Live & Direct is a series in which we explore the relationship between DJs, the clubs they play at and the crowds that become immersed in their sets. Next up, Carl Cox and his residency at Space Ibiza
Some say he's the King of Ibiza, others reckon his weekly party at Space is the definitive White Isle clubbing experience. He's as renowned among the punters lining the streets of Playa d'en Bossa as the industry heads who run things behind the scenes – it's pretty much gospel that Carl Cox is a force in the purest sense.
His residency at Space has been running for 13 years and the Tuesday night party, named Music Is Revolution, is one of the highlights of Ibiza's summer calendar. In his own words, it features the old and the new, the likes of Danny Tenaglia, Masters At Work and MK billed alongside The Martinez Brothers, Hot Since 82 and Mano Le Tough. He also makes no bones about what the event is all about. Good music for good times while on holiday in the sun, a vibe he quickly came to love (and then embody) after visiting the island for the first time in the late 80s.
Back then he arrived and spent his first nights sleeping in a clapped-out Fiat Panda. Now, he's got his own uber villa that acts as HQ for Music Is Revolution. A lot has changed over the seasons, but Coxy's commitment to house music and club culture remains at a peak.
On Tuesday June 24, his residency opened for the summer. Carl Cox celebrated by playing a 10-hour set, the last two hours of which he's given exclusively to Mixmag. Here, we find out how he chooses his music week in, week out, how he handles such mammoth sets, the ethos behind Music Is Revolution, what it takes to make it on the White Isle and, of course, the state of Ibiza in 2014. Plus we pop the question: After 13 years, how much longer has he got left at Space?
Read our interview and hear the exclusive live recording from the night below.
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It’s Tuesday morning and you’re in the kitchen of your villa listening to music on your computer ahead of your gig at Space tonight; is this how you normally put together tunes for your set at the club?
Yeah, it is. The amount of records that I get sent to play every week is immense. And I’ve got to go in [to those records] because there’ll be a couple of gems that I want to play tonight. I like to be in front of the game, so I’m checking out as much music as I possibly can before I go to the club, so I know that I’m armed and extremely dangerous.
The thing is that now, my sets are being recorded on smart phones and online. The tracklists are going out, people are seeing them every week. They don’t want to see the same records being played week in, week out. But the difficult part about it is that the people who come to the club change every week. So even if I did play the same records, it wouldn’t be to the same audience. I don’t want to go too far and change because there are people in there who haven’t heard the set from last week. Or, if they’ve found the set from last week online and I change the set drastically, then they’ll want to be hearing those tracks.
There’s so much choice on this island now that I don’t have space to make mistakes in my form or delivery. The stakes are high here, much higher than anywhere else. I can’t go through Beatport. I’ll get a record from there and I’ll play that and somebody will be like, “I had that three weeks ago!” This is how hard it’s becoming. When I was DJing many moons ago and buying records, you’d only be getting limited amounts of a certain record coming into a record store. If you liked that record but didn’t buy it, you’d have to wait two weeks for another delivery. But you also had time to get that record out there based on the fact that you bought it first – people would be like, “No one else has got that tune, so the next time I want to hear it, I’ll have to go and see Coxy.” Now, if I buy the latest Dixon or Solomun record, everyone’s got that. I have to look beyond and go to all the producers who I like directly and ask them to hold off sending [tracks] to anyone else for a couple of weeks so I have time to get behind those [brand new] records and when they get released, I played them first.
So there’s still that white label or dubplate culture, if you will, where you’re hitting people for masters as soon as they’re done?
Absolutely. Today of all days I always get records sent down to me as soon as they’re finished in the studio. All day it’ll be finished tunes or ideas, people wanting feedback; if a track’s good or well produced, if it sounds great, then I’ll play it.
Is it difficult for you to mix tunes you’ve only heard for the first time earlier in the day?
I’ll get a handle on how a track sounds quite quickly but there’s always a part in a song where there’s a gap or a drop and I’ll miss that, so when I play it live, it’ll go ‘bang, bang bang’ to nothing. Like, ‘Jesus! Who switched the lights off?’
Little intricacies you’re not acquainted with.
That’s right. You’ll only hear them if you play the whole record. But how much time have I got? I’ll go through 80 to 100 tracks in a day, just sifting through records. It does your head in! You have to do it sporadically.
You say the stakes are high in Ibiza. Is that what keeps you engaged with the Space residency after all this time?
You can’t come here with a box of old records and think it’s all good. You want to come here with an idea that you’re pushing things forward and that you keep your head above the parapet based on the music that is available to you. You can’t just download the Beatport Top 10, it’s too easy, anyone can do that.
This is a holiday destination, not Berlin. The idea about being on holiday is that you’ve only got a certain amount of money to spend and if you go to one of these nights [on the island] then you want to have the best night possible. So you don’t want a DJ that’s up his own arse, who’s the only one who thinks his records are great; no, you want someone who’s bringing something to the dancefloor, who’s taken time basing their selection on where you are. If the DJ is good, you’ll leave thinking, “I enjoyed that, I’ll come back next year or, if I can afford it, in three weeks.” That’s the idea, getting people to come back to enjoy what you’re delivering. I know what it’s like to be a punter and my DJing is based on that, knowing what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence. That’s all I’ve ever done – I treat the people like I treat myself.
Why is your party at Space one of the most renowned on the island?
With ours, I’ve kept it real. Our crowd are thinking, ‘I’m on holiday, I want to have a good time, these are the records that pick me up and hopefully I get a shag because Coxy played this record that made me meet this person.’ You’re going out, you’re having a good time, brilliant. Another techno baby is born! This is what it’s like; it should be fun, you should walk away with a smile on your face based on the experience.
Is there anything you miss about the old days?
I do and I don’t. Where it’s at now is a really good place. It’s not for my generation to think it’s in a bad place, it’s what the now generation is doing with it. I’ve always been into what’s happening next. The now generation is in tune with people like Disclosure, there’s still room for me but also the next step of what happens. We had a great time in the early days, the Summer Of Love, and that set the precedent but we’re not in a bad place. I think it’s pretty cool. I can’t be selfish. I had an awesome time, I’m still having an awesome time.
When people talk about Ibiza at the moment, there’s always talk of change. Will it keep its underground edge?
It will have to. Obviously there’s a waft of EDM that’s covered the island and the bigger clubs can handle that sound. Steve Aoki at Pacha has changed the face of the club but it all stemmed from David Guetta in the beginning, he brought all those artists to the forefront.
Ushuaia are bringing all the biggest EDM artists to the island and it can handle 5,000 people. Bringing Avicii over costs money and they have to make money. You have this up-to-the-minute sound that the kids love to jump up and down to but there’s still an underground movement on this island that people feel is pure. It isn’t a fight but there’s a ying and yang to the island in terms of what it can deliver.
How do you go about programming your own party?
We’ve got a really good team who understand my ethos and we always book DJs who can deliver. Whether the new generation or the old-skool who are still relevant today, I like to have a mix of artists so the young and the old can turn up and have a good time.
During the summer you’re playing once a week at Space, so what’s your weekly routine?
Tuesday and Wednesday is completely off because I get down to the club at 1am and won’t leave until gone 9am. I get up late on a Wednesday and have what we call ‘hangover soup’ that we get made here.
Who else is based in your villa?
We always have the DJs turn up here and we utilise it as a social thing. We don’t want them to be thrown into a hotel room on their own, twiddling their thumbs. It’s quite a big place, the DJs can hang out, the swimming pool is great, we do massages even, they can check their records and we can chat! Half the time when we go out, we’re like passing ships in the night. So it’s nice to have a day to reflect – it’s cool, I like the idea of that.
How do you go about structuring a 10-hour set?
I sit there and collate a lot of music that I haven’t played that much and use that in the first part of the set, so I’m excited to play those records. I’m not known for playing downtempo, chunky-funky stuff because when I’m booked for other gigs, they want to hear the ‘Coxy sound’. So it’s interesting and I challenge myself by playing stuff that I wouldn’t normally. I’ll build it up from 118bpm in the first half and then the second half will be 126bpm. It’s a massive journey, basically, to create the mood of the night and it’s nice to hold the tempo back a bit, getting in the groove, a bit of acid house, some classics, throwing it around all the time, having fun with it all the way through. From around 3am I really let loose.
Is it a big deal doing something that long or do you take it in your stride these days?
It is, it’s special. It’s a lot of music. I played over 150 records, that’s a lot of music, a lot of concentration on making sure the dancefloor is at a good place. The idea is to keep the floor moving. The minimum I play at Space is 4 hours. For me, it’s my night, so I have to represent.
With the two hour section we have here, you go in pretty hard. It’s banging until the end. Do you like keeping the energy up until 6am?
It depends. If I was going until 9am, it would dip, because there’s no way you’d keep that energy up that long. But I’m playing at 126bpm and in that is house, techno, classic house, so it still has a journey during the last part of the set. I was pleased with how it went. It’s a shame you don’t hear the first part of the set!
Do you pick certain tracks to suit the room? The tunes in this section are all epic but still very driving.
Like I said, when people come to see me play, the want to walk away with a smile on their face knowing I’ve given them the very best. I’m not scared of playing something that’s accessible or deep and dark, but you’ve got to go with the flow. With that, I’m pleased that when you see a happy dancefloor, your job is done.
What it is with Space, when I [usually] go on at 3am, my job is to push the energy up. That’s what I normally do. It would be unusual for me to play something else at that time; people would look at me and go, ‘Pick it up’. If I give people energy, they’ll give me energy back.
Is it easy to read a room as big as the one you play in at Space?
Not really. You only get to see half of the crowd. The rest, you hope they’re having a good time at the back. That room can consume you, there are a lot of DJs who play there and get intimidated. It’s a big, throbbing room and it has the co2 canons, the lasers, all these toys and they come on and off and I revel in it but some DJs go, ‘Oh my god! This place is going to eat me alive!’
Word on the street is that this could be your last season at the club?
You know what, if I’m there for the next two years, I’ll have been there for 15 years and I think I’ll have represented dance music at the highest level among anyone I know. I’d be quite happy to walk away from it [after that] and do something else.
See the line-ups and buy tickets for Carl Cox - The Revolution at Space here