Legendary British DJ Carl Cox takes HK for a spin

Veteran deejay Carl Cox has stood the test of time, writes Richard Lord

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 11:01pm

In the hyper-critical, ultra-competitive, backbiting world of deejaying, Carl Cox is an anomaly - because everyone likes him. They have liked him, moreover, for an implausibly long period of time in such a fickle business: Cox has been deejaying since the late 1970s, was there in the vanguard of British club culture in the late '80s and has been consistently among the most popular DJs in fan polls ever since.

Cox first played in Hong Kong in the '90s and has been back a few times, including a memorable December 2006 appearance alongside Iranian-American DJ Dubfire in a field surrounded by shipping containers near Tuen Mun.

He is back here on June 11 - handily, the day before the Tuen Ng Festival - to play alongside progressive house pioneer John Digweed at the W hotel.

Starting off as a soul and hip hop DJ in his native Britain, Cox's life was changed forever by the acid house scene of the late '80s. His eureka moment, he says, came when he first heard Phuture's ground-breaking Acid Tracks in 1987. Throughout the '90s Cox refined his style, adding occasional vertebrae of house and breakbeat to the solid spine of his beloved techno.

Over the years, Cox has put out perhaps the most seminal techno mix ever, 1995's F.A.C.T., which sold more than a quarter of a million copies; played millennium night two times (in Sydney and Hawaii), by crossing the International Date Line; launched a radio show, Global, that now attracts 12 million listeners in 28 countries; launched and relaunched his own label, Intec Digital (formerly Intec Records); and notched up five UK top 40 hits. All this despite the fact that he's consistently shied away from the limelight.

These days, Cox says, his musical preferences have evolved further, taking in dubstep and drum 'n' bass - something that's also evident from his recent recorded output, and moving beyond the sparse, experimental techno that had come to dominate a lot of his sets.

"It was nice to play a lot of drum-heavy tracks, but then I found that I missed the basslines and drops that can carry a record all the way through," he says. "It's so easy to just create drum tracks, but I always want to change it up. I grew up listening to funk and soul music; you'd have the percussion, and all you were waiting for was the bassline to drop.

"I try to combine the best of techno, house and breakbeat - the embodiment of what got me here. I want people to enjoy my selection but I don't want to take the safe bet, or I might as well be up there alongside David Guetta, Chuckie and so on."

No one has ever accused Cox of taking the safe bet. He gained his old nickname, the Three Deck Wizard, from his desire to take mixing to a whole different level, and the name has stuck despite the deejaying configuration that led to "all vinyl" several years ago. Advances in technology might have de-skilled deejaying, but no one's calling Cox's talents into question.

"I'm so glad I came through with vinyl," he says. "It meant that if you had a record you loved, you played it all year. Each week I would spend 200 or 300 quid on music. When you deejayed, you might only get to play six records from among them, but you really made those six records count. And you still have to have that understanding of what you're creating. I have no clue what order I'm going to play records in, but I know I can create a moment of music that I love. These days you have to sift through a lot of music to get there, though."

One unexpected side effect of those changes in the nature of deejaying, he adds, has been to isolate him behind the decks. "I used to have people standing over the turntables watching me, but there's nothing to stare at any more, except me sweating my head off."


Carl Cox and John Digweed, June 11, 8pm, W Hong Kong, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon, HK$580-HK$1,280, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 9027 9115