Norman Cook might just be the archetypal Brighton & Hove resident. He’s creative, colourful, and after moving to the city from somewhere else – delights in reminding the world what a wonderful place it is. Moving here to study at Brighton Polytechnic in the ‘80s, he’s made his presence felt amongst the city ever since. Using more aliases than Howard Marks and filling more dancefloors than Dutch courage, he also stamped an indelible mark on the charts throughout the ‘90s. But it’s his Fatboy Slim moniker which has left its imprint on two generations of ravers worldwide.
A true dance music goliath, his ever-busy schedule sees him playing up to 60 huge shows a year. At an age where most artists are opening farm shops or exploring a passion for nose-flute music, he’s remained relevant, exciting, and hugely popular. Locally, the full Fatboy Slim spectacle hasn’t been seen since his takeover of the Amex Stadium with a Big Beach Boutique weekender in 2012. Sure, there’s been a few surprise appearances – Cook characteristically playing at house parties and baby discos amongst the odd club gig – but it still seems like his hometown has been missing out.
Now this absence is set to change. His recent addition to the Wild Life bill coming to Brighton City Airport on Fri 9 – Sat 10 June, sees him performing once more on his doorstep. It’s the first time the event has been headlined by an act other than its organisers, Disclosure and Rudimental. “It means a lot to me,” he tells me, with genuine appreciation in his voice. “I run around the perimeter of the airfield a lot when I’m training, so it is literally up the road from me. Last year was quite hard. I could actually hear it outside my house. And it’s like: ‘Urghhh! All my mates are there, at the party you’re not invited to, on your doorstep… So, I’ve finally been invited [to perform], and for that I am very, very proud. And I’ll be playing to my hometown crowd!” So a small airport in Shoreham is about to be treated to the full spectacle of the Fatboy Slim circus. Aided by synchronised video and light effects, Cook playfully manipulates the crowd into ever climbing levels of euphoria. While he’s been doing this for a few years now, this translates into effortless perfection rather than wearied cynicism. It’s a delicious mix of pounding tunes, massive anthems, and questionable shirts, all driven forward by an adoring crowd. “From my point of view – and I mean that literally – the audience never gets older. Because the people down the front are always that age.” The youngsters once forming part of the 250,000-strong crowd on Old Ship Beach 15 years ago might be standing nearer the back these days, but it doesn’t mean they’re any less fervent.
For any fresh-faced turntablists hoping to emulate his considerable appeal, he maintains that building a rapport with the audience is more important than doing the best mix or incessantly playing with technology. “It’s about your relationship with the crowd and your communication with the crowd and being involved with them.” When it comes to the studio he’s adamant about the value of having fun. Breaking the rules and being different will get you noticed. “If you are going to do the same as everyone else you have to be so good at it.” Recently his son has been displaying an interest in the music-making process – but he’s wary of entering the industry himself as his father’s shadow will be hard to escape. “He’s interested in showbiz, but he can never be a TV and radio presenter or DJ. I think he’s going for the film, it’s the only thing we haven’t spoiled for him.”
The summer’s fast approaching, and he’s again resident at Cream when they return to Ibiza’s Amnesia. All day Spanish interviewers have been asking him over-reaching questions about line-ups on the white isle. “I have no idea who else is playing,” he says with a sigh. “I’m doing 30 festivals this summer – I can’t learn all the line-ups and I won’t be able to see them because I’ll be working.” It seems to be a relief for him to get a journalist only interested in a friendly chat. In the name of insightful journalism, I glibly ask if he likes to, err – cook. It turns out to be one of his big passions, co-owning five restaurants, he labels himself as a proper ‘foodie’. “I really love doing risotto. There’s something about the process, about the way that you can’t just bung everything together.” There must be an analogy for music production somewhere in this revelation. He claims many DJs like to replace turntables with the stove in their downtime. “We spend so much time travelling around and we eat out so often, and for some reason, most of the DJs that I know, our way of unwinding at the end of it is to cook. There is something therapeutic about it.” As someone who lives life quite large, he’s got a few great stories to tell. Like when he was living in a Marrakech recording studio for weeks with Damon Albarn – the Blur singer unwelcomely and repeatedly serenading him under his bedroom window. Or his Beats 1 show he promoted with some saucy nude Instagram snaps – the product of a bet which wandered out of control. He is quick to counter reports of an involvement in a Shoreham public toilet redevelopment. Whether he’s going to be an attendant, co-owner or otherwise, it’s simply not true. “Sadly – like many stories in the Mail on Sunday – I personally haven’t been to any meetings, and not agreed to anything.” Idle gossip is inexorably attached to the superstar lifestyle – as is endless travel. Foreign trips are good, bringing with them new sights, sounds and tastes to enjoy, but cruising the same British motorways every weekend can become somewhat monotonous.
The home nation audiences more than make up for this though. They give him an empathy and affection unlike any other country, and Brazil has certainly put some work into being welcoming. “There’s something about English crowds. They know me and they’ve grown up with me and they know my jokes. They kinda know what to expect and they egg me on.“ A good performance is judged purely on the audience’s reaction. Spontaneous group behaviour is a good barometer for people’s enjoyment, like crowd surfing, everyone sitting down during the builds, or just Scottish crowds shouting: ‘You rock! You fucking rock!’ all the way through a set. “Naked people in the audience – that’s usually the sign of a good gig. If you’ve taken people to a point where they take their tops off, I think you’ve taken them to the next level – the next level of abandonment.”
Fatboy Slim will be available for flashing and adoration, when he headlines Wild Life Festival at Brighton City Airport, on Fri 9 – Sat 10 June 2017.