Fatboy Slim has played to 250,000 people on Brighton beach, at the Olympics closing ceremony, the Houses of Parliament and in a tower 531ft above the ground. But his newly-announced arena tour is where the DJ who’s brought communal euphoria to clubbers for over 25 years is planning to get reallyambitious…
For a DJ who’s played to millions of people around the globe and racked up timeless floorfillers such as Praise You and Eat Sleep Rave Repeat along the way, it seems strange that it’s taken over 25 years behind the decks for Fatboy Slim to head out on his first ever arena tour.
But the delay makes sense once the man himself explains the planning necessary to make arenas feel like proper nightclubs for the six-date tour, which starts next February and arrives in Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on Saturday February 23. – Get Tickets here
“An arena tour was something I didn’t think we could pull off before,” says Fatboy, aka Norman Cook. “Trying to get a good atmosphere in arenas when you’re not a big rock band is quite daunting.” The secret to making the shows feel as intimate as any great sweaty club is that Norman will be playing in the round, with the stage in the middle of the arena. “I like being among the crowd,” explains Norman, 55. “That’s what gets me excited and makes me perform more. I get more involved. Playing in the round is the best experience ever, because everywhere you look there’s people. Everyone is in touch and accessible. I’ve always been into the idea of collective euphoria – people having the same experience, getting a collective high. And playing in the round in a circle increases that feeling of community. People want to escape into another world of stupidity and sexy abandon, and that’s what I bring.”
As if that’s not enough, the shows will also have Rave Ushers helping fans on arrival because, as Norman admits, “If you do a show in the round, no-one quite knows where to stand. Normally at a concert, people go ‘Right, I’m going down the front!’ or ‘No, I don’t want to get crushed.’ As it’s in the round, people often aren’t quite sure where they should be in the room, so our rave ushers dance around people and shepherd them to where they’ll be comfortable, in a very absurd way.”
Committed clubbers can also get “smileyfied” by the patented Fatboy Slim Human Acid Converter, which turns regular concertgoers into walking smiley-faced Acid House cartoons. “The Human Acid Converter is a long Portacabin where you go in one end and emerge at the other as a Heath Ledger-style smiley demon,” laughs Norman. “The bigger the show, the more you want to break the ice. If you’ve painted yourself as a walking smiley, you’ve pretty much lost your inhibitions by that point!”
The tour sees Fatboy Slim play to well over 60,000 people, with the show at Birmingham Arena featuring the biggest dancefloor ever seen in the city. Yet Norman insists his ambition now isn’t to make his shows bigger, but to make them more interesting for everyone. A case in point came in July when he DJ’d at the i360, the newly-erected 531ft-high tower in his hometown Brighton. “That was a big moment in my career,” he recalls. “I must admit, I wasn’t fully focused, as I kept thinking ‘This is great!’ I was literally high as a kite, playing 500ft above my hometown and God had graced me with a beautiful sunset too.
“We’d been warned not to jump up and down too much, as it’d destabilise the tower. And of course, with every bass drop, people were getting more and more excited. It was like a big house party in mid-air, and the whole pod started rocking. By the end, everyone was thinking ‘Well, if we die, what a way to go!’ It would have been the drop to end all drops.”
Fatboy Slim’s affinity to Brighton is so strong that Brazilian footballer Bernardo, newly signed to Norman’s beloved Brighton & Hove Albion for £9m, said in the club’s matchday programme recently that one of the reasons he joined Brighton is because he’d heard how great Fatboy Slim’s Brighton Beach concerts were. “My heart skipped a beat when I read that,” admits Norman. “That’s one of those moments where you just think ‘I love my job!’ To have a legacy like that is such an honour.”
Norman talks with the rapidfire enthusiasm you’d expect from someone who is such a whirlwind of energy behind the decks. It’s clear that, 28 years after his first excursion into dance music with Beats International’s No 1 hit Dub Be Good To Me, Norman retains his passion for DJing. But he has to do all the behind-the-scenes legwork too, listening to “500 songs for every good one” to find the tunes worthy of being included in his DJ sets. As he puts it: “I sift through the rubbish so you don’t have to.” Some people expect Norman employs teams of researchers to find his DJ tracks for him, but he insists: “I don’t trust anybody else. Computers can mix for us now, but what they can’t do is tell a good tune from a bad one. That and showing off at a show is the last thing only I can do that a computer can’t, and I don’t want to talk myself into obsolescence!
“In the old days, you’d have to go through a certain level before getting your song pressed on vinyl. Nowadays, there are more tracks out there online and it’s not necessarily as good quality. But that makes it even more exciting when I do find a gem and you go ‘That’s such a tune! That’s so right for my set!’ How long I give a song before discarding it depends on the genre. If it’s a drum & bass or trance track, I give it two seconds. If it’s an EDM record, it gets a second-and-a-half. That’s not dissing any other styles of music, it’s just not what I play and there aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Norman admits that he’s not infallible in predicting what songs will storm it when he plays to a crowd. “You can try to place yourself in the atmosphere of a club, but if it’s a rainy Tuesday afternoon at home, tunes sometimes sound different than when you play them to a crowd on a big soundsystem. I had a dreadful howler at Creamfields festival recently. I put on a tune I thought would go great but, when I dropped it, it just didn’t work. It’s fine, though, you can mix out of it really quickly and move onto the next one. Some songs are age specific, too. Some nights, I can drop Underworld’s Born Slippy and the whole place erupts. But you can play it somewhere else and just see a sea of kids looking at you, going ‘Er, what are you doing?’ and you have to remember ‘Oh yeah, you weren’t born when this was out…’”
Speaking of age, Norman doesn’t think there’s any big secret as to why the original rave-era DJs like Norman, Carl Cox, Pete Tong and Paul Oakenfold are still going strong decades later. “There’s an explosion of new DJs coming up who are younger and better-looking than us,” he laughs. “But there still seems to be a space for us too. We’re still getting away with it! DJs never had to be fit or good-looking like athletes or boyband members. It means we can grow old gracefully. So long as you can stay up until 6am and keep on top of the music, there’s no reason to stop. That’s how I justify it, anyway. The only difference with ageing is I can only do three shows on the trot, not four, and I find it hard to get the adrenaline for the second show if I do two shows in one day. Mentally, I’m still 17 when I DJ and it’s just my body reminding me of my real age.”
Norman has also been getting nostalgic while curating the soundtrack to veteran music documentary maker Julien Temple’s new film Ibiza: The Silent Movie. It tells the history of how Ibiza came to take its place as the spiritual home of dance music, and Norman explains: “I did a residency in Ibiza this summer at Pacha, and then I went for a two-week holiday there. I looked it at in such a different way, having learned all these stories about the history of Ibiza. Doing film soundtracks is one of the things left on my bucket list, as I love how music in films can enhance your emotions. I’d drop everything in my career to do a soundtrack for the Coen Brothers.”
Norman won’t be writing new songs for Ibiza: The Silent Movie, and admits he’s in no rush to create new Fatboy Slim music. “I don’t feel the need to force it if I don’t have the fire in my belly,” he reveals. “I don’t need to inflict something on people that’s half-hearted. In a couple of years’ time, I might get bored of travelling and want to get back in the studio, but DJing takes up most of my time and energy and I enjoy that immensely. One reason I’ve got away with this ageing life is that you can see I genuinely enjoy it. If the crowds stop enjoying it, I’d stop enjoying it. So long as the relationship of mutual enjoyment goes on, I’m happy. Frankie Knuckles DJ’d right up until his death and I suppose I’d like to do that.”
In other words, Fatboy Slim’s the title of hit Eat Sleep Rave Repeat is still Norman Cook’s mantra. “Yeah! It was tongue-in-cheek, but Eat Sleep Rave Repeat does describe how I live my life!”
Words By John Earls
* Fatboy Silm In The Round tours from February. Dates are:
London The SSE Arena, Wembley (Thursday February 21)
Birmingham Arena (Friday February 22)
Cardiff Motorpoint Arena (Saturday February 23)