By Jeremy Essig
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Walk into the main room at Cheetah on any given night, head out to the most underground rave in the city, waltz into Deep Grooves on a Saturday and, were you not with it, the bump-bump factor would be too much bear. Personality? Style? Imagination? Uh-uh. Just repetitive dreck beating at your eardrums and insulting the spirit of little organic sounds -- the birdies, the crickets and all the organic chirps seeping from nature. The thump-thump sounds like nothing but itself, a machine with the repeat button soldered down and the signal-to-annoyance ratio pegging the red.
Submerge yourself in it, though -- bury your head in the stereophonic G-spot and stay there for, well, at least a few months, and you'll start to intoxicate yourself on the techno, tech house, deep house, gabber, garage, drum & bass and whatnot, and then -- and only then -- will you start to understand why Carl Cox has a legion of followers who consider him one of the most pivotal and important DJs in the world. In a rare visit to St. Louis, the most sought-after DJ on the planet will spin at Cheetah this week as part of the "Moonshine Over America" tour.
Carl Cox's position as superstar DJ drags him all over the place, from spinning at an industry party for the premiere of a Will Smith movie to a stint at the monster Berlin Love Festival (a million-and-a-half ravers) to leaping from Sydney to Paris to Japan to Gainesville (?) to London (his home base, where he and a few fellow DJs kick it at the weekly Ultimate B.A.S.E. party) to a monthly gig at Twilo in NYC.
He's all over the place, all the time. He's the center of attention when he's spinning, and instead of getting all furrow-browed and serious, he's smiling, pounding beers and shaking the hands of his disciples (his large frame and wide, honest smile immediately set him apart). These days, he's the center of attention with the music press, too (British dance magazine Jockey Slut has referred to him as "A God"), so much so that during a recent e-mail exchange his answers, despite his obvious attention, often lapsed into pleasant, sincere sound bites; when asked where he's spun in the past week and where he'll be spinning in the next few, he sounds like a politician.
"In the past week I've played in France and Sweden. I'll be arriving in the States in the next couple of days and am looking forward to the "Moonshine' tour. It's great to be able to tour with some of the best representatives of all of the subgenres that electronic dance music has to offer. My first date will be in Chicago and will carry through to cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco before ending in Seattle."
Woo-hoo! Get pumped.
It's hard not to think that Carl Cox, despite his obvious talent on the decks, wasn't aided at least a bit by the mere fact that he was in the right place at the right time. Lacking the singular voice of a composer, songwriter or vocalist, Cox started out in the late '80s as a club DJ, tracking down interesting cuts and presenting them to the dance floor (actually that's their role a decade later as klub kulture explodes). Legions of DJs out there are blessed with taste as good as Cox's, and legions are as amiable as he is. Unlike the distinctive timbre of the human voice, the two major ingredients separating a superstar from a show pony are his/her taste and the easily learned skill of beat-matching; talent is an elusive factor in a DJ. How can Cox be more "talented" than, say, DJ Micro, who's also on the Cheetah bill?
The answer may lie in Cox's reputed ability to read a crowd, discover the aforementioned G-spot and pick his tracks accordingly, something that can only be appreciated in a club full of dancers. Or maybe Cox is famous simply because the culture needs celebrities, and he has been magically ordained by the masses as one of its figureheads.
Whatever the answer, DJ-ing is something that Cox seems to have been born to do. He's been at it since he started doing rudimentary mixing at family gatherings in his early teens (he's 37 now). "We just had a music hi-fi," Cox told Jockey Slut earlier this year. "There was no bass and no treble, just a tone control and a volume. It also had a cassette on it and I used to record all the music that I was playing onto tape and then segue between tape and phono -- trying to mix, so that I could play music non-stop. I always hated gaps in the music. Also, the records then were really short, so when I used to think a record was starting to get going it would fade out. I was always thinking about the next record. Then it just progressed that friends of the family would want me to bring my records if we went round to someone else's house."