Las Vegas is hot. The air is hot, the ground is hot; even the decks are hot, with CDJs melting in the sun faster than blocks of ice in the desert. We find Carl Cox at the Flamingo, sitting by a pool in the shade, where it is also hot. Everyone sweats during EDC weekend in Sin City, no matter the hour or the venue.
A server saunters by and presents a glass of cold, rosé champagne to the music maestro. The bubbles glitter in the afternoon light, a soothing sight to any sun-wilted soul. Ever the gentleman, Carl offers us a glass.
“Hey, you’re sitting here with me, got champagne, shade...what more can I provide?!” he laughs heartily as we lift our glasses in an unspoken toast to this momentary respite from the heat.
Always cheerful, Carl’s constant grin is contagious. He does not complain about the temperature. Today, he is the happy king of techno, holding court poolside as another DJ pumps beats into the giant monitors behind us. When Carl throws his head back and laughs deeply, as he often does, we can’t help but laugh too. It is part of his gift, that innate ability to connect with people in a way that reaches so far beyond the music.
HOW DO WE DO THIS?
“I got in to town last night and I played at Light...it was fantastic. It surprises me every time I play there because the crowd is always different.” Carl smiles as he recounts the party, describing the unique mix of Vegas locals, EDC super-fans and even a cohort of corporate clubbers.
“There were a lot of suits in there, as well,” he chuckles and shimmies in his seat, moving his arms from side to side in imitation of an awkward dancer. “So it’s kind of hard when I’m playing something underground...but it’s working. Slowly but surely, it’s working!”
Carl Cox should know about what’s working, though “slowly” is not an accurate adjective to describe it. His frenetic pace is anything but. After four gigs in Las Vegas in as many days, he will head to Chicago, Toronto, Ottawa and then back to England. Even the DJ himself remains dubious about how he keeps up with his own schedule.
“I can’t explain it...my tour manager, I drag him around with me and vice versa, but we just look at each other sometimes and think to ourselves, ‘How do we do this?’
“We came from Barcelona to Vegas yesterday, from Sonar Festival. We only had about three hours sleep—I played that night, caught a flight from Barcelona to London, had a three-hour wait, then a 10-hour flight to Vegas. After we got here, I had a two-hour turnaround and then I played last night!” He pauses to wipe the sweat off his brow with a towel.
“So between the time we got back in last night, and the time I’ve been up today, I haven’t really got much rest. But I’m on UK time still, so in about two hours here I’m gonna be sleepy!” he feigns an exaggerated yawn and laughs again.
Sleepy though he may be, Carl still has three more sets to deliver, including two at EDC and a back-to-back daytime throw down with Loco Dice at DAYLIGHT Beach Club to close out the weekend on Sunday. While the pace is nothing unusual for a man whose name is synonymous with techno the world over, the fact remains that there are still only 24 hours in a day.
The laws of the universe are immutable, even for a legend.
EARS OVER EGO
Between airports and time zones, live gigs and radio shows, Carl Cox manages to find time for the rare remix. While he acknowledges he does not do many of them these days, he takes great care with what he does do. That approach is hardly surprising, considering the high quality of his productions, but what is surprising — and refreshingly so — is his self-effacing attitude towards the process.
Carl is as vulnerable in his overwhelming desire to please as the most novice of producers. When he describes his most recent project, a remix of Josh Wink’s ‘Talking To You’, it is clear that his own status in the upper echelons of the music world has not caused him to place his ego before his ears.
“I don’t really do too many remixes, and if I do, it has to be something that’s a compliment to the original version,” he explains, noting that he had been playing Wink’s original version of the track consistently for a year before working on the remix.
“I told Josh that if he really wanted to do anything more with this track in the future, I’d love to do a remix of it. And I didn’t figure he was going to say yes. When he came to me and said, ‘Here’s the parts, I’d love you to do a remix,’ I was like, ‘Is he joking?!’” Carl exaggerates a gasp as he recalls his own excitement.
“I thought to myself, ‘Okay then, better do something really cool!’ ”
Of course, why wouldn’t Josh Wink, a legend in his own right, want the ubiquitous Carl Cox to do something really cool with his already successful record? Carl named ‘Talking To You’ his 2014 Track of the Year in DJ Mag, and its 303-drenched rhythm moved dancefloors wherever he played it. That Carl’s own trepidation about the approval of the Ovum label boss remained, speaks to his role as the ultimate crowd-pleaser.
“I finally sent it to [Josh] last week and he seemed to be very happy with it, so I’m like, yay! Because Josh can be very particular,” he chuckles, clearly pleased at the reception.
Josh Wink isn’t the only legend in Carl Cox’s address book. He has also been working with Nile Rodgers of Chic fame, guiding the disco-era guitarist through the waters of today’s techno, ever so gently.
“Nile’s never really done any music in his sound with techno...so I give him like a techno track but kind of tech house with some funk under it, and he’s playing guitar over the top. And all I can hear is Duran Duran’s ‘Notorious’ or something!” Carl laughs and begins singing the lyrics to the ‘80s hit single that Rodgers co-produced with the band.
“But Nile loved working with us, he really enjoyed the fact that his sound of yesteryear still gets appreciated based on his standing as someone that’s remained very relevant...he’s an absolute legend.
“And Nile’s been through it all, you know? Obviously, there’s a few stories I could tell him. But there’s more than a few stories that he could tell ME!”
OH YES OH YES
Carl Cox has played enough sets in enough places with enough stars to amass enough stories for a lifetime. And yet, he remains humble in his position at the top, explaining that part of what has contributed to his success is the fact that he did not rise too rapidly.
“I didn’t get thrust into it, I kind of grew into it. So when I got to play in front of 50,000 people I thought, ‘Okay, well I’m not going to do anything different. I’m just going to keep being who I am as a person and just share my music with everyone.’ To me it felt like I was still playing music to my friends in my bedroom many years ago.
“Obviously, it’s a little different today,” he laughs, “but the idea of what I do is the same. The only way I’ve been able to be who I am for so long is because I’ve stuck to what I believe in, to who I am as a person and who I am as a DJ.”
The excitement Carl expressed when recounting Josh Wink’s approval of his remix is similar to the excitement he still feels each time he plays out. “It doesn’t matter whatever stage, large or small, when I get behind the turntables today, I still treat it as if it were my first time. It’s like, ‘Oh my god, I’m here, I’m here!’ ” he imitates himself in falsetto, placing his hands on his cheeks in mock surprise.
“That’s the only way I can do it, you know? I never go on thinking I’m the number one DJ so I can be blasé; play all the same records for two years because I’m higher than Christ. It doesn’t work like that for me.
“I still want to work hard; I still want to dig for those records. I want to play past two hours. I want to make sure that people truly understand where I’m coming from musically, as well as the reason why I’m standing there in the first place.”
Two days later, we find Carl under the scorching midday sun yet again. This time, he dances barefoot behind the decks in a pair of white linen pants. He raises his arms up in the air as the music breaks into a soft, pulsing melody and the crowd returns the gesture, a sea of sunburnt faces tilted towards him to share in the happy moment. Fellow techno tweaker Loco Dice stands to his right, scrolling through tracks on another pair of CDJs as the two artists exchange beats in a three-hour back-to-back session to close out EDC weekend at DAYLIGHT Beach Club.
Carl picks up the mic to address the crowd: “Oh yes, oh yes!” he shouts. “Oh yes, oh yes!” they echo. Someone blows a kiss at him and he blows one back, smiling his wide smile.
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.