Last year, dance music icon Fatboy Slim celebrated the return of his Big Beach Boutique festival, a summer event that helped define the aesthetic of his Big Beat movement in the ’90s. This bigger, better edition hit the new Amex Stadium in his native Brighton, England for a two-day stand, packing in tens of thousands of revelers. It was a feat captured in an upcoming CD/DVD package, Big Beach Bootique 5, due out February 19 on The End Records.
But the mix of generations packing this and his other recent festival gigs means that his sets — full of epic build-ups and massive beach balls being bounced aloft — are more than exercises in mere nostalgia. Now, with some three decades in the game, the artist born Norman Cook says he sees the dance music/mainstream crossover he helped create blossoming into something even bigger than before.
This year, Cook will play both weekends of the Ultra Music Festival. He’ll take the stage at the Carl Cox and Friends arena on Friday, March 15 before headlining the main stage the next weekend, on Saturday, March 23. In other words, despite the hand-wringing over the seemingly short musical memory of the so-called “EDM” movement, at least one pioneer is benefiting from electronic music’s commercial resurgence.
“Obviously having done this I see things come and go, but this really feels like we’re riding on the crest of a wave. It feels like a revolution going on,” he says. “Dubstep’s obviously the kind of thing that’s really taking off. But the basic premise of it is really the same. It’s young people going out, getting wasted, looking for hedonism and escapism and going out and getting laid.”
Though Cook admits he may be “a bit too old” to fully get the current American iterations of dubstep and EDM, he says he appreciates many stylistic parallels between it and Big Beat. “It crosses over with the rock crowd. It’s got those big sort of stadium-y breakdowns,” he says. “With big beat, the idea was taking the best bits of rap music, acid house, and pop, and this is taking the best things out of thrash music, hip-hop, and electronic music.”
It’s been at least a decade since Cook started to distance himself from the “Big Beat” tag, and he now labels his four-to-the-floor, crowd-pleasing style as “dirty but accessible.” He’s still known to drop in the occasional rock song, though, and anything might go during one of his sets. With the similarities between his signature sound and the go-for-broke wallop embraced by the American dubstep nation, Cook’s now DJing more than ever.
In the last two years he’s played more shows than in any other similar time span during his career. But he also credits this renewed vigor to a more far-reaching life change: sobriety. “For 25 years I was always drinking and having a party in my head, figuring that was the professional way of going about it. But after years of doing it, it kind of started to hurt,” he says. “Now I just get kind of high off the crowd. After 30 years, there’s enough narcotics and alcohol rattling around in my brain anyways, so it doesn’t take much to shake them up again.”
Another reason for the ambitious slate of DJ gigs is that, for the time being, Cook says there are no new Fatboy Slim artist albums in the works. “It’s not really turning me on at the moment,” he says. What is turning him on, instead, is an undying addiction to turning massive crowds onto new tunes, something he’ll do this summer at venues like the insider-y Elevation festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, and across Ibiza and Europe.
“There are three sorts of people: There are people who just like music. Then there are people who like music, but when they want to hear it, they just want to put their headphones on. Then there’s a third kind who love music, and when they hear it, all they want to do is play it to other people. They’re called DJs,” he says. “We are just built to do it. As soon as I hear a record, I can’t thoroughly enjoy it unless I share it with someone else.”
Fatboy Slim, at Ultra Music Festival, Bayfront Park, Miami, Friday, March 15 and Saturday, March 23. Individual weekend tickets are sold out, but six-day combo ticket packages are still available. Visit ultramusicfestival.com