“Tink with a Handle and Make a Face” – Norman Cook on DJ Mental Health Lessons | Fat Boy Slim

WLunchtime on Wednesdays, and the waterfront restaurant in Hove is treated to a remix of Drummen Pass from Althea and the 1978 reggae Donna that hit the Uptown Top Ranking. You can call the volume up to rattle the cutlery if there are any cutlery in the restaurant to rattle, but there isn’t. Service is suspended, tables are pushed to the side, and in the middle of the room Norman Cook is teaching Jess and Amber, two women in their twenties, how to DJ: a headset on one ear only so you can hear the track you’re hinting at while listening to the track being played Currently playing it with the other. It’s a task he tackles with great enthusiasm and an impressive lack of pretension – “they make a kind of ‘dazzling’ sound, shrugging his shoulders, pointing to the filter knobs on the mixer – which is very attractive to anyone who pursues a career like Cook.” Fat Boy Slimdoes not come as a huge surprise.

In the late 1990s era of DJ superstars, when some of his peers used to make surprising claims – Paul Oakenfold famously justified his fees by pointing out that he not only played recordings, but also raised his hands, pointed at people in the crowd and smiled, concluding by saying: I Artist – Cook regularly pissed them off by refusing to take his job seriously: “A monkey can do what I do,” was one of his most famous statements. He doesn’t say anything like that today–“I think,” he smiles, “I was probably more humble when I said those things, because I was a musician. [in the Housemartins] And all of my musician friends were like, “But you only play recordings” — but he suggests to his students that the most important thing to remember about the filter knobs on the mixer is to “make a face when he flipped them.” “This is mine,” he adds, leaning forward and throwing his head back in apparent ecstasy.

Cook is here as part of a charity-funded NHS scheme to hold art events for people with severe mental health issues, which also includes singing workshops, samba lessons and sound therapy. “I really wanted to make music accessible to everyone, to break the stigma around mental illness, to build people’s confidence, and to do really high quality music workshops in beautiful places,” says Natalie Rowlands, the occupational therapist who programmed the events. The past, but they’ve been through a lot, and they’re out of it again, and that gives them a great opportunity.”

“Natalie came up to me, and it sounded interesting,” Cook nodded. “It’s kind of really life affirming, it’s so good for me to see people who have never touched a set of floors before going between two paths and thinking: ‘Oh my God! “Sometimes I feel a bit blamed for what I’m doing for a job, and I see that innocent joy about the way you can manipulate the music: it’s sexy, it makes you focused, it gives you a nice warm feeling. So it’s a pleasure to see the people who were struggling go through the process.” “.

Brighton rocked... 250 thousand fans attended the Big Beach Boutique in 2002.
Brighton rocked… 250 thousand fans attended the Big Beach Boutique in 2002. Photo: Everynight Images / Alamy

It seems surprising that Cook had the time to share. At 58 – and nearly a quarter century after Fat Boy Slim’s commercial peak as a recording artist – the DJ’s schedule looks grueling: Switzerland, Poland, Glastonbury, France and Berlin. Two nights on Brighton Beach, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Big Beach Boutique event, which legendaryly attracted 250,000 people and brought town to a standstill: in the aftermath, there was so much fanfare that Cook later left the country at the suggestion of then neighbor Paul McCartney. “It turns out that if you put all the people who go to the little nightclubs in one place, there would be a lot of us,” he says. “This one is limited to 7,500 people, they are in a pen on the beach and no glazing is allowed on site. It is a very boutique Big Beach.”

It all comes as a huge relief after what he calls an “interesting” closure. “My whole job is to get large numbers of people to connect and do everything we weren’t supposed to do. In the first two weeks, I thought: What do I do?”

Like a lot of DJs, he’d post a weekly mix online, “which kind of kept my mental health on track, and I had the summer vacation I’d always promised. Then in the fall, my son went to college, my daughter went back to school and the walls started.” Close soon.”

Eventually, he took a job at his coffee shop in Hove. “We had a case of Covid, we lost two thirds of our staff and so it was shut down or completely up and running. I worked there for seven months. People were walking along the waterfront because that was all they were allowed to do and it was where they got their coffee at the end of the walk, so I felt That we were the last bastion of community and connection. It was fun, because I haven’t done an honest job in years. It made me really sane. But the comeback was happy.”

Back... Fatboy Slim playing Coachella 2022 this past April.
Back… Fatboy Slim playing Coachella 2022 this past April. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Coachella

In May 2021, he played a show without a mask in Liverpool as part of the government Event Research Program, to see if it is possible to return to mass gatherings. It was awful. There was such a thing as ‘If this were done, everyone could be crammed for another six months.’ Our job was to test first and then start everything and lick each other’s faces and properly share and see what would happen, which we were all ready to do. I felt weird for the first two minutes and then…” he smiled. “It was the moment the clock struck 12 on New Years Eve, but all night long. Just kissing strangers, hugging strangers because you can. DJing is a two-way thing, it’s a conversation, if you’re a DJ without an audience, for a live stream or whatever, it’s just a middle-aged guy playing songs in his kitchen. Orgasm and connection forgot. Within three minutes, the question was “Why is my heart beating so fast? Oh, I’m excited, I’m glad to be here. I remember that feeling.”

Despite the Covid, Cook’s career as a DJ appears to have evolved at the level of filling the arena, unaffected by changing times, tastes or indeed his decision to stop making his own music in one form or another. Tell the Guardian in the early twenty-first century that if his records stopped selling, he would “seriously consider packing it all,” and proved true to his word after 2004’s Palookaville failed to match the platinum success of previous Fatboy Slim albums. His 2009 album under the name Brighton Port Authority — which came complete with a myriad of guest stars including Iggy Pop and Dizzee Rascal, and a complex, dramatic storyline involving a fake band’s career — drew quite a few participants. Since then, he’s released a handful of songs, although one of them, 2013’s Eat Sleep Rave Repeat, was an impressive Top 3: variations of its title have been circulating online to this day. “My enthusiasm for making records has waned a bit. But my enthusiasm for DJs has never waned. And because I enjoy it so much, it’s not just rides on the track, I play in clubs all year round. It’s like Junior Week – the new intake is up front in the clubs. There Kids go “My parents played your records when I was growing up” and because I play at their local club down the road, they come and see me out of interest and…” – laughs – “Another soul is mine.”

Family fun...Cook with her daughter Nelly at Camp BESTIFAL in 2021.
Family fun…Cook with her daughter Nelly at Camp BESTIFAL in 2021. Photography: Dan Reed/Rex/Shutterstock

There are still definite signs of time passing, not least the fact that his kids have started DJing. His 10-year-old daughter Nelly performed live at Camp Bestival during lockdown: There was a sweet moment when Cook tried to adjust something on the blender and was turned away. Meanwhile, his son Woody “works full time – he’s done five gigs in the last week. He got in on DJ because his flatmate was a DJ. Two months after he left home: ‘I’m going to be a DJ now.'” All those years he was I can pass my wisdom on it and he didn’t want to know!Last summer he played in Ibiza in Mambo, and I was with him in the DJ booth.As the sun went down, he played On the River by the Grove Armada And burst into tears! I can remember when he was sitting in the corner of the DJ booth, and he couldn’t even see from the top – it was the only safe place to put him, because there was such a mess everywhere. me and zoe [Ball, his ex-wife] Never, never pay it on either of them. But he grew up to love and choose it completely independently. ”

Therefore, it appears that at least some of the participants in the workshop today. I spoke briefly with Jess, the 34-year-old drummer, who was in music school until her “mental health hit me hard”. She says it came at the suggestion of her support worker — “You can disappear into nothingness in creativity, but you just have to stick somehow and get yourself out again.” I found matching very easy and “really loved it”: “It makes you want to follow it more and think, ‘I’m good enough, I already exist in this world, I’m not just over it. “

Back in the restaurant, the sound of the drum was still ringing. Another participant seems to have totally gotten over the mixing method, including the filter handles. Cook back off and look. “Okay, there’s nothing else I can teach you right now,” he grinned and gave her a loud voice.