We chat to the legendary British DJ about throwing the best parties and the ever-evolving techno scene.
You don’t have to be the biggest fan of dance and techno to know how synonymous Carl Cox is with the scene.
While Cox may’ve slowed down somewhat – having relocated to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula to start his own motorsports team – the world-renowned British DJ continues to bring the ultimate parties to revellers across the world.
This month, he brings his Ibiza award-winning night, Pure, to Melbourne’s Festival Hall and it’s promising to be another one for the history books.
We caught up with Cox ahead of the Melbourne extravaganza, to chat all things Pure, plus Ibiza, motorsports, live music and the next wave of techno talent.
Read on for Ticketmaster’s Q&A with Carl Cox:
Tell us about your 2018 so far?
“The sun has been shining down here in Melbourne and it’s been great. I’ve just come back from a two week tour of America, playing a 20-year anniversary of Ultra music festival in Miami, and I always do my Disco, Funk and Soul party on the Sunday as a closing party to Miami Music Week. Then we did our benefit party in San Francisco for Burning Man this year, which was a great success. Then onto Los Angeles for an open-air party in a warehouse, which was the first time I’ve done that and that was a great success as well.”
There we were thinking you’d slowed down your schedule! You sound as busy as ever?
“I actually have slowed down the schedule [laughs], it just goes across the month now. I’m trying to make it as sporadic as possible so in the middle of everything I can still have my own life to do whatever I want to do, rather than playing somewhere every weekend. I’ve been doing that for the last 35 years; every Thursday, every Friday, parties on Saturday, and another one on Sunday, and maybe one on Monday, if not Tuesday. I’ve been doing that for the longest time and even from when I started getting noticed in 1988, I had not stopped until three years ago. I think I’ve done the hard yards. I think I’m now able to take more of a backseat, and get more involved with making music in my studio. That was one thing that was annoying me a little; I was out so much I wasn’t able to sit down and make more music. Now I’ve got a little time to do that, but I’ve also given myself an opportunity to create my own motorsports team. That’s what I like to do as well and now I have an opportunity to get more involved with that. It’s something fresh, new and exciting for me to develop. The reason I’m slowing down the DJing is to do stuff I wasn’t able to do in the first place. Saying that, here I am in Australia and we’re talking about my existing tour coming up!”
How does the adrenaline of motorsports compare to a live DJ set?
“To be honest, if I’m racing myself, it’s quite a lonely place to be. As soon as I’m in that car and I’m racing against my opposition, it’s just me. I either win, lose or break something. But when I’m DJing, if a record’s not going down so well and I find another one that does go down well, then I continue that all the way through my set. It’s nice because I’m giving part of my soul and a part of myself to whatever people are receiving. So if my car goes really well, people appreciate the fact that I drove it and the fact that I didn’t hand the keys over to someone else because I built it. That’s all that I can give. [Motorsports] is something that I always wanted to do and I’m doing it, and I’m enjoying that the cars are really competitive. I love seeing people do well so with my motorsports team, I can take my cars, and the girls and guys who want to drive them, I can enter them in the realm of where they believe they can do well and open the door for them. People get entertained by it and I love seeing them do well.”
Does that same belief in people and new talent come into play when you’re curating music line-up, too?
“I’ve always tried to find the next realm of who comes through, be it DJ, producer or someone that’s decided they want to curate events for this type of music. I’ve just been involved in a movie called ‘What We Started’. [It’s] my story alongside Martin Garrix’s in the sense of success, [and] it’s based on someone’s idea and vision for what they believe could be told as a story. It’s just come out and anyone who’s seen it is blown away by the detail of the story, [which] is most paramount. It’s nice if someone has a vision, for me to support or at least get behind what you think you can do. We share that embodiment of success if it happens but you never know about anything in life unless you try. With my recording studio and the idea of my new record label called Awesome Soundwave, which is basically signing artists who can produce their music on a live format as well as in the studio, I’d love to see them develop into something. At the moment there’s so many people making records in their bedroom and just putting it out as a digital format or saying ‘here’s my label’, but there’s no label anymore, it’s just an idea from a digital point of view. There’s no development of new artists coming through anymore, which is a real shame, so we won’t see the likes of the next Orbital, or the next Prodigy or anyone like this if we just keep putting out single by single. I want to change that format in some way so we can get some really talented people out there who can actually get behind the music that they make.”
With your busy touring schedule in mind then, how do you think playing live so much early on in your career helped you to develop?
“There was no template for anything that I’ve ever done from day one. I’ve always known what I can do if you put me in front of the turntables and you put me in front of people, I know what I can do to connect with them. But that’s just me as an individual. At that particular moment in time when we started all of this, we needed to find our way. What were the tunes that would make people rock, what are the records that will make these people move or even follow your path. At the moment there are so many choices. With social media and the way things are now, and the way people treat music, it’s quite tough. You’ve got people that will listen to trap and not listen to dubstep, you’ve got people who listen to deep house, but won’t listen to techno. Music is music at the end of the day, [it’s] someone’s expression of how they feel no matter what it is. You can’t not like it, there must be something you like in it. At the moment everything’s so segregated that people will only go to a party if there’s trap music playing and nothing else. That’s actually quite boring in some ways, [and] you find now a lot of DJs are playing across the board of all genres to break down the barriers. We’re losing the essence of what the party’s about in the first place.”
What should emerging DJs be doing to gain attention in this scene?
“It’s really difficult right now for anyone to get involved with the music industry. If you put a record out and someone says it’s s**t, that’s your career gone. There are massive hurdles to jump over to get to where I am at the moment. The thing about Martin Garrix, as an example, [is] he was a DJ even when he was eight or nine years old and he has done the yards to get to where he is today. He didn’t just make a record and there he was, but eventually he could catapult into superstardom. He had attention on who he was to begin with. There’s a lot of DJs, men and women, that don’t have that but are looking for that by just making more and more commercially successful records to get into the big time… but it doesn’t really work like that. How I started to create attention for myself was to do my own parties. That’s why I do ‘Carl Cox and Friends’ or any kind of Carl Cox orientated event, I curate line-ups for these events because I know exactly what’s going to make the party. I’ve been doing it for many years so I wouldn’t change the format. If I put a line-up on, there’s no way that people wouldn’t enjoy themselves if they bought a ticket knowing what they were in for. If you know the DJs [on a line-up], or myself alone, you’re going to have a good time. Whether it’s for 200 people or 25,000 people, the energy and emphasis on what I try and do is always the same.”
In all your years of throwing parties, what’ve been your biggest learning curves?
“I think the biggest learning curve is not to try and do anything too big because you’ll be disappointed. If you want to do a party for 25,000 people, you’re not going to get it, unless you do an event by numbers and that’s going to be boring with the same DJs and the same lighting, and eventually you get bored by that. You cannot continue with something that’s already there. Something that I always try to tell people is to start off fairly small. It’s like what we do with Pure; each event is not even 5,000 people, it’s 2,000 to 2,500 people on an average, and we know that the people who are coming are the ones that want to be there. One reason I called it Pure is obviously its essence, but also the fact is there is no niceties about it. There’s no confetti canons and no CO2, but a good sound system, good DJs and the room is pretty cool. The idea is to keep it really simple and develop something which brings it back to why I did this in the first place. So far it’s working quite well!”
So well it won best event in Ibiza last year (2017)?
“It certainly did! Ibiza is a tough nut to crack. Space finished the year before that so I had nowhere to actually play based on my attention on the island. I wanted to bring back the rave. All the niceties weren’t there but what you did have, was a great room, good sound and great DJs. Everyone came on the premise and had the most amazing time ever for two weeks, which was brilliant. To have 10,000 people on a Tuesday night in Ibiza after anything else is going on, on the island, was unreal.”
Carl Cox presents Pure at Festival Hall Melbourne alongside Eric Powell of Bush Records and Richie McNeill of Hardware on Saturday 21 April, featuring Paco Osuna (Spain), Nastia (Ukraine), Fabio Neural (Italy) and more. Secure your spot now at Ticketmaster.com.au.