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CARL COX The X-Press Interview

Anyone who knows anything about dance music knows Carl Cox. His name and image has been synonymous with the genre since the very early days. Uncompromising, relentless, never pandering to trends and always up for it with a big grin, he’s lived through it all and is still going strong. Next week he’s in town to play Metro City on ANZAC Day Eve, Tuesday, April 24, bringing his PURE party back to Perth after its massive debut last year. It’s all about bringing proper techno to the people and stripping away all the bullshit, he explains to ALFRED GORMAN from his home south of Melbourne.

Having cut his teeth as a mobile DJ in the 80s, before the explosion of the British underground rave scene and hardcore techno, Cox then followed the wave into acid house and Ibiza-inspired Balearic beats. He’s always been there – a big ball of energy, tearing it up on three decks in his inimitable style, flicking the mixer around like a child’s toy, getting on the mic and hyping the crowd, old skool rave MC style, with his catchphrase “Oh yes! Oh yes!”

Now 55, Coxy is as busy as ever, though he’s taken more control of his life and does things at his own pace. In 2016 he finished up his legendary 15 year residency at Space, Ibiza, which has given him some more time and flexibility. He’s been based in Melbourne for the last 13 years, living an hour south of the city down the Mornington Peninsula in Hastings, where he owns a big block of land to house his legendary, massive record collection, as well as his collection of sports cars and motorbikes (Cox is also a racing fanatic with his own Motorsport team and is often seen at the Melbourne Grand Prix and other meets).

His latest project has been to establish the PURE techno brand, taking things back to basics, putting on parties that are all about the music: unadulterated, banging techno without all the bells and whistles. Cox has once again handpicked a top-notch lineup of DJs that he feels represent this ethos. Last year he brought Adam Beyer, Noir and his fellow ex-pat, partner in crime Eric Powell. This year he’s bringing back Powell, Ukranian techno queen Nastia, legendary Spanish don Paco Osuna and rising Italian star Fabio Neural.

In conversation Cox talks fast, and a lot; he’s done more than a few of these interview things before, but the resounding impression that comes through is that of a man who lives and breathes music, and still has the same passion and enthusiasm for it as ever. He also sounds like he doesn’t quite understand what the concept of taking it easy means.

How are you doing and what have you been up to lately?

I’m just at home in Melbourne here, doing some work in my studio that I’ve just built. Working on some mixes for Monkey Safari, and a new Moby remix. I’ve just come back from a two week tour of America, based on 20 years of Ultra Music Festival in Miami and doing the Carl Cox & Friends Arena, which has now been stepped up to the Carl Cox Megastructure. Then I went to San Francisco and played a fundraiser for our Burning Man camp called Playground, which went really well, and I ended up in LA playing for Factory 93 at Insomniac, an outdoor party in Los Angeles I haven’t done for many years, and had a great time there, and then a massive afterparty we did at another club called Exchange. Then I got back here a couple days ago. So that’s been my couple of weeks!

Wow. So just taking it easy then!

Oh yeah! Putting my feet up! (laughs) Not quite. I mean, I am taking a bit more of a back seat these days. I’m not DJing every weekend, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. The idea is that now I get to cherry pick the parties I really want to do, and to be there 110% ready to rock and roll, rather than turning up feeling like a bag of shit, thinking I’ve got two hours to do this. I don’t ever want to feel like that again.

I actually interviewed you back in 2005 when you had just released your album Second Sign and had been down here to play the Big Day Out Boiler Room. It was also around the time you’d just bought your property near Melbourne with the intention of relocating your life, which I guess was the start of a big change for you…

Oh wow! That’s right! It was a big move for me, and also for people to understand that I was trying to move my life forward in someways, and to have somewhere in Australia that I could call my home, to see if it could work. And it did work, very well! (laughs) I’m very happy to be here and enjoy everything Australia has to offer.

You’re coming back to Perth soon. This is the second time you’ve brought PURE over for ANZAC Day Eve, and you’ve put together another great lineup.

Last year was great, and looking forward to being back – it’s a great club. Yeah, as well as Powell and Nastia, we’ve got Fabio Neural, who’s not exactly a new guy on the block, he’s an Italian DJ who’s been making some awesome records. I’ve had him on my label for the last four years, putting out great music, and he’s a very good DJ. And Paco Osuna – his reputation proceeds him. He’s one of Spain’s finest, and he’s been doing it for a very long time. His name is synonymous with the scene. So I’m glad I can bring him through and put him in front of the Australian audiences for the first time, because if you win over the Australians over with your music, you’ve got a crowd for life.

The PURE concept is a back to basics, no frills approach, all about the music. And it seems to have been received well.

Yeah, it’s still growing, but we’re keeping it bespoke. We’re not looking for 10-15,000 people. We don’t want to water down the idea. If people are buying a ticket, it’s because they want to see the DJs and the music – which are the only two reasons why I’m doing this in the first place, rather than all the hullaballoo… all the festival and the fireworks.

I guess it’s kind of a reaction to the excess of EDM and the way things have been going?

Yeah, it is a reaction. Because it’s like, if we’re not doing what we’re doing, then that’s all you’ve got left. It would be a shame after being involved with something for 30 years, that’s what it’s come down to. I refuse to let that happen. I have to do something about it. And that is creating PURE. There’s so much great music still being made, it’s the reason I still DJ and do what I do. Techno can be groovy, it can be funky, it can be jazzy, it can be industrial. There’s so much realm to it. You’re not out of the ballpark if you’re not into techno. Techno is just a word based on the technology that has enabled us to make this sound of music. And within it, there’s still house music, there’s garage, there’s breaks elements to it.

That’s what I’ve always enjoyed about yourself and your music, you’re quite fearless in your mixing of styles. You’ve got a wide range of influences. Do you think this is somewhat lacking in some of the new generation of DJs, where they’re a bit confined in their genre, like “I’m a deep house DJ” or “I’m a minimal techno DJ”?

Yeah I think it’s a big problem. A DJ is supposed to be able to play all sorts of music. I mean, I’m not going to play country music or rock n roll, but I can still appreciate what it’s good for. But these days it’s all about style and trend. So if you play some weird, minimalistic, underground sound, 124bpm, people in Berghain might hear you and book you – but if you play anything from say, David Guetta, that’s it, you’re done, it ain’t gonna happen! But listen, years ago, Guetta made some really good music that nobody knew about, but played it because it was good. I’ve never pandered to that at all. I could have been one of the biggest EDM DJs of all time, but I chose not to, because I don’t actually believe in that sound of music. It’s not my thing. My thing has always been to play what I play at the very best of my ability, and I’ll find music and play stuff that I feel is the best you’re gonna hear from any DJ. Whether you’re playing drum ‘n’ bass or deep house, trap or techno – at the end of the day, if you play it with conviction, it’s great.

You play many parties around the world, and they all require a different vibe. As well as doing the PURE tour, I saw you’re going to Bali in May to play the picturesque Ulu Cliffhouse, alongside Eric Powell, for your Mobile Disco show. How would the music you play at gig like that differ?

Well, the Mobile Disco thing is something we started up 10 years ago for shits and giggles. Me and Eric live down here on the Peninsula, and we were going around to all the wineries, and just seeing basically where we could lay our hat, with the music that we have in our garages, the abundance of records that we grew up with, from the 70s, 80s, 90s, were all sitting there doing nothing. So we went to a restaurant called Stillwater at Crittenden Estate Winery, and the proprietor Zac Poulier was really into our music and who we are. So we said, “We’re not gonna make it a rave party, we just wanna play these records we grew up with.” So he said, “OK, that sounds like fun.” So we just did it, 150 people, they really enjoyed it. We had a format where we played really cruisey music in the afternoon and picked it up in the evening, but only played classic house and garage. Since then I’ve done Mobile Discos in Miami and Ibiza, around Australia, and now we’re taking it to Bali to play at this beautiful venue, The Cliffhouse, and I heard there’s going to be a lot of people from Perth there!

It’s become the Perth Ibiza! The scene seems to really be taking off in Bali, with some huge gigs. You played Resistance with Sasha & Digweed last year there, which I heard was amazing…

Yeah, I was very impressed with Ultra. I’m an ambassador for their Resistance brand, and they put on a great party at Ku De Ta. It was me and Joseph Capriati, Sasha & Digweed and Darren Emmerson – it was fantastic! It went off really well. I’ve never been to Bali before, it was my first time. I’ve always wanted to go but never had the chance with timing.

I guess you have a little bit more time now that your residency at Space in Ibiza is over, which I believe ran for 15 years?!

Yep that’s right. It was 15 years as a resident, but it was also four years before that when I started playing there, so 19 years all up!

You must have seen a lot of changes on the White Isle over the years…

Yeah… A lot of the infrastructure has changed on the island. The ethos is now very much catering for VIPs. So it’s changed from a cheap hippy island, to ‘I can’t afford to go there!’ There’s still elements of it you can enjoy that are affordable. But now Space is gone, which was a staple for any clubbers that went there. The owner of the land has taken over – he basically didn’t renew the lease to Pepe [the 80 year old Spaniard who’s run the place for the past 30 odd years] and handed over the keys to Ushuaia [the luxury resort across the road] and they’ve spent money on creating a new club called Hi Ibiza and it’s run completely differently now.

I guess at least you got to say goodbye with a marathon nine hour set! I wish I could have been there for that. It must have been epic!

Oh yeah. And the whole set is up on BE-AT.TV if you ever want to relive it. I mean, for me to be part of that kind of history… I never thought it my lifetime I would get to be part of such an iconic club. And for myself, I felt ever week I needed to raise the bar. For 14 weeks, every Tuesday, I had to slam it.

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