Wednesday lunchtime, and a cafe on Hove seafront is being handled to a drum’n’ bass remix of Althea & Donna’s 1978 reggae hit Uptown Top Ranking. You may name the quantity it’s taking part in at cutlery-rattling if there have been any cutlery within the eating place to rattle, however there isn’t. Service is suspended, the tables were driven to the aspect, and within the centre of the room Norman Cook is instructing Jess and Amber, two twentysomething girls, methods to DJ: headphone on one ear simplest so you’ll be able to listen the monitor you’re cueing up whilst taking note of the monitor that’s these days taking part in with the opposite. It’s a job he approaches with massive enthusiasm and an admirable loss of pretension – “They make a kind of ‘wow’ sound,” he shrugs, indicating the clear out knobs at the mixer – which is each massively enticing and, for somebody who’s adopted Cook’s profession as Fatboy Slim, doesn’t come as a lot of a wonder.
In the overdue 90s celebrity DJ technology, when a few of his friends had been wont to make eyebrow-raising claims – Paul Oakenfold famously justified his charges via noting that he didn’t simply play data, he additionally raised his palms, pointed at folks within the crowd and smiled, concluding: I’m an entertainer – Cook steadily incurred their wrath via declining to take his process as severely: “A monkey could do what I do,” used to be one among his extra celebrated pronouncements. He doesn’t say the rest like that nowadays – “I think,” he smiles, “I was probably being a bit over-modest when I said that stuff, because I’d been a musician [in the Housemartins] and all my musician friends were like, ‘but you’re just playing records’” – however he does recommend to his scholars that an important factor to keep in mind in regards to the clear out knobs at the mixer is to “make a face when you’re turning them”. “This is mine,” he provides, leaning ahead and throwing his head again in obvious ecstasy.
Cook is right here as a part of a charity-funded NHS scheme to arrange arts occasions for folks with critical psychological well being issues, that still comes to making a song workshops, samba categories and sound therapeutic. “I really wanted to make music accessible for all,” says Natalie Rowlands, a senior occupational therapist who programmed the occasions, “to break down the stigmas around mental illness, to build people’s confidence and to have really high-class music workshops in really nice venues. A lot of the people here have been musical in the past, but they’ve gone through so much, they’re coming out of it again, and this gives them an amazing opportunity.”
“Natalie reached out to me, and it sounded interesting,” nods Cook. “It’s sort of life-affirming really, it’s good for me to see the people who’ve never touched a set of decks before going between two tracks and thinking: ‘Whoo!’ Sometimes I can get a bit blase about what I do for a job, and seeing that innocent joy about the way you can manipulate music: it’s exciting, it centres you, it gives you a nice warm feeling. So it’s joyful to see people who’ve been struggling going through that process.”
It turns out faintly superb that Cook has time to become involved. At 58 – and virtually 1 / 4 of a century after Fatboy Slim’s business height as a recording artist – his DJ agenda sounds laborious: Switzerland, Poland, Glastonbury, France, Berlin. Two nights on Brighton Beach, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of his Big Beach Boutique tournament, which legendarily attracted 250,000 folks and taken town to a standstill: within the aftermath, there used to be such a lot uproar that Cook therefore left the rustic on the recommendation of his then-neighbour Paul McCartney. “It turned out that if you put all the people who are going to little nightclubs in one place, there was a lot of us,” he says. “This one is limited to 7,500 people, they’re in a pen on the beach and there’s no glass allowed onsite. It’s a very boutique Big Beach Boutique.”
It all comes as an infinite reduction after what he calls an “interesting” lockdown. “My whole job is to make large amounts of people commune and do everything that we weren’t supposed to be doing. For the first couple of weeks, I thought: what do I do?”
Like numerous DJs, he posted weekly mixes on-line, “which kind of kept my mental health on track, and I had the summer off that I’d always promised myself. Then in the autumn, my son went off to university, and my daughter was back in school and the walls started to close in a bit.”
Eventually, he took a task serving within the cafe he owns in Hove. “We had a case of Covid, lost two-thirds of our staff and so it was either shut down, or all hands on deck. I worked there for seven months. People would walk along the seafront because that’s all they were allowed to do and it was where they got their coffee at the end of the walk, so it felt like we were the last bastion of community and connection. It was interesting, because I’ve never done an honest job for years. It kept me sane, really. But being back has been joyous.”
In May 2021, he performed a mask-free display in Liverpool as a part of the federal government’s Events Research Programme, to look if it used to be viable to go back to mass gatherings. “It was just freaky. There was that thing of “if this cocks up, that could be everybody stuffed for another six months. Our job was to test first and then go all-in and just lick each other’s faces and get properly involved and see what happens, which we were all prepared to do. It felt weird for the first two minutes and then…” He grins. “It was the moment of the clock striking 12 on New Year’s Eve, but all night. Just kissing strangers, hugging strangers because you could. DJing’s a two-way thing, it’s a conversation, if you DJ without an audience, for a livestream or whatever, it’s just a middle-aged man playing records in his kitchen. You forget the euphoria and the connection. Within three minutes, it was ‘why is my heartbeat so fast? Oh, I’m excited, I’m thrilled to be here. I remember this feeling’.”
Covid however, Cook’s DJing profession simply turns out to have steamrollered on at an arena-packing degree, unaffected via converting occasions, tastes or certainly his choice to, roughly, forestall making song of his personal. He instructed the Guardian within the early 00s that if his data stopped promoting, he would “seriously consider packing it all in”, and proved true to his phrase after 2004’s Palookaville failed to compare the platinum luck of earlier Fatboy Slim albums. His 2009 album beneath the title Brighton Port Authority – which got here entire with umpteen famous person visitors together with Iggy Pop and Dizzee Rascal and a posh backstory involving the profession of a faux band – attracted few takers. Since then, he’s launched just a scant handful of tracks, even if one among them, 2013’s Eat Sleep Rave Repeat used to be a meme-provoking Top 3 hit: diversifications on its identify flow into on-line to nowadays. “My enthusiasm for making records kind of waned a bit. But my enthusiasm for DJing has never waned. And because I enjoy it so much, it’s not just arena tours, I play in clubs all year round. It’s like freshers’ week – the new intake are down the front at the clubs. There’s kids going ‘My parents played your records when I was growing up,’ and because I’m playing at their local club down the road, they come and see me out of interest and …” – he laughs – “another soul is mine.”
Still there are particular markers of time’s passing, now not least the truth that his kids have began DJing. His 10-year-old daughter Nelly carried out on a livestream for Camp Bestival right through lockdown: there used to be a wonderful second when Cook tried to regulate one thing at the mixer and used to be shooed away. His son Woody, in the meantime, is “proper full-time – he did five gigs last week. Got into DJing because his flatmate was a DJ. Two months after he left home: ‘I’m going to be a DJ now.’ All those years when I could have imparted my wisdom and he didn’t want to know! Last summer, he played in Ibiza at Mambo, and I was in the DJ booth with him. As the sun set, he played At the River by Groove Armada and I burst into tears! I can remember when he used to sit in the corner of the DJ booth, couldn’t even see out over the top – it was the only safe place to put him, because there was such mayhem going on all around. Me and Zoe [Ball, his ex-wife] never, ever pushed it on either of them. But he’s grown to love it and choose it completely independently.”
So, it seems that, have no less than one of the individuals in nowadays’s workshop. I communicate in brief to Jess, a 34-year-old drummer, who used to be at song college till her psychological well being “hit me hard”. She says she got here on the recommendation of her beef up employee – “You can just vanish into nothingness in creativity, but you need to just hang on somehow and put yourself out there again.” She discovered matching beats relatively simple and “genuinely loved it”: “It makes you want to pursue it more and think, ‘I am good enough, I do exist in this world, I’m not just past it.’”
Back within the eating place, the sound of drum’n’ bass remains to be ringing out. Another of the individuals turns out to have totally were given the grasp of blending, together with the clear out knobs. Cook steps again and appears on. “Well, there’s nothing more I can teach you now,” he grins and offers her a high-five.