Carl Cox is one of the founding fathers of the rave scene and an absolute legend around the world. He first started when he was 15 and is still going as strong as ever. Karen Lowe spoke to Carl about his longest ever DJ Set, life in Australia and some of his most memorable gigs.
How has the Rave scene changed over time?
The rave scene has changed a lot because it’s been going for nearly 30 years now and we started out with a fight and a struggle for our music to be represented in a way that our generation was happy with. Our generation wanted to be free and outside the constraints of what nightclubbing laws were putting a restraint on because of liabilities.
For example, you go to a nightclub, you open the doors at 9, you open the bar at 10.30 and drank until 1/1.30am; about 2 am, you get kicked out of that club. It was like “hang on a minute! I still feel as fresh as a daisy. I don’t wanna go to bed” I want to continue so you either find an after-party somewhere or; the rave scene was something that started at 2 am in the morning and it went around till 6 am in the morning or 8 am in the morning and you’d see the sunrise but it was amazing because there was no one telling you what time you should go home.
This was what was so exciting about the rave scene, to begin with, because when you were out at a rave, you were out until the morning light and you’d be like, I really enjoyed myself, I’m going home to bed now and so you’d feel like you really had a great weekend.
With the DJs that played at most of those events (me included), we used that idea of people feeling naughty about being out so late and if you look at what happens now, there is a whole multitude of festivals all around the world that starts at 12 pm in the afternoon so you’ve got the sun on your skin but then finishes at 12 am at night. It isn’t the same.
Everyone at 12am is like “what are we gonna do now?” but you get in your car; you’ve lost all your friends; you’re shattered; you’ve got no more money to spend so by 1 am, you just go to bed so we’ve changed a lot because of that notion and it’s not cutting edge anymore.
With the rave scene, you didn’t know where the party was; you’d speak to the local people about where you think it might be and then you’d follow that lead until you discovered it. Now all roads lead to that event and you’ve got a pin dropped to that event on your GPS; you’ve got phone numbers and the mystery side to it has gone.
A lot of people who go out just go to festivals because, well, they’re awesome but they’re quite happy to go from 2 pm in the afternoon until 12 am. As you can imagine, I’m a night owl. I want to keep going till the morning light but there is no festival where that is likely to happen aside from a few after-hours clubs here and there and they are few and far between these days so we have been quite complacent about things finishing at 12 so it’s changed a lot in that sense.
What has been your longest ever continued DJ set and where?
My longest ever DJ set was in Romania where we did this thing on the beach called Sunwave and this is where a lot of DJs ended up doing long sets. Marco Corona did last year – he did 24 hours and this year at Dubfire did 25hours. Now I only did 12 hours but you know what? That’s a full day’s work with no pee break so I am quite happy to do 12 hours thank you very much.
If I do actually do long sets, 10 hours I feel to be on the money, to have that mental stress to make sure that the mixes are what you think they should be and that every record you play is really the record that you want to play so you kind of get the mindset of what the crowd will like and that kind of thing because the thing is, it comes to a point where you don’t even know what you are playing anymore because you have been playing for so long and you are pushing your limit.
If you play for 24 hours, you haven’t slept. You are surviving on coffees and red bulls and all sorts of weird and wonderful things to keep you going so your mindset is different to where you were when you started playing.
As a DJ, I’m up on my feet, hands in the air and really getting into what I am doing because of creativity and I can keep that up for 10 hours but there’s no way that I can keep that up for 24 hours. It’s impossible. If I do play long sets, that’s how I want to be – to make sure that from record one to the last record I play after 10/12 hours is as powerful as when I first started.
You would have seen a lot of things over the years. What are some of the good things you have seen that may have restored your faith in humanity?
The things that happen in the face of adversity – the hurricanes that have just passed through Florida and the way how people; that neighbour that you haven’t spoken to in years and yet they’re the people that you are helping and vice versa.
The bombings that have happened over the last couple of months in Manchester and the things that happened in London with the stabbings etc and what’s happening with the acid attacks; people have had enough of these things happening in their lifetime because most of these things happen to innocent people like when they bombed the arena.
The whole of York and the Midlands; the whole country came together in mourning for those people who were innocent children been affected, families been affected; whole lives been affected. When it happened, I actually did a benefit party in Manchester at Parklife and handed over what I earned to the victims and tried to help out as much as I could.
These things affect us all and what really amazes me is the resilience of people coming back from these things to move on. I understand that people will never get over these things – from the loss of friends or family but what I have seen is the resilience of people to come together to give the strength to move forward in our lives and that’s basically over the whole world.
Humanitarian acts or the refugees that we’ve seen coming over the borders and how we wanna help the refugees as much as we can with all countries taking as many as we can to help them because obviously, they wouldn’t be leaving their country if it wasn’t important for their survival and for them to live their lives so you will find that there are a lot of humanitarian acts all over the world. It’s something of which we do need to understand and to try and be a part of to help.
What are some of your most memorable moments on stage? And what are some of your worst?
One of the most memorable I would imagine being in front of 1.8 million at the Berlin Love Parade. You can imagine me, being a small town kid who grew up in a regional area called Carshalton and playing in a local hall for friends in front of about 25 – 30 people and eventually being at an event and playing to 1.8 million people at the Berlin Love Parade. It was absolutely phenomenal to be involved in, in my lifetime.
Probably the worst event for me was a few years ago in Venezuela where I had two or three people shot in front of me because the drug cartel decided to make the point of taking some people out and two people got innocently shot while I was Djing.
It was like, whoah! I don’t DJ so people can take their grievances out on people to ruin it for everyone else because I haven’t been back to Venezuela because of that. I don’t want to be involved in local politics based on that. Carl Cox will turn up so people will come out that the crime lords are after these certain people who are into the music but in the meanwhile, these things happen.
I’ve never seen that before – blood on the dance floor and then everyone’s dissipated and you just see four people lying on the floor bleeding after the intro on my record. Everyone that was there was excited to be there based on what I do as an artist so that was a very sad moment for me for sure.
On the one side of it, playing to 1.8 million people; everyone happy and no one got killed and then to 7000 people where four people died in front of me. That was the worst. That was the worst atrocity that I have ever seen.
It affected me a lot. When it happened, I wasn’t sure if I should carry on. I wasn’t sure if those shots were fired at me directly or who they were looking for. It felt important to know why and we found out at the end of the day that it was a cartel so it was out of our control.
What are some of your most memorable gigs in Perth?
The last time that we were there, we played Metro City. Have you been to Metro City before?
Yes, many times.
Well, the thing is, it’s an old-school venue. If you went to school, that would have been your first nightclub. For me to play Metro City, a lot of people would have been over 21, 25 and into their 30s and you would have avid memories of what it was like – your first time getting drunk and getting carried out by a doorman – all sorts of wonderful stories but the thing is, there is a lack of decent venues in Perth!
There’s not much to do, to come outside the bubble of being in a nightclub and we don’t have much of an opportunity to anything else at the moment but we are trying to find something else so you guys, at the end of the day, can get something exciting that we created for you to go outside the constraints of that club but it’s been very difficult.
The local government does not want to give out licenses based on our music or they want to control the ability of people getting back into the nightclub because at 4 am – it finishes. It’s over.
When we had Adam Beyer at Metro City this year, they didn’t let him play out his last record; they just pulled to plug on him at 4 am. Everyone was like “oh what happened here?” and Adam, he was real upset. We looked at management and they just shrugged their shoulders. I mean, who does that you know? It was literally the last record, we knew it was time to leave and there were only two minutes left on the record. Let him play till the end and then the door close.
I imagine they did that in a desperate act because of their license. If they go over time, they get their license revoked. That’s a no-win situation. I don’t want to go back to Metro City because of this but we don’t have a choice in the matter though. It’s either we play at Metro City or we don’t go to Perth.
At the end of the day, we’ve got to do Metro City again unless we can find a venue outside of that but we will keep trying to find one.
Most people will be quite happy to have a new venue to go to but it all depends on what the person who is invested in the club; how they foresee it. The music that we play has nothing to do with mainstream style. I would rather not try and do something within the constraints of what other people think we should be doing and try and find something that makes more sense to the people that come to our shows and the DJs that we bring with us to play alongside myself and whatever international DJs that we choose to book.
A friend of mine told me that the first time he had seen you were at a Belmont Warehouse. It was a hot night, you got held up by Customs and didn’t get there until 7 am but everyone was still there waiting
The show must go on no matter what. At the end of the day, we’ve come a long way and I hate letting people down in any which shape or form and where we have a situation that is beyond our control; then we are gonna try, no matter what, we’re gonna be there to carry on and do what we came to do.
It’s amazing that people still have great memories of things like that, that happens. It’s nice when the DJ is on time, finishes on time and everyone walks and has had a great night. When something like that happens, you could give up and walk away or you can think “this is got to happen. We are gonna be there. We are going to do this.” so people can see when you do turn up, they know how hard it was for us to be there for it to be a memorable night so that’s quite nice to hear.
People know that when we have a situation that was so difficult, they are moved by what we have done to be there so the only thing that we can do is to lay it down and give it all that we have. You look at it after and just got “wow that was amazing!” and it really was.
You are now based in Melbourne. How’s life in Australia as compared to the UK?
I had been coming to Australia every year since 1991 I think; I found myself when I got to Melbourne, I felt very at home. The weather, of course, the idea of it being so cosmopolitan and I felt that that was the place for me to be.
2004 – I have some friends that live near Mornington Peninsula so when I went there by myself for the first time, I really enjoyed the fact that you have all these wineries; great roads to drive my motorbikes around and it’s away from the city so it’s what you make of it as a home. The Peninsular is a different lifestyle anyway to city living.
I could have lived in Singapore, I could have lived in Los Angeles, Berlin, anywhere; Barcelona but being in Australia is one of those places that you either love or it’s too far for English people to go because of their loved ones and families which I get. I understand Australians, I get the way things are there and when things happen in Australia, the whole of Australia feels it as a country.
For me, it’s nice to be a person that gets to understand how life is in Australia and how Australians are. Things happen everywhere in the world of course, not just Australia. I’m not sure if you remember; there was this guy that was really upset with himself and with life and decides to drive his car into the city of Melbourne and run down all those people.
It’s like, wow! I’m here in Melbourne and seeing it on TV and that happened 25 minutes away from my house! The country felt that. And the way that the police treated it was a bit shoddy because they should have taken him out before he started killing people and babies and young ones. The atrocity was terrible but we all knew it was terrible and none of us were responsible for his actions but the way that Melbourne people and Australians reacted to it was outstanding. We mourn the loss of any life let alone people just here in Melbourne.
For myself, I feel very much connected with society in Australia as a whole but also here in Melbourne. I’ve been living in my house for 12 years now so I’m embedded here.
There are so many British people that get to Australia and it doesn’t quite live up to what they were expecting so it’s hard because they are away from their family and friends. I mean, I’m away from my family and friends but I feel that Australia is the place that I need to be. If anything happened to my family, I would be on a flight back straight away. It’s as easy as that. It’s only 24 hours out of your life to go back and see anyone if you really need to but it’s a lifestyle choice. I made it and I enjoy it very much so.
What’s the craziest thing that you have done – something that you look back at now and think “what the hell was I thinking?”
You know what, anything that I have ever done will only add to your life in the end and anything that I have decided has been my path.
I used to cut grass for the council. The strips in the middle of the road? That would be me cutting the grass but I was young. It was something that I did, it was an experience. I used to be a painter and decorator, I used to be a plasterer, I used to do scaffolding but I have never looked back and thought “what was I thinking?”
The only thing I probably shouldn’t have done was driven my cars without MOT insurance. I did that quite a bit. I did get caught and I did go to court and things didn’t go well for me but it was a massive learning curve for me. If you can’t afford to do any of these things then why wait until you can? You think you can get away with it but if something does happen and someone gets killed when you don’t have insurance then it’s considered as manslaughter.
You don’t think about that when you’ve got a nice, shiny fancy car and you go to a nightclub and are like “Woooo look at me! I’ve got a nice car” meanwhile you’ve got no insurance but then if anything were to happen; your life’s over really, really quickly.
Fortunately, it never happened to me but I did get reprimanded very, very heavily by the police based on my actions so if there was a ‘what was I thinking moment?’ there it is.
If I buy any car now, the first thing I do is ensure it, I make sure the car is roadworthy and I pay my regos. I’ve got over nearly over 100 motorcycles and many classic cars and most of them are rego’ed. Unfortunately, I can’t do a part rego over them and have to pay the whole year. I can’t get anything from the government until I am over 65 and I still have another 10 years to go. Shit happens.
If you could collaborate with any musician, any genre, who would you love to work with?
I would love to work with Adele. I think she is just such a personable person who wears their heart on their sleeve very much so but she works really hard at her craft and she does have an absolutely amazing voice no doubt about it.
In our lifetime today, she is a person that has stood out for me more than anyone because you can relate to her, to her struggles in life and the way that she’s been brought up. You can relate to the way that she really feels about life based on her experiences and it comes out in her songs.
I would really like to work with someone like that. When you hear about Adele, most people know who she is. It’s the fact that when you hear her voice, you go “wow!” where does that come from? And it comes from the depth of her soul. There are not many singers that have that.
If you were to ask who would you rather work with? Adele or Mariah Carey, I would tell ya it would be Adele because Mariah Carey’s a nutcase anyway. I wouldn’t want to work with that! She has a really great voice but I don’t think she has the depth from her soul so it would be difficult for me to work with someone like her.
With Adele, I feel that I could have a little chat with her about being in the jobcentre trying to find a job. We could talk about growing up and working hard with our creativity. That’s what makes a collaboration so great. When you have someone that you can truly understand.
What was the best advice that you were given when you first started out? And what advice would you give to someone who was starting out now?
If you are going to create or produce new music or if you want to become the next great DJ or whatever is to not to follow any fashion; to not follow any of the guys because they are already there. I think the idea now is that a lot of people feel that they can be more experimental in their productions or their DJing and their ideals. Create your persona. Find a place where you can play your music whether it be African Beat, whether it be Jungle, Drum & Bass or whatever.
It doesn’t matter as long as it is YOU playing it from the heart and you are offering your music and your soul to people who will listen to it. Then people can respect who you are because you are not trying to follow anything.
There are a million DJs that want to become Martin Garrix or the next David Guetta but these DJs are already there so you are not going to become famous because of it – he’s already taken that crowd.
The idea is to be yourself, play what you want to play and don’t create or play what you think is going to make you famous because with the music scene the way it is, you will forever be playing catch up to a point where you will never make it.
If you find a DJ that is playing something weird, wonderful and exciting then at the end of the day, these are the things that will make you go “wow! That was awesome.” I want to follow that person even more so because they can play that kind of music because that’s who they are and that’s where it becomes exciting.
AMNplify – BD
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