Foundations: Fatboy Slim

Selecting five favourite, influential tracks…

Now, usually we insist that Foundations focuses on an artist’s five most influential albums. But when you get 15 minutes to talk music with a bona-fide legend of the British dance scene, and he’d rather chat tracks, you bloody well let him. To be honest, because he’s a really nice guy, we’d probably let Fatboy Slim do whatever he wanted to the format of our regular features. Apart from that, obviously. Nobody needs to see that.

Should anyone reading this right now not know who Fatboy Slim is… sigh. The main musical moniker of one Norman Cook – multifaceted production dynamo, Brighton resident, massively respected remixer, café owner, marathon runner, husband to Zoë Ball, multiple winner at the BRITS, MTV Awards and Ivor Novello Awards – Fatboy Slim is an essential part of the global pop firmament. Y’know, he who made this, and this, and this, and this. And even this, for those of a slightly older vintage.

And now, he’s doing this: ‘Bem Brasil’ is a Cook-curated fantasy party album, which captures the night and day vibes of Brazilian culture, expressing Cook’s great love for the country. It collects together a series of renowned producers and Brazilian artists to comprise a proper carnival-feeling soundtrack to the forthcoming… Well, you know what’s happening in Brazil in the near future. C’mon, you Indomitable Lions, you!

Those tracks, then…

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Gregor Salto, ‘Samba Do Mundo’, from ‘Bem Brasil’

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Talking Heads – ‘Psycho Killer’ (1977)

“I was 14 years old when this came out, discovering the joys of music through punk rock. I got this on 12” single, and I think it might actually have been the first ever 12” I bought. On the cover, it had a smiley T-shirt, which… Well, for that image alone, it’s a pivotal record in my life. It imparted the smiley as a pop culture reference. And, it all turned full circle 25 years later when I worked with David Byrne and got him to sign my copy of it.

“We’d bumped into each other quite a lot ahead of us working together on ‘Here Lies Love’ (the pair’s collaborative LP of 2010), but I think when he came round my house, and saw all the smileys, and showed him the sleeve, he saw where it all started. I think he felt the props. It’s this twisted thing that got into my brain, which I took and ran with. I think he was a bit freaked out by the tattoo, though.

“David’s done a lot of different things, and that has been influential. He had something in his music that I could never identify until he did it for me. He said: ‘It’s a white boy who likes funk, trying to do it his own way.’ I’ve always had the same passion for black music as him, but there’s something about the groove that David’s always had.

“He’s been an inspiration, too, in the way that once he’d had the big hit, he was interested in going sideways rather than further upwards. I think when Talking Heads were at their biggest, he wasn’t very comfortable with it – so he went off and made sound installations and wrote musicals. He flexed those other muscles, and working with him on ‘Here Lies Love’ was a real inspiration, because even though you might have been in the music business for 25 years, you can still find things you haven’t previously tried.”

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Fatnotronic – ‘Margarida’ (2014)

“This is one of the tunes that we wanted on the ‘Bem Brasil’ album, but we couldn’t get the clearance for it. We couldn’t actually find who’d released it, as it was only up there on SoundCloud. It’s by these DJs who are also in Bonde Do Role, and this is like a sideline where they do re-edits.

“This is an Italian disco version of a Brazilian tune, with a little bit of acid house thrown in. It’s definitely good fun, and it’s one of those tunes that I know everyone would love, but we just couldn’t get it onto the album. It’s something about bringing Italians or Brazilians into the equation – those paper trails just dry up.

“With regard to ‘Bem Brasil’, it’s a bit like the project Gilles Peterson’s been working on (‘Brasil Bam Bam Bam’ – interview here). He knows his pure Brazilian music down pat, but my idea was to sort of jazz it up a bit for a more electronic audience. I think our objective was the same though – we’re about to be bombarded with so much Coca-Cola and FIFA tunes that really haven’t got anything to do with Brazil, so this might hopefully turn people onto other Brazilian music that they might not otherwise have heard. From my point of view, if we get one of these songs on just one slow-motion, action-replay montage, on the telly, then we’ve fulfilled our remit.

“As for England’s chances, I’ve probably got the lowest expectations for our performances that I’ve ever had. But Brazil is sort of my adopted second home, so I do have a good fall-back.”

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Little Beaver (aka Willie Hale) – ‘I Can Dig It, Baby’ (1974)

“Oh, he’s been sampled by People Under The Stairs? This particular tune? Ooh, I’ll have to search that out. (It’s here, titled ‘The Suite For Beaver’.) But this is kind of from the rare groove days, but wasn’t quite clubby enough to be a proper, bona-fide rare groove. I just find that it’s a record to, and perhaps I’m showing my age here, kick back to. It’s for that dreamy time when you’re sitting with your partner, late at night, thinking: I can dig it.

“It’s mournful but happy, at the same time. It’s really the epitome of funk. A funk tune with a drum machine, because people usually just think of ‘Funky Drummer’. But Sly Stone nailed this as well – you have to have some chops to make something sound groovy over the top of a vintage drum machine. It’s definitely not a dance tune, though.

“When I’m DJing, and I play something lesser known, I guess there has to be a two-way trust, with the audience. They have to trust you enough to go with you – but you have to recognise that if you go too far, you’ll lose them and then they’ll never trust you again.”

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Rupie Edwards – ‘Ire Feelings’ (1975)

“This is my introduction to dub – and so far as I know, the only top-10 single that actually was a dub. It’s a pretty idiosyncratic, but catchy little tune. It came out around the time that I’d started listening to John Peel, and he’d play a lot of dub, and I was really getting into the spaciousness and the trippiness of the effects. Dub sort of ended up mutating into the 12” remix, which allowed the remixer to extend the cut, to find that space.

“I think, in terms of a pop career, Rupie would be considered a one-hit wonder. But he was well respected in his world. I managed to find an album that consisted exclusively of the ‘Ire Feelings’ riddim. I think that was the first riddim album I got where it really was the same bassline and drum beat on each tune, with just different variations. I think this was the most pop-friendly version.

“This did feed into my career – around Beats International, and when I was writing ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ I was definitely thinking of this. The goal was to have a pop record that was a dub record as well. Although I did cheat a little, as I left the vocals intact.”

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Big Audio Dynamite – ‘E=MC2’ (1986)

“Well, I sampled The Clash on ‘Dub Be Good To Me’, and they were probably the biggest single inspiration, perhaps apart from David Byrne, on my formative teenage years. They were the coolest rock and roll band – they are the coolest that’s ever been. They had politics that I’d never heard of before, and introduced the idea of white guys playing reggae, playing black music. And then when Mick Jones started Big Audio Dynamite, it was a case of giving a white guy a sampler and a drum machine, fuse it with rock music and you’ve literally got dynamite.

“I think Mick was really breaking the rules with this band. This is probably their most straightforward tune, but they really were, for those days, breaking all kinds of laws. To come from the punk-rock background, and then get Don Letts in and bring in raps and reggae, as well as rock, and somehow making that pop… that’s genius. To have all these disparate ingredients and make a hit out of it? That’s genius.”

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Foundations: Fatboy Slim

Fatboy Slim’s ‘Bem Brasil’ compilation, pictured above, is out now. Visit his official website for more information and details of his tour dates in Brazil during the World Cup. 

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