By Allan Sko
Putting together a magazine is a hard graft at the best of times; more so in the Year Of Our Lord, 2023. But there are days that send a giddy thrill to the very core of your soul.
One such day involved the revelation that Fatboy Slim—pride of Brighton, international DJ, prolific EDM creator, and Midas-remixer himself—was adorning the Groovin The Moo line-up. Another such day occurred when I learned he was up for a chat.
Norman “Fatboy” Cook is one of my music heroes. Along with The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, Cook thrust me into the exciting world of electronic music when I was rocking both short pants and shit haircut in late ‘90s England. His The Rockafella Skank thawed my ears, and opened my heart. Everything that followed sealed the deal.
His string of hits (‘Skank, Gangsta Trippin’, Praise You, Weapon Of Choice, Yo Mama) was unstoppable. His Spike Jonze-directed music videos remain timeless. And his DJing? Oh BOY, his DJing…
Having largely moved away from producing his own music, Cook is aaaaaaall about the DJing these days.
“I kinda hung up being an artist/producer/remixer about ten years ago,” the affable Cook says. “I lost my passion for doing it. I did a lot over the previous 30 years; maybe I just ran out of stuff.
“To make a good record, you have to just live, breathe, and believe in nothing else while you’re doing it,” Cook continues. “And I lost that passion. So I don’t think there’s any point in making records unless you’re absolutely passionate about it.”
Our loss of new Fatboy output is very much DJ audiences’ gain.
“But where I lost my passion for doing that, I retained my passion for DJing,” Cook enthuses. “I’ve concentrated more on that. There “isn’t a lot of time left in the year” if I did want to make some records,” he laughs. “But I’m still absolutely passionate about DJing. And I think that shows.
“I do odd things,” Cook reflects. “I did a tune with Carl Cox last year [Speed Trials On Acid]. I’ve just done a tune with Rita Ora [a reworking of Praise You], which has been fun.
“But on my passport it now says DJ.”
So no longer a slashy (DJ/producer/remixer) anymore, but a purist.
“No, I’ve never been a purist about anything!” Cook exclaims gleefully. “No, I’m the opposite; anything goes.
“What I genuinely love, and this comes back to our subject here, is the fact that when I’m DJing around the world, I’ve got no agenda. I’m not trying to sell anyone my new album. People just want to hear their favourite records, or new records they haven’t heard. They don’t want to be bothered by your new album.
“Right now, I’m DJing in the purest form; I’m just trying to entertain people. And I think that’s why I love it so much. There is no other agenda other than: let’s see how much fun we can have together.”
So despite none of us getting any younger, this whole DJing lark keeps you youthful?
“Yeah, I think it definitely does,” he states. “I mean, part of it is the smoke and mirrors of being a DJ. The spotlight’s not totally on you, so you can age quietly and gracefully. No one really notices.
“But also, being a DJ is fairly ageless. And most of the people in the crowd are kind of young; and that keeps me young.”
There is little doubt that Groovin The Moo—and its Canberra iteration—will deliver to Cook another ravenous crowd. The meeting in the Nation’s Capital will be a first for all parties involved.
“I do come to Australia with alarming regularity,” he says. “And there’s the fear of repeating yourself. So it’s nice to go to places that I haven’t been to before. That’s what really sold me on Groovin The Moo; I hadn’t heard of many of the towns that the festival was in.”
“I was romantically thinking they would be in The Outback,” he adds.
Given Cook’s admirably lengthy, and incredibly packed, career it must be increasingly difficult to do something different. Cook has ticked the mighty Movement Festival off his bucket list. He’s headlined the iconic Glastonbury fest multiple times. And he’s even performed atop The Great Wall of China.
“There’s still a whole world of crazy shit that I haven’t done yet, though,” Cook admits. “I’ve somewhat run out of the bucket list, but there’s all this other stuff that you didn’t know existed.
“I mean, today I just booked a gig up a treehouse. I’m doing it purely for the reason that when I die, at least I can say I played up a tree.”
Cook’s clearly not one for resting on his super comfortable laurels.
“No, no, no,” he hastily agrees. “I’m not a big fan of resting on laurels. But also, there’s no grand ambition; I don’t want things to be bigger. I prefer to go sideways than up… and try interesting things.”
This is understandable thinking. After all, as the tenuously-named Big Beat genre exploded in late ‘90s—with The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, and ol’ Fatboy Slim himself as the leading exponents—Cook was relentlessly hounded by the frothing British press. It got to the point that boats were being hired to allow photographers to snap inside the man’s Brighton beachfront.
“I mean, it’s not what I signed up for,” Cook responds to my questionable trip down memory lane. “But, in a way, it IS what I signed up for because you know; you live by the sword, you die by the sword. If you sign up for this crazy world of showbiz, you have to take the crunchy with the smooth, you know?
“So I’m not moaning about it, but it wasn’t my favourite thing.
“And a lot of that has to do with my choice of wife,” he quickly adds, referring to Radio 1 presenter and all-round media personality Zoe Ball. “We became the tabloid darlings. So that’s why the marriage had to end; I just didn’t want the baggage that came with going out with her,” he adds, with a knowing smile.
“I’m never going to grumble because I’ve had a very charmed and lucky life. During lockdown, I realised how much I missed doing this. And I made a pact to whoever is in charge of things: if you give me this back, I promise I’ll never moan about an airport layover ever again.”
Ahhhh yes. Lockdown.
It seems inevitable that every chat with a creative type in 2023 will turn to the topic eventually. Whilst devastating for many, for others, like Cook, it allowed a rare time for reflection.
“There’s a possibility that I might have taken it for granted,” Cook says. “When it’s taken away from you, you appreciate and cherish it more.
“Also, you realise the worth of it. We like to get together and commune over music or sport; we crave that coming together. It’s an important part of how we work as human beings.
“It made me realise that what I do is part of the fabric of society. It’s not just frivolous; it’s a basic human need.
One Nation Under a Groove exists for a reason, I proffer.
“Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.”
And Grooves-with-a-capital-G are where Cook has his PhD, with a masterful command of lifting a key sample from music’s broad history and alchemically transforming it into a certified banger.
The opportunity couldn’t be passed up to ask the Groovemesiter General how he applies this wizardry. Does something like Sliced Tomatoes’ Just Brothers (forming the backbone of breakout hit The Rockafella Skank) or David Dundas’ classic Jeans On (the driving groove underpinning the magnificent B-side Sho Nuff) nonchalantly float over the airwaves one fateful day, instantly sparking a cartoonish lightbulb of inspiration atop his head?
Or does Cook don the proverbial Safari helmet and go sample-searching like some EDM Magellan?
“Mainly, the sample comes first,” Cook reveals. “Some of it… I’ll be collecting a load of samples, thinking ‘one day that’d be useful’; I’ve got that drum loop from that, and that riff…’ It’s like collecting the ingredients for a collage.
“But things like David Dundas; that was a tune from my youth. I heard it on the radio one day and was like, ‘Oh, I’d love to hear that riff again in a different environment’.
“But mostly, it is literally trawling through what used to be thrift stores. Whenever I was on tour, I’d go through thrift stores and buy interesting looking records. They weren’t hits, or anything. They’re just cheap. And then I’d find little snippets.
“But at the same time, sometimes you hear something on the radio and you think, ‘that should be reused’.”
So Cook is the Quentin Tarantino of the music world; plucking something John Travolta-like from relative obscurity and giving it a stage for greatness once more.
“There’s a bit of that,” Cook says. “I try not to sample recognisable things. It’s easy to sample something that you know is a hit. Obviously, Jeans On was a hit when I was a kid in England. I don’t know if it made it to Australia. But I like finding records that weren’t big in the first place, taking one element, and making something out of nothing in a way.”
Unbeknownst to little ‘90s Allan at the time, it was this innate ability to lift-and-layer samples to create something new and exciting that so ensnared me. What secured my fandom was Cook’s effort given to the lost art of the CD Single. While some artists will give you three or four different-length versions of the same track, Cook would always gift you a remix or two, and a precious, nourishing B-side.
“I grew up in the days of vinyl, and the B-side was always a very important things in terms of people’s creativity,” Cook recalls. “You’ve got this record that you think is a hit, and then you go in and you record it. Then someone says, ‘Oh, what about the B-side?’.
“And there’s no pressure because, as you think, you’ve already recorded the hit.
So you go into the studio with the aim to make something fun, or to do some silly little idea that was never quite finished. And sometimes really good things happen.
“It’s interesting trying to explain to my kids the concept of a B-side; this throwaway tune that didn’t really have to go anywhere.
“I mean, some of them are absolutely twaddle,” Cook admits. “But sometimes they’re gems that come because you already recorded the one that’s going to go on the radio.
“I used to have a lot of fun doing the B-sides. I would just record something really stupid that I wanted to play in my DJ sets.”
This rings so true. Listening to Sho Nuff, or the gloriously preposterous Don’t Forget Your Teeth, you can see the smile on Cook’s face as he’s writing it, as another fun component clicks cleanly into place.
“I’m heartened that you picked up on that,” Cook says. “The fact is, you’re bang on the money there.”
From boundary-less abandonment to high stakes, talk turns to remixes.
Particularly in the late 90s/early 2000s, Cook has the Midas touch when it came to reimagining well known tunes. Be it his blistering up-tempo remix of Cornershop’s meditative Brimful of Asha, or infusing Groove Armada’s minimalist I See You Baby with unbridled funk and demanding drums, his remixes—and I say this with all due respect to the artists—would often eclipse the original.
In fact, a search for the aforementioned two original tracks will immediately escort you to Cook’s reworkings.
Was there a sense of pressure for remixes? Wanting to do right by the original artist and their material?
“No!’ Cook enthuses. “I think the reason I did a lot of them was because I wasn’t feeling any pressure. It wasn’t my record. It doesn’t matter if the record flops; your life doesn’t depend on it.”
Do not, dear reader, mistake this for meaning Cook didn’t care.
“Again, I would genuinely be trying to make a version that I would play as a DJ,” he explains. “So you could probably hear my smile coming through quite a lot in things like Brimful of Asha because it was just off the cuff.
“In a way, it’s like a B-side. They’ve made the original one—they’ve come up with the difficult bit, which is the hook—and now you can have fun with it, without the pressure of making a hit. I’ve never felt any pressure with remixes. They were always quite a joy. That’s why I did so many. You can just rattle them off in a couple of days. And if they were no good, it (laughs) didn’t matter hugely!”
At this point, Cook hastily adds:
“But I wouldn’t have put them out if I thought they were no good!”
With this covered, all that remains for this now-shaggy haired 40-something to relive his youth, Fatboy style. It’s a prospect Cook is looking forward to as well.
“Groovin The Moo sounds like a cool little festival. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Canberra has to offer, and I intend to repay the energy in kind!”
Tickets to Groovin The Moo are still available so get ’em while they’re hot at gtm.net.au