Carl Cox is Global
by Greg Adamson
Monday, March 4, I get word that I am to interview Carl Cox that Thursday. He's in a Montreal hotel taking telephone interviews. I'm slotted for 8 PM. I figure I'm up for the challenge since I know a fair bit about Coxy. My first encounter was an infectious 1992 10-minute three-deck mix crammed with around 15 songs. Then I heard the groundbreaking F.A.C.T. 1, which has sold more than any Global Underground, and the UK equivalent of double platinum in the US. Six times I'd seen his engaging, mind-bending wizardry live, and I'd met him two of those times. Once I'd asked him how he files his 90,000 records. He answered, "By the year they came out. If I'm looking for a song, I know what year it was made and I can find it." My math tells me that he has collected 2,500 or more records per year since 1968, a number too large for most collectors to go through just to find one record. I still have more questions to ask.
At 7:59 PM, I call and a receptionist answers in perfect, though indecipherable, French. I ask for room 812, and Carl Cox answers. I tell him that I am from Lunar Magazine, and he wearily says, "You're on." I ask if he has already had a lot of interviews today. "Since February 1st, non-stop, really," he replies. That's the day he began his tour supporting the new Global CD. Since he will only talk to me for 20 minutes, I can't waste time feeling apologetic. I know about Carl's lengthy responses during his interviews, so I am quick to set an agenda. I explain that first I want an update on his plans for 2002; some comments about his new CD, Global; and to ask some random and in-depth questions at the end.
For 2002, Carl Cox is already working on his new album, Second Sign, due out in October. "Ain't It Funky Now," the lead single, is absolutely phenomenal as far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best tracks I've ever done," he states. "I've actually been road testing since the time that I made it in every single club, and it's been one of the biggest records of the night," he continues. The track contains a vocal sample from The Brothers Johnson, "Ain't That Funky Now." "All I've done really is take what they've created and incorporated into a slamming techno house track. These guys are just two funky brothers who could play bass and lead guitar. I want people to know who they are," he admits. Cox wrote "It's The Machines" with Josh Wink, and it promises to be something more akin to minimal techno. "My idea is to take their style and incorporate it in what I've been working on myself," Carl says of his collaborators. "There will be no ballads or love songs on this album, just straight-up house, straight-up techno, straight-up drum&bass," he expounds and adds that Neil McLellan, of Prodigy fame, is his engineer. "Neneh Cherry heard my breakbeat kind of Latino samba track and she loved it. So she basically just did these vocals over the top of it," he excitedly explains. His lineup of collaborators includes established artists such as Fatboy Slim, Kevin Saunderson and Republica. "The list goes on actually. But that's enough," he says jokingly. The remixers already include Jeff Mills and Bryan Zentz. "Everyone wants to get his hands on my music, which is great," he reckons.
Cox's label, Intec, has three artist albums lined up for 2002. One features American Bryan Zentz, one comes from Trevor Rockliffe, and one by Umek and Valentino. "He [DJ C1] had better have Shifting Gears Vol. 1 [the first Intec-mixed CD] done by the time I get back to England," Carl says. Carl himself will be putting out a purely techno compilation at the end of the year and it becomes apparent Intec is firing on all cylinders. Several singles round out Intec's rather solid year. Carl's Worldwide Ultimatum label preceded Intec, and Ultimatum had a sister label, "Ultimatum Breaks." I ask, "Why no Intec Breaks?" Carl responds, "There are not a lot of really good breaks out there. I'm waiting for something to wow me. Adam Freeland and the people that actually do make good breaks already have an outlet. Breaks got swamped by the big beat scene and I didn't want to put out any cheesy big beat." However, he still listens to those wanting to prove him wrong. He picks the artists from scads of demo tapes that arrive in his mailbox and from people he meets while touring. "I see someone when I'm out there and I just get my mind blown, and I'm like ‘we've got to sign him'," he explains.
Booked solid for nearly a year ahead, he has little vacation time, although he spent three weeks in Thailand before beginning this tour supporting the Global CD. After the Global tour ends, he returns to the studio to work on his album. Tiny breaks in between gigs are barely enough to catch up on sleep deprivation. I ask if there is anything to look forward to in terms of DJing. "Dance Valley in the Netherlands had 50,000 people last year. No one had seen anything like it, all these people in this huge valley going crazy," Carl relays, still sounding amazed. He's been invited back, of course, and considers it the event of this year.
He still finds DJing a challenge, recounting a recent New York gig. He recalls, "It was pouring down rain water everywhere. People are freezing. I'm going to get electrocuted at any moment. NYPD ask if I could turn it down. Sod you lot, I'm going to play my music and we're all soaked. Let's have a really good time. And it all turned around, sushi folks were stomping around in the mud listening to my music and having a really great time." Thankfully for us, he doesn't sound at all bored with his DJing and shows no signs of letting up.
His new CD, Global, has a rather obvious title. "Carl is worldwide. Carl is globally known," he announces without a hint of irony. On the CD, five tracks come from US artists, 4 from the UK, and 1 each from France, Sweden, Canada and Scotland. "It's not just about one genre or sound. There is really good music from Portugal, fantastic music from Japan, in Holland someone's made something funky. Put them all together and you're playing music. I'm creating this awareness of what else is going on out there," he asserts. His move from Moonshine to Warner Brothers was likewise a confident statement of his ability. "This is like Warner Brother's stepping up to the plate of Carl Cox, saying they could move 250,000 units, and I was like, okay!"
Global's liner notes present an inconsistency however. They read, "I feel I have managed to capture the mood of many American club goers onto a CD for the first time." I ask, "If the CD is truly Global, why this reference to America?" "I've stepped up my persona in the US and do it respectfully, and from what I've seen so far America is rocking," he admits. "There is a European version, a double CD, with different liner notes. Warner simply felt that the American market wasn't ready for a double CD, while in Europe this was definitely the way to go," he reveals with any hesitation. I checked my own collection later and found a North American version of The Sound of Ultimate Base, so I guess this is a common practice. Another question stems from the liner notes. They state that "Dirty Bass," co-authored with Christian Smith, was licensed from Cosmack Management. Cox explains that the track, as well as the rest of the Second Sign album, has not been signed to a label yet. I'm still curious about Cosmack and inquire further. Through his company, Ultimate Music Management, Carl was famous for managing himself and 27 other premier DJs from as early as 1987. He explains how he recently gave up on managing himself, lamenting, "I was on the phone in the morning to take care of licensing, then a meeting for marketing, then one with the lawyers, then going out to DJ. I finally just called for help. I decided to let my good friend, Lynn Cosgrave, take over. It was a natural step." I now understand that Warner Brothers just needed someplace to send the check for the licensing fee.
For the final stage of the interview, I have barely four minutes. I shift to humor and ask how he feels about Manchester United (Carl's birthplace) dropping 6 early matches but roaring back to the Primership lead. "About bloody time. We spend so much money on all these players and we were playing like a pile of crap. But it does show if you are determined to get somewhere, you know you can do it, and you are going to succeed and get through," he offers. "But at the end of the day I don't stress about it, and it's only football, and it's only a game," he says, obviously fearing a Liverpool comeback.
I try another, hoping he doesn't cut me off. "You once said that you would play for anyone that would have you. Danny Tenaglia and Francois Kevorkian refuse gigs where they think they will merely be accessories to a party. Are there gigs you refuse now? "He seems to misunderstand and starts talking about Danny Tenaglia. "The gig at Twilo we did that last year was amazing. It was all about giving the people something. Danny hadn't played at Twilo since he and Junior Vasquez had the falling out. Me as an individual am able to pull 2,000 people into a club. But to give the audience both Carl Cox and Danny made it an amazing, amazing night," he recalls.
I ask if the permanence of a recording makes production scarier or more rewarding than DJing. "You wear your heart on your sleeve when you're making a track. When people come back and say how it touched them, it's everlasting. For a DJ set you would have gotten drunk, danced your ass off for two hours, and caught a taxi home and forgotten exactly what I'd done," he states. I ask what the best compliment he's gotten on his music is. He had obviously been asked this before and without hesitating says, "That they made love to one of my records, "Phoebes Apollo", while I played it in the club in the corner. I was like, ‘you dirty kids!'"
At this point I'm three minutes over, but he isn't complaining. I ask him to explain the main contribution of techno to the world of music. "That will rest on Detroit and Chicago because that's where all the music stemmed from." This leads to the question of what a DJ's place in a year 2102 music history class might be. He quickly replies, "We were the ones that translated what was being created by these artists to people and to a dancefloor and on the radio."
8:24 and I figure that, rather than force Carl to be rude, I should wrap it up. But my curiosity gets the best of me and I continue. I know Carl got started DJing playing records in his parent's house, so I ask what the last record he played for them was. "Blimey, Rockwell's 'Somebody's Watching You'," he figures. I decide to end the interview with one final question. "What should we expect for your upcoming gig in Atlanta?" "Just a really good hoe down, and I'm there to try to blow out the sound system if I can, really. People will see that I'm there to push the barriers of what I do much wider than ever before," he replies.
Anyone planning on attending Eleven50 on March 21 is forewarned!
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