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Bunk Soul Brother?

Fatboy Slim's Hip Problem

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Timothy Saccenti
FATBOY SLIM Speeding straight to the middle.
Fatboy Slim
w/Donald Glaude, Ryle
Tues Dec 7, Premiere, $24 adv., 18+.

You don't take Fatboy Slim seriously. Neither, for that matter, does Norman Cook, the man behind the Hawaiian-shirt-sportin', vodka-swillin', goofy-dancin' DJ/producer who's married to British TV personality Zoe Ball, employs a personal assistant in his own residence, and owns a house in which nice-sized raves could take place.

For reasons not totally unjustified, Fatboy Slim has become a whipping boy among electronic-music connoisseurs. To these folks, the Brighton, England, native represents all that's crass and cartoonish about electronica. Many consider him the Limey Moby because loads of Cook's tracks have appeared in movies, television sports shows, video games, and adverts. And the irresistibly kooky surf-rock/Big Beat anthem "The Rockafeller Skank" became so pervasive in the late '90s, even frat boys embraced it. That's beyond the pale!

Before he became an oft-ridiculed figure among e-music snobs, Cook played bass for the peppy jangle rockers the Housemartins from 1985-88, did early-'90s stints in Beats International and Freak Power, and released solo joints as Pizzaman in the mid '90s. Beats International's Let Them Eat Bingo (1990) foreshadowed Fatboy's obsession with sampladelia engineered for maximum excitement. It's an approach Cook still uses on the new Palookaville--his weakest album yet, although it possesses a few gems, especially the torrid cover of Babatunde Olatunji's "Jin Go Lo Ba."

At the risk of blowing my cred, I'll say that Cook's made a lot of exciting music that's held up well despite allegedly being ephemeral dance fodder. Fatboy Slim's 1996 debut, Better Living Through Chemistry, still sounds vital today. Chemistry stands as a landmark of Big Beat, a short-lived genre (ca. 1996-98) that fused supercharged rock energy with well-endowed funk beats.

Fatboy's breakthrough album in America, 1998's You've Come a Long Way, Baby, slipped tons of bizarre sounds onto mainstream media outlets under the guise of innocuous party tunes. Say what you will about his blatant hooks, Cook knows how to tweak the hell out of a 303 and his reputed heroic ingestion of psychedelics has seeped into his recordings. That's subversive.

Despite being four albums into his Fatboy Slim career, Cook has only played live once: He and rapper Lateef recently ran through a punked-up "Wonderful Night" on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Instead, the Fatboy live experience involves him getting sloshed and spinning records to help you lose it.

"Your job as a DJ is to get hips moving and smiles on faces," Cook says with fundamentalist certainty. "And if you're lucky, arms in the air. I'm not trying to change the world or teach anyone anything. It's all about a party."

Unlike many jocks, Cook doesn't prepare much for a gig. "I think really hard about the beginning and then the rest is up to the crowd," he says. "I try to gauge the crowd. How I start often depends on the DJ before me. If he's bangin' it, I'll take it right down and build it back up again. If the DJ before is being mellow, I'll go in there and bang. I always plan the first three records and I have a look at the crowd and sniff the air. But beyond that, I just make it up."

So what's Cook cooking up for this tour? "Twisted house--four on the floor, driving it, rather than breakbeat and changing tempos. At the moment it's pretty much [imitates metronomic kick-drum sound] all night, but certainly not straight up. I'm messing around with the genre."

Cook doesn't tailor his sets to particular cities, but he does so for different countries. "Americans tend to like it harder, more underground, and trippy," he notes. "Camp doesn't really work in America, but the Japanese like it really camp. But there are certain records that work in every country."

Speaking of camp, Cook's outre Fatboy persona is how he copes with being in the spotlight. "Sometimes I get upset that I have to have a public persona. But getting onstage is my job. Drinking vodka and dancing about are the only way I can get through it. It's almost like a mask I hide behind. By being schizophrenic, it keeps me sane, if you see what I mean. It's hard to do it night after night sometimes. But I can't moan. This is my job; I volunteered for it. I can get drunk and wave me arms around. I can think of worse ways to earn a living."

segal@thestranger.com

 

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