BN1 Chats with Fatboy Slim

on his relationship to art and Brighton as he embarks on tour

In 2016 I was standing in a field in the middle of Dorset with a crowd of people. We all had our hands in the air, absorbing lasers and flashing lights, chanting ‘I want to praise you’. Fatboy Slim was headlining the castle stage of Camp Bestival. Fast forward seven years and the superstar DJ himself, whose real name is Norman Cook, is logging onto zoom with a cheerful “Hi Amy”. He tells me all about his upcoming shows at The Brighton Centre this March as well as the love affair between himself and Brighton, plus the way in which multiple forms of creativity merge and intertwine in all aspects of Cook’s life and career. 

Except, Norman Cook does not consider himself a superstar DJ. Instead he states, “we have to bear in mind we aren’t actually that big or clever and it’s not about us, it’s about the music and our interaction with the crowd”. This is how he tries to unpack the title of his March 2023 tour, ‘Y’all are the music. We’re just the DJs.”

“It’s American colloquialism” he begins, which is appropriated from a band’s album with the similar title ‘Y’all are the music, we’re just the band’. Norman liked the sentiment so decided to make it his own as it epitomises what the tour will bring. The audience is constantly at the forefront of importance. From choosing the venues Fatboy Slim will perform in, to making sure live cameras fully involve the audience at the shows, Norman wants to make sure “everybody is part of the show”. The tour is a celebration of having fun and enjoying the music together. It is all very anti-superstar. 

The general logistics of the tour ensure that Norman is close to his audiences.

“I just find the closer I am to the audience the more I love it”, he explains. So, a connection between himself and the crowd is just what this tour is about. “Generally I play, most of the year, in nightclubs where I am very close to the audience and I love that”.

Reflecting on his last two tours, Norman tells me how the idea of having any communication or connection with a crowd which filled London o2 or Wembley arena was terrifying. In order to maintain an element of closeness, the shows were performed in the round, locating him right in the centre of the party. For this tour, Norman proclaimed, ‘please don’t put me in arenas, please don’t let me try to fight to get a sense of community, can we do something more intimate’. 

The show on the 16th of March at the Brighton Centre is already sold out. As are five more nights out of his twelve shows in total. However, an extra date has been added, also at The Brighton Centre on Friday the 17th of March. There is still a chance to see Fatboy Slim, right here (right now) in Brighton at a venue which Norman describes having a lot of history with. 

Norman also did two shows at The Brighton Centre last year, one for the NHS, and tells me about how excited he is to achieve the same good feeling that he got there last time. “It’s a big enough venue that we can put on a big show with production – the lasers and all that – but while still attaining a sense of intimacy” that the tour prioritises. 

“I graduated in there forty years ago!” he exclaims, and has seen Radiohead perform in the same venue he will return to, just establishing one of his many stories about his really close relationship with the city. Norman even got vaccinated at The Brighton Centre: “I spent three quarters of an hour queuing up and down in the waiting room thinking ‘coor this looks different to how it would at a gig’”. While the history made it all seem a bit daunting at first, Norman is confident it is a space he can radiate fun in. 

But of course, we all know, the love affair does not end there.

It feels like Fatboy Slim really dug his fingernails into Brighton in 1998 for the first Big Beach Boutique, and ever since then, he has not been able to loosen the grip he has over our city.

Big claw marks were ingrained in 2002 for the second Big Beach Boutique which has been dubbed the largest music event Sussex has ever seen, and the largest worldwide free music event. While most Brightonians either remember it, or at least recognise the mark it left on Brighton’s culture, it was fascinating to hear Norman reflect on the starting point. 

The original Big Beach Boutique was an after party to Channel 4 playing the cricket live, open-air, on a big screen and sound system. “I thought, ‘Free party on Brighton beach, that sounds fun’”, Norman reminisces, and there were roughly 45,000 people there. In 2002, Fatboy Slim was no longer the after party, but created a whole event of its own. “We decided to do that because we had done it before and it was brilliant”. 

To celebrate twenty years since Big Beach Boutique II, last year, Fatboy Slim released the album ‘Right Here, Right Then’ which allows listeners to revisit the event via recordings of the original set. The CD digipak formats also include a brand new DJ mix, DVD of the full concert, plus you can get a 48 page 12” book with photos and more. 

For his new March tour, which kicks off in Newcastle, Norman says that it maintains the same shape that the tour did last time. He explains that while he may not be changing too much, he likes to keep things moving, and his motivation for that is “I play records to people and it makes them lose their shit”. In order to do that, well, “whatever means necessary”, hinting that we can expect some new production shots and gags. So, buckle up and prepare yourself, because if there is anyone who knows how to host a good night out, it is evidently Fatboy Slim. 

Stage production has a heavy influence on getting the crowd excited, all of which is down to Bob Jaroc who is an old friend of Normans, and has been doing the visuals for Fatboy Slim for 15 years. In discussing the creative process of collaborating on visual aesthetics, Norman says, “we bat stupid ideas around and have an awful lot of fun”. The fun you can expect from his performances therefore originates right down to the planning. He says “there is no real agenda for it, there’s no theory behind it”, it is simply imaginative and all about going crazy to the music. Once again, the audience present themself as the forefront of the experience, and visuals is just one tool both Norman and Bob utilise in order to enhance the audio enjoyment.

Further, on the process of creating a show, Norman says how “sometimes things just present themself, like Greta Thunberg doing a speech at the United Nations and she says ‘Right here Right now’ so that ends up in the visual element of the set”. People also sometimes send him stuff on Instagram, reinforcing the relationship between DJ and crowd. Ultimately, Norman and Bob together craft a package where “the visuals, plus me close up, plus yourselves sometimes [on live camera]” all come together to make up each night of the tour. 

Norman’s favourite artist is Keith Haring, and he tells me “that came from a Malcolm McLaren record sleeve that Keith Haring did”.

He describes how artists and musicians tend to be “cut from the same cloth” and there is always a major cross over between these two passions. 

Street art in particular tends to feature heavily because “it’s outside the gallery and it’s everywhere around us so I have a big association with a lot of street artists”. Music too, I determine, can have that similar effect of presenting itself within the arenas and festivals, but also outside, just like street art, via street performers and listening through earphones. Solidifying the relationship between art and pop music, Norman reveals that while he was doing ‘All Back to Minehead’, he had an artist in residence, Dan Kitchener. He was “painting live while everybody was milling about. So for me it’s how to incorporate two of my loves.” 

‘All Back to Minehead’ is also returning this year on the weekend of 10th-13th of November at Minehead Butlins. Over the weekend you can expect DJ sets from Groove Armada, Everything, Idris Elba, Horse Meat Disco, The 2 Bears Rave, Jodie Harsh and Norman himself.

While art is very prominent in Norman Cook’s life, there is no real visual unison when it comes to Fatboy Slim. It’s just about whatever works. Thinking back to the early 2000 music videos and the name of the act itself, Fatboy Slim, it’s actually quite outlandish and not entirely understood. I asked why it is important Norman does not take himself too seriously, to which he responds “I don’t think it is important, it just kind of happens!” It works because “rock music can be there to educate or entertain but dance music is there for escapism and forgetting reality.” “It’s not a serious business and the idea is to let people unwind so there doesn’t have to be a message”. 

Fatboy Slim shows are summarised by “people coming out and smiling and forgetting about your troubles for a while”. I suggest this is the visual that ties everything together, thinking about the logo too, a big smile. 

To round things off, I focus our attention back to Brighton, and ask what he loves most about the energy here.

We love Fatboy Slim, but in an extremely egotistical manner, I want to know, what does he love about us? “I have spent the best part of my life in the city” he says, “after moving here 40 years ago or so”. Brighton has “a reputation of being an open, creative, inclusive place and I love that. It’s because of that I am proud of the city. It is a two way love affair that has been going on for forty years and I always big up Brighton, and they always seem quite proud of it. Things like the gig on the beach was just an enormous celebration of that relationship.” 

To epitomise “Y’all are the music. We’re just the DJs”, which will be at The Brighton Centre on the 17th of March 2023, the word “connection” is stapled to the end of our conversation. “Connection with each other”. You will have to be there to feel it. 

Tickets for the tour are available now from https://www.fatboyslim.net/

On Fatboy Slim website, you can also buy the ‘RIGHT HERE, RIGHT THEN’ 2CD + DVD DIGIPACK or ‘RIGHT HERE, RIGHT THEN’ BOXSET: INCLUDES 48 PAGE BOO

Book All Back to Minehead
Right Here, Right Then Boxset

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