An Extended Set with Carl Cox
by Jordan E. Lanier
Photos by Jordan E. Lanier
I made the four-hour trip to Charlotte with butterflies dancing in my stomach. Why? Nerves! The infamous Carl Cox, known for his three-deck wizardry and sensational track selection, had agreed to sit down with me for an interview. While Carl and I had met before, my chance to get his opinion and thoughts on a multitude of issues had finally presented itself.
I started my active pursuit of Coxy's musical endeavors in 1994 when I came across his name on Lunatic Asylum's "The Meltdown" and Laurent Garnier's "Astral Dreams: Limited Edition Remixes." Carl had done remixes on both albums that immediately caught my attention. By 1995, I was hooked on the Carl Cox sound. With the release of F.A.C.T. on the U.K. based label React, I was given my first taste of Carl's mixing style. Even listening to the CD, Carl's energy and enthusiasm behind the tables shown through. I was now destined to follow Carl through his career, mesmerized by his art.
Eight years have passed and I am still captivated by everything that Carl turns his hand to. His unyielding professionalism and dedication to the music that represents him has made him a force to be reckoned with in the dance music scene. While Carl has evolved as a DJ and producer over the years, his ability to control the dance floor has remained unchanged. The sonic journey of Carl's sets and his presence at the decks can be matched by few and surpassed by no one. A true master of his art, witness Carl live and you will walk away with memories that continue on long after the evening ends.
At 8:20 p.m., I arrive early at the hotel. I place a call to Carl's tour manager, Garry Barnes, as instructed. To my surprise, Carl answers the phone with a jovial tone. He tells me to come on up to his room. I knock on the door and Carl answer promptly. We talk for a few minutes. Carl is looking tired and in need of serious rest. He tells me about some of the tour difficulties and his lack of sleep. He had only been in town for about a half hour but was eager to do the interview. We settle down in his sitting room to begin.
Lunar: Is there anything else you ever saw yourself doing?
Carl Cox: Um, yeah, it's kind of crazy really, because I've always really wanted to do something with music so I started playing the piano and got quite good at that. And also the drums and found that I was quite good at that. I found out that I can't play the guitar, I can't sing whatsoever, and the flute, well, forget it. So, meanwhile, my vocation has always been about being exposed to music on vinyl and playing music from vinyl to people in a room, subsequently like this, and people dancing to a selection of music that I chose. I like that idea. When I was playing early James Brown or Aretha Franklin or Duane Eddy or even Elvis Presley, you know they were dancing. They were enjoying the mixture of what I was selecting; it was like slow-dance or funkin' out. I was in control. So I've always kind of followed the path of music by default. It just happened, you know. And it's been with me ever since, really.
Lunar: There are quite a few works out there about the history of the scene and the music. How would you like the chapter on Carl Cox to read?
Carl Cox: [Laughs]. Well, I don't know; it's just something that I've always followed in myself as a part of what's grown. It has been something like, maybe I'm meant to be this person it's an output or something and maybe this is what it is. Meanwhile, after thirty-two years, all I've done is play music to people or I've enjoyed music per se, and that's been the kind of thing that I have always followed. You've got to follow the path of something which you feel a part of or something you can develop and feel good about. Well, that's what I have done, apart from everything else that has gone around. And with that, people at the forefront understand that one of the reasons why I'm still here after so many years, I'm still kind of leading the way or still have the passion and the energy to carry on doing what I'm doing, which is actually influencing a lot of people in the sense of, you know, that sometime they think they might want to DJ and then give up. But, meanwhile, if you truly feel it in your heart, you will never give up at the end of the day. You will carry on above everything because you actually have a passion for it!
Lunar: Which clubs do you currently have residencies in right now? How many are there?
Carl Cox: Right now, I don't have any residencies whatsoever. I've actually slowed down on my residencies because they were taking up way too much of my time in the sense of being held down to one place. I've always been a person that's actually traveled everywhere else--to everyone else--rather than have people come to see me and have to travel all of those miles. It is too far! If all of those people come to see me and I'm not there for some reason, do they say, "OK, I guess I'll just go back home" [laughs]. I had a residency in a club called Renaissance in Nottingham, England, and I did that for, maybe, two years, but I wasn't there every week. I was there every month. But I was playing every week on a Thursday night at a club called Ultimate Base.
Which I was a resident at for five years. But the problem with Ultimate Base, for me, was that my weekends started on a Thursday; by Friday I would have already been finished and Saturday and would have been even more finished and Sunday was like, "Oh, my god ..." [grabbing his forehead and grimacing]. So, you know, after five years I was able to set up something in London that I basically believed in and created ... and now Jim Masters has taken over the club. I come back as a special guest whenever I want to; meanwhile, now, I get to start my weekends on a Friday, which is what you're supposed to do. [laughs]
Lunar: IntecWhat's your mission with your label?
Carl Cox: It is a mission, actually, because there's a lot of [pause] music and producers which I've been exposed to perhaps more than anyone else. It's that I like them to see there's one label that can truly represent what they're actually trying to say within their creations and their music. So, having people like Bryan Zentz, who's from Virginia, um, people like Umek Valentino, who's from Slovenia, and Chris Liebing who is the "Pride of Montreal", you know, it's fairly international; hence, Intec-International Techno Music. But, meanwhile, I just kind of shortened it. [laughs] It's just a better way to say that.
But there's some really good funky music out there, and a lot of these producers are setting the path for a new, not new sound, but, you know, its the fusion between house music and techno music.
Lunar: Is that kind of sound that you want to focus on?
Carl Cox: Right now, I want everyone to shake their ass! I want to get into basslines; I want people to get into good rhythms. A record which has structure. A lot of the music that I'm signing onto the label has that. Especially, Bryan Zentz. He's such a prolific producer. I mean, I'm blessed with him in the sense that he believes he has to do the right thing for him and to expose the music to the world based on his talent in making music in such a way.
Lunar: How did he come to be an Intec artist?
Carl Cox: He was putting out records on the labels that I know and love. I saw the name Bryan Zentz on them, but he was basically going on all of the different labels. No one label was really focusing on him as an artist. You know, it was like he put out a record and sold five or six thousand. O.K., that's fine. Then put out a record on another label and sold a few thousand; another label another few thousand. For Bryan it's a bit of a change, and it's all good. But some of the music needs to be respected a lot more than 12" vinyl. So we're actually working on a new Bryan Zentz album at the moment. I've been playing a lot of his music right now off of CDs at the clubs. And testing the waters with his music. The response has been amazing!
Lunar: Do you have a partner at Intec?
Carl Cox: I have a partner called DJ C1. He has a real passion for music, and he used to work at a record store called Consume Records buying and selling records, so he knows about all of the ins and outs.
Lunar: Yeah, his Shifting Gears should be released soon?
Carl Cox: Yeah, in his own right, he's a pretty prolific DJ himself. He wants to do the mix compilation Shifting Gears on Intec. And, basically, we got a Bryan Zentz album coming out; we've got a Trevor Rockcliffe album coming out. They are our main projects right now.
Lunar: Do you think that there is anything that makes the collection of Intec artists unique?
Carl Cox: Yeah, we've become a family really. We're supportive of each other. Intec did go on tour in the U.S. two years ago. It was relatively small, but people came out for us. With me, of course, as the headliner helped everyone out. But, at least it got to showcase everyone else. You know, people were like, "Carl Cox is good, but DJ C1 was better" [laughing].
Lunar: It seems to be a growing trend currently with a lot of the major artists starting their own independent labels. They seem to be moving away from some of the more known labels that many people are familiar with. Are you gravitating in a certain direction right now? Are you still with Moonshine?
Carl Cox: No, No! The thing is with Moonshine now is that I have come to the end of our contractual deal, and, obviously, I'm for negotiations. But for me, I've done a lot and put Moonshine on the map. I've had a good time with Moonshine. But now that I've put this album out on Warner Brothers, it is only a single CD deal. It is kind of like, "O.K., this is what I can do. You know what I can do. I can bring this to the table. Now, what can you do?" And they were like, "we can do this." So far they have been absolutely OUTSTANDING in every sense of how they placed the product in the correct way. You know? [laughing] And I've worked toward something that has been representing me as an artist. I've wanted people to see that I'm a bit of a step up from the rest of the people that are doing this based on what I've done over the many years and who I am. Umm, I also feel a bit ambassadorial as well with my persona. I could end up a lemon quite soon. I don't know. But meanwhile, I had this opportunity to utilize the company to my own benefit. Maybe down the line we will renegotiate, but meanwhile, Warner Brothers at the same time has done a fantastic job. And I don't think that Moonshine could have done the same.
Lunar: On eBay, I saw that you donated your three-hour set from Back to Basics 10th Anniversary Party with proceeds going to DJ Day. Was there a catalyst behind this? What spurred you to do this?
Carl Cox: One of the things I'm getting involved in, well, because when DJ Day was booked I was already set by my UK/US tour. So, the only thing I could do, if anything, was to have this, that we could basically make some money from for World DJ Day. Um, Back to Basics was a very special night. In fact, I think it was the best club night I did in the U.K. last year. It was the first time that I had played Back to Basics since it opened 10 years ago, and they celebrated 10 years by booking me to play. It's not that I didn't want to do it or they didn't want me to do it. It's just that for some reason time didn't allow me to actually play there until the 10th Anniversary. So, we turned it into a pajama party. I was all DJing in my pajamas. This, for me, was great! It was to break that barrier of being all snooty and Prada-wearing people or whatever. We were all in our pajamas; we were all having a good time. And I was only supposed to play for three hours, and I played for six. So, we managed to capture three hours of the set which, for me, was very special. And for the people there it was very special, and the person that gets it on eBay will also get to feel how special it was.
Lunar: I noticed that the winning bidder's information will be forwarded to your management company. I know that this has to do with licensing rights ...
Carl Cox: Yes.
Lunar: Does it also have something to do with the ease of file sharing? A lot of artists have been talking about how their sales have been impacted with the proliferation of file sharing programs.
Carl Cox: I don't know really. We're looking to sell a lot of units on Global. One of the reasons we're looking to do that is because of who I am, first and foremost. Secondly, I'm backing the sales of the CD by the tour and by the way it's been initialized. By that token, it's been simultaneously released all around the world, as well, through Warner Brothers. So, Global, bang! Carl Cox! I mean it's a plan that was put in place six months ago. In a sense that file sharing hinders our sales, [but] for me, I don't think so. Because I think people still want the genuine article.
And if you go back to rock-n-roll when you bought the first Pink Floyd album or the first Elton John cover, you know. You bought a piece of someone's creative work or art and that is what you can keep with you. When you've got something downloaded on an Office Depot CD, yeah, you've got it, but you don't actually have it. Also, it's a bit naughty, but if you can get it then fine, I'm not gonna say otherwise, but I don't think there's that much downloading that people still wouldn't buy the genuine article. I think sometimes that celebrates how many records you can sell in the first place. Then there is a reason for it.
Lunar: I know that you cancelled some of your tour dates at the end of 2001, how much did that have to do with September 11th?
Carl Cox: Everything! Initially, I had four dates, I think. I was going to do those dates because I wanted to. No tour or special release or promotion. I wanted to play those clubs boom, boom, boom! And then that would be it for me until the end of the year. And when it happened [and for me] it was like how do you go to a country, which has just suffered a loss of a lot of American people and a lot of people from Europe? Someone had a story to tell about something that happened on this day. It would have been kind of like superceding, in a sense that you can actually get people to feel really happy about me being there, knowing in the back of their mind that the situation which has taken the country a hell of a long time to still get over. I can still feel it looking today. But meanwhile, it feels really positive that people want to come out and still enjoy themselves and get on with their lives. So, for me to come back in this way has been far more positive than me trying to come over and try to make something good out of something that was the worst thing that I have ever seen in my life.
Lunar: Yes. I had read that you played a charity event that was about a month after the tragedies and your flight was delayed due to the plane crash in Queens. How weird was that for you?
Carl Cox: I just couldn't believe it actually. Me and my girlfriend at the time, we were going to the thing. For me, I was like "Yes! I'm going to New York. Da-da, da-da, da-da!" But then we get in the foyer and there are all these passengers and the screens are all covered with this plane in flames, its like, and all the northern airport stops. I'd been in the UK There were no plane flights to the USA, blah blah blah, everything had been cancelled. What's going on, this plane is on fire. No one knew what was going on. I'm thinking, "You've got to be kidding." My plane was red-eye. I'd left my phone off. As I was driving from my house to the airport it happened. So I didn't even know that it had happened until I got to the airport. I then picked my phone up and had about fifteen messages from people, some that were actually there, and my mom was calling and everything. I'm just like "God," you know? But meanwhile, they found out that it was the plane itself. But half the people that were on that flight... they didn't go! But I came. Hell or high water, it wasn't going to stop me from coming.
Lunar: That is amazing! It's great that you still came. I know that you have played a lot of extended sets on the tour so far. How much of your set would you say is generally predetermined? How much of it is your mood or the audience vibe?
Carl Cox: My mood is ALWAYS 100%! It is who I am. It's like OK. But meanwhile, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to play. It always depends on what the DJ played before me. The crowd is always hyped and ready for something from me. And the thing is, I have a good understanding of the crowds in the sense of what I'm going to do. All it really comes down to is people having a good time. But with the records that I have, a good 80% of music that most of the people would not have heard of before. But I do know that they are really good records and you WILL hear of them in the next six months, maybe a year. But I want to set a standard and precedence for a certain sound that I have come to create and to give to people and their spirit something new, fresh, and exciting. So that creates something a bit beyond what you have been expecting.
Lunar: How many records do you have to travel with for a tour of this length?
Carl Cox: Well, I took two record boxes, the two white oneseach one of those boxes you can play two and half hours out of each box. So that is five hours. So if I play a three hour set, I know that I've got three hours of really good music I could play. But then, I have ended up with another bag of record from promo and things people have given me.
And I also take along a whole thing of CD's. All new tracks too. So, I could actually play a ten-hour set if I wanted.
Lunar: Who are your biggest allies in the scene as far as people you are working with and people you feel are artistically in sync with you?
Carl Cox: Erick Morillo. At the moment he has got his Sundance record label. Subliminal is doing really well! He stepped out of the whole Strictly Rhythm (Records) sector of artists and he hasn't gone away. He has just kept going. And that all due to his being in Europe a lot as well and having been influenced a lot by what is done in Europe and bringing that back to New York, his sound back to the U.S.
Richie Hawtin. I am tightly in sync with Richie. He is one of these people who has always had or is in the foresight of what he is or what represents him. I think he is actually amazing, actually.
You got Sven Vath, Laurent Garnier, Jeff Mills, Kevin Saunderson...the list goes on and on.
Lunar: Who are some of the professional DJs doing this now that you admire or whose sets you can appreciate?
Carl Cox: Any DJ that can actually stand up there and play what they truly believe in. For me, they have my vote. People like Danny Tenaglia, for instance, you know? He plays phenomenal songs. There are a lot of people that I truly admire. I think these people are so in tune to what they are about that and what they want people to feel. That is a great emphasis on what you are about without the hype of the scene generally around to what people expectations are. You come primarily to play your music. So for me, Frankie Knuckles is someone else that really plays heart and soul, how it should be really, and the sound of his music as well. You know, that's my personal choice if I had to pick someone in this way. In the sense of bangin', Sven Vath for me is someone that has some aura and some kudos. He can really create energy in a room. He even goes beyond me sometimes and I like that.
Lunar: So you feel it is important to play music that is representative of who you are or where you come from?
Carl Cox: Yeah! No matter what is going on around you, you know? If you just kind of follow this trend of progressive and trance, whatever! And then the thing is, you know, every DJ is out there playing exactly the same music. You've got to actually step out to see that you are actually following the path of what is popular. Maybe you'll do well, but you'll be the same. It is not supposed to work out like that at all. You need to take what you do and bring that to the forefront and people will see that you do have something special, which allows people to enjoy more what you are trying to create.
... let's talk about the Carl Cox "sound" [more]
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