Advice From Carl Cox to Wannabe DJs

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Like a 1968 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet, Carl Cox (who’s a huge car fan by the way) has been a roaring, undying engine for electronic music since he began. And after celebrating his ten-year anniversary at electronic mega-festival Ultra in Miami and over 20 years of making music, he is undoubtedly a classic among fans and industry peers alike.

But, like all timeless vehicles, the road to the finish line has its bumps and sharp turns, which Carl recalls when electronic music was first being introduced to America. “We were really pushing the treadmill of trying to get the music around. And some places really got it, and some places, like Birmingham, Alabama- I have no idea what we were doing there,” Cox said laughingly. “Some people viewed us as devils on tour.”

Just like the classic 1984 film Footloose, Carl and other house DJs around the country insisted that when you tell young people they can’t do something, they’re going to do it. “It won’t be big. It won’t happen,” Carl remembers overhearing, “But when you start saying this to the young generation, the first thing they want to do is find out more about this music and support it.” He continued, “If you do live in Birmingham, Alabama- there may be two or three or four people that will be like ‘OK, we want to go to Ibiza’. And they’ll go to Ibiza and hear everything and want this in America and come back and maybe set up a little party for themselves. They’ll then meet up with other people, be it in New York or San Fran, who feel the same.”

The 428 Cobra Jet can do a quarter-mile zip of 13.56 seconds at a speed of over 106 mph. I’m not a car expert, but that’s definitely faster than my Corolla. And just like that- formula after formula- the model now known as EDM- A super-charged, high horse power monster eating up young ravers everywhere- is now at its commercial peak selling point. But Carl claims, “What’s happened here is you have a generation of people who have come in so hard to hear a certain genre of music by the masses. So those DJs, who we all know and love, we know who they are. But when people come to see those acts time and time again they’ll start to want more out of the music. They’ll find Loco Dice, they’ll find Marco Carola…we’ll still be doing what we’re doing because we love it and we’ve been doing it for years.”

Similar to the motor industry, electronic dance music is, for the most part, intended for those who want thrill and excitement. So, how do you maintain that top speed without burning out before the race is over? Carl believes, “Anything that’s commercially successful already has a shelf life. It’s impossible to sustain it any longer unless you’re playing the exact same record week in, week out which can get boring…we see people making money and it’s all happening but it will get to a point where it will come down and all balance out based on that the music keeps evolving, DJs will create another diversion in sound, it will happen.”

Mainstream or not, Carl insists the overwhelming response in America has helped break “artists with more substance.” He adds, “I’m kind of glad this is happening and we don’t have a bunch of people listening to Taylor Swift the whole time.”

And so are we.

With mass popularity comes mass involvement. Like the influx of wannabe DJs running after a train that left the station an hour ago. Carl advises: “Right now, if you want to become a DJ, unless you set yourself on fire, you’re not going to get noticed that much. But please don’t do that.”

Observing his interaction with everybody he came in contact with – media, friends, festival staff, DJs – it’s remarkable how unaffected Carl is by his stature, especially in a time where DJs are allowing their jet-setting, mainstream fandom to put a blindfold over what electronic music is truly about. But that’s why we love the huggable 51-year-old because it’s always been about the passion, not the gimmick. He’s our candy apple red, 428 Cobra Jet, and we love to observe from the passenger seat as he speeds in a lane all his own.

Final destination? Carl says, “I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you that.”

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