Interview: Fatboy Slim talks to Brum Notes ahead of Birmingham arena date

Fatboy Slim, one of the UK’s most successful DJs and dance music producers is about to embark on one of his most ambitious tours yet.

Aiming to create the UK’s biggest dance floors turning our favourite arenas into unique night club experiences, Fatboy Slim will bring an immersive approach to the arena show using a revolving stage complete with rave ushers.

Brum Notes writer Gareth Griffiths spoke to Fatboy Slim, real name Norman Cook, ahead of his UK arena tour which will see him play Birmingham Arena on Friday 22 February 2019 with support from Birmingham’s own Hannah Wants.

BN: So you’ve just got back from New Years in South America and now you’re off to New Zealand where it’s the height of summer. Do the seasons even exist for an act that tours as much as you?

FS: Very much so yeah. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s pretty bastard cold in the UK right now, which does give me more excuses to go to places like South America and New Zealand. Theoretically, you could just follow the sun and chase the festival circuit around the planet all year but round I don’t wanna work 365 days a year.

BN: You’ve got an incredible support bill for this tour, and obviously you’ve got Brummie Hannah Wants supporting in Birmingham. What does the support bill mean to you?

FS: The criteria was to have some younger acts that are people that I know and I get along with. That goes for the whole arena tour, they’re all friends of mine and people I’ve met along the way, so to speak. Obviously, it’s gotta be an act that complements my show, and can hold their own in a venue like that but without blowing me offstage. Jack Jones, East Everything and Hannah Wants, they’re all friends of mine, we’ve done shows together and we know that we complement each other in every sense of the word.

Hannah Wants

BN: So these shows are in the round and being billed as an ‘immersive experience’. You’ve played in the round before. Surely, as one man stood on a stage surrounded by 20,000 people in an arena, the person who will be the most “immersed” is you?

FS: That’s absolutely right, it’s an immersive experience for me, not the rest of you! For me, it’s fabulous. The way I like to DJ, it’s all about the communication between me and the crowd. If you’re on a big stage, you’re gonna be 30ft from the nearest person, and half a mile from the people at the back.

If you’re in a band you can kind of project to the back and run around doing guitar solos but as a DJ it’s quite difficult. On the whole, for me, that rules out the bigger venues because you can’t get that intimacy, but then we worked out that doing it in the round halves the distance between you and the crowd – you can pretty much see everyone in the room. You can really feel it. I thrive on being surrounded by the crowd because the crowd is part of the show for me.

Image: Bernard Bodo / EXIT Festival 2013

BN: Having seen you at Glastonbury, your desire to connect with audience really does come across.

FS: Yeah, and I’ve found that immersing myself in the middle of the crowd is the best way to do it, even just from a geographical point of view. I’m nearer to them. It’s much better communication and easier to achieve what I aim for. We’ve cracked it, the magic of hydraulic revolving stages and LED screens hung from the ceiling is all we needed to put on a great show and still achieve that collective euphoria; when you fill a room with like-minded people who are all looking to reach a certain state of abandon.

BN: Do you see the role of the gig as something to connect strangers who are standing next to each other as much as it is to connect an audience with a performer?

FS: Yeah. In essence, it’s about creating a party atmosphere, as if everyone’s gone to a really big house party where you can just talk to anyone and I’m just sort of acting as a conduit for it, rather than having everyone sitting there watching me. I’m the ringmaster in the middle, conducting it all.

BN: It’s a very interesting time in the UK, without getting into any specifics. Do you think a show like yours has something specific to offer an audience in a time like this? What’s the current role of ‘the ringleader’?

FS: Interesting question. I would say that my role in all of this is to make people forget about some of the other bollocks that’s going on in the world. Dance music’s never been there to shout and change the world, in the way that rock music can be quite political. Instead, it’s always been there to provide the option of opting out, and just saying “Y’know what, screw changing the world just give me a couple of hours off, where I can just lose myself and forget about the ways of the world”. So it’s always been about that escapism and leading people down a different direction but I suppose that the more the country is divided and appalled and bored by Brexit, the more they want to escape it for two hours.

BN: Do you think that’s one of the reasons why guitar music is in a bit of a lull, because what we need is that escapism?

FS: It’s not what we need necessarily, it’s not gonna change anything. Everything will still be there the next morning but dance music and dancing has always been about escaping into a fantasy world. The slaves used to dance to forget about the enslavement and it didn’t grant them freedom but it offered an escapism.

BN: ’You’ve Come Along Way, Baby’ turned 20 last year, this year it’ll be old enough to drink in the States. What’s it like to own something that’s so embedded in popular music canon?

FS: When I think about something like that, I always remember the interviews I did around the album’s release and how I believed that I’d finally made an album that was an album rather than a collection of singles, it was like a proper rock album. At the same time, it was just there to get people to dance, not change the world. I remember saying that I didn’t expect people to be listening to it in 20 years’ time. When I think about that time, it was never meant to last, there wasn’t meant to be any dwelling on it, but I’m very proud and satisfied that it’s still ‘relevant’. If I hear a football team walk out to ‘Right Here, Right Now’, it still gives me goosebumps.

BN: I’m pretty sure ‘Fucking in Heaven’ was the first track I heard with swearing on, and there’s quite a lot of fucks in that. Many tracks on that album seem so timeless, do you have any inkling as to why that is?

FS: Oh, I popped your cherry did? Ha! Well, some things like dancing and fucking are pretty ‘timeless’ concepts. They don’t really change over generations.

To be honest, for me what’s amazing when I do bigger shows, is the cross-section of the audience. When I do club shows I’m pretty much playing to 18 year olds, and every new “batch” that comes along sees me DJ-ing. But on the bigger shows, I can see the older generation of fans who maybe don’t go to clubs much anymore, at the back of the venue, reliving their rave days and downing the prosecco and then down the front it’s that new generation of kids who come up to me and say that their parents had played my albums. It’s crazy to me to think that the 20-year-olds out there were born when ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’ came out, those poor souls have had to grow up with that record.

It’s nice to appeal to different generations for different reasons and being able to summon them all together in a big arena and have them party as one. It’s a powerful thing.

Fatboy Slim will play at Arena Birmingham on Friday 22nd February, for tickets visit the venue’s official website

Words: Gareth Griffiths


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