Fatboy Slim 'Very, Very Pleasantly Surprised' By Malta’s Ravers
Superstar DJ opens up about Palestine and Banksy
“Is it my third time in Malta?” laughs Fatboy Slim, as he struggles to remember the specifics of his 2012 open-air show at Numero Uno.
“Man, I can’t really remember my second time that well! The thing is, I’ve been doing this for about 35 years now. You tend to only remember the really good ones, and the really bad ones.”
The air was thick, sweaty and unforgiving outside of Café del Mar’s green room, where Lovin Malta sat down with the 53-year-old DJ, whose real name is Norman Cook. The oppressive air was partly due to Malta’s latest heatwave that struck the final weekend of July, but also from the collective cloud of body heat emanating from the patio. That's where a crowd of ravers were warming up for G7 and Knockout Events’ biggest Sunday Special event of the summer - and they had just enjoyed a set from Fatboy Slim's surprising opening act, 13-year-old Italian EDM prodigy Federico Gardenghi.
What was your first performance like in Malta?
I remember being quite shocked the first time I played in Malta because of the sheer size of the crowd. Normally, the first time you play in a new country, you play a club. And then if it goes well, you play somewhere bigger. Here, we went straight into a big arena, and Malta’s quite a small island, so I thought ‘Am I gonna fill this?’ And I did. I filled it. So I remember being like okay, there are definitely enough people in Malta who really want to rave. Yeah, I was very pleasantly surprised!
I mean, in some countries you go to, raving is just not in their culture. Like in India, or China - you end up only playing to expats. You don’t play to the locals. So when you go to countries you’ve never been before, sometimes you don’t know what to expect. But I was always very, very pleasantly surprised by the crowd in Malta!
In order to keep his schedule fresh and interesting, Fatboy Slim agrees to gigs based on a carefully crafted method of criteria that he calls “The Five F’s” (Favour for a friend, Fun, Finance, Food, or a First). If three-out-of-five “F’s” are ticked – the gig is a Go.
Was Maltese food an 'F' that lured you back to the island by any chance?
Unfortunately there wasn’t an ‘F’ for food this time, no… To be honest, I’ve never really had a chance to properly eat here in Malta. We played Tomorrowland last night in Belgium and then I had about 3-hours sleep, got here at around 1pm, and just went straight to bed. I had a little bit of room-service, because I don’t like to eat a big meal just before a show, and that’s about it. So a lot of the time, I don’t have a chance to eat properly, or sleep properly for that matter. It’s when I have a day off that I can enjoy a nice lunch. That’s when that ‘F’ kicks in!
Another ‘F’ of yours landed you in a bit of hot-water recently. This year you had a fairly controversial ‘First’, playing in Tel Aviv despite the immense pressure put on artists to partake in a cultural boycott of the nation of Israel. Do you feel that the core principles of Rave culture, or PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect) supersedes politics?
Ah, that was precisely what I thought! And it was mentioned to me when I agreed to do that gig, they said, y’know, there’s a small faction of people who don’t want you to do this… What I thought, and what I said was: ‘Our music unites people. And all of these divisions of politics and religion – music transcends them. I remember the first time I played in Northern Ireland, it was during the Troubles, and we were talking to the kids there, asking, ‘alright, so are we getting a Catholic, or a Protestant crowd here?’ And the kids there said, ‘Look, with music – everything’s forgotten. Religion is forgotten. We’re just here to have a good time. The music unites us.’ It tends to be the older generations who want to keep fighting. So, I was thinking that it would be a bit like that in Israel. Anyway, I was supposed to play for both sides. I was meant to play in Palestine for Banksy, but then everything went… very strange…
Banksy recently opened his own hotel in Bethlehem - on the Palestinian side of the division wall – which he ironically dubbed “The Walled-Off Hotel”. It hosts original artwork, as well as primo views of the concrete division wall-turned ever-expanding Political street-art canvas. It’s been appropriately named ‘the hotel with the worst view in the world’.
Fatboy Slim was slotted to headline The Walled-Off Hotel’s opening street-party the same week as his appearance in Israel, as a symbolic gesture of Peace, Love, Unity, Respect – and the unifying power of music. However, the very people working against such efforts had other plans.
"When the people who didn’t want me to play in Tel Aviv found out I was playing in Palestine – they REALLY didn’t want me to play in Palestine. Like... REALLY didn’t want me to play in Palestine."
He gestures putting a gun to his head.
Oh, wow… So the pressure to skip your Banksy gig came from the Palestinian side?
Yeah…well, pressure. Like – proper pressure. Proper, proper threats. So, I didn’t end up getting to play for Banksy in Palestine.
Understandably so. You and Banksy are still on good terms though, right?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! Of course – we both agreed. Y'know, [politically] he’s there, and there are certain people that he didn’t want to upset, and I didn’t want to upset. I was quite taken aback by how politics and religion still get in the way of things, when all we’re trying to do is unite people with music. Maybe I’m naïve, but I tried. And I suppose we sort of half succeeded by playing Tel Aviv, but still, we didn’t get to play Palestine. We didn’t get to fully say, ‘Look, this is nothing to do with politics or religion.’ And in the end, it – well – it basically was.
What was that pressure like?
I recently did a half-marathon and I basically got ambushed by people trying to stop me from completing it. People were shouting at me with megaphones, and trying to ruin the whole race… But, y’know, I suppose they’re entitled to their beliefs…
It’s like this - I went to Jerusalem, right? And I saw Christians, and Jews, and Muslims all praying side-by-side. There were no police, no soldiers – that was all just about faith. But this is all about politics, and power, and feuds – horrible stuff.
I suppose I naively thought that we could just rave on through this all (laughs, cautiously). But yeah... bit more complicated.
You made it as a DJ during the pre-internet days, and flourished throughout its standardization. The Internet has been a bit of a double-edged sword for the music industry; both helping up-and-coming artists with exposure, while simultaneously hindering established artists’ record sales. As a veteran and ambassador to the EDM scene whose seen it all: is it more helpful, or harmful?
I think on the whole it’s helped. It’s definitely hugely helped Dance Music. When I first got into Dance Music, it was very, very small. It was an underground thing. A sort-of cliquey thing. Our music was never played on the radio, and it was never played anywhere outside of a nightclub. So, you had to go to a nightclub to get off on that music.
Now with YouTube, you’ve got people tuning in from all ages. Back then, you never heard that music until you were 18, or in America – until you were 21! Now just tonight, I met a DJ [Federico Gardenghi] who started when he was only 9!
The Internet’s really opened everything up. But as you said, it definitely is a double-edged sword. There are good things about it, and bad things. At times I struggle to keep up. There’s just so much information. ‘Tweet this. Post that!” I haven’t got time to tweet. I’m too busy living my life!"
I would probably have a bigger following if I promoted more on Facebook or Twitter – but a lot of people who do that, their life becomes one big blog. I like to keep my private life, private. I mean, I just like keeping my private life off-the Internet. But don’t get me wrong - I don’t mind going out and doing what I do there…
He gestures towards the thunderous crowd somewhere behind Café del Mar’s north green-room wall - now relentlessly chanting the riff to “Seven Nation Army” – a crowd ritual that now traverses every live-gig genre.
Final question for you Norman, your fans are calling! Your single, “Where U Iz” is a brilliant return to the classic Fatboy Slim sound. Are you planning on sharing any more new tunes with us in the near future?
Well, I’m kind of in a bit of a cagey period, having split up with my wife… But I’ve got that thirst back to make records again!
When I started in this industry, you made records and sold records – and that was your main thing. Doing gigs, and DJing was your hobby. That was how you sold your records. Now it’s the other way around. Now, this is the bit that pays the rent, and making records doesn’t really bring in much of an income anymore.
Hmm, which do you prefer?
I prefer doing this, luckily. If it was the other way ‘round, I’d be in trouble! Tomorrow I turn 54 and I’m aware I can’t do this forever. And during times when your personal life is at a bit of a crisis, it’s even better to get out and let off steam. That’s always been my role – facilitating other people’s need to let off steam. And now I’m the one who needs to let off steam!
Well you’ve definitely helped your fans smile and dance through their respective worries - and we can all thank you for that. And Happy Birthday!
Ah, thanks. Thank you. I think I’ll give up on the politics for now! I’m all about escapism, and hedonism, and the power of collective euphoria. I like helping people switch off from the real world for a few hours!