Interview with DJ legend Carl Cox
When you’ve DJ-ed for club and festival crowds for 40 years and counting, you’ve pretty much proven you love – and live for – music. Carl Cox is one guy for whom music is as vital to living as blood and water.
Born in Barbados and bred in Britain, the mix-master now calls Melbourne, Australia, home. Well, kinda…
Roscoe Holyoake finds out more about Cox’s geographical situation and about his latest residency as main DJ at the helm of the ‘Pure’ tour.
Hi Carl. So you’re living in Melbourne now?
Yeah, I’m kind of living here, but it’s still considered my ‘holiday home’ until I actually get my resident visa. I’ve been here for 12 years now, at the same address in Melbourne. There will come a point where I have to choose between accepting it as a holiday home, or living here full-time. Of course I still have my British passport, but I’m here more than anywhere else.
So you think Melbourne is a pretty liveable city?
I think so. I could have lived anywhere – Berlin, L.A., Barcelona, or in some kibbutz in Thailand – but I’ve chosen to live in Frankston, Victoria. Ha ha. For me, I’m just keeping it real.
So let’s get to the music. If you could summarise your answer to everybody that has asked why you swapped from vinyl to [digital software] Traktor, what would that answer be?
The Future. It’s the way forward, and the idea of being creative from a DJ’s point of view is to be moving forward. There’s nothing wrong with moving from vinyl to Traktor or onto any other digital platform. It’s all about getting the music out there, and having people [easily access] the music.
What are some of the other benefits of going digital?
If you grew up in the vinyl era, like I did, you end up with a lot of vinyl. I’ve ended up with over 150,000 pieces of vinyl, and that’s a lot in anyone’s house! I’ve had to purpose-build a garage for those records. If you don’t have the room, you can’t store it. But from a digital point of view, storage is limitless.
I saw you play at Mardi Gras a few years ago. It was amazing. Do you enjoy mixing at queer events? Are they any different to other events?
I think there are more expectations at gay events in the sense of the atmosphere and hullabaloo of the occasion. I find the way I am accepted with my music… it’s a lot more appreciated. I don’t know why but I always seem to connect very well with a gay audience.
Is your music specially curated for such an event?
They do expect a little more than you just standing there playing the regular music. I tend to dig deeper into my collection and try and produce some amazing music [catered] to that type of audience.
Some random questions for you now. What’s your favourite track to listen to while putting on your face before a big night out?
Ha ha ha. You know what? Because I grew up in the late ’60s, I still listen to a lot of Tamla Motown records. Anything by Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, even the early Jacksons; they’re such feelgood records and they were produced so well. You just find yourself singing along to those tunes and it puts you in a really good mood.
So, you’re putting your face on, listening to Tamla Motown… Who does your hair?
Ha ha ha. I definitely do my own hair. There’s not much to do! Out comes the Mach-3 and I shave it down to the wood, and once it’s all nice and smooth, I’m ready to hit the town.
What about your sense of fashion?
You know, it’s really difficult for me, because when I go out, I do think about what I’m wearing. If you ever see pictures of me when I’m out, I look and feel like a million dollars. But when I’m working, it’s jeans, a t-shirt, trainers and that’s it. I’m not there for a fashion show when I’m DJ-ing; I’m there to produce the music and to tailor the music the way that I do. And I sweat a lot, you know, because once you’ve got those lights on you… I’m not one for just standing around playing the music; I’m jumping up and down and going just as mad as everyone in front of me. It’s kind of like an elaborate Carl Cox step-workout program!
Do you have any rituals before a gig?
I don’t have a ritual as such but if I’m back stage and everyone around me is enjoying talking, smoking, doing whatever they’re doing, I kind of go quiet. I’m thinking and contemplating what I have to do next. And when I’m ready to go, they say “You’re on” and as you can imagine, the lights go on and everybody goes “rave, yeah, wooh” and I’ve got to do my thing. I love that bit, to be honest, where it kind of goes from nothing to everything. That first record is always really important. Once you’ve got that first record out the way, you’re sitting in the saddle and away we go.
Let’s talk about your eight-hour sets; how do you wind down after such long sets?
That’s a good question because, if you think about all the adulation, and the whooping it up, and all the lights and the lasers and the music pumping – it’s everything to do with the senses. Then I come out, everyone has left, I get in the car, get driven to my hotel and, if I’m on my own, it’s really quiet and eerie. So I just kind of sit there and look at the sky and think, “What just happened?”
Have you every thought about retiring?
Nah, not really. This one comes up all the time and I don’t know why it comes up. Do people want me to retire? I can tell you now, it ain’t gonna happen. I’ve been DJ-ing for nearly 40 years. If I retire now, it would all have been for nothing. So I will probably die over the turntables, or over the CDJs, or over my computer. That’s when I’m going to retire.
You’re bringing the Pure festival not only to Melbourne and Sydney this year, but to Auckland and Perth. Why has the festival been extended to these two cities in particular?
Public demand. We couldn’t go to Perth straight away, because we didn’t know how it would be accepted. So we kept our cards close to our chest by just doing Sydney and Melbourne. The idea, really, wasn’t that we wanted to make another festival like Stereosonic or Future Music. The answer here is to start off with small acorns and to try to build it into something that means something to people, then to be able to go, “Right Perth, are you ready for what we can bring to the table?” And, yep, Perth is ready.
PURE 2017 TOUR DATES:
Friday 10 – Monday 13 March, 2017 – Babylon, Carapooee West, VIC
Friday 21 April, 2017 – Logan Campbell Centre, Auckland
Saturday 22 April, 2017 – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Sunday 23 April, 2017 – Shed 14, Melbourne
Monday 24 April, 2017 – Metro City, Perth