Music interview: Fatboy Slim on playing at new Leeds venue The Church
Fatboy Slim may be more accustomed to playing to audiences in the tens of thousands at festivals and arenas around the world during a stellar career dating back three decades.
But this weekend the DJ, musician and record producer – real name Norman Cook – is coming to Leeds to play in the more homely surroundings of the city’s newest venue, The Church, on Woodhouse Lane.
The attraction, he says simply, was his old friend Dave Beer, the Leeds clubbing legend of Back to Basics fame, who has set up the new arts and events space in a former church on the University of Leeds campus with Aaron Mellor’s Tokyo Industries.
The pair go back a long time. “That’s when I met him, playing Back to Basics, which would have been about 20 years ago,” Cook recalls.
“Our paths have crossed many times since then. I think I’ve played at or for most of the projects he’s ever done over his career, so this is part of a continuing escapade.
“The thing is everything he does is fun. It’s all quality. Quality fun.”
When Beer approached Cook at this year’s Glastonbury Festival about playing at his new venue, the DJ – known for dance hits such as Praise You, The Rockafeller Skank and Right Here, Right Now – took little persuading.
“Dave, bless him, has got a very strong accent and once he’s had a few drinks he talks very fast and it’s kind of difficult to understand a lot of what he says but he just grabbed me at Glastonbury at about four o’clock in the morning and started shouting about this church and nightclub and Peter Hook and I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever it is’.”
The 53-year-old says it’s “fantastic” when he’s doing places like the O2 Arena in London, where he will be DJ-ing in December “to then go literally back to basics and go and play small clubs. It’ll be more fun this time because it’s a tiny club and it’s for Dave – that’s the whole point of doing it. I can afford to do things like that. The festivals and the residences in Ibiza pay for you to do small things like this. And Dave always brings a great crowd. I know he will look after you because he always does.”
Cook is expecting his set to last three hours “which again is a treat for me”, he says, “because normally at the bigger shows you don’t get to play so long; once you’ve got to know the crowd and they’ve got to know you you’re halfway through already. So I get to play a longer set, I get to take more risks than I would normally do at the O2 so it’ll be more interesting for me and for the crowd – so everyone’s a winner, basically.”
As the man who helped popularise the dance genre big beat under a dizzying number of aliases after quitting 80s indie band The Housemartins, Cook became one of the most in-demand DJs in the world. He’s played at Glastonbury 17 times as well as numerous other festivals and in 2012 he made a spectacular appearance on a psychedelic bus at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics.
The leap in the size of his audience took him by surprise, he admits. “I was amazed that we started getting invited to play the main stages at festivals rather than being tucked away in the corner in some small dance tent.
“It was a very exciting time to be part of that. I’d always been a DJ at heart but I felt like I had to be a bass player [as he was in The Housemartins] or a producer just to pay the rent. All of a sudden the thing that I loved was becoming the thing that everyone wanted to be and I luckily found myself right in the heart of it.
“But it got kind of crazy. That was the time when I met my [now] estranged wife [the broadcaster Zoe Ball] and that kicked everything else into the stratosphere becase we became a celebrity couple. My life changed forever at that time.”
He says Brazil is his favourite place to play outside England. “They took me to their hearts many years ago,” he explains. “Just after I did the Big Beach [party to 250,000 revellers in Brighton] we did an even bigger one in Rio and that went out live on telly. The Brazilians seem to like me and it’s a wonderful, interesting country to visit. It’s the size of Europe so you can play there for weeks.”
One of the more unsual shows he did was at the House of Commons, where he became the first DJ to perform. “It was great [even though] it wasn’t technically the best gig I’ve ever done and it wasn’t the best crowd I’ve ever played to.
“They were quite a difficult crowd to get going and I didn’t have that long. It was like playing at a wedding when no one knew each other and there wasn’t enough alcohol but just the significance and the occasion of being there. They weren’t messing about, there were MPs being called downstairs and vote, but it was a tremendous honour to be the first DJ to play there and a very exciting and surreal place to play.”
Now, having been DJ-ing for over 30 years, he’s philosphical about his place in British music.
“When you’ve been around as long as me you kind of get years when you’re more in fashion than others,” he reflects.
“There seems to be a generation of kids now who grew up with their parents playing my music so they all come and see me now, but there was a time when I didn’t play much in England and it was really funny to come back here because there’s something about the English crowd, they know me and they know my sense of humour, they know what to expect. There’s something about an English crowd, there’s a warmth about it because I’m part of the furniture here. For everybody at some point I’ve affected their loves or hopefully touched their lives in some way or other over the years.”
Fatboy Slim plays at The Church in Leeds on Saturday November 19. For details visit www.facebook.com/churchleeds/