Friday, November 2, 2007
Meeting with Carl Cox
For Halloween night Carl Cox came to Opera (ATL club). Those of you that know anything about electronic music will know the name, for those who don't know he is a bit of a legend and, at 45 years old, has been a stable fixture on the world scene. Dave Williams, the promoter and an investor in Opera invited me to dinner with Carl, I couldn't pass it up.
Dave introduced me as a blogger and the first thing that struck me about the conversation was that Carl was answering the question as if it was a press interview. It didn't bother me at all, au contraire, I could ask almost anything. Warren, a local promoter, mentioned "you will get a million hits on Marc's blog", I thought to myself "more like a couple thousands" but hey! behold the awesome power of the iblogger!
Conversation started with the business of music. Carl gets his music through contacts, still like in the old days. He mentioned he had 200 CDs in his suitcase that he had "no idea what is on them". That CD of "acid michael" I had burned for him started feeling very heavy in my pocket and I never worked the courage to give him CD number 201...
Carl mentioned that he had built a bit of an empire in terms of DJ bookings, labels, production etc but that he had divested himself completely from the business. "I have sold everything in order to focus on the music". I related to the way Carl described how he became swamped in "running" the business and how he felt himself loosing contact with what he really liked in the business in the first place: the music and the crowd.
The whole time we talked, Carl was chowing down the Thai food we had ordered. Carl is a big man, with a big appetite. By the end, Carl was sweating profusely and I was hoping the food wasn't indisposing him.
We talked a lot about the state of the tools. Conversation naturally evolved to Ableton Live. Carl uses CD decks, a mackie controller and Ableton's "Live" software. "The world's best software 3rd deck" seemed like a fit for "3 deck man". However, Carl initially dismissed the tools as "killing the business". He seemed ill at ease with the evolution of DJ"ing with "Live": he claimed he was concerned that staring into your computer would destroy the show that is DJ'ing. And he puts on quite a show. In fact it was my experience that his show was both Live intensive and quite entertaining (see below).
When I had asked him about the warping, he mentioned that Ableton's default warping was basically useless for him and that he scrubbed his tracks himself. He should use an intern for that, but really the bottom line here is that Ableton should really go out and buy a serious DSP engine that can do beats well. I don't know, they should buy "virtual DJ" whose beat matching engine is flawless, other people have solved that problem and it still sucks in Live.
We talked about longevity in the business. After all Carl is 45 and I was curious to hear what one had to go through to stay on top. He first told me in his thick british accent "you know I have been DJ'ing for 30 years," Then he mentioned that it cost him his marriage. Basically he said he kept reinventing himself but as he said "I have an unwavering belief that my sound is the best in the world, always". I was impressed by the forcefulness of his convinction. He said "I am totally pleased with the way I sound for the past 6 month for example". Since I never really liked any of his moonshine compilations, a odd datapoint I kept to myself, I was curious to hear that new sound, in a club setting. There is something to be said for the contagious nature of professional enthusiasm.
We briefly talked about Above and Beyond and he said "everyone wants to be them now, a successful label and a successful act", I asked whether he thought they could keep that going, he said "no", he mentioned "they will need to reinvent themselves soon". This coming from a man who has stayed on top of the wave for 20 years sounded both like fatherly advice and had a hint of professional rivalry to it. I am sure our two friends will rise up to the challenge.
As dinner was winding down, and we were getting ready to go to the club. I couldn't resist and on the way out asked the question that had been burning my lips all night.
"Carl, how long do YOU think you can keep this going." He laughed and said "look at the rolling stones, they are in their 60's and it is still going". I asked whether he thought we would still go to clubs when we were 60 and he said "absolutely". We laughed, a bit nervously on my part. I am un-easy at 40, I can't imagine 60.
Opera and the club
We finally made it to the club at around 11:30, the club was packed. This was Halloween night and ATL had come out in full swing for Carl Cox. The promoters, Dave his wife and Warren were truly happy about their success and it was something to see actually. This was a wednesday night and the club was at full capacity, sweaty walls. This was going to be a good night. Knowing what Dave and crew had to go through to put the night together I was truly happy for them and they deserved every minute of their success.
Carl played a great set, he reconciled me with his heavy beats sections. He is very much into drums, to a point that actually disconnects me in CD sets. Tonight however, in the setting of a club, the heavy drums took their dimension and frankly were the most enjoyable segments of the set. I really got into the alien sounding drum patterns. A remix of the classic "house nation" seems to be making the rounds and was truly nice. I was amused to hear the same track in the back room later on where a local ATL DJ was spinning, so much for the exclusive access, I thought. As usual as I started getting into the music a guy came to me asking me if I had coke or X to sell, "anything really". As a famous DJ from Detroit, Kevin Saunderson put it, kids and DJs nowadays, they take pills to feel the funk, me? I was born feeling the funk... I don't need pills.
The sound was definitely "trance". Trance is the only sound I hear in ATL these days. However this being Carl he had put Trance in a Techno beat body. So I could disconnect on the long pauses so characteristic of Trance, and reconnect when the melody became underpinned by techno beats.
Carl didn't use Ableton at all until the end of the night. By the end of the night (around 3AM) he really started using the Ableton software. At that point he really was pulling his magic. The sound was really good. I noticed he was using the session view of Ableton and grouping tracks by color (see picture) so he could see at once what went together. In the picture you can see the grouping he used. I understood why he was intrigued when I mentioned I wanted to have a touch enabled imac screen, and yes that is Carl's thumb in the picture and I photoshop'ed myself out of it, it would be a complete natural for the way the man uses Ableton.
I didn't end up in the best of shapes, something about a Vodka bottle I ordered for our table. I am getting old and the out of place feeling is a constant splinter in my mind although I thoroughly enjoyed the night. All in all, seeing a passionate pro in action was an inspiring thing.
PS: in reading the news today it seems 3 people were shot to death at Carl Cox's concert last Saturday, creepy