For a man who sits almost exclusively atop the illustrious dance music throne, British born DJ and producer, Carl Cox is as humble and honest as they come. With great power comes great responsibility, and after more than 30 years wearing the techno crown, Cox’s undying passion and energy are as strong as ever, as is his desire to continue to occupy that same throne.
Carl Cox has done it all over his phenomenal career, his name alone – synonymous with the 1990’s British rave scene, as well as Space nightclub in Ibiza, where he held a residency for the better part of 25 years.
Carl’s ability to mesmerise and captivate an audience with his live performances is akin to a preacher giving a resounding Sunday sermon.
As a founding father of the modern dance music scene, Cox has always embodied a simple modus operandi comprising three key elements; enthusiasm, passion and hunger. This mantra keeps Carl motivated at the ripe age of 56, and while most would be forecasting retirement within the next few years, this DJ isn’t too keen on handing over the throne just yet.
Having recently announced a number of new shows across Australia and New Zealand for his funky themed Mobile Disco with Eric Powell, as well as a special Space Ibiza themed New Years Eve set in Melbourne, Carl Cox spoke candidly with Josh Pavlou about maintaining his passion for performing, returning to his disco roots, finding himself at Burning Man and why he now calls Australia home.
Stoney Roads: Hey Carl, thanks for taking the time to speak with us! How are you doing and what’s been happening?
Carl Cox: Hey mate, I’ve been great thanks. I’ve had a few cool shows this month but now I’m getting ready to head to South America for my latest Resistance tour in a few days which is exciting!
SR: You are a busy man and you’ve been performing since the 1980s. How do you still find the passion to continue touring, performing and entertaining at such a high level and does it get draining?
CC: Yes, it does get draining! The thing is, it’s not about the parties or the performances or the music. I mean you could imagine how many mixes I’ve done over the years, how many genres I’ve been through…I’ve gone from vinyl to CD to computer to USB and everything else in between…but I still love it!
What I don’t love is the travelling. When I was a young lad, 17 or 18, I travelled anywhere and everywhere and it didn’t matter, I was the comeback kid! Now, I’m 56…4 more years and I’m 60! I’m still doing the same thing as I was doing as a kid, just a little older I guess.
When people go travelling on a long journey, they tend to go to a destination and stay for a 2-week holiday. When I go on a journey, I land, go to the hotel, have some room service, perform for the next 4 or 5 hours and do it all over again and again. It is pretty hard!
Now these days with social media this is made worse, because when I get to the club, the first thing people do is get their phone up and point it at you. If you’ve got facial hair you don’t want people to see or a spot that turned up when you were flying, it’s on show for everyone! They go ‘look at the state of him!’ I wish I could turn to them and say ‘I mean, I haven’t had any sleep and I’m here to play the best set I possibly can for you!’
If I was the terminator, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. He even has a backup system…I’m made of flesh and blood like everyone else and I need time off… “
If I was the terminator, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. He even has a backup system that just keeps going. I’m made of flesh and blood like everyone else and I need time off and while I’m slowing down, I’m still doing an abundance of gigs around the world.
I’m definitely smarter about it though. I tend to get to a city a day before I play to acclimatise and often I stay for another day or two to explore the city afterwards, this gives me a sense of purpose for taking on the booking in the first place.
So yeah, I’m still out there and flying the flag for dance music as we know it.
SR: Speaking of travel, you live in Australia for part of the year. What made you choose Australia as the place to be? You’re on the Mornington Peninsula (just south of Melbourne, Victoria) correct?
CC: I think that’s because I’m as far away from everyone as possible! It’s almost like an escape for me. My friends say ‘right let’s go see Coxy’ and then they realise I live in Australia and it’s a bit harder for them to come over which is weirdly a nice feeling.
I’ve always enjoyed Melbourne and me being on the Mornington Peninsula at the beginning was basically to see if I liked it and this was 12-13 years ago.
Yes, I could have lived next to Paul Oakenfold in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles but I wouldn’t get any rest with all the starlets around. Instead of watching Netflix at home, I’d just constantly be going out!
Being on the Peninsula, I feel like I can just be myself and have my down time at my own pace. Over the last number of years, it’s been exactly what I’ve needed to do what I do at the level that I do it at.
SR: It’s nice to know you’ve got the balance right!
Switching things up a bit, can you tell us about your connection with Burning Man? It’s such a free spirited, emotive and loving environment – how did you initially get drawn to the Playa – and what does Burning Man mean to you? You’ve had your own stage there for the past couple of years?
CC: Well if there is one way that I can give back to the scene, through my craft and love of music, it’s most likely through the Playa. I love how at Burning Man, nothing conforms to any rules of society, you throw the rule book out the window!
It took me 15 years before I decided that I was going to go to Burning Man. At the beginning I was very much a virgin to the whole idea of going out into the dust and acting like a bit of a hippy, but I knew these people where all likeminded and accepting of the world around them.
In 2008 I had some friends at Burning Man so I decided to pack a backpack, jump on a plane and head to the Playa and see what happens. As soon as I arrived on the Friday morning about 2 am it was pitch black, but all I could see were the lights and people moving about on bikes, it was incredible.
What is amazing is that everything that you see, touch and feel is someone’s expression. Keeping in mind there isn’t any electricity, or water it is amazing to think that people build the experience and then they leave without a trace. I just find that so refreshing.
I mean, I’m not there for the money or to further my career in anyway, in-fact it costs me money to get there and set up! I’m not worried about that, our camp members all raise money and contribute to the running of our setup on the Playa.
I just love that for one week – no watch, no phone, no internet – anything that happens in that week is what you make of it, and that’s the beauty of Burning Man.
SR: I think if we all could take that mantra into some part of ours lives we would all be better humans!
You are going to be bringing those party vibes to Australia in November with Carl & Eric’s Mobile Disco which has really grown in stature over a number of years. You’ve even gone international with it recently. What was your motivation in starting this event with Eric?
CC: Look, I really missed hearing the music that I grew up with. I was in Miami at one point having a bit of a DJ powerhouse dinner with Ali Dubfire, Josh Wink, Christian Smith, Lenny Dean and I just stopped everyone in their tracks and asked ‘can anyone tell me where I can go and hear 70’s, funk, soul and disco music in Miami?’. They all looked at me as if I was absolutely mental and they all said ‘no!’
I thought this was a shame, because there is nothing better than when you hear a track like ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ by The Temptations at a night spot, which goes for 9 minutes, and you sit there and really feel the soul of the whole song.
‘I thought, you know what, I’ll play it. I’ll find somewhere and I’ll go and play it.’ When I did eventually go and play that record, people were in tears. I really love just unleashing all of these types of records on the crowd and sharing that love. That’s my motivation for doing the Mobile Disco.
When we started this 10-11 years ago in Dromana, (1-hour south of Melbourne) of all places, people thought we were mad! I was playing all these 70’s joints, album tracks, 12-inch disco edits of all these songs that the crowd hadn’t heard of before and people began to love it. You can see in the crowd’s eyes when you play a song they haven’t heard in ages, which they love, how excited they get!
We kept the name simple – Carl & Eric’s Mobile Disco – which came about because I used to do Mobile Disco’s as a career for 12 years before I became the so called ‘Techno God’ You know, I was playing Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ well before I was playing anything heavy. I really did cut my teeth on this groovy sound.
Rather than people waiting for ‘the drop’ or the confetti cannon to go off, they get the same feeling from hearing funky records that they love, being played from start to finish. At the Mobile Disco It’s tune after tune, after tune, after tune…and it goes on for hours!
SR: Nothing beats a bit of disco!
Can you tell us about who you are bringing along with you to the Mobile Disco in November?
CC: Of course! This time around we are bringing out some of the Divas who actually made those iconic records which is special. We are bringing Cece Peniston & Robin S out on tour with us this year. Last year we had Incognito with us and De La Soul the year before that.
To see artists, do their thing live, with us mixing tracks is something special. It really blows people’s minds! You can imagine bringing all those artists to Dromana on the Penninsula! First they are thinking ‘where are you taking me?’Once they arrive and they see all the grinning faces, they know it’s all worth it.
SR: There is a video of you singing Angie Stone’s, ‘I Wish I Didn’t Miss You’ floating around. Any chance we will see you up onstage this time around?
CC: My god! Now I’m not a singer in any way, shape or form, but that was the last record we played at the Space Ibiza closing party and I chose that record because it’s one of my favourite records of all time. It seemed poignant to play it at that moment.
At the Mobile Disco, Eric suggested that I get up on stage and sing the chorus with Incognito, who are an amazing band! I was close to tears when I got up there, it was such a surreal moment and it was amazing that no one in the crowd was expecting it. I love the fact that there wasn’t a time slot for that, people were surprised! It was fucking amazing…I’ll never forget it! The band looked at me and said ‘boy he’s got a bit of a voice going on there!’ I thought ‘I don’t sound so bad after all!’
Remember, we do love the music. So many people these days see you as a DJ and think you are in it for the money. The real reason DJs like myself are still going today is because we love it…I mean the money will come as a result but that isn’t the goal!
SR: Speaking of loving the music, you are hosting a New Years Eve party at Shed 9 in Melbourne with a special Space Ibiza set! For those that haven’t been lucky enough to go to the island – What does a Space Ibiza set include?
I miss playing at Space, as you can imagine. The music I was able to play on the terrace was always able to bring people together. Yes a few piano tunes, a bit of a tribal sound, a bit of Spanish guitar in there. People can expect that warm vibe of being at Space in Ibiza and I’m bringing that to Shed 9. It’s not going to be hard techno; it’s not going to be Berghain underground minimal sounds. It’s just going to be happy music that brings people together, from a club I used to play at and a place I still love today.
I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel in any way, I’m just really excited to pull some of those records out for the crowd.
SR: Carl, what a pleasure it has been to chat to you. Keep killing it.
CC: No worries, take care and see you on the dance floor!