I CAN remember very little of the night I did this interview. Sankeys was rammed, the music rushed in and out like a series of jets taking off just above your head and the sweat was dripping off the walls. I was probably off my nut and I’d imagine that at some point in the night I would’ve fallen over.
However, I could easily be getting this confused with any number of nights at Bugged Out. Sorry.
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“I’M SEEN as this superclub DJ, with millions of pounds, limousines everywhere, women everywhere and everything else. That’s all fine,” says Carl Cox with a big grin. It suddenly disappears. “But the bottom line is the music.”
Time and again when you talk to Carl Cox, the conversation comes back to ‘the music’. The affable Horsham-based dance music veteran is one of the UK’s Saturday night elite, one of the most popular DJs in the country, whose name ensures healthy attendance at any night he appears at. Though he is one of the UK’s original ‘superstar DJs’, with the kind of fame and fortune that entails, you get the sense that he still knows where his priorities lie.
Cox’s style is heavier and harder than most, and he favours more extreme, uncommercial sounds over happy-clappy singalong house. Tonight, he’s in town to do what he does best at Bugged Out.
The explosive Friday night session at an old soap factory in the Ancoats area of Manchester, run by Paul Benney and Jonno Burgess from Jockey Slut magazine, is right up Cox’s street. He’s been coming here ever since the pair booked him after hearing his set on the first ever Essential Selection.
“If you’re going to come all the way out here from town, you’re coming here for a reason,” he tells me. “The DJs here are playing music that represents what’s going on, but they don’t conform to anything. John and Paul have stuck by what they believe in and it’s nice for me to be able to support that situation.”
Born in Barbados but brought up in Surrey, Cox first started DJing at the age of eight and hasn’t stopped since. His academic career wasn’t particularly successful, but only because his specialist subjects of latin-jazz, funk, soul, rare groove and disco weren’t on the curriculum. After he dropped out of college, a brief criminal interlude (“I got banged up for shoplifting, got caught in my car with no insurance, that kind of stuff ..”) was similarly undistinguished.
You get the sense that DJing was just about the only thing he was any good at. His career progressed steadily, and he went from playing records at house parties to a mobile DJ playing weddings before moving into clubs in the mid-Eighties. Acid Trax by Phuture opened up his ears to the harder end of house music.
“I’ve been brought up with the idea that you play to rock the party, but at the same time, I’ve always gone for a slightly harder sound. It’s my way of staying on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the music,” says a matter-of-fact Cox. “My music is pumping and funky. It’s house, it’s acid, it’s techno, but as long as it’s got a groove, it doesn’t matter what it is.”
Cox’s big break came when he played at the first night of Danny Rampling’s groundbreaking club Shoom. A decade later he’s still at the top. By his own admission, Cox has been going to clubs for “years and years and years and years” – does he ever feel his age catching up with him?
“I’m 35 this year but I think the music has kept me young,” he chuckles. “I can’t think of many other things I do that would keep me young. I can think of a lot of things that would make me feel a lot older than I actually am. But I feel like I’m 18.”
Passionate, hardworking and committed, ‘the three deck wizard’ is clearly still inspired and excited by club culture. He has a constant need to prove himself, despite having secured his place in dance music culture years ago.
“I want to move the music forward, so that people are still listening to Carl Cox to hear a new sound, to hear music that will take us into the next millennium of partying. Because without that new sound, things will just go round and round and round, everyone will get bored and we’ll all end up listening to Bon Jovi. I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want that.”
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Later in the year of this interview, Cox was named the number one DJ in the world in the first of DJ Magazine’s annual polls, although I think a bigger career highlight might have been his appearance in the cringeworthy Welsh rave movie, Human Traffic.
There are very few things to love in Human Traffic and many, many more things to hate but Cox’s turn as a dodgy Cardiff club-owner is not one of them.
Many thanks to my Twitter buddy MyShitty20s for reminding me of this fact (which somehow seems to be absent from all of his official biographies).
Carl Cox is still doing the business 13 years later, destroying dancefloors all over the world and wrecking more than a few heads along the way – not least his own, most likely.
Long may he continue.
[This interview was first published in the Big Issue in the North in April, 1997. Photo from Anvil of Sound]