CARL COX on music, mental health & discrimination

CARL COX on music, mental health & discrimination

For our 50th interview, Rave Reviewz' Kamran Ahmed had a wide-ranging, personal chat with the legendary Carl Cox ahead of PURE...

RR: Hi Carl - great to to talk to you, thanks for taking the time. We’re all really looking forward to PURE here in Sydney. You have a great lineup this year - how do you think it’ll be different to last year?

Carl: Well first and foremost we’ve changed around the production once again. People really enjoy that we try and keep the production as minimal as possible, but also in line with what they expect to see nowadays. Of course, the sound is always paramount for us - the DJs we have this year will create a completely different sound, but it will obviously still be house & techno music. We have Paco Osuna and Nastia, which for me is really exciting – two people who I think are the best at that European sound. I’m sure me and Eric Powell will be able to support them in their quest to play the very best music possible.

RR: You’ve also got Fabio Neural on the line up, we had a chat with him and he said you’ve been a big influence in his career. Do you enjoy that side of the business, nurturing young talent?

Carl: Yeah - I’ve always been a guy who acknowledges the fact that no one man is an island. I can’t do everything but I can support what I believe people should listen to or at least be aware of. It would be difficult for Fabio to come over here off his own back, even though he’s made some of the most amazing music of all time - people still don’t know that. So to be able to bring him to the forefront so he can shine is quite exciting for me, and he’s very excited by it too. He’s been waiting for his time and it’s now coming. He’s made so much music, he could play just his own records and still rock the house! I actually want him to do that haha.

RR: He actually told us that when he makes a track he thinks ‘Is this something Carl Cox would play?'

Carl: Yeah, it’s great that he has me in mind, but it’s also important that he makes things that represent himself and he keeps that integrity as an artist. He’s a great friend as well and down the line we’re looking to do some sort of collaboration, which I think will be quite exciting - he has great ideas and so do I, so for us to come together will be very powerful. I really like the idea that I’ve been able to support someone like Fabio and get people to understand that he’s as talented and natural a DJ as anyone I’ve ever seen.

RR: Speaking of collaborations we’re big fans of your track with Nicole Moudaber - See You Next Tuesday. Can you tell us how that collaboration came about and the creative process the two of you went through when making it?

Carl: Me and Nicole are obviously very tight and have been for many years - I love her, and her music prevails. You can see where she’s ended up, she’s gone onwards and upwards and beyond herself! I think it was natural that we came together to create something. What I had was a 4 second bassline… See You Next Tuesday was all created from a 4 second bassline. So she was like ‘where is the rest of the track’?? And I was like, ‘well actually that’s it'! So she looked at me disgusted, thinking you lazy bastard haha. Then she went away and created See You Next Tuesday and came back to me with it. Then I got back to her with my ideas and we went back and forth with it through Ableton, and eventually agreed on the track and stuck by it.

RR: And what about the title of the track, how did you decide on that - See You Next Tuesday??

Carl: Well… because all the time I was playing at Space, it was a Tuesday night. At the end of the night I would always say ‘see you next Tuesday’, so that’s where it came from… but it does have other connotations haha.

RR: Haha yeah that’s why I asked… and especially commonly used here in Australia!

Carl: Haha well I can’t exactly say it, but apparently it’s used as a term of endearment!

RR: Absolutely haha. Any other productions of your own coming out soon?

Carl: Basically I’ve built my new studio here in Australia, in Melbourne and I’m really excited to make more new music and to get behind some more new remixes. I’ve just done a remix for Monkey Safari, the track is called Energy. I’ve done a remix for Alex Mind, called Lost. I’ve just put out a new version of Chip E’s Time to Jack, which I’m really proud of… oh and a new remix for Moby, Feel so real.

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RR: So when you’re producing, where do you find inspiration? A lot of producers, especially when starting out can hit that mental roadblock - where do you get your ideas?

Carl: Good question haha! I really don’t know, I have so many ideas in my head that I’ve just got to get them out. That’s the reason I make my music - whether it works or not, I don’t really care. It’s in there and it has to come out! I’ve just done a track called Dark Alley which has been signed to Yousef’s label Circus - this track is a mental squidgy acid bassline track which just slams the floor. Where it came from I have absolutely no idea, but that riff and that sound were just going round and round in my head - so I just had to get it out. And the title Dark Alley was like – ‘if you met this track down a dark alley you’d probably have a big fight with it, and only one of you would win’! It just has that energy and power about it. On the other hand I’ve just finished off this mix for Nine Toes - and it’s very pretty! So wherever it takes me, wherever my head is, that's how the music gets made.

RR: Cool. Your label Intec has been so influential, we really liked Darren Emerson’s release on it - The Bird Cage EP. We know that you two are good mates and when we interviewed him a while back, he told us that the first time he came to Australia, you him and Fatboy Slim where on a yacht, eating lobster and drinking champagne. Do you remember that??

Carl: I remember it very well because it was the first time us three British guys were enjoying Christmas Day on a yacht! It was bizarre for us to be having Christmas dinner on a beautiful day, out on Sydney Harbour! It was a moment for all of us, because we knew that our friends back in the UK were freezing their nuts off haha. And it was Darren’s first introduction to the Australian crowd, we had a ball… he was still the man from Underworld, Norman Cook was Fatboy Slim, I was there as Carl Cox... we came together as a unit to give people the best time possible and it was great.

Darren has actually made an abundance of amazing new music and this is our second release with him. We want to put out another EP from him this year, we’re going to cherry pick what’s on it. I think he has that old school feel to his sound and he makes it with a lot of heart. In Birdcage you can really feel the passion and the energy that he’s created it with, it’s not techno by numbers at all. I really love that - he is one of my most revered, prolific producers. I’m looking to bring him over for next year’s PURE hopefully.

RR: Now, there’s so much house and techno talent in Sydney where we’re based, and in Australia in general, but we feel it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Any thoughts on how the Australian underground electronic music scene can flourish?

Carl: It is really difficult, I remember HMC from Adelaide, and Future Sound of Melbourne - Davide Carbone, Josh Abrahams and Steve Robbins as a unit… the list goes on actually. It’s so difficult for artists and labels to crossover, for instance to get Richie Hawtin to play anything by Australians. I always tried to play stuff from here, so I don’t know why it’s so hard for people. If you made a track in Berlin for a label that no one knew, Richie Hawtin would be all over it!

RR: So how can we tackle that Carl? We’re all about helping the Australian underground music scene.

Carl: It’s a tricky one, I’ve been trying to help the situation. We’re creating another new record label trying to sign artists from here. We just did Babylon festival, and we had lots of Australian techno DJs playing and they’re bloody excellent! I scratch my head… I don’t know why labels, like Pan Pot’s label for example, are not picking up on some of this music. One man is no island, I can’t do everything but at least I can tell people - one of the reasons I’m in Australia is because there is a demand for my sound, now more than ever. We book Paco Osuna alongside local techno DJs to push them to the forefront too, which I think is really important. Eric Powell, with BUSH records tries his best to pick up on Australian talent, but it is difficult to get the music to crossover. We need another Juice record label that HMC was on that fires everything into Europe, or like when Future Sound of Melbourne had their label which tried to find techno tracks.

RR: You’ve tried your hand at everything in the world of electronic music - DJing, production, you have a label, you had a music management agency, you had your global radio show and now you have your own festival - PURE. What do you love most?

Carl: I think more than anything, the creativity of it all and bringing new people together with their ideas. When we do Babylon for example, there are four of us - a couple of young guys and me and Richie McNeil. Me and Richie are from the old guard, and the other guys are learning, but also enjoying the fact that we are all able to collaborate with our ideas to create something we love. For me and Richie we’ve been there, done it, bought the T-shirt, made the movie, whatever… but we’re still here because we think we can create something unique and special. Babylon is not structured as a normal festival, you have to create everything - so it’s nice when you see it all happen and people enjoy it to the point that they’re already booking their tickets for next year.

RR: Yeah some of the Rave Reviewz team were down there and absolutely loved it. Now, looking back over your career what have been the biggest challenges over the past 4 decades?

Carl: The biggest challenge has been more of a personal challenge for me… being away from my family and friends, and unfortunately my mum died two years ago and I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would’ve liked with her. It’s alright having all these amazing parties to do, but getting to them is the art. People only see when we turn up at the decks and play, but not that it took 12 hours to get there, by hook or by crook. It takes a lot of energy to perform too and people don’t see that side of it, plus you’ve got to do it day after day.

It all depends how hard you want to do it - I’ve been doing this most of my life now and I know I’m not happy if I do it like that any more. Now I cherry pick and choose how I travel, which is why I get to do these events 110% in the way that I like to. It is almost like a military operation - 'how do you get Carl to play 3 parties, over 2 days, in 3 different countries?'. Sometimes you take a normal flight, sometimes we need a private jet to be able to do it all, but at the end of the day I don’t like letting anyone down. If I’m booked to play there, then I’m booked to play there and I do have a 99.5% turnout rate. So that’s the biggest challenge with all this, getting there.

RR: Now we’re big on mental health at Rave Reviewz - how do you look after your own well-being with such a hectic schedule?

Carl: Well, I pull myself away from it. Where I am in Australia now I have my own time, my own freedom to do whatever I want to do - camping, fishing, barbecues, drag-racing, riding my motorcycles… that kind of stuff. Just something else! Because if you’re doing it the whole time and you can’t get out, that’s when things start to go wrong, that’s when you start to overthink who you are, and why you’re doing it.

And it can be kind of lonely… if you go out there and you’re rocking the house with 2000 people, and they want one more tune and everyone’s clapping, but you can’t do one more and you walk away, get in your car and go to your hotel room, then you’re on your own. And you think - 'what do I do now?'. I can handle that because I’ve been doing it for many years, but there are a lot of DJs who haven’t been able to handle that situation. It’s really amazing that some DJs have spoken out about it and how they’ve overcome it - like Nina Kraviz for example. No one is saying ‘poor me’, but it does have an effect on who you are. When I started DJing we never had this intensity, the only DJs playing at this intensity were radio DJs who did roadshows with 50-60,000 kids screaming at them. Other DJs played pubs and clubs - we’d finish at 11 and be home by 12! What we are doing now is way beyond that.

RR: What advice would you give to DJs starting out - in terms of maintaining a career as long as you have, and particularly balancing popularity with credibility?

Carl: It’s difficult when you’re young and thirsty for it, and then you get it. You put your record out, it’s number one and all the DJs love it, the girls love it, you’re at the top step, you’re getting flown everywhere first class. Then your next record isn’t as popular, you don’t get all the adulation and all the girls disappear, so then you think right - I’ve got to make my next record more commercial, like my first one. That’s when it goes wrong. What you have to do is go ‘right who am I? Why am I making this record? What’s my purpose as an artist?’. You need to re-evaluate that and continue. If you try and fight for that top step and everything that goes with it, you end up slipping into a depression when you’re not getting it any more. So you have to stand by who you are as a person and not listen to anyone. You had your time and your time might come again, but you have to take strength in who you are and step outside of it all. I’ve had to do it a few times… I’ve had times when my career has gone through the roof, then plateaued, then gone up, then plateaued again - but through all of it there is a strain of who I am.

RR: Now, these are tough times we’re living in. There’s a lot of discrimination out there – I wonder if you could tell me if you’ve ever experienced any and how you’ve dealt with it. I think it could be really helpful for anyone going through the same thing.

Carl: Well, I grew up in the 70s when there was a lot of National Front and a lot of hatred for West Indians and ethnic minority groups. I came forward through it all and just thought ‘you know what? I don’t really care, my music is an open door for everyone. If you don’t like it walk away, if you do like it - enjoy yourself’. The rave scene as a whole was so amazing because it didn’t discriminate against anybody… whether you were a punk or a teddy boy, into rock ‘n’ roll or hard metal. It didn’t matter, if you liked the music and you’re into it, there would be other like-minded people who would embrace the fact, and it didn’t matter what colour or creed you were. …At the end of the day, I basically stand as a person to be the performer that I am, thinking ‘I don’t care this music is for everyone, I want everyone to enjoy it’. You have to take that stance.

RR: Very nice to hear. Ok, we know you have a collection of cars and bikes - can you pick a favourite?

Carl: I’ve got some amazing bikes and cars, but I do have a favourite car. It’s a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. It has a 572 Heady, which is a big block engine for that car. It runs 10 second passes down any dragstrip, which makes it very fast in its class. It’s a pretty car, but it looks like it’s going to eat all your children haha. It’s black on black, with big wheels and tyres, and a big engine - so probably because of who I am, it’s also the most fitting car for me!

RR: Haha so we'll call that one the Coxmobile! Last question, what would you say is the most memorable set you’ve played over the years?

Carl: The most memorable time I ever had in a club was at Space in Ibiza - the very last 10 hour set that I played there, at one of my own Revolution nights. I played part vinyl and part digital - the vinyl was a lot of the music I used to play in the early days at that club. It was recorded on Be-At TV for posterity too. That was probably the most memorable set that I’ve ever played.

RR: Gotta tell you, my fave was when you closed Exit festival in 2009.

Carl: Haha excellent, thanks.

RR: Thanks again for the chat, look forward to seeing you at PURE.

Carl: Thanks, looking forward to it.

Catch Carl Cox at PURE on April 28th at Hordern Pavillion. Tickets available here