God bless MP3s. For it was in my reckless days as a music pirate that I discovered the sounds of one British DJ -- Fatboy Slim -- that I just couldn't keep to myself, this incredible noise. Praise You instantly became the first track on my latest compilation and all my friends agreed, Fatboy Slim was the band of the 90's (if you want to call it a band because it's a one man name). It wasn't long before Fatboy Slim was everywhere, from car commercials to elevator muzak to MTV videos with such oddities as Christopher Walken performing an implausible dance number.
But little did I know that I'd heard his work before, long before Praise You. Norman Cook is much more than Fatboy Slim; he has many aliases including DJ Megamix, Pizzaman, Bonjo, and many others and has worked in several groups including the Housemartins, Beats International, Mighty Dub Katz, and Freakpower. In fact he holds the Guinness Record for the most Top 40 singles achieved under different names. If he isn't the world's most renowned electronica producer and DJ, he is the worlds best selling, rivaling even his good friends the Chemical Brothers. Who is this Norman Cook and where did he come from?
Quentin Cook was born to Rosalie and Ronald Cook on July 31, 1963 in Bromley, Kent, England but grew up in Surrey outside of London. As a teenager he became interested in music by listening to punk, though at the time it was not enough to motivate him into composition or performance of the genre. What did, however, was his introduction to disc jockeying. At the age of fifteen he was spinning at parties for his friends. And when he was a bit older, he witnessed the power of the DJ spending nights at the clubs with his sister in Brighton. He later moved there himself in order to attend the University of Brighton, nearly ignoring his classes for the nightlife of the town, but he did graduate with a BA in English.
Whilst at university, in 1985, he changed his name to Norman. The change came with his introduction into the Housemartins. His friend Paul Heaton had asked him to play the bass guitar in his band for an upcoming tour. Though he loved DJing, he didn't believe there was any money in it, so he joined up with the Housemartins. But they had some demands regarding his appearance if he was to fill in as their bassist. Sharing a name with one of the first openly homosexual Englishman had its disadvantages. Coupled with this flamboyant nature, there are still people who claim he is gay, despite the fact that he's married. In the 1980s this was not necessarily the image one wanted to convey. But complying with their quazi-uniform left him feeling passé and ordinary. When they started getting radio play, Quentin changed to Norman, Normal Norman.
The Housemartins did pretty well for themselves in the UK, with several Top 40 hits including Caravan of Love, which hit number one in 1986. After eight singles, four albums and performances all over the world Norman and the Housemartins parted company in 1987. Paul Heaton went on to form the Beautiful South. But Norman had something else in store for him. The music the Housemartins played, indy rock, truly wasn't Norman's cup of tea. His passion was the African jungle beats of dance music. He released his first dance singled titled the Finest Ingredients under the name DJ Megamix, which got him quite a bit of attention and a few remixing gigs, which he released under Norman Cook. With his continued success he formed Beats International in 1989 and released their first single Dub Be Good to Me, which was an instant hit and quickly went to the top of the charts.
Though things were going extraordinarily well for Norman, better than he could have ever imagined, his good fortune didn't last forever. His popularity dwindled, despite the quality of his tracks, and as the '90s began Norman's music career as well as his personal life went from stagnate to non-existence. Almost at the same time Beats International's record contract was dropped and Norman got divorced. Most of his money went to is ex-wife and having no employment, he was broke and destitute. Commenting on this low point in his life Norman said, "Everyone at some point goes on this journey where they doubt themselves and they doubt life. We only do it once. Some people do it early in life and end up Morrissey fans." He had to find a new way of looking at his life. He cites the teachings of Buddha with a little ecstasy thrown in. But Norman did eventually work things out, and once he had he found himself on top again. He began working with Ashley Slater under the name Freakpower and released another Top 40 hit in 1995, Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out, which peaked at number two.
In the later half of the '90s he release tracks under a few new names including Pizzaman, Mighty Dub Katz and finally Fatboy Slim. With the 1996 release of Better Living Through Chemistry, arguably the most compelling and important techno albums of the '90s, Norman finally began to obtain wide recognition in the United States. A tribute to the Chemical Brothers, the album's title also comes from Norman's fondness of the drug ecstasy. Fatboy Slim's follow up album in 1998, You've Come A Long Way, Baby, solidified his status as a superstar.
Norman still lives in Brighton in a manor he has christened "the House of Love," which houses his recording studio, his collection of 8000 or so vinyl records, his vintage analog and state of the art digital equipment. He likes to throw beach parties near his estate; the last of which a quarter of a million people attended. He has remarried and has a son named Woody.
If you would like to contact Norman Cook, here's his address:
Southern Fried Records