This week we spend time with the longstanding Ibiza icon.
Interview: Carl Cox
No one DJ holds as strong a grip over Ibiza as Carl Cox. Reaching the end of its 12th season, his Tuesday night party at Space remains the most popular on the island, and yet 2013 has been a different sort of season for the UK veteran. We caught up with Cox to discuss stepping out of his comfort zone, the looming prospect of retirement, and just how he's managed to stay so relevant for the best part of 30 years.
First of all Carl, we're up to the penultimate party of your residency at Space. How has this season been?
It's been an interesting one this year. It's the first time I've stepped out of Space in 12 years—as you can imagine, I've been quite loyal to them. It's also been nice for the people to see their favourite DJs outside of their usual environments and working alongside other DJs on the basis of our shared understanding, which is to give our followers more. In my case, we've got the Space parties down to a T, so to be able to play at Amnesia for Marco [Carola] at a party that he's created is an exciting prospect.
I get to play different music than I usually would on the island, and also get to warm up the room for Marco, just as he did for me back in July. Musically, the people get the best of both worlds. And it's not only been me club-hopping. For the first time ever all these DJs are working together, which has calmed down a lot of speculation as to who or what is the best. It's shown that there really is a camaraderie between us all and that we're here to drive the scene forward.
So what is it that brought about this power shift from the clubs and promoters to the artists?
I think a lot of it is to do with why people come to the island. Many years ago, there was no infrastructure for DJs. We were just people that played other people's music and that was the end of it. If you got a beer out of what you were doing, and a little payment, that was a bonus. These days, however, we have been empowered with such a sword to wield in terms of what we can achieve. We're putting serious bums on seats. If you look at Richie Hawtin's move, he was basically playing for Sven [Väth], gigging as much as he could on the island. We invited him to play for us, he rocked the place, so we invited him back and he turned us down, deciding to start up his own night at Space on Thursday instead! We were like, "OK, so you've got the balls to do that." Because no one did at that time.
The first DJ to plant that idea, I believe, was Paul Oakenfold, who said: "Right I'm going to play every Tuesday night at Pacha," and it worked out for a while, but people still weren't sure about going out to hear the same DJ every week. What I created at Space happened more organically, as a direct result of my residency on the Terrace. From there we completely created this notion of a Tuesday night party, and then all the other DJs thought they'd try their hand. This season there have been plenty of DJs who have tried to hold down a residency and had it be a success, others less so. It's not like there are more people on the island, so there were bound to be some people who did less well. This is what has defined this season.
This idea of camaraderie is visible in that the week has been purposefully carved up to ensure that none of the six or seven heavyweight DJs step on each others' toes.
Definitely. When Richie [Hawtin] wanted to do the night at Space, the first person he asked was me. He felt compelled to make sure I was OK with it. I could've said no, but then he probably would've done it anyway! It's not for me to control anybody or anything that happens. And if I'm honest, the more techno they want to put into Space the better. It's great for all of us.
Staying musically current is one of the driving features of your output but you still have a lot of time for the classics. Do you spend time sifting through old records in the same way that you do new ones?
Yeah, I think it's really important that we go back to go forward. There's a whole new generation of people that have no clue who Steve "Silk" Hurley is—they're like "Steve 'Silk' who? It sounds like a fancy make of hairdryer." When they hear these old records, to them they sound new and fresh. And for me, these records were ahead of their time to begin with. It's great to bring them back again and mix them up with the current and create an experience from that. If everything is totally upfront it can get a little staid, in that everyone is just pushing to have that latest track. There are so many classic moments in house and techno that if we just go back a little bit, they can still sound as fresh today as they did then.
You play CDs now. Do you have all your old records digitally converted?
No I don't. I'm still missing out on so much because I haven't transferred them yet. All my records are in a garage at home in Melbourne—there's over 150,000 vinyl in there, from 1968 to about 2007. I go in there now and again and go, "Right, 88-89" and pick out a selection, and in there maybe there will be a B-side I like. Then I have to clean the record, put it through the computer, top and tail it, boost the sound quality... It's very time consuming. But it does add colour and a bit of mystery to my sets. People will ask for the record and I'll tell them, but I know they'll never track it down.
Your toasting on the mic, if we can call it that, is a big part of your performance personality. Where does that originate from?
It got to a point where I was doing so many parties, especially in the rave era, and all the DJs were there, playing music, and it just felt like there was no connection with the people. People could see you, and tell this was the sound of a certain DJ, but there was something missing in terms of an actual personality reaching out. I'm not going to stand there and have a conversation, but I can get on the mic and ask the crowd how they're doing, and then BAM, drop straight back into the music. The more I did this, I started to notice that whenever I didn't engage the people, they got pissed off and were like: "Does he even wanna be here?" It became a part of my show based on what the people wanted. They wanted to feel me via my human voice. Everything around me is technical—strobe lights, smoke machines, soundsystem—and they forget there's a person in there.
As time went on I thought to myself, "Well what can I say that reflects who I am?" That's how "Oh yes, Oh yes" came about. Some people don't like it; the majority love it. When people come to see me they want to know that I'm enjoying myself. I've actually tested the waters by not saying it, and the reaction is pretty strong. Now I can't not say it. It's something the people want me to do. I get on the mic at every gig, by pure public demand. They get upset if I don't! Russians, Portuguese, whatever, they all want to hear it. I'm fine with that.
There are plenty of your peers who, in the '90s or early '00s, were at the top of their game, but now find it difficult to maintain that level of popularity. How have you managed to stay relevant throughout your career?
That's a great question. What can I say? I still feel young at heart, I still have some water left in my well. I still think there's amazing music out there. My attitude towards the scene is of the highest level. I still enjoy getting out there and doing what I do for the love of it. A lot of DJs who become big really quickly have lost that essence. They're constantly chasing something, some dream. When I started I wasn't chasing anything. I played a party, had a good time, rocked it. OK, onto the next party. I've kind of just kept doing that, without worrying about whether my record will make it to number one or if enough people are putting their hands in the air. I never give that any thought at all. I have the right mindset to carry on at the top level because I'm not pursuing anything.
I was talking to a couple of other DJs on a panel—DJs who have a career based on hit records—and they're getting upset if their song reaches number five. They have a pressure to keep performing and I think that's a very stressful place to be. I feel very comfortable with who I am as an artist and just ensure that when I get booked to a play a gig that I give 110%. When people see me, I think it's clear that I still love DJing. It's not a job for me.
After all this time, DJing for huge crowds must be almost second nature. In that case, what's the most challenging aspect of what you do?
Because I've been around for so long people want to see me trip up. They still want to see me not rock the house. Throw up on the decks. Pass out. Something that will show a chink in the armour. I still have to step up every time I play. When you've got Art Department, Seth Troxler, Jamie Jones, Solomun and all these others coming through, and there's me old Carl Cox standing there, I have to show people what I'm about as a DJ.
I've been brought up with music—Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers —real music. So when I play I try and make that come through, that spirit and history I have in me. People can play my style of music, but they won't play it like I can. Whereas I might be able to take their tracks and play them better, just because of they way I've learnt to nurture music. Every time I step out and do what I do it's all about that: being creative and pushing things forward. I remember stepping out at DC-10 last year and playing a full set between 120 -122 BPM. I've never stayed so low. Don't get me wrong, it was still pumping, but I usually take things to 126 - 7. The funny thing was someone on Twitter posted: "That sounds really boring." Well, because you weren't there! If you had been, you'd understand how much groove there is in that sound. For me, that was challenging.
There's been a lot of talk recently about how the first wave of DJs are edging towards retirement. Is it a daunting prospect or one you look forward to?
It's really unbelievable to be at this point in my life. To think that I've reached 51 and am continuing playing to the masses, to 18-year-old girls who still want to flash me their top half. I'm thinking: "This is... This is something else." I mean, my niece is 21! I wonder if their dads know what they're up to [laughs]. The age gap is quite daunting. When I started DJing I was the same age as my friends, then I entered the rave scene and was maybe one or two years older and now I've gone totally to the other extreme. You're not going to get 10,000 50-year-old ravers. My crowd ranges from 18 - 50. I'm still appealing to the next generation, which will take me through to the next ten years at least. But then what do I do? Do I hang up my turntables? By 60 I'll be done at the top level... Or will I?
Finally, I'm going to put you on the spot here. What is your number one track of the summer and why?
I think Ninetoes ["Finder"]. It's got a beautiful, warm Caribbean feel to it. It puts a smile on your face and gets you moving. There have been some amazing tough house records, some cool minimal bits, but nothing that has really stood out. Ninetoes has come out and BAM! Everybody knows it; you'll hear it a million times and it still has the same effect.
As the season draws to a close, Ibiza's party people need little excuse to make the most of the precious few weeks that remain. While the island's chock-a-block club calendar couldn't fail to keep the most dedicated raver occupied, for many it's the afterparty scene that has the most appeal. Secret venues, unannounced guests, impromptu back-to-back sets—afterparties break the mould of the traditional business-driven clubnight. On the island, they come in all shapes and sizes: from spur of the moment house parties to meticulously planned all-day beach raves. We present a round up of some of the better known, regular affairs.
Of all the nights in Ibiza, Cocoon has the strongest afterparty legacy. The reason for this is simple: they've thrown more than anyone else. Indeed, rumour has it that over the course of their fifteen-year history, they've almost always held one. Beach clubs, restaurants, local bars—Sven Väth and co. would take over any public venue available to them, inviting their roster of residents to spin extended sets right into the early hours of Wednesday morning. Following the example set by Space and DC-10, who would both open in the early hours and run all day, afterparties were the done thing in Ibiza. In 2008, however, this all changed. A new law was introduced in a bid to kill the post-club scene, stating that the earliest day parties could start was 4.30 PM. Space and DC-10 were forced to alter their MO, and Cocoon had to adopt new tactics. For a significant period, their afterhours became more private affairs, events for 50-100 people in villas hidden away in the hills.
2013, however, saw Cocoon return to their roots, taking over La Sal Rossa every Tuesday. As the laws around partying relaxed (Cocoon and many other nights are running later than ever before), so large-scale, accessible afterparties have made a comeback. In truth, the Cocoon afterhours run under the guise of Get Flashed, an affiliated beach party run by label staples Ilario Alicante and Dorian Paic. Get Flashed originally started on Sundays, but was soon moved to Tuesdays to coincide with Cocoon. The DJs are typically guests from Amnesia the night before, with Matthias Kaden, Adam Beyer and Christian Burkhardt all appearing this season. Entry is free and revellers are invited to dance on Playa d'en Bossa in full sunshine. While by Cocoon's standards it might be a little conventional, it nevertheless offers a jubilant, musically-driven post-Amnesia experience. The events run weekly, so expect the three remaining Tuesdays of Cocoon's season to go ahead as usual.
In its formative years, Marco Carola was one of the Cocoon afterparty mainstays. After his split in 2012 to form his own Music On venture, he took the tradition with him, and was one of the few to do so (Loco Dice, Richie Hawtin and Luciano aren't as enthusiastic). La Plage in Playa d'en Bossa hosted several last year and the first few this year, until the venue was forced to close. The parties sprang back into action after Carl Cox's appearance at the end of August, with the Amnesia-owned restaurant Cova Santa the chosen venue. The event itself was about as official as afterparties come. Entry was €35 without a wristband and a small, branded stage had been erected, where residents Marc Antona and Leon spun grey-scale techno for hours on end. The venue itself was magnificent, separated into several tiers that overlook the lush surrounding mountains. Ornate water fountains and statues decorated the area, and with the sun shining, it was hard not to have fun. Around 5 or 6 PM, Carola took to the decks and injected a little life into the music, with the festivities running until 6 AM.
While Carola's music may not match up to your stereotypical afterparty soundtrack, the same can't be said for Jamie Jones. This summer the Welsh DJ has put on a string of lauded afters, including villa parties overlooking the iconic Es Vedrà island, and full-on raves aboard a former minesweeper-turned-super yacht (also positioned in full view of Es Vedrà). While the latter is said to have since been seized by the authorities, Jones and co. promise to host several equally as audacious afterhours in preparation for their final few performances at DC-10. To attend, all you have to do is follow the crucial afterparty rule: keep your ear firmly to the ground.
This week on the island
Flying Circus's main flaw this season has been over-ambition. The Spectrum space, and its nine or ten people in attendance, saw a Blond:ish set that left both artist and reveller disappointed. Given the Basement was operating nowhere near capacity, the party would benefit from focusing its energy on the one room, and slicing the DJ's set times if required. On this occasion, Wruhme saw us out, rocking the place with his brand of throbbing, melodic techno. As Bernt's techno smash "Geffen" sounded from the speakers, the Circus' small but loyal following kept moving and shaking until close.
Following the MAW man was Guti, an artist representative of Defected's move away from the commercial sounds towards deeper, dubbier moods. The Argentine began thick and jackin', so as to ensure a smooth transition from his predecessor. As his live set progressed, he gradually worked in darker elements, which was refreshing to hear at somewhere like Defected. The crowd, too, seemed to welcome the change in mood. Eager to end on a high, however, Guti played the keys from MK's "Burning," once again taking into account the overall curve of the party.
Entering the packed basement, J Phlip's growling bass hits gave way to the thick-edged bounce of Catz n' Dogz. The Polish duo's own "Bring Me That Water" still sounded fresh in and amongst a slew of low-slung tech house jams. Eats Everything followed, upping the ante further by treating the strong UK contingent to an upfront set of floor-shaking edits, including Huxley's "Let It Go" and the Lil "Mo" Yin Yang classic " Reach." Given its status as one of the season's biggest records, the night wouldn't have been complete without Breach's "Jack" (released originally on Dirtybird). It got its expected reaction, and it was great to see Eats Everything, Claude VonStroke and the crew given the send off they deserve.
Carl Cox at Space - Nel G Photograph
Get Flashed - Phrank.net
Defected - Shane Webber
Used + Abused - Roberto Castaño
ENTER. - Igor Rubnik
Solomun +1 - Faris Villena
Cocoon - Phrank.net
Carl Cox: The Party Unites - Nel G Photograph
All others - Tasya Menaker