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Interview

Carl Cox on catering to the American market: “It’s my way or the highway.”

By Dan Carter
Carl Cox

At 50 years of age, Carl Cox remains a techno provocateur on all counts. From scaling the globe’s biggest festivals and the UK charts over the years, he’s had an iconic reign over dance music, one which began by fueling London’s rave culture decades ago. Since then, he’s racked up four albums, countless singles, and even more nights behind the decks—all with that unmistakeably winning smile. With no plans to retire and a strong second wind behind his Intec imprint, Cox’s sense of preservation is not only one for the history books, but an inherently relevant case study in keeping your cool in the face of universal adoration.

Back on track for 2013 with fresh Ibiza plans and the return of his Pure Intec compilation series, Cox pulled up a chair with Beatport News in London to talk bringing Intec back from the dead, his consistent run on the White Isle, and taking America on his own terms.

The road to tonight’s launch for Pure Intec 2 hasn’t exactly been a quiet one. How are you feeling about the way things have panned out so far? 

What has overwhelmed me about 2013 is the extent of these amazing parties I am playing at across the globe. I played Greece for the first time the other week and it really hit home the worldwide basis we have in this industry now—it is unbelievable. Ultra Music Festival was incredible, as to be expected. That was the first time we have seen it employ a two-week sell-out spree, and the satisfaction of playing it was intense. Generally, I love the energy and the quality of music emerging at the moment and am thrilled to see Intec making such great leaps and bounds at the same time.

Last month marked the return of Pure Intec, this time including label head and British peer Jon Rundell. What drove you to bring the compilation back after such a long gap?

Over the years we have found that we have so much quality new material coming to us that we simply don’t have time to formally release it all. This was the perfect opportunity for us to showcase diverse and deserving talent that we may have otherwise not been able to cater to. From my perspective, it is a great way to steer what is to come from us in terms of sound and talent scope. I am no stranger to the format and there was a huge amount of remixes off the back of my All Roads Lead to the Dance Floor album, so this time it felt like a simple statement for us: Here are two discs of music mixed by the guys behind Intec. Jon’s CD was about new acts and the diversity he brings on the dancefloor, whilst mine catered to those incredible interpretations people had made of my album material. Some people will complain about the format, but I love how the vibe of us as DJs comes together through this body of work. Fans wanted something as a collection and it was good to utilize the talent and technology available to give it to them.

Likewise, a lot of fans were relieved to see you bring Intec back from the dead back in 2010. To what do we owe the second wind?

To be honest, we bought Intec back for the fans. All the music I was playing in my sets consisted of Intec demos, some of which were just phenomenal. It was criminal not to do something with them. One day I turned to Jon and said, “Why aren’t we signing this stuff?!” The harsh reality there is [that there's] no real money in it—most labels these days are a labor of love. It does however offer a great musical spotlight and we have had a great time of it back in the swing of things.

Your presence on the US circuit seems to have grown vast, yet without any signs of compromise. Has catering to that market been as seamless as you make it look?

The US emphasis seems to have been about making dance music a commercial entity. They deal success in numbers, big festivals, and strong branding, but they sometimes miss the element of quality. The American market is reduced to this umbrella term of “EDM,” whereas Europe has this huge name for underground quality and so much of it. Most importantly, people still want to hear it. For the majority of the US events I cater to, I bring my own arena, which allows me to control the sound and attitude whilst driving through my side of the coin. People love how we work the rooms and it is a very positive niche for me—if you want me, you have to have my very talented friends also. It’s my way or the highway, but the concept is working incredibly well as a result of that.

Away from the festival circuit, Ibiza has remained a home from home for you for more than two decades. Given that you seem to have been one of the few DJs not to make a radical change to your White Isle get-up, how do you feel as we approach the summer clubbing season?

If you look at what is happening at places like Bomba and Sankeys this season, the diversity is huge this year; there is definitely an overarching underground stamina to the place. To me, it is as vibrant as ever. Space is one of those places holding the fort, and I personally feel attached to the DNA of its success. I have been going to Ibiza since 1985 and first started playing in 1991. Between then and 2001 I hopped between various different clubs, but never found myself until Space. At that point there wasn’t a night-time element to balance; it was the place to go on a Sunday for day-clubbing. When they invested in the night-clubbing, it had to be something completely new. To an extent, a lot of us put our balls on the line with the Tuesday residencies, but we have never looked back. I am honored and proud that it is still this huge entity on the island. As time has passed, it has become paramount for us to run our night as incredibly as possible to match their fantastic team. Ibiza looks sure to prevail with guys like that still active.

Between taking techno to the charts and keeping your cool past the age of 50, what has been the most challenging aspect of your career to date?

The sheer longevity of my career has always been a challenge. In ’91, I became one of the first techno DJs to enter the top 40 with “I Want You (Forever).” As we are all now well aware, hitting the pop market invariably has its rise and fall. But here we are in 2013. I am still as popular as I have ever been and there is a sense of maintenance in the whole thing. It is hard work balancing the music, media, and normal life, but to date it keeps on working. Every party is still treated like the first, whatever the scenario. Some people say I make it look easy. It definitely isn’t. But that being said, here I am still loving it and feeling good about everything. There is no retirement in sight just yet.

Are their any overarching career landmarks or achievements remaining for you, or is maintenance and preservation of Intec and yourself the key focus from here onwards?

If I am honest, no, there is nothing left in terms of definitive highlights. Obviously, I would love to see Intec run entirely on its own steam and become its own unique entity. With the current potential of its DJs, music, and for branded tours being as it is, for me it is just lovely to see both aspects of the label working alongside my own career. I am confident that sooner or later it will not need a figurehead to spotlight the sheer quality of the music. The dream is a powerhouse led by new DJs and cutting-edge music.


**Check out five essential Carl Cox tracks here.