Fatboy Slim Talks Brighton Beach Gigs & ‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby’ – Billboard

Fatboy Slim Talks Brighton Beach Gigs & ‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby’ – Billboard

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Sometimes, in the middle of a set, Fatboy Slim steps back from the decks — barefoot, because he doesn’t play with shoes on — and takes a moment.

“I look at the crowd and feel the atmosphere and the evening and take a little mental snapshot,” the producer born Norman Cook tells Billboard over Zoom from his home office in Brighton Beach, U.K. “Maybe everyone’s like ‘What the hell’s he doing? Is he having some sort of major panic attack?’ But it’s a good thing.’”

These instances are Cook consciously absorbing his work and his life and the general fun and power of what he does. It’s a habit cultivated amidst a four-decade career in which some moments have been lost in a haze of partying (Cook marked 14 years of sobriety this past March). As of late, there’s been a lot of to absorb.

A global star for decades now, Cook, 60, has been touring heavily, hitting Europe, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and beyond this year. In 2022, he celebrated the 20-year anniversary of his first Big Beach Boutique event — which in 2002 drew 250,000 people to the beach in Cook’s hometown of Brighton — and also launched his own festival, All Back to Minehead. That event returns to Minehead, U.K. this November.

Ahead of that, Cook is also playing a rare Los Angeles set this Saturday (Sept. 23), headlining downtown L.A.’s Pershing Square for a show produced by L.A. promoter Framework and featuring support from DJ Holographic and Francis Mercier.

The party continues next month, with the 25-year anniversary of Fatboy Slim’s massive 1998 LP You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby. One of the definitive albums of the big beat era, the project contained the crossover classics “The Rockafeller Skank” and “Praise You” and hit No. 34 on the Billboard 200 in May of 1999. In all, the Fatboy Slim catalog has aggregated 390 million on demand streams in the U.S., according to Luminate.

Funny, deep and affable over Zoom, Cook compares the heights of this album to “what being on top of a wave must feel like.” Here, he reflects on that period, shares what he’s learned from David Byrne (his collaborator on the currently running Broadway show Here Lies Love), and reflects on a forgotten night out with Cher.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?

I am on Brighton Beach. We’re experiencing a heat wave, which is very un-British. But it’s very British to have heat waves at the wrong time. It’s like, 32 degrees [90 degrees Fahrenheit] here.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

The first album I ever bought was a cassette of Black and Blue by The Rolling Stones. That’s the first time I could afford to buy an actual real pre-recorded cassette. It was very groundbreaking, because it was the first time I got into production.

There’s a tune on on it called “Fool to Cry.” It’s a really beautiful song, and it started with this noise, and I became obsessed with finding out what this noise was, because it wasn’t a guitar. Then someone said, ‘Oh, it’s a Fender Rhodes played through a chorus.” That was the first time I asked, “How do you make that noise?” I’ve spent the rest of my career asking that same question. I’m a little bit more informed these days.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what did they think of what you’ve done and do now?

My dad worked for a glass company, but he actually launched bottle banks. He launched recycling in England. It wasn’t his idea. He just got landed with that job. So he introduced the idea of bottle banks and glass recycling to the country and got the MBE for it, which is quite cool. My mum was a teacher.

My mum is very, very proud of me and always loved music and my capacity to enjoy and perform music. My dad, not so much. He was a negative influence, because he told me that pop music is rubbish and “you want to get yourself a proper job.” So I had kind of good cop, bad cop. One person telling me it was a terrible thing to do, which made me want to do it more. And then another person telling me that was a really great thing to do, which made me want to do it more.

4. What is the first non-gear thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

Non-gear? Oh, right. Equipment you mean. Gear means something else in England. [laughs] Right. The first thing I bought was a car that worked and got you from A to B. I was the only one in the band with a car. It was my first luxury. It was a Chrysler Alpine.

5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into dance music, what would you give them?

I would say, just to not be obvious, Duck Rock by Malcolm McLaren. Malcolm McLaren was the manager of the Sex Pistols, okay. And he was like a svengali character and after the Sex Pistols split up, he was very much an arbiter of what was going on. He was working in New York and picked up on hip-hop really early, got invited to these the Bronx parties with Bambaata and everyone. And so he made this album called Duck Rock, and it had DJs and scratching and rapping on it. He also went to South Africa and worked with a lot of South African musicians and then he glued them on to the tunes he made with the DJs and with rappers, and then he did a song about double dutch skipping. It was like a snapshot of everything that interesting that was going on in the world of culture.

The cover was done by Keith Haring, and that’s the first time I’d ever seen Keith Haring’s work, and so that introduced me to the world of art and opened my eyes to the idea of sampling things from around the world and bringing them together and making dance music.

6. What’s the last song you listened to?

The last song I listened to, let me have a look… [he looks into his computer] .. a tune called “Beginners” by Angelo Ferreri. Just a tune for my sets. Didn’t listen to it for pleasure, though. It kind of is a pleasure, but it was like a work thing. Do you want to hear a bit of it?

Sure! [we listen]

So that’s why I spend most of my days doing, just trolling the internet looking for songs to go into my DJ sets… I’ll be honest, most of them I get sent. I’m kind of seen as an influential DJ, and so record companies send me stuff. I get about 30 emails a day with people sending me the new tunes, but I make it a point to give everyone at least five seconds listen. Most of them I dislike. Like, “Okay, that’s drum and bass.” “Okay, that’s EDM.” But if I get one new good tune a week… that’s why I get so excited when I find one I really like.

7. I understand you’re an art collector. What’s your collection like?

It’s expanding rapidly at the moment. It started with Keith Haring. Basically I dug what he did on the Malcolm McLaren album, and then when I travelled being in a band, first place we went to Amsterdam, and first show I saw was a museum with a Keith Haring exhibition. I’m like, “That’s the dude that did the album cover,” so I went, and it just blew me away. It must have been about 1985.

So I started collecting Keith Haring, and then I was really into mainly street art. I’ve always collected it, but over the years as I’ve diversified a bit I’ve started working with artists. I love it, because I’m a complete fanboy with artists. With other musicians, we’ll talk shop, and the magic is somehow lost because I know how they make the records. But with artists it’s like, “How do you do that? How do you come up with ideas?”

8. You’re doing your own festival, All Back to Minehead, in the U.K. in November. You obviously play around the world and see every type of event. What are you doing to make this one uniquely yours?

Obviously I curate all the acts and entertainment. But the main two things for me are that the venue is a classic British holiday camp. In the ’50s and ’60s, that was what English people did, we went to holiday camps. They’re kind of chalets — some of them are like borderline army barracks… There’s this whole culture about it. It’s where The Beatles cut their teeth, and all the bands used to go and play there. It’s a very British institution. A few of these holiday camps still exist, and they’re kind of [struggling], because now everybody can afford to go off to Ibiza and Spain.

The other thing is that the only thing uniting [the festival] is people who like my taste in music and my sense of humor. It’s all ages, very strange cross section of society, but then you put 5,000 of them in a little village where we all live together for a weekend, and it’s hilarious. It’s like the British version of Burning Man, only it’s not sunny or very picturesque. It’s quite down and everybody dresses quite stupid and we don’t think we’re very cool. But there is that feeling of community. I did it for the first time last year and didn’t know if it would work, and it just absolutely knocked my socks off how everybody got involved.

9. Next month is the 25-year anniversary of You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby. What are your strongest memories of the release of the time the album was released, and its insane success?

The main thing I remember is just the momentum of it all. I’m not a surfer, but I can imagine it was what being on top of a wave must feel like. There’s something behind you driving it along, and all you can do is try and stay on and ride it with a bit of style, because it’s going there anyway.

Musically, the whole big beat thing, everybody wanted a piece of us, because we were doing something different. I’d just gotten married to the most famous TV presenter in England, so we’d become the celebrity couple. All of these things were driving it along. We were just having a lot of fun trying to stay on and throw a few shapes before the wave crested.

10. Are you satisfied with how you did on that wave?

I’m still alive — which wasn’t a given, considering some of my behavior at the time. I survived it. I rode it to the shore, but I didn’t get on the next one.

11. By choice?

Yeah. It did freak me out somewhat. Because by that point, I’d already been in the music business for 10 or 15 years, so it wasn’t my first rodeo. But this just engulfs your whole life, and when you’ve got photographers following you wherever you go, and if you fart in the wrong place you end up on the front page of the newspapers, it was quite scary. It wasn’t quite what I was signed up for. You know I’ve always loved music, and I wanted to be a success and be appreciated for the music I made. But I never signed up for being famous. So I kind of took my foot off the gas, deliberately a bit — which, with the benefit of hindsight, 25 years later, here I stand. I still have a career, and I still have my health. So I think I did all right.

12. Do you see your career ever coming to a close? Is there a retirement plan, or does it just go in perpetuity?

No, I tried retirement during lockdown. I had an enforced retirement for a year. Didn’t agree with me at all. I think I’ve gotten to a point now where I can probably ride this one out until I drop. In some shape or form I think they’ll always be a place for me to be doing something. As long as I’m enjoying it and other people are still enjoying it, I don’t see any reason to stop.

13. Or even slowing down?

I mean, I don’t do it at the same pace I used to. I turned 60 this year. I can’t do the stupid things I used to, but I’m quite happy to play until I drop. Athletes have to retire early, boy bands have to retire early, but with DJs, it’s not about our looks or our fitness or anything like that. We can go gray and bald and fat, because we were never supposed to be pinups anyway.

14. You mentioned the forced retirement of the pandemic. I imagine the disparity between being onstage, then just being in the silence and quiet of your house, and how that gulf is so wide. What was that time like for you?

I’m all right with that. The thing I couldn’t deal with is not having an outlet for my joy of music, because my love of music involves sharing it with other people. If I hear a new tune, I’ve got to play it with someone. Like a tree falling in the forest, and no one hearing it — if I don’t share these tunes with people, for me, they don’t have a life. That’s what I noticed during lockdown. That’s why I did a weekly podcast, because I still had to play these tunes to people.

Obviously, I don’t want to live my whole life in that glamorous travel world, so I love coming home and doing the school run and being a quiet dad. But all the while I’m stoking the fire, getting tunes ready for the next weekend.

15. You’ve been touring around the world this year, Europe, all over the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and a few days in the U.S. Is there anything special about American audiences?

I’m always aware of the history. I played Chicago the other weekend, and just being in Chicago, where it all happened… I was in New York doing this show that I did with David Byrne, and Todd Terry turned up to the musical. To some of the Broadway producers, I was like, “F–king Todd Terry is here!” And they were like, “Who’s Todd Terry?”

I’m like, “God, he invented house music right under your noses 30 or 40 years ago.” In England he’s revered as God because of what he did, but he kind of had to come to Europe to get famous. So I’m very aware of going back to where things started, Detroit or Chicago or New York, where the music was was made.

16. Say more about that?

I’ve kind of had a bit of a checkered history [in the U.S.] I first came around 25 years ago, and things were going really well in America. I was over there a lot. Then EDM happened, and I didn’t want to be on that wave, so I let things slip in America. I probably don’t travel enough to America. There’s tons of stuff going on in Brazil and Argentina and Australia and Japan. And so yeah, America got a bit forgotten — which I do apologize for. But I like that I can come over and people are really not blown out, because they haven’t seen me for 10 years.

17. What’s been the proudest moment of your career thus far?

The gigs on Brighton Beach. I’ve had six enormous gigs on the beach in my hometown. It doesn’t get any much better than this, because I love the city that I live in. I’m very, very proud of it. And they seem to be proud of me. It’s a bit like a scene from the film, like the triumphant homecoming and local boy does good.

18. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?

Employing my manager. The first person I met who wasn’t my record company, in the music business, was a guy called Garry Blackburn. He was my plugger at first. That was 1985, and I’ve worked with him ever since. He’s only about six years older than me, but he’s like my dad. We’ve been through heaven and hell together. More heaven than hell, but he’s been there for me during the crunchy bits. He’s been really good for me, because he just allows me to do what I do and then translates that into business. I’m useless in business. I have no idea.

19. Maybe you just answered my next question, but who’s been your greatest mentor and what’s the best advice they ever gave you?

The person who’s most inspired me is David Byrne. He musically inspired me, then I worked with him writing this musical 15 or 20 years ago. Working with him really set me on a [path] of where I am today, doing other things outside music.

Look what he did: He started a record label and started putting out Brazilian music, then he does art things. He’s got such an inquisitive mind about everything, always asking, “How can we make it more fun?” I’ve just found him such an inspiration. He’s been the blueprint. After working with him, I looked at all the other things he’d done and said, “Well, that’s how you do longevity, by not being held back by, ‘I’ve got to make an album every three years and have hits.’

Once you’ve done enough albums to have hits and have a name, then it’s like, “Well, let’s flex some other muscles.” Let’s do an art project and other things in your life that interest you, let’s invite them into your life. If you’re respected enough, if your reputation is enough, then you get to hang out with other people and swap ideas and do things that aren’t necessarily just about having hit records. He does things that interest him, rather than just being on the hamster wheel.

20. What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Apart from, “Try not to do that, or marry that” — you know, notable mistakes — I would say just try and savor and remember more of it. There are huge amounts of things I don’t remember from my partying days. Someone will say “What is Cher like?” and I’m like “I never met Cher,” and they’re like, “Yes you did, you spent an evening with her” and then they show me photos of me and Cher having a night out, and I’m like, “Oh my God.”

Someone said to me, when I got married, “Take time for the two of you to walk away from your guests for a couple of minutes and soak up the moment, because you want to remember your life.” That was really good advice — and it did work, because we remember that moment.

I just wish I’d done a bit more of that, rather than doing everything by instinct and adrenaline, that I’d sat back and took it all in, because I’ve had the most beautiful life. I’ve gotten to work my whole career in an industry I love, in and around music I love. Most people don’t get to do that. I’ve done some really excellent and excellently fulfilling things. I just wish I remembered all of them.

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