After-dark inquiry: Fatboy Slim
The man otherwise known as Norman Cook, 47, headlines the Saturday 2 installment of Governors Island's Dance.Here.Now. Festival.
Tue Jun 28 2011
It seems like it's been a while since you last played here.
It has been a couple of years. I think the last time I did New York was at Terminal 5. I love playing there, but I've been caught up in playing places like Japan and Brazil, and it seems as though I've been neglecting America.
But America hasn't been neglecting you—isn't this where you've sold the most music over the years?
You know what? I think that's just because it's a very big country. But I was having great fun a few years back when I was playing a lot over there, and I think I kind of burned myself out because I was playing there too much. It was during that new wave of the British Invasion, with me and the Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx. It started to become almost like work. First and foremost, I'm a DJ—and it felt like I was going over there to pretend I was some kind of pop star.
Now I'm coming back in a more undergroundy way, with the sole purpose of helping you to mark your glorious Revolution and kicking the Brits out your country. I haven't got a record to sell. This is purely to help you celebrate.
Speaking of pop, I was recently listening to your old Mighty Dub Katz and Beats International records, and one thing that struck me was that you've always seemed as interested in pop appeal as in dance-floor efficiency.
It's funny—when Fatboy Slim first started breaking big, the complaint always was that, "Oh, Norman just makes dance music for people who don't like dance music." Like that was a bad thing! But I've always had an ear for a hook, and the blueprint always was to make dance music that was accessible because it had some kind of tune to it, or at the very least had some annoying, repetitive hook line that drew you in.
Have you ever tried to make straight-ahead dance tracks?
I have tried to make more underground records, but they always seem to end up with some pop appeal to it. If you think about my musical history, I was brought up in the late '60s, listening to the Beatles; I came of age during punk rock, and when I first was deejaying, I was playing rap music and house music. I think what I do now is the sum total of that. It's the do-it-yourself attitude of punk, the pop sensibility of the '60s, and generous sampling of hip-hop and house.
You skipped over your '80s stint in indie-pop band the Housemartins.
Well, that was my day job. Don't forget, in those days white people didn't really make dance music, and it was kind of my fate—growing up in white, suburban, southern England—to play in a pop band. But the advent of the sampler and the drum machine meant, at some point, people like me could make dance music.
Looking at your tour schedule, this seems to be a really hectic season for you, after being a bit less busy in the past few years.
I quit drinking two years ago, and I really feel like I have a new lease on life. It's now a lot easier to do all the traveling; I haven't got a permanent hangover. Also, at my age, you start to realize that there's only a finite amount of time that you can do this kind of thing, so I'm just caning the hell out of my twilight years.
How are you playing now? I know you were a vinyl enthusiast for a long time.
I've finally abandoned vinyl, which is another thing that makes traveling easier. I'm deejaying with Serato, which can be used as a video program, so actually I'm a VJ now. We write visual scripts for the tunes, and then anything I do with the decks shows up on the screens. It's a whole new element with which I can twist people's minds. And it seems to work! One thing that the Internet and downloads can't replace is the experience of going out and getting drunk and getting laid, and I'm here to facilitate that.
That's probably why most people get into this scene in the first place, whether they're producers or consumers of the music.
Definitely, and even though I'm not interested in getting drunk and laid anymore, my job is to provide the soundtrack.
We thank you for that.
It's my pleasure.
Is it true that you're framing this gig as an edition of the Big Beach Boutique bash, the infamous seaside party you tossed in your hometown of Brighton, England?
Yeah, that's right. We're always looking for beaches to do them on. I'm not sure if Governors Island technically qualifies as a beach, but the real point is to do something in an unlikely place, and try to make it a party rather than an electronic-music festival. Like last Saturday, I did one on the Great Wall of China, and it was the first rave that they ever had there. And it was amazing! It felt just like the first time we played on Brighton Beach.
What was the reaction like?
Well, rave culture is pretty international, so it was really good. And everybody was so chuffed that we were doing this two hours up in the mountains, right along the Mongolian border. And the fact that we were able to do it and the authorities didn't shut us down... It was a real celebration of us and our thing. The point is, it doesn't have to be a beach, it just has to be an unlikely place. And if we can do it somewhere beautiful, like a place with a backdrop of an enormous statue that means a lot to the country you're in, then all the better.
Speaking of beaches, you have a busy Ibiza season coming up, right?
Oh yeah, but that's every summer for me. Ibiza's like my meat and potatoes. When you're an English DJ, you spend half your summer in Ibiza. And I met my wife [BBC Radio's Zoe Ball] in Ibiza 13 years ago, so every year we go back and celebrate that.
You mentioned the visual elements that your gigs incorporate. What else can you tell us about what your current sets are like?
We've got a fantastic little crew, and we're able to treat these dates like a kind of rock show. I've got the visuals guy, I've got a lighting guy; I'm always giving him hand signals of what I'm gonna do next, so we can make it a bit more interesting than just some flashing lights. It doesn't work all the time—I play different sets every night, so it's hard to coordinate things—but we'll give it a go. We try to make it really showbiz, and we'll use as many pyrotechnics as we're allowed to do. If the FAA allows us to write "Brits go home" on the Statue of Liberty, so much the better.
Are you playing a lot of your own tracks at these gigs?
No, not really. I kind of quote bits of "The Rockafeller Skank" and "Praise You," but I'm not gonna play them over and over again every night. Like I said, I'm not here to sell any records or anything. I'm just here as a DJ, to play some tunes.
What artists are you playing nowadays?
I really like Riva Starr, and I do enjoy the Dirty Dutch sound, people like Afrojack. They're the ones who are probably doing the most progressive stuff at the moment. There are always old favorites like Armand Van Helden, but it seems like there's no one that's on a really big role at the moment. Except maybe David Guetta, and he's not really my cup of tea. He's a little to poppy for my taste. But he's doing something kind of outrageous and brave, turning the hip-hop people onto dance music. All respect to him for the boundaries he's breaking.
It is kind of remarkable how that shiny kind of house has been adopted by the R&B world.
Yeah, it's just a shame it has to be so shiny.
You have a residency in Vegas now, on the rooftop of the Marquee Day Club, right?
We've only done one so far, and the 55-mile-per-hour desert winds ruined the outdoor element of it, so we had to move it indoors. It was all a bit half-cocked, really. But it was worth it to see all these people in a dark nightclub, but with the sunshine streaming in, all in bikinis and beachwear.
I'm guessing that back in the '80s or '90s, if someone had said that you'd someday have a residency in Vegas, you would have thought they were slightly insane.
Oh, yeah. And it fact, when it was suggested to me that Vegas was opening its heart to dance music, that's just what I thought. But it appeals to my kind of ironic sense, and it's one more box to tick off. I've played Woodstock, I've played Glastonbury, I've been on Top of the Pops—but I've never done a residency in Vegas. And now I have.
You've said you're not pushing a record right now, but do you have any upcoming production plans?
Not especially. After 25 years in the music business, you earn a special dispensation. You don't have to make a record every two years. And that's great. Right now, I'm just really enjoying playing other people's tunes. Who knows—ask me next year and I might say something else. But we have a new baby, and she takes up all my spare time when I'm not deejaying. I'm a real dad—just a dad and a husband.