Ahead of Macau gig, dance music pioneer Fatboy Slim explains his ‘five Fs’
British DJ who helped put dance music on the map with hits such as Right Here, Right Now and Praise You is still going strong three decades in
For three decades, Fatboy Slim has been the superstar DJ to beat them all, the man who made the turntable bigger than the guitar and who did more that anyone to move the club night from the dingy dive to the football stadium.
With catchy good-time tunes welded to big bouncing beats, the British star made dance music part of the cultural background, laying the foundation for the rise of EDM’s monolithic assault on the supremacy of rap as the world’s favourite music.
Not bad for the kid born Norman Cook in southern England’s seaside playground of Brighton and who first came to fame in a dour indie pop band.
“I genuinely love music and love sharing it with people – the sheer pleasure of finding tunes you love and sharing them with other people,’’ Cook, now in his early 50s, told Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper last month. “Just seeing those faces and eyes going, ‘Wow, this is the greatest night ever, how mental is this?’ Being part of that every night keeps me young. I’m like a vampire. My secret of eternal youth isn’t sucking the blood of teenagers, it’s just absorbing their sweat.”
In dance-music-crazy Hong Kong, Cook is no stranger. He first played here in the late 1990s in one of the city’s seminal club nights at Jimmy’s Sports Bar near Hong Kong Stadium. Fans were literally swinging from the bar’s rafters as he played the sort of amped-up set that would eventually make him the biggest name in dance.
The never-too-old-to-rave fans who witnessed him that night are likely to return when Cook plays southern China again, this time at the club Pacha in the huge Studio City on Macau’s Cotai gambling strip on July 15.
It’s the sort of high-end giant venue that Cook’s hits, such as Rockefeller Skank, Praise You and the world-beating Right Here, Right Now put within the reach of DJs.
“I’m now getting payback for all those grotty clubs I played in years ago,” he has told the Daily Record.
Cook’s success did not come overnight. He came to prominence as the only southerner in proudly northern indie band The Housemartins in the mid-1980s. Their brand of politicised pop took them to the top of the charts with songs such as Happy Hour and Caravan of Love. But success troubled lead singer Paul Heaton, who disbanded the quartet and formed the easy-pop band Beautiful South.
Cook turned his attention to the burgeoning house music scene, which began to take off in the UK at the end of the 1980s. Far from laying low, he took to DJing small venues, including Brighton’s pioneering seafront club the Escape, considered by some as southern England’s answer to the legendary Hacienda in Manchester.
He reached the charts again with Beats International, who had a massive hit in Dub be Good to Me, an update on the SOS Band’s early-’80s space-funk banger Just Be Good to Me.
But it was the best part of a decade before his name started being mentioned alongside those of Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling in the top flight of DJs, a breed of star whose fame at the time extended little further than cult dance clubs of the trendiest cities. With his Big Beat Boutique club events, Cook stamped his name on the mainstream and million-selling albums such as Better Living Through Chemistry and You’ve Come a Long Way Baby made him the DJ emissary to the Britpop realm.
“There were tonnes of moments where I did think, ‘F**k me, this really is happening…’ he told the UK’s Independent newspaper last year. “The week I got engaged to [wife] Zoe [Ball], the album [1998’s You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby] knocked Robbie Williams off the top of the charts and I won a Brit [for best British dance act]. Everything we did was in the tabloids and in Heat magazine. And I thought, ‘Sh*t, this is proper famous now!’”
He became the go-to bloke for remixes. His retouching of the little-known indie band Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha turned the cult Leicester band into a worldwide phenomenon.
Though he’s pared down the gruelling schedule of that contributed to him requiring rehab for alcoholism, he’s still so big that he can dictate terms on his bookings to suit his particular needs.
“Gigs have to fulfil three of the five Fs: a first – something I’ve never done before. A favour for a friend, whether a promoter or another DJ. Fun – Glastonbury is always fun. Finance – it’s a big payer. And food. I’ve booked gigs in certain places just so I can go to certain restaurants. I played in Barcelona so I could go to El Bulli. That was my rider. We did the same with Noma in Copenhagen.”
Though his home is still adorned with smiley-face memorabilia, the yellow emblem of the hedonistic rave era that has become his trademark, Cook has mellowed, he told The Guardian this year.
“It’s essential for me to know when I’m Norman and when I’m Fatboy Slim,” he said. “For years the distinction was blurred. As I get older, Norman’s increasingly obsessed with fridge management and being a responsible dad and husband. He only lets Fatboy out of the box on stage now – Fatboy’s still a lunatic hedonist.”
Fatboy Slim, Pacha Macau, Studio City, Cotai Strip, Macau, July 15, 9pm, HK$250. Inquiries: pachamacau.com