Carl Cox: “While I was DJing, I saw people dying in front of me”
Gemma Ross speaks to legendary Ibiza staple Carl Cox about the career highlights, lowlights and down-right ridiculous stories contained within his autobiography
“I still find it hard to talk about,” starts Carl Cox, reflecting back over a decade to that fateful night. He’s sitting in his music studio at home in Hove, but after so many years, there’s a pain in his eyes that still resonates. In November of 2007, a gunman walked into the crowd while Carl Cox was playing in Venezuela and opened fire, killing four innocent fans. “Do I continue, or do I just give up? Is this about me? Is this what my life has come to, where people get killed on my dancefloor?” he questions.
It’s one of the few times that Cox, whose characteristic beaming grin is almost as famous as his legendary DJ sets, has opened up about that terrifying moment. It was later discovered that the attack was gang-related, and followed a string of similar incidents at parties across the country around the time. “Mentally, it took a lot to pull through that and continue what I’m doing today,” he says now. “The music has kept me going through everything.”
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40 years of service to the house and techno scenes is never likely to be a smooth road, but Carl Cox evokes the kind of optimism needed to push through and find his feet amidst the chaos. Across his glittering career, Cox has gone way beyond the realms of just music playing and production: leading charity work, initiatives for youth, and government campaigns all falls under the enormous umbrella of selfless endeavours taken on by the DJ in day-to-day life, outside of his busy touring schedules.
Everything culminates at this moment for Cox, who’s now distilled his life down into 300 pages set between two hardback covers. Penning a near half-century’s worth of career highlights, lowlights, and down-right ridiculous moments, the Oldham-born DJ has just released an autobiography Oh Yes, Oh Yes!, named after his trademark expression. Although, given the sensitive nature of the details documented, Cox spun this around when it came to the opening sentence, making the first line of his autobiography: ‘Oh No, Oh No’. “I thought that was actually quite genius, but I wasn’t sure about it to begin with,” he starts. “It’s all about the people who died on my dancefloor. It’s a real story that could sound quite bolshy, but it’s real,” he continues. “That book highlights what happened to me while I was DJing, the best job in the world, to see people dying in front of me.”
While most fans associate Carl Cox with helming the best times of their life, Oh Yes, Oh Yes! also covers the adversity he's dealt with on his journey to icon status. He admits that it was an emotional one to narrate: “It was hard in some places because my father died, my mother died, I’ve had my house broken in to, relationships up and down,” he says. “It's been a ride, I really thought that I wouldn't be able to make an everlasting career out of being a DJ. You get quite a bit of meat with the gravy in this book.”
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When asked why now was the right time for an autobiography, he simply responds: “Because of my ripe old age”. At 59-years-old, Carl Cox is still instrumental to the dance music community and its ever-shifting landscape, since helping to spearhead the techno scene from its early days. “Realistically, when I'm 70, I won’t still be at it!” he laughs. When Cox first put a needle to vinyl back in 1971, the DJ raised in a town in Greater Manchester - who’s since landed residencies at the world's biggest and best-loved nightclubs - never pictured the life he’d forge for himself through music. Just nine at the time, he looks back and says: “These stories go right back to my childhood.
“If I was still playing to the same people that I grew up with, they’d be 40, 50, and 60 years old now. So my stories are about that generation and, of course, where we are now. People always ask me, 'why are you still here?’ or, ‘I can't believe you're still number one!’,” he jokes. After first trying his hand as a disc jockey playing everything from rockabilly to punk and even heavy metal, Cox started toying with production, securing himself a monthly slot on BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix and landing a prestigious residency at Space Ibiza. The game-changing position came in 2001, just a couple of decades on from the birth of house music.
Cox was already familiar with Ibiza - he became the centrepiece of the acid house and rave scenes that sprung up across the UK and Balearics in the late 80s while forging his own sound catered to big room audiences. “I've been going every year since 1985, whether I'm DJing or not, Ibiza is such a special place,” he says. When Cox turns the conversation to Space, his home-away-from-home for 15 years before it shut its doors in 2016, he denies the rumours of its potential return.
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“It's never gonna happen. [Pepe Roselló] is 83-years-old, he’s not going to go ‘right, let’s have a party!’,” he says, before turning to the rumours of his involvement with the reopening. “Fabricated interviews that were cut and pasted with pictures of me and Pepe went out. Of course, I wouldn’t know anything about that, because it never happened! People saw Space as their church, they came from everywhere to be on that dancefloor. It’s a distant memory now - if you didn’t go to Space, you didn’t go to Space,” he says.
After setting the framework for that monumental scene back in the 2000s, the British-Barbadian DJ has, to an immeasurable degree, made the dance music community just that little bit more joyous than it ever was before. Now at the top of the grand ladder of influential DJs with enviable careers, Carl Cox sits quite comfortably, humbly, up there. “I’m just a normal guy who’ll go for a pie, mash, and pint with anyone,” he quips. “There's going to be a point when I’ve had enough of DJing, and I'm just gonna be behind the scenes to help other people come through based on what I've done to bust the doors down and still be relevant, and to continue doing what I do today. All I can do is give my words of wisdom.”
Carl Cox’s autobiography, Oh Yes, Oh Yes!, is out now. Grab your copy here.
Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter