Fatboy Slim - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Fatboy Slim is the name most often used by British DJ/producer/musician Norman Cook, and, under that name and other aliases, is one of the artists most responsible for the rise of electronic dance music into the mainstream consciousness in the 1990's and continuing on to the present day.
Norman Cook was born Quentin Leo Cook on July 31st, 1963 in Bromley, England and grew up in Reigate, Surrey. When still an adolescent, Cook was attracted to the burgeoning punk scene and started a local fanzine called Peroxide with friends Ian McKay and Andrew Thomas. In the style of the do-it-yourself spirit of punk, Cook also dabbled around with playing instruments and eventually became the drummer, and then later vocalist, of local new-wave band Disque Attack. After completing secondary school, Cook attended Reigate College, (where he befriended fellow musician Paul Heaton), and then moved on to Brighton Polytechnic to get a Bachelor's Degree in Politics, English and Sociology. While at school, he also began Djing and got involved with the club scene in Brighton that was thriving at the time. Meanwhile, in Hull, Cook's friend Heaton was finding success with his guitar -based band The Housemartins. On the eve of a big national tour, the band's original bass player Ted Key quit. Heaton immediately called his friend Cook and offered him the job, even though Cook wasn't really a bass player and had pretty much ducked out of the whole rock scene for some time. Cook, however, accepted and moved to Hull. The band soon found success with the hit song “Happy Hour”, and followed that up with an a cappella version of the Isley Jasper Isley song “Caravan Of Love”, which became a #1 hit in the U.K. in 1986. The group produced two albums, London 0 Hull 4 (Go! Discs)(1986) and The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death (Go! Discs)(1987) before splitting in 1988. Some of the other members of The Housemartins went on to form the band The Beautiful South, while Cook moved back to Brighton to concentrate on the dance music that he had the original interest in.
Back in Brighton, Cook continued sharpening his skills as a DJ and absorbing the influences of hip-hop, Chicago house, and the burgeoning acid-house movement that was sweeping across Great Britain at the time. He began working with studio engineer Simon Thornton at this time, and the two continue to work together to the present day. Cook's first solo venture into electronic dance music came in 1989 and was a collaboration with rapper MC Wildski on the track “Blame It On The Bassline.” The track was credited to Norman Cook featuring MC Wildski and was an amalgam of Cook's various influences. The song was a moderate success, and laid the template for Cook's next musical project, Beats International. Beats International was a loosely tied group of mostly studio musicians that included rapper Wildski, keyboardist Andy Boucher, Cook, and vocalists D.J. Baptiste, Lester Noel and Lindy Layton. The group combined elements of soul, acid house, hip-hop, rock, and reggae and they had an early hit with the song “Dub Be Good To Me”. (The group was an early proponent of sampling, and ran into legal trouble because the song liberally sampled both The Clash's “The Guns Of Brixton” and the S.O.S. Band's “Just Be Good To Me”). The group produced the album Let Them Eat Bingo (Elektra)(1990), a dizzying smörgåsbord of samples and beats that took from everyone from Billy Bragg to Fela Kuti, and followed that album up with the more dub and reggae-heavy Excursion On The Version (Polygram)(1991). When the second album failed to be as successful as the first, Cook folded the group and moved on to his next project, Freak Power. During his time working on Beats International, Cook also became an in-demand producer and had a side-career as a remixer.
Freak Power was a group consisting of Cook,singer/horn player Ashley Slater and bassist Jesse Graham, aka the Bass Cadet. The group's sound was acid jazz combined with elements of funk, soul and hip-hop, and the band scored a modest hit with their first single “Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out” in 1993. The track was later used on a Levi's jean commercial in Great Britain in 1995. The group released two albums, Drive Thru Booty (4th & Broadway)(1995) and More Of Everything For Everybody (4th & Broadway)(1996) before disbanding. In 1995, Cook joined with fellow producers JC Reid and Tim Jeffery to produce a house music project under the name Pizzaman. The group's sole album Pizzamania (Cowboy Rodeo), spawned 3 hit singles that all reached the top 40 in the U.K., “Happiness”, “Sex On The Streets”, and “Trippin' On Sunshine”. Concurrent to the Pizzaman project, Cook also worked on a project called The Mighty Dub Katz with his former roommate Gareth Hansome. The two started the Big Beat Boutique night at clubs in Brighton, mixing house, hip-hop and other elements together to come up with a sound that would later be called “Big Beat”.
By 1996, Cook was ready to concentrate on a solo project, and so came up with the name Fatboy Slim for a series of recordings he was working on to be released on the Skint label. Fatboy Slim took elements of all of the projects Cook had been working on up to that point and mixed them with a decidedly heavy back beat to produce music that married the innovation of house and hip-hop with some of the driving energy of rock. Cook scored a U.K. hit with the track “Everybody Needs A 303”, and the album Better Living Through Chemistry (Skint)(1996) got picked up for distribution in the U.S. by noted dance label Astralwerks. This set the scene for Fatboy Slim's next single, “The Rockafeller Skank”, released in 1998 along with Cook's second album under the Fatboy Slim name, You've Come A Long Way, Baby (Skint/Astralwerks). “Rockafeller Skank”, with it's easily recognizable sampled line “Right about now, the funk soul brother. Check it out now, the funk soul brother,” (sampled from rapper Lord Finesse), and it's infectious ska-meets-electronic beat, became a worldwide hit and went on to be used in various commercials, movie trailers, and was included in the soundtracks for such movies as She's All That, Bruce Almighty and Digimon: The Movie. The second single from You've Come... was “Praise You”, which was also a hit and went on to the #1 spot on the U.K. Singles chart. The accompanying video, directed by Spike Jonze and featuring an ad hoc dance troupe of ordinary people led by Jonze's alter ego Richard Koufey dancing to the track on a sidewalk in front of a movie theater, won numerous awards and even led to Jonze/Koufey and his troupe dancing to the song on the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards. In between his proper album projects, Cook also released two mix albums under Fatboy Slim, the Radio 1 compilation Essential Selection, Vol. 1 (Sire)(2000) along with Paul Oakenfold, and On The Floor At The Boutique (Astralwerks)(2000), showcasing one of his DJ gigs at his Boutique night in Brighton.
Fatboy Slim's next album, titled Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars (Skint/Astralwerks), was released in the fall of 2000 and featured Cook collaborating with other artists for the first time under the Fatboy Slim banner. Artists appearing on the album included former James Brown/Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins, fellow DJ/producer Roger Sanchez, and neo-soul vocalist Macy Gray, who sang two stand-out tracks, “Love Life” and “Demons”. An attention-getting video directed by Spike Jonze for the track with Bootsy Collins, “Weapon Of Choice”, off of the album was made starring Christopher Walken bursting to life inside of an empty hotel lobby and dancing on the ceiling and walls. The video won six awards from MTV in 2001. The album was a continuation of Cook's crazy-quilt style of stitching different kinds of music together, though it didn't come across as quite as self-consciously goofy as his first two albums. Cook followed Halfway... up with two more mix albums, Live On Brighton Beach (MCA)(2002), and Big Beach Boutique (Southern Fried)(2002), both of which highlighted his massively-attended DJ performances on the beach in his native Brighton. Cook went through a separation with his wife, the British TV personality Zoe Ball, in 2003, and didn't release any more music until the 2004 Fatboy Slim album Palookaville (Skint/Astralwerks). Palookaville was definitely a deeper album than its predecessors in that the same audio sense of fun was present, but the grooves were sometimes slower and more soulful, and leaned towards a hip-hop influence over the four-on-the-floor dance beats that dominated earlier albums. Guests on the album included Bootsy Collins again, singer/rapper Lateef, and Blur vocalist/keyboardist Damon Albarn. A greatest hits over view of Cook's career as Fatboy Slim, titled Why Try Harder (Skint/Astralwerks) was released in 2006, and included two new tracks, “That Old Pair Of Jeans” and “Champion Sound”. Cook continued to play shows and festivals as Fatboy Slim through 2008, but has lately concentrated on a new project, titled The BPA, short for Brighton Port Authority. The BPA so far has released a single “Toe Jam” in collaboration with Dizzee Rascal and David Byrne, and has a track featured on the soundtrack to the television show Heroes, titled “He's Frank”, with Iggy Pop guesting on vocals. It is not known if Cook plans to use his Fatboy Slim alias again.