Where is the living epicenter of house music? Is it Ibiza’s white shores, New York’s underground? Or is it Carl Cox‘s triple-car garage in Melbourne, Australia, where two vehicles and more than 150,000 pieces of era-spanning, genre-defining, game-changing vinyl reside?
“I can walk in there now, grab a pile of records, pull them out, play them and go ‘my god, I forgot that one,’ or, ‘Jesus, that was really futuristic,’” he says. “I can’t remember all the records that I’ve bought. There’s a lot of promos I’ve gotten sent over the years as well, but there’s a library of music that I have that’s extensive beyond belief.”
The 54-year-old is not just a DJ. He’s an institution, an integral part of the house and techno electronic music story ever since he made himself a vibrant part of the UK DJ scene and pioneer of the three-deck mixing technique in the 1980s. He founded his label Intec Records in 1999, hosts and programs a handful of annual specialty stages at Ultra, BPM, and Awakening festivals, and most markedly in 2001, signed away every Monday through Wednesday of every summer for the next 15 years of his life when he agreed to a Tuesday night residency at then-two-year-old nightclub Space in Ibiza.
“If I said to you, I’m gonna start a club in Ibiza on a Tuesday night, and I’m gonna be there for (15) years,’ you’re gonna tell me, ‘get real. There’s no way you could repeat that in any way shape or form, it’s not possible’ – but that’s what happened,” Cox says, real astonishment in his voice. “I’ve never been involved in anything so deeply as I have been with the residency at Space. I had a created that night from nothing. I didn’t walk into anyone’s shoes and continue their ethos of the night that they’d created. It was something that started out with a pattern of nothing and turned into something substantial for everyone to enjoy.”
The “Music is Revolution” summer series has been a legendary staple on the island where literal generations of groovers have lost and found themselves in the rhythms, legends have been created, and icons reborn at Cox’s friendly invitation. As fashions faded and sounds morphed, it was the constant challenge and ever-shining jewel in Cox’s life, but it all came to a bittersweet end on Sept. 20, 2016.
“There was a lot of tears, a lot of emotions, and there was non-belief,” Cox says. “No one got shot or stabbed or all these kind of things that get sensationalized in clubs as the reason why they finish. This just happened, and everyone is so shocked about it, they still don’t believe it now. They still think, next year, I’m going to be back with a new club or somewhere else on the island, but it’s over. It’s done.”
This is the way the era ends, not with a violent bang but with a shrug. Space Ibiza’s lease ran out, and rather than keep the property, its 80-year-old owner Pepe Rosello sold the place to the big money players of the Ushuaia group. The old guard is tired, and deservedly so, and as new hands grasp the golden keys, Cox is comfortable to clean up after himself and see that the door closes on his way out.
“There are other nights on the island, absolutely, and some other nights on the island are equally as good, but Space stood for something,” he says. “I can walk away knowing I played the very best of what I could deliver to that island, and now, I’m not able to do it on a regular basis anymore. I will go back to the island, do some pop-up parties, might play Amnesia or DC10, but that’s it really. I think I’ve given a lot of my time and myself to the island over the many years.”
He gave more than just himself in that final performance, but rather a time-traveling master-class in the best dance music ever had to offer. In his total 10 hours behind the decks, the first six were performed entirely from his personal stash of vinyl.
“(It was great) putting the needle on the record and knowing that needle and that vinyl is rocking the house; to show people, after all these years, I can still do this, because that’s what I did to begin with,” he says, his voice rising in speed and excitement. “’Do these two records mix? Yeah they do, wow. Okay.’ You made a mental note of that, and then sometimes you play your set and you say, ‘I wanna play those two records again like you did last week,’ but you can’t find the other record you mixed. It’s in the abyss of the record box somewhere, so you’ve got to find something else to mix into, and you say, ‘woo, that works.’ Then you find the one you should have mixed in the first place in the back of the record box somewhere in another cover. That was all fun, on the edge of your seat stuff, and I got to do that at Space for the last time.”
Cox has had a few months now to get used to post-Space retirement. It begs the question, what is he going to do with all this extra time?
“Motorsport racing,” he says. “I love riding motorbikes myself. I love driving old-school classic muscle cars, and that stuck with me. I’m a true petrol-head basically, and people don’t know that, but here I am. I’ve been into cars and motorsports since I was 2 years old I think, and now, I’m able to exercise it. It’s what I enjoy to do.”
He’s not like most middle-aged men who content themselves with the purchase of a lavish, shiny sports car or two or even 20. Cox takes his obsession one step further and sponsors a squad of F1 and F2 sidecar racing teams. They’re doing quite well, actually. The music legend supports the up-and-comers who push the boundaries on the sport and vie for championships around the globe, with his own four-round New Zealand endeavor known as The Carl Cox Motorsports Hoisin Cup.
“It’s quite a mouthful, but here we go,” he laughs. “I’m backing my unsung heroes at the moment, getting involved in the next generation of riders.”
Not that his petrol-fueled passions will soon take away from his role as musical mentor. He just recently released the compilation Pure Intec 3, a showcase of all the futuristic sounds and artists his label will push in the year to come, his own excitable way to preview the world on the cool stuff he and his Intec crew are cooking.
“It’s kind of hard to hold back,” he says. “What I like to do is release a track, and at least give that track the time to breathe … I don’t want to try releasing tracks week by week. So much music is being thrown away, nothing is getting an opportunity to nurture. The idea of Intec 3 was that ‘Im going ‘right, here’s all the music that’s going to be coming out in the future. Boom, and I’m gonna mix it in a way as if I was going to play all these records in a club.”
When he’s not busy crafting the next generation of music makers or motocross competitors, or simply reminiscing the good old days with a private trip through his historical vinyl, you might just find Cox’s hulking frame and beaming smile somewhere on the edges of a smokey dance floor, in a crowded club, and quite possibly in a tutu in the dusty wind of Burning Man.
“Not a lot of people know I do Burning Man either, but I’m looking to come back next year” he says. “I really want people to see what we can achieve when we put our minds together.”