1998 was an interesting year for dance music: Ferry Corsten was into hardcore gabber, Armin van Buuren and David Guetta released their first tracks, the Swedish House Mafia were barely an itch in their DJ pants, Skrillex was confined to boarding school, Moby still had yet to “Play” and Aphex Twin was exploring the depths of Jungle music. However, it was Fatboy Slim who was the first and original superstar DJ. Musician, producer, a pioneer of dance music, it was Norman Quentin Cook who led the big beat revolution under the moniker of Fatboy Slim, propelling electronic dance music to the lofty heights of popularity that it enjoys today. With his 1998 album You’ve Come A Long Way Baby churning out hits “The Rockafellar Skank”, “Praise You” and “Right Here, Right Now” across MTV and radio waves, Fatboy Slim would bridge the gap between the underground and mainstream.
Norman Quentin Cook’s history is immersed in music. Nurtured on his parent’s 60s vinyl collection, he began DJing for parties and weddings to help pay his way through university, completing a Bachelor of Arts in English, politics and sociology at Brighton Polytechnic. He first cut his teeth in the music industry, playing drums and then taking on vocal duties for new wave punk band Disque Attack, forming The Stomping Pondfrogs and finally taking on bass guitar for The Housemartins; the band achieving some success on the charts. This musical experience would serve as a sound foundation for his upcoming career. Hiphop culture was just exploding in the picturesque English beach town of Brighton, and Quentin, then known as DJ Quentox - alongside DJ Baptiste - would hold hip hop jams at youth clubs. These jams were like infant block parties that would sow the seeds for Brighton’s underground music. While he would traipse around the country, touring with bands, it would ultimately be Brighton where Quentin would return to concentrate on playing the turntables. Having formed a friendship with studio engineer Simon Thornton from his band days, projects like Beats International, Freakpower, Pizzaman, The Might Dubkats came and went, until 1996 when the album Better Living Through Chemistry propelled Fatboy Slim into the limelight.
The Fatboy Slim moniker was well and truly destined to stay in the charts after the giant success of second album, Halfway Between the Gutter and The Stars, particularly with hit track “Weapon of Choice”. Featuring Christopher Walken in the now iconic clip, “Weapon Of Choice” would take out six awards at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards. Such popularity would see over 250,000 people gravitate to Brighton the following year for the second of Norman’s open air beach gigs. The bedlam meant early closure of the event and traffic jamming the town until the next day. As a consequence, a ban was imposed against Norman from playing in Brighton; though this would eventually be lifted in 2006. The subsequent years saw a slew of choice gigs around the world, including a celebrated performance at Glastonbury; his sets performed before a visual stage of video screens with 3D lighting.
While his career of late has been besieged by health issues providing plenty of fodder to the media, looking back, you can definitely say Fatboy Slim has come a long way baby. In the lead up to his performance sharing the stage with Swedish House Mafia for Future Music Festival 2012, Fatboy Slim chats in-depth with Lady Lex, comparing Twitter and Facebook to crack, his thoughts on today’s music trends and what we can expect to hear from him when he hits the main stage for FMF.
What are you most looking forward to for Future Music Festival?
I’ve always loved touring Australia. Just getting back there and seeing the mental crowds you have there. Doing those festivals are great, because you get to hang out with other acts. It’s quite a nice lineup as well. Normally you go to a festival and you never get to see anyone else’s set. I’m looking forward to hanging out with Swedish House Mafia, Tinie Timpeh and all of the other amazing people who are going to be around. It’s good because it feels like you’re on a big school trip.
What weapons of choice will you bring to the dancefloor?
I’ve got an audio-visual show coming. I’m more of a VJ these days! We write visuals first, and as I play the CDJs, that triggers the visuals. We have sync’d visuals which makes for a tighter show and visually more exciting. I DJ with Serato, CDjs, which will be triggering the visuals; but still mixing with CDJs – so you’ll know I’m doing it live. And the same full on acid house party nonsense really.
Since you last hit Australian shores, it’s been a very difficult couple of years plagued with health issues, controversy, and family problems. No doubt, you’ve been mentally and physically stretched to the limit here. But you’ve come through to the other side and you will be, once more, facing your tour demons. What have you learnt about yourself over these last few years?
I faced my demons; beat them off with a stick. I’m happier, healthier and I’m doing a better job. I’ve been focused on my inner well being. I’ve been on tour for the last two years now, so the demons have been banished.
How is this reflected in your music?
Well I haven’t made much. Last two years, I’ve been steering clear of putting a new record out because that’s when you have to be away for up to 6 months at a time.
Is your new take on healthy living going to help you when you tour Australia?
Yes – Definitely! The late nights and the partying take their toll as well. You can party harder when you’ve had a good night’s sleep
What kind of health regime will you be following over the next few months to get you through the tour?
Normally I’d play weekends so I’m home during the week. Normally I’d work out four times a week: an hour of circuits. I’m training for the Brighton Half marathon at the moment which I’ll be doing in February.
You competed in the Brighton Marathon last year: how did this experience strengthen your resolve as a fitter healthier person?
It was great to prove I could do it. Most people after the kind of lifestyle I’ve led for most of my life would say there’s no way you could run a marathon. It was maybe one of those middle age thing. I was either going to grow a pony tail or run the marathon. I think I chose the cooler option.
Do you feel as though you have anything to prove this tour?
I’ve always got something to prove – no one does it quite like me. You’ve got your young contenders like SHM – ultimate respect to them - but I plan to give them a run for their money every night.
We’ve got you as one of the greatest DJs to have stormed the planet. And we’ve got the Swedish House Mafia currently storming the planet. How did two such entities come together?
We move in the same circles. We’ve swapped ideas and tunes. There’s very much a fraternity with DJs and trips like this mean the bonds get firmed up. We play together and there’s a mutual respect there. They’ve got that huge big room commercial sound down pat. So I’ll be probably wandering down a nosier, more raucous path.
How did your music start for you?
I was actually a DJ before I was in bands. In those days, being a DJ was a hobby rather than a career. I wanted a career in the music business, so I took up the bass and felt I should play in a pop band. But then when dance music took off, I was finally making music I really love. At the end of the day I feel I am a much better DJ than I am a bass player.
Are there any new artists particularly exciting you at the moment?
I’ve done so many shows with him over the summer. He’s really set the benchmark with visual shows. I’m excited about David Guetta (he’s an old friend of mine) and Swedish House Mafia. I’m excited about them cleaning up in America. Dance music goes underground and then rides a commercial wave. It’s on a bit of a commercial wave right now which opens it all up for the rest of us.
You’re such a lover of layering textures and beats as well as great melodies – vocal or instrumental. So what are your thoughts on the electro and dubstep that’s eaten the world at the moment?
I must confess - I dunno if it’s an age thing - but I can’t get my head around dubstep. I can’t dance to it, and therefore I can’t make it. I don’t play dubstep in my set. Sometimes the electro stuff lacks a bassline. It might be me getting old, but sometimes it just sounds like a load of scrunchy noises without a tune holding it together.
You got away from dance for a bit with the musical ‘Here Lies Love’, working alongside Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, as well as Santigold, Tori Amos, Cyndi Lauper and Sia. What did this experience do for you musically?
It was really nice to flex some different muscles, to do something different. It was great to do it with David Byrne. He invited me along on the journey and it’s not a journey I would have ever taken on my own. To work with vocalists and real songs and lyrics that meant something. It was an interesting diversion. It was nice to do things like that every few years just to keep yourself fresh. But at the end of it, I always come back to doing what I do: the bad-ass straight -ahead dance music.
You’ve worked under so many different pseudonyms and on so many projects: who rules these days?
Fatboy Slim has engulfed all the rest. All the others were faceless – there was no public face to them. As Fatboy Slim, I got outted, so it got hard to hide behind the different aliases anymore. When I’m at home I’m Norman Cook. When I get on the road and put on the Hawaiian shirt on, I turn back into Fatboy. Norman is a good husband and a good dad. And Fatboy, frankly, is an irresponsible party animal.
You’ve seen them all – vinyl, CDJs, laptops. What are your thoughts on technology these days?
It’s now a lot easier and more accessible to everyone. Everyone who’s got a laptop can make their own music and be a DJ. Before, it was only the hardcore vinyl junkies who were collectors and had the records. In one way, everyone can do it; so everyone can do it badly. But by the same token, everyone can do it, so it frees it up for more people around the world to do it, and be exposed the next day on the internet. It’s sped things up a lot.
Any sacrifices along the way in this convenience?
Music has become more disposable. Before, you had to physically buy a record and part with your money and you bought into the mystique of the record and being part of the gang with the band or the artist. Nowadays, kids grow up expecting the music for free – so maybe they don’t treasure it as much as we did. Or maybe I’m just getting old and nostalgic about the old days. The idea of going out and buying a record was exciting. Now, people expect it to be there in their laps. It’s a two edged sword.
With new technology in music, there’s also social media. What’s your take on Twitter and Facebook?
I don’t go to Twitter or Facebook, I tend to use my website. I have a thing on my website “Ask Norm” where everyone sends in questions; like “what was that tune you played then and there”. I enjoy the interaction with the fans. I haven’t sold my soul to Twitter or Facebook yet. It’s a bit like doing crack – once you get in there, there’s not getting back out. So I’m staying on the edges of it.
It’s been years since the world saw a Fatboy Slim track released – is this something that could be on the horizon?
It’s one of those things that you can only do when you’re feeling it. One day, I might wake up with a bee in my bonnet and a record I want to make. In the meantime, I don’t feel I have to force it. I’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century now, and I’ve earned the right that I don’t have to put out a record every two years or every four years. I don’t want to make a record unless it’s something I’m really excited about.
It won’t be long until you’re here! Have you got anything to say to your Australian fans?
I can’t wait to see you darlings!