Back in the the heady days of mesh singlets, baggy pants and PLUR bracelets, the superstar dee-jay ruled the roost of dance music. Firmly among those heroes was Brighton's Fatboy Slim (Norman Cook by day). His feel-good big room hits graced dancefloors and radio stations and his hedonist lifestyle captivated Kevins & Perrys around the world.
After a brief lull and a stint in rehab in 2009, Cook made a successful comeback and has been back on the front lines belting out anthems to a new generation of ravers. With a Hawaiian shirt on his chest and a big smile on his face, he still represents a gleeful, mischievous Pied Piper of dance music.
Ahead of his trip to Australia to headline the Electric Gardens festival, Cook sits down for an enlightening chat about DJs getting in fistfights, the trickle-down theory of EDM and playing at Banksy's bemusement park, Dismaland.
Hey Norman, how are you doing?
Yeah good. The sun has finally come out in England after about two months. It's still only two degrees but at least it looks pretty outside.
I think you might be in for a shock when you get down here — we've had a sweltering summer.
Yeah. A pleasant shock!
So you were last in Australia in 2012. Are there any memories that stand out from the last tour?
Well, Australian crowds, they're not shy. And that's always my favourite kind of crowd. It's also a beautiful country to visit. But the highlight last time was witnessing this fight between Swedish House Mafia and Sven Vath outside a restaurant in Sydney. That's my overriding memory. And watching New Order from the side of the stage [at Future Music Festival] and hanging out.
Wow, I'm just trying to imagine that fight scene. What went down? Who won?
It was quite a comedy. It wasn't a serious fight, no one got hurt. It was really about EDM versus house purism. EDM outgunned the house purism but on the moral higher ground it was probably Sven.
They do seem to have louder, more raucous cannons, the EDM guys.
I think it was around that time that people were realising just how EDM was taking over the dance industry. And still is. Because it's so commercial, it just distorts what everybody else does. From me in my place, it seems like there's two camps: One is, it's so commercial and horrible and it's ruining it for everyone. My personal view is that it helps all of us. The trickle down effect to the most underground purist DJ is being felt because globally there's just so many more people into the music. And all those kids in Middle America who are listening to David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia — they probably would've ended up listening to Miley Cyrus. Instead they're being turned onto dance music, and some of them might end up being techno heads rather than EDM heads. So I think it's good for the industry, but some people see those media monsters [in EDM] as the antichrist.
"The transformation from Norman Cook to Fatboy Slim involves putting on a Hawaiian shirt, kicking off my shoes and drinking three Red Bulls..."
You've mentioned in the past you think EDM will come crashing down. It looks like that's starting to happen with SFX collapsing. What do you think is going to follow?
When the money is gone, the people who are into it for the money will move on to something else. And what will be left are those of us who've been around for years —we'll just go back to doing our regular jobs which we've been doing way before EDM was here. So I think as soon as they're not making much money, the people who jumped on the bandwagon will jump back off it and the scene will be returned to those who are genuinely into it and do it for the love of it.
On that topic, you yourself play a lot of big ticket festivals. Do you still do smaller gigs and charity gigs these days?
Yeah, they're my favourite kind actually. This Saturday I’m playing the Zap Club in Brighton as a benefit for a charity I’m a patron of. The Zap Club is like the archetypal Brighton club. It's been here since 1988. I often play small gigs for charity or just for a friend. Playing Dismaland last year for Banksy, now that was incredible.
Yes I was going to ask about that! More specifically, you have this whole euphoric, positive image centered around the icon of the yellow smiley face. How did a gig like Dismaland fit in with that image?
It fitted straight in! I personally now have three Banksy smiley pieces, including a personalised one that he gave me. Banksy's a fan of the smiley, in the ironic sense, so that tied in. But also - though he's way more political than me - we're still both entertainers who like to do things a little differently; provoke people and do things a little bit strange. I see us as kindred spirits and we're good friends as well.
The whole idea of Dismaland was to make you laugh. The whole place was hilariously surreal. I don't know what you gathered from the pictures, but it wasn't this angsty protest thing. It was generally much more fun than Disneyland. I played on the bar, rather than on the stage where the bands were set up. That made it even more surreal. I was actually serving drinks while I was DJing, just in the early part of my set before things got hectic, which everyone thought was hilarious.
And Banksy kept it secret that I was playing, until someone outed me on the day. Even then his official press release was, "There's been a change in the schedule of the DJ this evening. The normal DJ couldn't turn up so we now have a supply DJ from Brighton." So the sense of humour was maintained. It was all about doing something surreal and funny. It was one of my favourite gigs of the year. I got to play a mash-up of ‘Let It Go’ [from the Disney film ‘Frozen’], which I never dreamed I would do in my career. But Banksy actually personally requested that I play it.
So I take it you don't normally do requests, but you make an exception for someone like Banksy?
Yeah, I definitely don't do requests, full stop! And definitely not for a song like that, which my daughter is into. I’ve heard it daily for the last two years [laughs].
You've played a lot of gigs over the years. Have you developed any quirks or rituals before you get out there on stage?
Yeah, my main ritual is the transformation from Norman Cook, who's a middle-aged father of two and husband, to Fatboy Slim, who's got a mental age of about sixteen and is an irresponsible party animal. That involves putting on a Hawaiian shirt, kicking off my shoes and drinking three Red Bulls. For the final part, just before I go on stage, Alan, my tour manager, slaps me really hard across both cheeks. Just to make sure I go on fighting. When he first did it, he said it was his least favourite part of the job. But over the years it has become a tradition and a ritual.
So is it something that he's now grown to like?
Yes and he's got very good at it as well. It's the equivalent of a rock band doing a big hit of cocaine before they go onstage. You want to go on with the adrenaline pumping. And it's a lot cheaper just to get slapped around the face!
Are there any DJ s or producers over the past few years who you've seen as talented people with potential, anyone you've perhaps mentored?
Not really. There are friends of mine that I'd rate. I love Eats Everything. I would gladly mention him but he doesn't need any mention. But he kind of calls me Dad [laughs] and I’m his role model.
Hot Since 82, Skream, Jackmaster — they're all DJs who are into it for exactly the same reason as I am. They love the music, they love the craft of DJing but they also love to party and they get involved with the crowd. They become part of the party. And then people like Carl Cox. He's like my mentor. I still look up to him and I think he sets the bar for all DJs, in the way he communicates with the crowd and the places he takes them...without having to resort to confetti cannons.
What are you most looking forward to about the year ahead?
Just more of the same! I’ve also been working on a couple of film soundtracks, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. And I’m finally having the time and getting the reputation to do it. I’ve co-written one with [actor and DJ] Idris Elba, who's a mate of mine. So I’m looking forward to going to premieres, knowing that I’ve done something for the film. And hopefully if they go well I'll be getting some more film work.
I have one more question. You mentioned Hawaiian shirts earlier and you're pretty famous for them. If I wanted to find the best Hawaiian shirts on earth, where should I look?
If you're a purist, the best place to buy them is Hawaii or thrift shops in America. But if you're a DJ, do not wear Hawaiian Hawaiian shirts, because they're made of really thick cotton and as soon as you start sweating they weigh a ton and stick to you and become very uncomfortable. So if you're going to be a DJ wearing Hawaiian shirts, wear something with man-made fibres, which is a lot better for playing hot gigs. This is based on years of experience!
FRIDAY JANUARY 22: PERTH (Red Hill Auditorium)
SATURDAY JANUARY 23: SYDNEY (Electric Gardens Festival)
MONDAY JANUARY 25: BRISBANE (RiverStage)
TUESDAY JANUARY 26: MELBOURNE (St. Kilda Beach)
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