Norman Cook

DJ, producer and restaurateur Norman Cook expands on his love of punk, street art, good food and more…

THE CLASH

“I was young and impressionable in 1977. I’d flirted with pop music, but The Clash were the first band that smacked me in the face. They not only had aggression and revolution, but they offered education and inspiration to a 14-year-old who really wanted that. They also got me started politically. I went to see them at a Rock Against Racism gig, and the title of their album ‘Sandinista!’ made me want to find out who the Sandinistas were.

“Musically, they weren’t scared of breaking barriers and didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as just a punk rock band, so they opened up a world of dub reggae and then rap music to me. I saw Grandmaster Flash supporting them, and that’s when I wanted to become a scratch DJ. The Clash are the coolest motherfuckers to this day.”

BREAKING RULES

“Aside from The Clash, punk still influences me. That sense of revolution and of ripping up the rulebook – part of that has stayed with me. Their whole ethos was, ‘Here’s a guitar, here’s a drum kit, now form a band… and if you can’t get the record labels to listen to you, put a record out yourself’.

“There are parallels with, ‘Here’s a drum machine, here’s a sampler, now make a record’, which is what happened during acid house. When we were making big beat, it felt like the more rules we broke, the more we upset people by breaking those rules, the better we did and the more fun we had. I saw that as a continuation of those punk values.”

THE HOUSE OF LOVE, PRESTON PARK, BRIGHTON

“It was a house I lived in from the beginning of Beats International until the height of Fatboy Slim. The 10 years I was there was a time of change. It started as a normal marital home, and turned into a commune for those exploring the outer limits of consciousness, but also the outer limits of music.

“We began calling it The House Of Love, as we’d all go there and get loved up, discuss things, dance and play tunes to each other. Its heyday lasted about five years. We were lucky, everything went on in the basement and our neighbours said, ‘Whatever you do in there, we can’t hear it, it’s only people coming in and out’. So we gaffer-taped the doorknocker and told pepple to tap on the window. Friends would come round and not go home for days. The whole idea of Fatboy Slim was conceived there.”

ROUNDER RECORDS

“The only honest job I’ve ever had. I worked there part-time all through my college days, and then full-time afterwards. At the time, it was the only record shop in Brighton that specialised in dance and sold imports. It offered a fabulous education in the world of music. I was already a vinyl junkie, I was a DJ and was playing in bands, but again it was a bit of a clubhouse. I quickly became the dance music specialist – Carl Cox, Dave Clarke or Damian Harris would walk in, and I would know what sound they played.

“In my musical career, I worked out that if you’re making a dance record, even if it’s an instrumental, you have to be able to sing it in the record shop the next day. That was always my benchmark in making tunes.”

KEITH HARING

“I’m colour-blind, so a lot of art is lost on me, but there was something about the primitive nature of what Keith Haring did – it was the first time that art touched me. He’d taken art out of the galleries and put it on the streets.

“On my first trip to America, I ended up in a gallery that was selling his stuff, and I said, ‘That’s the dude who does the Malcolm McLaren covers’. They managed to sell me a series. They said, ‘If you want the signed limited edition, it costs that bit more than a poster, but it’s an investment’. It started my appreciation of pop art and street art, which is one of my great loves in life now.

“The more I explored about Keith, the more I discovered. His whole life was devoted to politics and campaigning, with a sense of humour, but also with a sense of social conscience and fun. I thought I knew everything about him until I watched the recent BBC documentary. I didn’t know his whole way of working always had to revolve around him getting back on Saturday night for the Paradise Garage. Without fail he’d be back in New York to see Larry Levan DJ.”

LATIN IN THE LANES

“It was a restaurant in the Lanes in Brighton where we used to go. I think it started when I had my first Number One. My manager said, ‘Let’s go out somewhere posh to celebrate’. We ordered lobster thermidor and champagne to toast our fortunes. It became the place we went to raise a glass to the gods of the music business. Every time something went our way, we’d go to Latin In The Lanes, crack open a bottle of champagne and eat nice food.

“It was my first foray into the idea of good food, because I’d never been able to afford it before. That started my gastronomic journey, which ended up with me co-owning five restaurants. It began as the tradition of wanting to appease the gods that had bestowed good fortune on us, and became another passion in my life – good food, restaurants and cooking. I’ve since discovered that a lot of DJs are also closet chefs.”

Fatboy Slim’s ‘Back To Mine’ mix is out on Back To Mine

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