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Baker's Dozen

The Places I Make Sense: Carl Cox’s Baker’s Dozen
Joe Muggs , October 13th, 2021 10:14

From Chaka Khan to Diana Ross via Prince, Herbie Hancock and more, Carl Cox picks 13 classic tracks that made him the renowned DJ he is today

Photo by World Famous Productions

That Carl Cox is one of life’s great enthusiasts is not news. He is known, after all, for his geniality and Cheshire Cat grin almost as much as for being the ‘three deck wizard’ of the rave era, or his latter years as a global techno ambassador and Ibiza royalty so successful that he owns his own motorcycle racing team. But even his normal upbeat demeanour is as nothing to how he is when you get him onto the subject of the disco and funk records that first snared him into a life in nightclubs at the end of the 1970s and start of the 1980s.

Cox grew up on the Surrey fringes of Southwest London, and learned his craft as a literal mobile DJ from the age of 15 in 1977 and on throughout the 80s - so he was well prepared with prodigious mixing skills and encyclopaedic knowledge of US dance music when acid house hit in 1988. He immediately began there and then to be booked for vast orbital raves, and began an ascent to global superstardom that hasn’t stopped since. But all of that was rooted in the soulboy and hip hop culture he’d come from, and however many musical revolutions and mega clubs passed, he’s never left that behind, regularly playing extremely old school sets through the 21st century. And during the Covid shut-down, he has embraced his past in a big way, notably with his Cabin Fever radio show, for which he’s been digging deep in the vaults for records which is relentlessly, explosively evangelical about. At which point, maybe let’s let him take over the story…

“These records stand the test of time to me. They mean a lot more to me than the latest tunes out at the moment. Obviously over the last 18 months people have been sending out techno records, but to me there's no depth to them until you've seen them work on the dancefloor and how people react to them - so that's sent me going back and back and back, to the place where I make complete sense, what I can talk about with my complete heart and soul. This is where I got on a bloody bus to go to Croydon to stand in front of a guy in a shop who didn't want to give me the records because he thought someone else deserved them more, all that rigmarole. And also, these are the ones that I'll play, and just close my eyes and take in all the musicianship of them. That is special, that's why I chose them. There's no way I'm going to play a banging techno record and go ‘mmm, yeah, that's what I'm talking about, mmm that kickdrum, ooh that hi-hat, oh it's broken down, oh it's come back up again with some drum rolls.’ Nope.

“I've got a garage full of tunes, over 150,000 pieces of plastic, and in lockdown time it would've been a shame if I hadn't gone in my garage, pulled out some pieces of music I really love, and just play them - and then see what people thought of them. And I learned my skills with these exact records, learning to mix 45s, then 12"s, and occasionally albums - but you had to be careful because the cut was quite thin so you couldn't manhandle them or else you'd scratch them. I used to be able to cut through a scratch by hitting the needle just as it got to the point, and it would sometimes knock the scratch back into shape... now that was a skill. Didn't always work mind you!

“I feel this era is badly missed now. In the last 25 years, the now generation has not seen me put a needle on a record, they don't even know what that is, so why don't I show them what that is? Why don't I show them that this record by, say, the Beastie Boys, was made as a record. It wasn't a file, you didn't get to download it and play it, it came out on an album, and that's what made the Beastie Boys. And of course, people don't know that I played hip hop, I played jazz, I played funk and soul, I played swingbeat - so me putting old records on is letting you know, I had to come from somewhere 35, 40 years ago, from the music of then, to be where I am now. People might know samples of these songs in records now, but I'm playing the actual thing, on the plastic that's all crispy, with fingerprints and beer and all sorts of things all over it - but even just the crackle and noises of that is endearing. And despite that, they still play: 40 years old, and played hundreds of times, they still play.”

Carl Cox's memoir Oh Yes, Oh Yes! is out now via Orion. To begin reading his Baker's Dozen, click the picture on him below.