In the world of electronic music, there have been select few acts that have crossed over to mainstream popularity. Name recognition of DJs for most people is generally limited to a few names, and one of the first that comes to mind is Fatboy Slim. Defining the “big beat” sound that dominated the ‘90s and early 00’s, Norman Cook’s alter-ego has quite literally done it all, from starting influential dance bands like Beats International, scoring hits as a member of the Housemartins, rocking dance floors under pseudonyms Pizzaman, Freak Power, Mighty Dub Katz, and Wildchild, redefining music videos with director Spike Jones, playing legendary festival sets at Glastonbury and Coachella, and playing to 250,000 people in his adopted home town of Brighton at 2002’s Big Beach Boutique II (a monster of his own creation). Q Magazine has cited a Fatboy Slim performance a one of the 50 Bands You Muse See Before You Die. At age 46, he still maintains a ridiculously active DJ tour schedule, hopping from one side of the globe to the other (last week saw dates in San Francisco, Ibiza, Las Vegas, Detroit, and back in the UK over the course of 6 days).
This year’s installment of Detroit’s annual electronic music festival, Movement 2011 marked a significant milestone for Fatboy Slim, as he was invited to headline the vitaminwater stage on the festival’s last day. Known for his quick wit and easy-going manner, he’s a very sought-after interview subject. On the day of his first-ever performance at Movement 2011 in the mecca of techno, Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim sat down for this exclusive interview for NUVO.
RK: How's it going?
NC: It's great - it's fantastic to be here.
RK: We're so glad to have you in the States for a spell. You've got this gig that you're doing out at Marquee Day Club in Las Vegas. That town seems to be purpose-build for Fatboy Slim. What was that like?
NC: It was OK. I mean, coming here - you kind of feel like it's a gathering of the tribes who worship at the shrine of electronic music. Vegas, it's still more about, kind of, pneumatic tits and, you know...
NC: I mean, they're very much interested in the party more than the music. I mean, I do both, I do the party and I do the music. I feel more comfortable here.
RK: These are your people.
NC: Yeah, I mean, there's only so much Botox you can look at. (laughs)
RK: Now, you're doing something a little bit different with this new "Big Beach Boutique" touring show, with the added aspect of video as well as audio.
RK: Talk a little about that technology and how that's affected the way you perform.
NC: Well, I was always very old school with technology. I learned to DJ on records, on turntables, and when they invented CDs and computers and everything, I was like "NO, No, no, no no, no - that's all wrong."
NC: And, plus, I couldn't work out how to do it.
NC: But eventually, they started releasing vinyl, and I had to kind of "wise up". Darren Emerson from Underworld is a mate of mine. He turned me onto Serato (digital vinyl emulation system), and then I kind of bypassed CDs completely and went to Serato, whereupon you can put the visuals (synced to the track). As we've been doing bigger and bigger shows, we're competing with rock bands. So, I'm just a bloke DJing - we had to make a visual show. Before, they never knew what I was going to play next and we couldn’t sync the visuals to the music. So, I would sort of shout, "I'm going to play 'Star 69' next" and the visuals never quite synced to the tunes. I'd play them at different speeds... With Serato now, I take the audio file and the video file goes straight to the LED screens. So, technology in the right hands. I was a late adopter, but I figure it's worth
RK: Wait until they get it right, rather than deal with something that's janky.
NC: Yeah. And also, with LED, you can build enormous great screens, which are really vibrant, and they become a light source as well as a source for the visuals.
RK: That's pretty awesome - I can't wait to see it tonight. Let's talk a little bit about your material. Some of your best-received remixes started out as bootlegs that you tucked in your crate just because you loved songs. The one that leaps to mind is Cornershop's "Brim Full of Asha". Are you still doing a lot of that kind of thing?
NC: Actually, it's happening even more now because I just got Ableton (production software), which I'm trying to learn to replace my studio, but it's quite complicated. Again, I'm old school.
RK: I was going to ask - that was my next question. Has the technology made it easier or harder for you?
NC: I'm still learning about making tunes on Ableton, but Ableton's great for doing mash-ups. It REALLY is perfect for doing mash-ups.
NC: Between that and Serato, I can do a mash-up in my hotel room. In fact, I was doing one an hour ago that I'm going to play tonight. I'm actually loving that. That's in kind of the last 6 months, and already two of the mash-ups I've done are getting released. One is the new Crookers single where I mashed up the Crookers single with the Lazy Hands, because he's on my label and we're putting it out.
RK: Ah, OK. Makes sense...
NC: And I did a mash-up of His Majesty Andre, right, where I put a vocal on it, and now we're releasing it with the vocal. It's the same kind of process but with better technology.
RK: You mentioned your label. Skint has been releasing remix packages of some of your older, better known stuff.
NC: Yeah, it's because I haven't made any new records. (laughs)
RK: How involved have you been in that process - selecting remixers, choosing what to release?
NC: I kind of A & R it. Again, we just get sent a ton of bootlegs and people say "can we put this out?" Sometimes we say "yes, you can put it out" or sometimes we say "we'll put it out". So, yeah. Again, with beatport and that, it's not an official release, so we just call them the bootleg series. Most of them - they're not commissioned. People just play what they've got, and we say "yeah". Some of them I'm actually like "NOOOOO". There's a few that I've kind of said "no, I don't want that coming out with my name on it".
RK: This has been a great weekend, because I feel like I've gotten to talk with both of Brighton's favorite sons because I talked to Beardyman yesterday. He sends his regards…
NC: Oh yeah? Great! He's a good old boy.
RK: This is your first experience playing Movement Festival, and knowing the history of Detroit techno and the history of this festival...
NC: ... and the history of Detroit music, from Motown to Iggy Pop, yeah. For me, it's a proper honor to be invited to play here, because obviously I'm more of the commercial end of electronic music. I can imagine a lot of people in America probably think I'm the Antichrist because of what I've done with it (laughs). You know, to come back to the birthplace of techno and come back with my sort of bastardized version, it's a real honor to be invited. Everyone I've spoken to, they’re like "don't do a techno set — do what YOU do. That's what we love." For three days everyone's been kind of like, sitting on this kind of tense groove...
RK: People have been amped all weekend.
NC: ...and what I'm going to try to do is have the big party at the end - it's just the big release.
RK: Beyond the US tour dates, what kids of things do you have in the pipeline, studio or otherwise? Are we going to get another Fatboy Slim album?
NC: There will be, possibly, another Fatboy Slim album. (laughs) To be honest, the past couple of years I've been enjoying doing other projects like the BPA and working with David Byrne (of the Talking Heads).
RK: That project was fantastic.
NC: I just had another baby, which keeps me out of the studio. I'm really enjoying DJing at the moment. I kind of figure at my age, there's a finite amount of time I can do this, and I really enjoy the fact that I can still travel around the world and enjoy it (DJing). At the moment, I'm not really motivated to go into the studio. As I said, the only tunes that are coming out are sort of mash-ups I do. In this part of my career, I'm just not in the studio. Who's to say that in a couple of years time I'll get burnt out of traveling travel and get back to it.
RK: Well, we'll wait with baited breath.
NC: Yeah, but don't hold your breath. (laughs)
Fatboy Slim will be touring the US with upcoming dates an Marquee Day Club in Las Vegas July 3 and September 4, with a return to the area for North Coast Music Festival in Chicago over Labor Day Weekend.