The last time the DJ scene was this huge in the U.S., Bill Clinton was president – and many of the superstars who took electronic dance music to the top of the zeitgeist back then are still going strong. From the Chemical Brothers to Fatboy...
Recording under the alias Fatboy Slim, British DJ/producer Norman Cook was one of the major pioneers of big beat; he ranks second only to the Chemical Brothers in terms of breaking the genre in the States. Cook samples from a wide range of music—house, funk, even rock—to create electronic music specifically designed for dancing. This emphasis on hedonism over experimentalism caused many techno purists to scorn Fatboy Slim, though it granted him immense success both at home and in America.
Cook, who was christened Quentin, started DJ'ing at age 15. In 1985 he changed his name to Norman and joined the British pop band the Housemartins, replacing departing bassist and founding member Ted Key. The Housemartins were known for their socially conscious, no-frills image and scathing sarcasm. Their 1986 and 1987 albums yielded several Top 20 pop hits, including "Caravan of Love" (Number One U.K., 1986) and "Happy Hour" (Number Three U.K., 1986).
Following the band's split in 1988, Housemartins frontman Paul Heaton and drummer Dave Hemingway formed the Beautiful South; Cook, meanwhile, returned to his dance-music roots with Beats International, which scored a Number One hit in the U.K. with its 1990 single "Dub Be Good to Me." Cook also recorded under numerous other monikers, including Pizzaman, Freakpower, and Mighty Dub Katz — who all charted in the U.K. — before embarking on his Fatboy Slim project. He made a minor splash in America with 1996's Better Living Through Chemistry and its single, "Going Out of My Head," which drew its defining guitar sample from Yvonne Elliman's remake of the Who's "I Can't Explain." But it was 1998's You've Come a Long Way, Baby that transformed Cook into an international star with its inescapable hits "The Rockafeller Skank" and "Praise You," the latter of which stayed on the U.S. pop chart for 20 weeks in 1999. Cook veered away from big beat for his next venture, Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, on which he worked with live vocalists (including R&B singer Macy Gray) for the first time. The single "Weapon of Choice" went on to hit Number 33 on the Modern Rock charts, and drew attention for its music video featuring a dancing (and flying) Christopher Walken, which won six MTV video awards in 2001.
Palookaville followed in 2004, and two years later he issued a best-of. In 2008, Cook announced he was looking for a new moniker with which to release his next album, which is mostly finished and features tracks with Iggy Pop.
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