To call Carl Cox a legend is a bit of an understatement. Since getting hold of a pair of decks at 15, Carl has danced, played and spun his way through 4 decades of music. He hijacked his parents' soul and disco records as a kid, then he bought his own as a teen. But it was the distinctive sound of acid house in the ‘80s that Carl found his calling and his groove.
In '88 he added a third deck to his arsenal and earned the nickname “The Three Deck Wizard,” and has played continuously all over the world ever since. His night at Space Ibiza, Revolution, has become one of the island’s biggest draws and his distinctive sets are a mainstay at the biggest clubs in the business. He is big, brash and playful, both on the decks and in person, a characteristic not lost on his thousands of fans.
And with his experience has come a wealth of wisdom—something he’s happy to share. Splitting his time between Australia, his villa in Ibiza and various other stops along the way, we caught up with Carl to talk about the music he loves and discuss why he thinks electronic is now bigger than rock.
How do you think your early hip hop, disco and acid house influences still inform your approach to music now? In ‘84 I was playing disco funk, Latin jazz and many of the parties were small warehouse parties, house parties (at people’s actual houses) and the rave scene at the time wasn’t around. It was burgeoning—it was word of mouth. As soon as I heard the first acid house track I bought it. It was like nothing else. Now we are in 2015, 28 years later and I am still doing what I am doing at the highest level and the phone is still ringing off the hook.
When you were starting out, was there one particular defining moment where you thought I want to make music my career? It’s hard to pin point a real defining moment and where it started. A good tune is a good tune. Whether it is hip-hop, house, drum and bass, dub-step, EDM, trance, techno, Latin house; I still see myself primarily as a DJ. Somebody who searches for records, still looks for something conceptual, to push the envelope, to push new music forward.
Today’s technology has changed all of that. Back in my day it was about tracking down that vinyl but even with computers the essence of finding new music is still the same. People are people and they still want to have a good time.
Are there any particular records from your teens that still get you excited? I did a paper round as a kid to earn enough money to go and buy my own records. My first ever record was Diana Ross ‘Love Hangover’. When I heard that record then and when I play it now, it still makes people smile. It’s real music. If I played it right now you would be like “that’s a tune”.
There has been a lot of change within the music industry over the past decade with the evolution of technology and increased access to so much music. The world seems a lot faster. Is that a good thing? Not really no! Nothing gets the opportunity to be nurtured anymore. You cannot find your future classics. A lot of my favorite records never touched the charts or the top 100. The industry moves so fast now that a great record can come out today and by the end of the week its done – next! By the end of the week it is old and people move on.
You will get some people today saying they started a record this morning and that they finished it in the afternoon. Urgh! How do you create a record in 4 hours? In that time all they could have done is use a few presets, nick someone’s loops, ideas and changed the bass line. It is tough for artists because the industry has become so throwaway.
The next wave of artist wants to come through and be a DJ, make music, produce all too quick. Then they end up playing in front of 50,000 people at Tomorrowland by the end of the week. It can happen, but for the majority it won't.
So do you think DJs need to pay their dues? Yes. I worked hard by going to pubs, clubs and playing music I wanted to play. It couldn’t be heard anywhere else in the world. Now you put a track up on YouTube get a million hits and you have a fan base and maybe someone from a record label will give the world to you. They then last as long as they last.
After 30 years in the business, what drives you to get back up on stage night after night? The great thing about electronic music is that nobody goes to a rave or festival for a punch up. Forget that, they just want to enjoy what’s in front of them. The person next to you, you may not know them from Adam but by the end of it you will be turning to each other and saying, “TUNE! That’s what I am talking about!”
There hasn’t been a scene this strong in history. It’s bigger than rock and roll. There are parties that are 200,000 – 300,000 strong. It started organic and it wasn’t government lead and now it is a network that spans the world.
Carl Cox’s Advice To The Music Industry
Back Independent Artists And Labels
"The industry has always been driven by money and how much they can milk from what’s going on. That’s the problem for people associated with independent artists and labels - but it is much more exciting. It is driven by passion and I think that has been lost. I could make a record now and the industry wouldn’t see it for what it is. They would say I am too old, I have been around too long, you have not got a nice girl doing the vocals so your out."
New Is Not Necessarily Good
"The industry is so concerned with what is new. They pick people up who haven’t even made any music yet, give them some help by giving them some producers and away they go. This is a problem. I think the industry should support the underground music scene and recognise that the industry turns because what independents are doing."
Get Good Acts To Play Longer
"Commercially you get people who just want to come and hear the big songs, whilst at underground gigs there are people that really want to hear the DJ play and not just an hour and a half—the whole night. To me DJs should be doing a minimum of 3 hours. I stand up for what I believe in and give to you what I think will keep you on the dance floor."
Get Out And See More
"If the music industry did go out and explore they will find there is so much out there to tap into; if they only choose to do it."
Forget Who's Hot And Who's Not
"Forget about celebrity, who is hot and who is not. The first time I played Diana Ross 'Love Hangover' and I had four mates go “that’s a brilliant record” its exactly the same as when I am playing at Space in Ibiza and playing Loco Dice’s new record. I want to give you the best of what I can get my hands on. It’s about a connection with people. Money can’t buy it. It doesn’t matter who it is; we are all entertainers."