Who better to close the Sandance season than Fatboy Slim? He’s the man responsible for the biggest beach concert in history – 250,000 people turned up for his legendary Big Beach Boutique II at Brighton beach in the UK in 2002 – and his bombastic sound worked just the trick to see the season off in style at Sandance in May 2012. Here we present a classic interview which was conducted ahead of that gig - his first return to the emirate following a short, lacklustre and rather shambolic set in the midst of a sandstorm at Barasti in February 2009.
Back then, it was little surprise to fans when the man otherwise known as Norman Cook checked into rehab just three weeks later.
‘I don’t remember much about that one,’ admits the 48-year-old of his Dubai gig, with far more humility than you’d expect from a man who’s sold around eight million records. ‘That was the last show before rehab, so it’s legendary for that, if nothing else. If anybody was disappointed by the last show in Dubai, I apologise. I’m coming back to make up for it – and I promise this time I’ll remember.’
The Barasti set was the final footnote in the long arc of the superstar DJ’s self-destructive story. Originally reaching the airwaves in the mid-’80s as a member of northern English rock band The Housemartins, Cook achieved his first solo hit in 1989, going on to form seminal electronic groups Beats International and Freak Power before creating the moniker that would make him a superstar.
As Fatboy Slim, Cook’s career rocketed. Following well-received 1996 debut album Better Living Through Chemistry, the follow-up, You’ve Come a Long Way Baby, exploded in 1998 off the back of hit singles ‘The Rockafeller Skank’, ‘Gangster Trippin’, ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and UK number one ‘Praise You’. The record went three times platinum and, alongside The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, pioneered the ‘big beat’ genre, which pushed dance music into the mainstream – its propagators treated like rock stars and living the high life to match. Add Cook’s high-profile marriage to UK TV presenter Zoë Ball and a gregarious public persona based on ‘dodgy Hawaiian shirts and a bottle’, and the creation of Fatboy Slim as a hedonistic superstar was complete.
‘At the end of the day I wasn’t that comfortable,’ he admits. ‘Me and Zoë became tabloid fodder; they called us the “Posh and Becks of the chemical generation”. It was a laugh to knock Robbie Williams off number one, but in the end my life suffered.’
Today it’s a very different story. Cook has not had a drink for three years, instead relying on two cans of Red Bull and a pre-stage slap round the face from his tour manager to spark the nightly transformation from Norman Cook to Fatboy Slim. His health is in fine form; in 2010 he completed the Brighton marathon in the UK in just under five hours, ‘to prove, after all those years of self abuse, that I could still function as a human being.’ In the studio, he’s working with former Sandance headliners Rizzle Kicks, while gearing up for another career peak this June hosting the Big Beach Boutique 5, at the grounds of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club (of which he is a 12 percent shareholder). On the personal front, he and Ball celebrated the birth of their second child in early 2010.
‘As soon as we quit drinking, Zoë got pregnant,’ says Cook. ‘We’re really happy with ourselves, our families and our careers. When we met we were at the pinnacle of our careers and, like a rollercoaster, you can’t get off. I’m not evangelical. Me and Zoë had plenty of fun: partying was good, then it was time to stop. I have absolutely no regrets – we went to the summit of the mountain and left no stone unturned. We did everything we could. It was fun when it was fun and when it wasn’t fun, we stopped.’
Fatboy Slim’s Sandance set is scheduled to start at midnight.