How do you measure a DJ's popularity? By club
bookings, remix credits, solo releases, and
mix CDs? By branding, sponsorship and endorsements?
Through glamour quota and celebrity status?
Or by radio, television and movie appearances?
By any of these criteria, Carl Cox could claim
he's got the love.
Ultimately, though, it's the paying public
that makes or breaks - and more importantly,
maintains - a DJ's popularity. And in that case
Carl Cox absolutely has got the love. Time and
again, when music magazines print their end
of year polls, it's Carl Cox who tops them.
Across the globe, when club crowds are asked
who they most want to have spin, it's Coxy they
request. Promoters who need an arena to go off
at three in the afternoon, or a club to stay
full at five in the morning, know that Carl's
their man. He may not be a household name, but
in the scene itself, he's a living legend, as
big as they come. Quite simply, Carl Cox is
the People's DJ.
A musical ambassador since he was in short
trousers, a professional DJ since his early
teens, a veteran of acid house and a champion
of techno, Carl Cox emits a love of his work
that is dangerously infectious. Check him when
he's behind the turntables and you can't mistake
his ecstatic visage, dripping with sweat as
his head bobs up and down to the beat, his hands
pumping the air whenever they're not manipulating
the turntables, his body swaying back and forth,
frequently taking to the mike to share word
on the latest underground tune he's about to
break massive. You name it, Carl's been there
and done it, but he's never lost sight of the
point of it: playing music, breaking tunes,
spreading love, celebrating life. Now, having
extricated himself from his own thriving but
overly time-consuming business empire, Carl
is finally set to concentrate on his solo career.
The new mix CD 'Global,' a typically high-octane
burst of twisted melodies, driving backbeats,
funky bass lines and future-skool breaks, finds
him on a major American label for the first
time. Mixed live off vinyl like all his albums,
and featuring three of his own cuts alongside
fifteen other tracks caught between cult status
and commercial appeal, 'Global' should finally
see Carl Cox reach the same level of acclaim
in the USA as he already enjoys elsewhere. Born
in Manchester, Carl and two sisters were raised
in the suburbs of south London. Carl's parents
had immigrated from Barbados, and brought their
Caribbean party spirit with them - especially
for the annual harvest festival of 'crop-over.'
While mum cooked and made the punch, dad lined
up music on a turntable that could drop discs
on top of each other. But when the records ran
out, it was young Carl who'd be by the player,
checking which b-sides would work, searching
other tunes to keep the parents going.
"It just hit me," says Carl of his early engagement
with destiny. "Instantly, I became 'Cox's boy,'
who put on good music wherever my mum and dad
went for a party. People would say to them '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." Carl's enthusiasm for black dance
music was boosted in the mid-70s when London
was granted an independent radio station, Capital,
with an American soul DJ, Greg Edwards. "The
first time he played 'Running Away' by Roy Ayers,
I was completely in heaven," recalls Carl. "I
didn't need any women in my life, not 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, Norman Connors.
. ." On Fridays, Carl would go to a store in
nearby Croydon "and just buy buy buy. All my
friends thought I was nuts, because McDonalds
had just come out, and they would all go out
and buy double cheeseburgers, and I'd go off
and get 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!'" Competition from American
cheeseburgers notwithstanding, by 1976 soul
music was everywhere, and Carl and friends,
still in school uniform, would board the bus
into central London for late afternoon sessions
at the 100 Club and Crackers.
At age 15, Carl got a set of turntables and
began working as a mobile DJ. Disco captivated
him. "I liked how it was orchestrated in such
a way that a record could take you somewhere,"
he enthuses, citing Sylvester's 'You Make Me
Feel (Mighty Real)' because "it had a 4/4 beat,
it had energy, it had breakdowns, and it had
a diva singing his heart out - or her's!" The
early 80s saw Cox playing the same music as
other young London DJs - rare groove (obscure
funk), New York hip-hop, and electro. He was
perfectly placed to hear Chicago house music
in its earliest forms, and when the epic 'Acid
Trax' by Phuture (a.k.a. DJ Pierre) came out
in early '87, "I was just '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. 'What the hell are you doing?'
I was just like, 'You've got to check this out,
the 303s, the 909s...' I just had to go there.
It's funny because all the people who thought
I had freaked out then are the people who are
making the music now." As a founder of the sound,
Carl rode the exploding British rave scene.
He played the opening night of Danny Rampling's
legendary Shoom, co-promoted The Project with
Paul Oakenfold, held a residency at the Zap
Club in Brighton and at the Sunrise rave in
1988, hooked up a third turntable for his dawn-breaking
set, got 15,000 kids back on their feet, and
established a personal rep for three-deck wizardry.
The next step was to make music, and Carl's
1991 debut single for Paul Oakenfold's Perfecto
label, 'I Want You,' gave him a top 30 hit and
a Top of the Pops appearance. Two more singles
also made the charts. But Carl was a reluctant
pop star and as the masses moved onto fluffy
house and trance, and the hardcore created jungle,
Cox retreated into the club world that had nurtured
him and instead embraced the underground sounds
of techno and hard house.
"Techno drives home somewhere," he says of
his core music. "It takes you to an element
of surprise, not knowing where you're going.
It's scary but wonderful at the same time."
A 1995 mix CD, 'F.A.C.T.', became a techno benchmark,
selling over 250,000 copies. His own 1996 EP
'Two Paintings and a Drum' again broke the British
top 30. With then-wife Rachel running the business
side, Carl set up Ultimate Music Management,
which counted Josh Wink and Laurent Garnier
among 27 clients. There was the Ultimatum record
label, for which Cox recorded his third top
30 UK single 'Sensual Sophis-ti-cat.' And inevitably
there was a weekly London techno club, Ultimate
B.A.S.E., for which Carl was resident. Carl
also started coming to America, thanks to a
deal with Moonshine, which saw the Stateside
release of 1997's 'F.A.C.T. 2' (recorded live
in L.A.); 1998's 'The Sound Of Ultimate B.A.S.E.';
Carl's second studio album 'Phuture 2000' ('At
The End of the Cliché,' his debut, was only
released in the UK); and that same year's 'Mixed
Live', recorded at the Crobar in Chicago. There
was also a cameo appearance in the rave movie
'Human Traffic,' and a 'F.A.C.T. 3' for Australian
audiences. Carl famously brought in the Millennium
in Sydney, then traversed the International
Date Line to do it again in Hawaii. His most
treasured performances, though, have been for
the Berlin Love Parade, which he played four
years in a row, often the only British DJ at
this trance-European techno-fest. "I can't think
of anything that comes close to when you actually
stand there and you see a million and a half
people waiting for you to play the best records
possible to give them the best possible time,"
he says. Success comes at a cost, however. His
marriage collapsed ("the most hardcore thing
you ever have to go through") and though he
spent two years trying to maintain his empire,
the constant international travel, lack of sleep,
and bad eating habits ultimately overwhelmed
him. "My body said to me, 'Here, have a kidney
stone, have a stomach infection, and also, get
gout while you're at it!'" He was forced to
slow down. The Ultimatum label and management
company were disbanded. ("I now have one person
managing me.") The club night continues as B.A.S.E.,
with Cox an occasional guest.
Carl, who sensibly moved close to Gatwick airport
along the way, now focuses on his performances
and recordings, with America increasingly in
the picture. He enlivened the day time crowds
on last summer's 'Moby-headlined Area: One'
tour, but prefers to play six hour night time
sets "so I can really show you why I'm here."
And whenever he's at home, he's working in his
studio there with engineer Neil McLellan (of
Prodigy acclaim) on his third studio album,
which he promises "will be as important as the
new Chemical Brothers or Basement Jaxx" or any
other DJ turned producer "already on the train
of making albums." Unlike many a mix compilation,
'Global' showcases the underground. For while
Carl Cox has the fame and the fortune of a superstar
DJ, - and absolutely has got the love - the
People's DJ understands that when it comes to
clubbing and dancing, the whole is far more
than the sum of its parts. "Even if I'm just
playing records, I'm into the moment of playing,"
he says, "and with that, if I'm dancing, and
I'm enjoying this moment, then I'm sure you
guys can too, without the record having to be
the focal point of why we're here. That's why
I find it a lot easier to push new music on
people - because I believe in what I'm playing,
full stop. And everyone can feel that, and go
with it, and then they can walk away with the
experience of Carl Cox." Tony Fletcher