Name: Carl Cox
Occupation: DJ, producer, performer
Current release: Carl Cox's Electronic Generations is out via BMG December 2nd 2022.
If you enjoyed this interview with Carl Cox and would like to know more about his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
The title of your latest album – Electronic Generations - suggests this was something of a roots-searching record.
I guess that's right! Even when I was a little boy, as soon as I heard a record that ran for just three and a half minutes on a 78 single, I've always wanted to extend it. I have always loved techno, the idea of sculpting futuristic sounds and pushing things forward.
My mind has always been about remixing, manipulating, recreation. And as an artist, I've been through all these generations, from tape to digital, back to analogue, back to digital, back to tape.
And yet, for a long time, it seemed as though your career as an album artist had come to an end.
With album number four, All Roads Lead to the Dancefloor, I got to a point where enough is enough.
Until that work, the process had always been the same: Me sitting in front of the computer with all these machines, and going: Right, here's a kick drum drum. Here's a clap, here's the hi hat. From day one in 1994, when I made my first album, I'd sit in the studio, and basically do everything: The musicianship, all the arrangements, all the ideas, everything written, produced, and created by me, solely.
The thing is about All Roads Lead to the Dancefloor was that I worked with vocalists, percussionists, saxophonists. It wasn't about making music for rave festivals, these weren't big tunes ideas. It was an electronic album. I decided to use two super producers, Josh Abrahams and David Carbone. I wanted to use these two guys, collectively to try and get the best out of them in their studio, not mine. And I also wanted to try and push these guys from a producer's point of view
But trying to take that on the road and still DJ at the same time - it just wasn't possible to do. Things were changing, people were listening to a snippet of a track and then moving on to the next snippet. There was no way I was going to make another album based on the way how people are listening to music anymore.
Was there a sense of disillusionment?
It's definitely very dim our generation has this short attention span, when it comes to listening to music.
This seems to be a constant struggle for many artists who have been in the game for a long time: Aligning their ideals with the changing demands of the times.
Absolutely. I suppose the king of kings for me is Jean-Michel Jarre. He is still doing what he loves. He doesn't have a young audience jumping up and down in front of him. He has an audience that really respects him as an artist. So me going down that route is preferable based on where I am now in my life.
But I still want to embody what influenced me back in the day. I don't want to do orchestral versions of my music.
What marked the turning point which would lead to Electronic Generations?
The pandemic. I couldn't get to my main studio, because that one's in Melbourne, Australia, and we couldn't leave the house at that particular time. I do have a writing studio at my house, though. I thought: Why don't I just put together a few machines and start jamming?
So I put a keyboard in there. I put a sequence in there. And at the same time, Pioneer brought out the DJM-V10 which allows you to record all the channels and create stems. I'm like, this is pretty interesting. I started making some samples and just jamming the shit out of everything, recording all the channels, mistakes and ideas. Which is something I'd never done before.
That's quite remarkable in itself!
Especially since I was basically brought up on the idea that the excitement and the energy comes from live jams and from what can be created right now. Think about Derek May's “Strings of Life.” These guys could hardly afford anything, but they were happy to put a few machines together and see what happens.
And honestly, since “Strings of Life,” there's been nothing else that's been that exciting.
What did your first hands-on jams feel like?
After an hour of sweating away. I played the music back. And there was a track. And the next time, there was another track. And then another one. It was incredible.
You hear that from many artists who start working this way that it feels liberating, the idea that making music can be so simple.
If I were to try and recreate this feeling with my old approach, arranging everything minutely in the studio, it would never come out the way it did on Electronic Generations. The result would just be a nice track.
But the new stuff … If you'd like it, you like it, if you don't, I understand. But the thing is, we have to get back into really listening to music again, arriving at an understanding of why we as artists are making music in the first place. And this album is all about that.
When BMG wanted to sign me for Electronic Generations based on these tracks, I told them, do not change a thing on any of the music I've done. If you change anything on anything that I've done, I don't wantthis deal. I don't want to water down my music, because this is what my music is, this is who I am. I'm not I'm not going to apologise for this album in any way, shape, or form, because of the way how it was created, and how it was reported, and where it came from.
You've called Electronic Generations your punk album and I know exactly what you mean. It has this raw energy to it.
We need more of that energy in our music right now. In too music, there's no soul, there's no creation.
There are tracks on Electronic Generation which hardly do anything when you listen to them at home. But if you hear them on the dance floor, you're in the middle of everyone else, lapping up the sound.
When I made all this music, I was thinking of dance floors, dark alleys, I was thinking underground rave parties, sweaty, no air conditioning, no, VIP, no nothing.
Has the process changed your perspective on the relationship between man and machine?
I think that what I'm doing here is stepping out of the realm of being a DJ, and stepping into the realm of being a live electronic artists that can actually perform the music that's been created.
If you look behind me, you can see my studio. It's got quite a bit of stuff there. So, you know, I didn't cut any corners here, I truly believe in my productions. I've made music for movies here. I've made movie for adverts, or made music for gaming shows or gaming platforms, and my own music and remixes. But to take an element of my studio out on the road and drive that sound straight onto the dance floor is something else - it's freaking people out.
Ultimately, the software is good, but it's a lazy way out in the sense of being creative. By performing live, you still get the embodiment out of the machines. With a lot of the Moog stuff that I have, I'll switch the machines on, and it does something that makes me go “wow”.
It's the same as when you hear a guitarist, and they go off on some sort of tangent. There's a couple of bad notes in there. But then they'll pick up on those again, and take things somewhere else.
Of course, this sort of hybrid performance also has the inherent risk of failure.
Yeah, you're completely right. I'm not really scared or worried about it, because it's something I've always done. When I was doing early rave parties, your monitors would be bad, decks were jumping, sweat was dripping from the ceiling and onto the decks. I'm kind of used to things not being quite right, after all, that is the essence of the night.
Since going live, there have been a few elements or things that haven't happened. And I had to work around that, and still carry on. You have to go along and make the best out of what is still working. And then people are like, wow, that's brilliant. And I'm thinking - that's great, but half of my machines weren't working because I couldn't get a connection from the media, because it dropped out. And that was a lightbulb moment: Hanging on the edge of the cliff side keeps me keeps a drive on what I'm doing.
But yes, I'm not totally comfortable with this show. Because it all lands on me in the end of the day.
You're also a label boss. Has the new perspective on your own music which you shared in this interview changed your signing policy?
It all started when Christopher Cole came to me and presented his album. And I said to Christopher, I don't have a home for that sound,but if we start a record label that can accommodate it, I would like you to run it and support of what we believe in.
So now, we're not signing anyone to this label, unless they can perform their music live. If there's going to be studio orientated artists coming to me with their albums, I'm gonna have to decline. Because I want people to see talented musicians, electronic musicians, I want people to see that there's faces behind all this technology.
Unless we move in this direction, I think we're losing somethinh. If you go to see a band play music, and perform that music, then you see someone bringing their soul across. And that's the reason why you pay your ticket to stand in front of them.
When I perform live now, people may wonder whether I'm going too far. I guess they'll have to trust me.