' so now I'm being an ambassador to the whole situation. So we passed round the hat and we all put money in - and I put money in! - and we managed to keep the party going.
|Carl Cox goes to the wall for his audience
Meanwhile, the sun comes up and I'm wearing this black t-shirt and I felt really itchy, and I pulled across my back of my neck and it was all black and it was mosquitos. All over me! I'd been working so hard I hadn't noticed! So I get back to the hotel room and I felt really bad and itchy and my whole neck and back was covered in mosquito bites. Then I found out that one of the promoters was on a suicide watch because he felt really bad and couldn't handle it, and eventually actually killed himself. The other promoter had his mum's house hocked for deposits for all sorts of things.
-The guy didn't kill himself that weekend?
No, but he did commit suicide.
-How much did it cost you?
It ran into the thousands.
(We talk for a while about Carl's convoluted past, which includes several hit singles in the UK, two full-length solo albums, and a period during which his Ultimate Management Company, as run by his now ex-wife Rachel, had 25 Djs on its books, his Ultimatum Records and Ultimatum Breaks labels were scoring hits, and his Ultimate B.A.S.E. night in London became one of the top techno weeklies in the world. Not surprisingly, the pressure of running all these enterprises while still working as his own artist became too much for Carl and since his divorce, he has closed the various businesses down to concentrate on his own reputation.)
-It seems that you've made this conscious decision to simplify your life and just become the artist.
Yeah. That's very very true. I've done it, I've been there, I liked it a lot, and I took away an element of what I needed to be successful. But I would do a night, and bring in as a special guest Laurent Garnier. Or I would have someone else as a live act. It was always Carl Cox and everyone else around me. People couldn't see through to see who I was, and what I could actually seriously do. So for me, it was a very difficult decision to make. I enjoyed what I did and I wouldn't swap it for the world. I could have been as far as Paul is in America, but I didn't, because I had to be at Ultimate B.A.S.E. on a Thursday night.
-Didn't you have a health scare recently?
This is how hard I was working. To keep up with everything else that was going on, and to escape from myself as well, I had to stay up late and get my plane in the morning, I had to eat at all silly times, and sleep,..well I didn't really get much sleep. And my body goes, Here, have a kidney stone, have a stomach infection, also, get gout while you're at it. And (laughs) I'm not getting any younger. So I decided, I'm going to do one gig, play six or seven hours, have a day off the next day, sleep, and come back the next day. For me, less is more. Because people now are starting to see who I am and what I'm about. Rather than coming in and battering a two hour set I can come in and over six or seven hours show you exactly the reason I'm here. Now, If I want to play a really great house track, a really storming techno track in the one set, then why not?
-If you had to take one gig you've done off to a desert island, what would it be?
I suppose it has to be Love Parade. Because to have 1.5 million people dance to your music for 20 minutes of your life. . . I've done it the last four years, except this year they changed the date. It's all about club music, club culture, it's about DJs, magazines, people who make the clothes. It's about what we've created. And the people are just celebrating life through dance, and it doesn't cost anyone anything apart from travel to get there, whatever drugs they're taking, and whatever they're going to drink. Primarily, it's just the coming together of people who've been around the scene for so long and they want to show how much they want to support it. It's a great camaraderie, and all types of music get celebrated at Love Parade. This is going through the streets of Berlin, and it has a lot of history with what happened with the Berlin Wall, and Hitler's army years ago, and we're just going through all these mad colors, people naked, techno music pumping from all these trucks, it's just beautiful really. I can't think of anything that comes close to when you actually stand there and you see that many people and they're waiting for you to play the best records possible to give them the best possible time. And the only window of opportunity is 20 minutes. So you've got to go and rock it. The first time I did it, I thought, I know one record is going to sort this out, and it was Born Slippy by Underworld. People were crying and going mad. As soon as the kick drum came in, it was like, Oh my God.
-You've had a whole bunch of awards. Did one mean more than any others?
I think it was the first party that Muzik had, and they gave awards out. As soon as I got up there, everyone got up and gave me a standing ovation. Because they knew how hard I had worked to get where I am and never been recognised for that until that day. And I couldn't believe it: I thought for sure they were going to go with Sasha, or Oakenfold. It was amazing for me. The industry has never shunned what I do, but if you put up who was more popular in the industry, it would be Sasha.
-You won DJ magazine's 'DJ of the Year' award too, which is voted by the readership.
I've won it twice. Even this year I only slipped to number 7. They are important and they're not important, these things. If you're being recognised by the work you done and what you believed in and you've stuck by it, then at the end of the day you're doing something that's constructive.
TONY FLETCHER FEBRUARY 2002
CARL COX WEB SITE (AND RECORD STORE)