If there was one single iconic face to represent electronic dance music in all its entirety, it would have to be the broad, black, bespectacled mug of Carl Cox. Even as you read these words, you can see his wide, benevolent grin beaming at you from some faded tour poster in the nostalgic backstreets of your mind. No one man has done more for dance music than Carl Cox – or "Coxy", as he's known to his friends.
Taking some time of his hectic schedule, ahead of a massive summer in Europe and the US, Cox is coming to Australia to "take care of some business, look after [his] house, a few other things like that". Although he didn't have a tour planned, one of Cox's friends down here roped him into doing a one-off gig in Melbourne – a happy turn of events for all involved.
He's currently spending a couple of days relaxing in Cornwall, after a big weekend of gigs down on the south coast of England, including "a party for Fatboy Slim at the Amex Stadium, a boat party, a couple of after parties...". He rattles them off like a shopping list.
"When I do come down to Australia, that is my time off. It's like the calm before the storm," he continues. "Even though I sometimes end up doing Stereosonic or Future Music or a Big Day Out or something, that time in Australia is primarily the time that I have to recharge. Then I go to America, and it's quite a punch in the face. As soon as I get there, it's like 15,000 or 20,000 people going completely crazy. I’m like, ‘Jesus, here we go again...!’" But he sounds like he really doesn't mind it that much.
Since first coming to Australia in the late '80s, Cox admits to falling in love with the place – especially old Melbourne town. "I’ve done some of my best sets in Melbourne when it comes to techno and house music. I just felt that people in Melbourne ‘got’ that sort of music more than people anywhere else in the country. I think that stands true today."
As many Melburnians would know, Cox likes the place so much that he actually owns a house here. Here's the thing... it's in Frankston. Driving out along the peninsula with a mate some years ago, Cox was taken in by the panoramic beauty of the peninsula. One thing led to another, and before he knew it, Cox was the (somewhat) proud owner of a house in Frankston. On the subject of Frankston's slightly salacious reputation among Melbourne folk, Cox says: "I kinda knew a bit about it, but didn't know it was such a legacy. The whole ‘end of the train line’ thing...". He trails of into laughter. "It's kinda funny, because a lot of [famous people] will go to LA, Singapore, Hong Kong, somewhere glamorous. You know, Monaco or somewhere like that. But I chose Frankston! I’m keepin' it real, for sure."
When he's hangin' in Franga, Cox doesn't exactly lock himself away in some ivory tower. Aside from the fact that ivory towers aren't permitted under the Frankston City Council building code, Cox would rather spend his time outdoors. He's fond of the odd fishing trip and also enjoys a spot of dirtbiking. "I’m more of an adventurer than anything else," he explains. "I like to see what's on the other side of that fence. So if I’ve got a dirtbike and that's gonna get me there, then I'll take it. I've been into my motorcycles since I was five years old, so it's not strange for me. But most people see me behind the decks instead of the handlebars!"
Having been at the forefront of dance music for more than 25 years, Cox recollects his early days as a DJ, before the rave scene had kicked off in the UK. "The mad thing was, when I started playing [electronic dance music] in the early days, there was no real initial outlet apart from commercial, ritzy clubs. DJs would have the opportunity to maybe play one or two records outside of the Top 40. The management would say, ‘just play Top 40 music’, that way people would drink have a fight and go home. We didn't really want that. We wanted to have this music, make love, then go home. That seemed to be better than having your head kicked in!" That's surely a sentiment that many clubbers would have to agree with.
"But our scene was never about that," continues Cox. "It was always about the music, the way it made you feel, the way you and the music came together... your experience with the sound and what you personally took home from it. You wanted to find out more [and meet other people]. And this was why we had a revolt against those clubs – to start a scene where we could have that sort of music being played in clubs on a 24/7 basis."
Besides being known his legendary showmanship and technical flair – he picked up the nickname of the "Three Deck Wizard" after performing on three turntables during the Second Summer of Love in 1988 – Cox has racked up his share of zany onstage exploits. "I think the weirdest, most mad thing I’ve ever done [onstage] is put lighter fluid on one of my old records and set it alight as it was going around. Then I put the needle on the record and started scratching while it was on fire. People really thought I'd lost the plot there! I couldn't play it for long because the record got all warped and burnt. But people were quite amazed by that trick." Needless to say, it's not the kind of stunt a DJ can pull very often – if he values his record collection. "Yeah, that was never seen again. It was very early days, I have to say. And it was an old record which I didn't like so much!"
Things have turned full circle since those early days. Cox now puts out records, instead of setting them on fire. Well, that's not entirely true. After coming to an end in 2006, his label, Intec Records, was reborn as Intec Digital in 2010. As you might expect, the new incarnation of Intec has a strong focus on digital releases. Cox's 2011 album, All Roads Lead to the Dancefloor, epitomised this forward-thinking ethos: as well as more traditional media, it was released on a USB flash drive. Those who buy the flash drive – made of metal with CARL COX engraved into it – can access new content, such as live tour footage as well as new tracks and remixes, added in three different "phases" over the past year and a half. Cox has been working on another batch of remixes, which will be soon added to the album as new content.
Cox's other plans for the year include expanding Intec's reach. "We want to put more emphasis on signing artists outside of the UK. We're keeping out fingers on the pulse of what's happening next with music and the producers making it. There's Connor Leo out of Canada, Chris Count from Frankfurt, Germany, Guti from Argentina. [Guti] is such a talent. He's got about 500 tracks sitting there doing nothing. I’m like, ‘You're joking, aren't you? There's some absolute crackers there!’ We've got a nice EP coming out for him as well."
In terms of Australian talent, Cox is putting his money on rising Sydney star Joe Brunning – also playing at Cox's one-off Melbourne show later this month. "I’m one of Joe's biggest fans. He's been really prolific – making real tough dance floor drivers. You put a Joe Brunning track on and people just go mental. He's been perfecting that sound. We're looking forward to getting an album of his music out, probably next year."
But of all Cox's plans and projects for the year, by the far the most exciting is his birthday coming up in July: the big man is turning 50. Whereas most people might see a 50th as the onset of false teeth, recliner chairs and flannel pyjamas, Cox shows no signs of slowing down. "There's a really amazing party planned," he says, so buoyantly exuberant that you'd think he was turning 21. "We're doing it in a massive barn in the middle of a place called Crowborough, in the farmlands, and setting it up like a very exclusive party. A few bands I've really enjoyed while growing up are gonna be playing, as well as some other surprises. It's be about getting to the half-century, but also celebrating the fact that I’ve been playing electronic dance music for 27 years now. From the first record I bought, in 1987 – it was Time to Jack by Chip E – I haven't looked back since then.
"I’ve been a DJ longer than most people you see on the dance floor have been on Earth. And I’m still here. Hopefully, that's a testament to me having a passion for music and life and also supporting the fact that, for me, electronic music was great from the beginning."
BY MORGAN RICHARDS
Carl Cox [UK] plays Trak Lounge Bar on Friday June 22.