Veteran DJ Fatboy Slim still has the hunger
After more than 30 years behind the decks, Fatboy Slim is as enthusiastic as ever about DJing. The man of many pseudonyms tells Richard Lord what keeps him spinning
OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS, DJs have gone from backroom technicians of little regard to global megastars commanding huge fees and adulation. At the forefront of that astonishing cultural change is Norman Cook, more usually known as Fatboy Slim, along with a host of other names.
Cook, the DJ even people with no interest in dance music have heard of, has been there since the start. With an infectious combination of heart-thumping, head-nodding beats and winning pop hooks, his own music and his DJ sets are all about unrepentant crowd-pleasing. He began DJing the early 1980s in his adoptive hometown of Brighton on the south coast of England, and has been making joyous, euphoric, party-oriented dance music of his own since 1989. He has been responsible for a series of instantly recognisable, chant-along, floor-filling classics, such as Praise You to Right Here Right Now to Gangster Trippin' and Weapon of Choice.
Cook says that after 30-plus years in the game, he still has as much enthusiasm for DJing as he did when he started. "Every week new tunes come out that I want to share with people, and there is always a fresh supply of young people who want to lose themselves. It keeps me refreshed being part of that," he says.
Those people still flock to see him wherever he plays, even if his show finishes at midnight, as it did on his last visit to our shores, when he played AsiaWorld-Expo in October 2010. There's a chance to catch a rather more realistically timed Fatboy Slim set (11.45pm) on October 11, when he plays at Club Cubic in Macau. Cook has never visited Macau before, but he says it has been on his bucket list for a while. "Festival and stadium shows are exciting and thrilling, but there is an intimacy that you only get at smaller shows - it's far more relaxed and we can go places musically that you can't risk with a huge crowd," he says.
Born Quentin Leo Cook, but now known as Norman, he has gone by at least 30 different noms de decks: Beats International, Pizzaman, Freak Power and the The Brighton Port Authority. The latter has included collaborators such as David Byrne, Iggy Pop, and Dizzee Rascal. Cook first made his name as an accidental member of '80s indie-pop band The Housemartins (he was originally asked to stand in when the band's bass player pulled out of a tour), which definitely makes him the only big-name DJ to have scored a number one hit singing on an a cappella version of The Isley Brothers' Caravan of Love.
After The Housemartins split up in 1988, he spent the next decade DJing and making music in an embryonic version of his trademark bouncy, funky, eclectic, shamelessly hook-laden style. This came to be known as big beat, and he also popularised it via his wildly popular Big Beat Boutique club in Brighton (he says that a five-hour set at the club's fifth-anniversary party was his most memorable performance ever). His first solo breakthrough came as Beats International with Dub Be Good to Me, which spliced The Clash and The SOS Band's Just Be Good to Me, while tunes such as Happiness (as Pizzaman) further refined his dance-floor-friendly, smiley-raver sound.
But it was only with his second album under the Fatboy Slim moniker, 1998's You've Come a Long Way, Baby, that he really hit it big; certified three times platinum in Britain a year later, it furnished him with a string of top-five hits including Praise You, his only number one so far.
Cook has headlined most of the important festivals, but his most memorable live performances have probably been the Big Beach Boutique gigs on Brighton beach - the second one, in 2002, attracted more than a quarter of a million people. He also performed at the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, where he played in the surreal setting of a giant inflatable octopus perched on top of a bus. He's up for playing almost anywhere: "The pyramids in Egypt don't seem such a good idea right now, but they were always on my list," he says.
As recently as 2008, Cook commented that he might give up DJing as Fatboy Slim to focus on The Brighton Port Authority. David Byrne, with whom he also worked on the 2010 album Here Lies Love, is his favourite collaborator on that project. Considerably less jarring than a series of off-kilter disco tracks dramatising the upbringing of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos ought to be, it has since been turned into a stage musical. The former Talking Heads front man, says Cook, "is a genius but also a beautiful man and a pleasure to work with. I just saw the off-Broadway production of Here Lies Love, and I cried all the way through."
Since that time, Cook's thinking has undergone a volte-face, and he's returned to DJing rather than producing music. One reason is the intimidating range of technology available to the modern-day electronic musician. "I must confess the huge capacity of computers available when making music does scare me," says Cook.
He's a famously late adopter where technology is concerned, preferring to make music with synthesisers and sequencers; he only recently converted to DJing digitally. "The amount of choice does confound me, and that is probably the reason why I'm more a DJ than a producer these days. That old frontier spirit of wringing what you can out of machines has been a bit lost for me."
Technology should make finding music easier, but he says it's actually increased his workload as a DJ. "It is a double-edged sword. It is now much easier to get hold of the music you want - it is literally at your fingertips. But the volume of music you don't want to play has grown to frightening levels, and that only makes it sweeter when you find a gem. It's still crate-digging, but without the dusty fingers. I spend two to three days a week trawling through music available on the net. But finding tunes is a part of my job, and still great fun."
So for now he remains Fatboy Slim, much to the joy of party animals everywhere, although it's always possible that he'll come up with another name, and perform under that. The most pseudonymous man in music still has no idea why he has adopted so many names over the years. "Personality disorder?" he muses. "Multi-polar? Split personality? Sociopath, perhaps? You'd have to ask my therapist."
Fatboy Slim, Club Cubic, City of Dreams, Macau, October 11, 11.45pm, HK$600, Cityline. Inquiries: +853 6638 4999