EDMTunes Talks Ultra, M2, Muddy Festivals & More with Carl Cox

Oh Yes Oh Yes Oh Yes! While we didn’t catch Carl Cox during Miami Music Week last month, we are eagerly awaiting his return to Miami for Formula 1 Weekend in May, where he will be performing at M2 for Resistance. Grab your tickets here! We caught up with Carl over the phone while he was in Australia and chatted on a whole range of topics. Read on for the full interview.

EDMTunes: I’m Scott from EDMTunes and it’s great to be here with Carl Cox who I understand is up in the morning, in Australia at…is it 10 30 a.m. there right now?

Carl Cox: Yeah. So actually we’re racing towards lunchtime.

EDMTunes: We got 9 30 p.m. over here in Miami and that brings me to my first question. As you can imagine, being from Miami, there was a lot of talk all year about Ultra and the fact that you weren’t there this year. First off, how does it feel taking a year off from Miami Music Week for the first time in a long time?

Carl Cox: Yeah, to be honest it’s been my staple diet for so many years and to actually say no to it once was a revelation. No, I’m not doing Miami [Music Week] this year. I have to basically just take a year off and step back and just see what happens and that’s exactly what I did, and it kind of spun a lot of people out. I thought to myself – how, and why is this possible? I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years, every year I’ve been into going to Miami, you know, at least eight years before that 28 years straight maybe 30 years. Then there comes a time where I had to just stop for one moment, you know, did a “merry-go-round” on everything just so you know where everything is at. But also I actually got to spend some quality time with my partner with my friends with my family at that particular time. The ones that were going to see me for the first time, and can you imagine that almost after nearly 30 years I’ve been locked down during the pandemic, I’m gonna go and see him and oh, he’s not playing this time.

You know me, okay? I want to come back next year. I’m going to do a full live show and also don’t be so disappointed because I’m going to be playing in Miami. I’m gonna be playing at M2 next month. A lot of new music to play, blah, blah blah. It’s not like I’ve abandoned anyone or abandoned what I decided to do. I needed to pull back for one year. See where everything is. See if anyone missed me because I mean, uh, yes, of course they did – and you know, the feeling was absolutely mutual. But I felt kind of a revelation. It felt good to say no, you know, sometimes it’s no problem saying that right?

EDMTunes: As a fellow creature of habit, I know how hard it is to break out of a habit. At first, it’s kind of scary, but then a change every so often isn’t the worst thing in the world. I can imagine that you that same experience trying out, maybe some new festivals this year?

Carl Cox: 100% and that’s exactly what I did. I wouldn’t have been able to do other events if I was playing Ultra again. They respected my decision and they supported it, so that’s fantastic. At the end of the day less is more. The fact that I wasn’t there holding down the fort for the Megastructure, but looking to come back next year just makes it stronger. The drive for people to come to see me and my music. I’ve already got a plan of what I would like to do for next year, which is probably the biggest and boldest plan that I will ever have.

EDMTunes: That was going to be my next question because next year is the big 25th anniversary. And yeah, I totally agree that taking the year off, it may have disappointed some people but it also builds the anticipation for the huge return and Ultra is known for expecting the unexpected. Is there anything you can tell us?

Carl Cox: Yes and no. It’s gonna be great, that’s all I’m saying.

EDMTunes: Fair enough, fair enough. You also mentioned that your connections with Ultra are as strong as ever and you’ll be here with Resistance in Miami for M2 during Formula One week, right?

Carl Cox: Yeah. I love cars. And I love bringing those two things together. It’s just great. I’m really looking forward to that and it’ll be my first time being involved with Formula One Racing in Miami. I’m really looking forward to coming back and throwing down at M2. I remember the first time I was there, there were a few issues with the sound and the lighting, and it wasn’t quite right. So the redemption is quite high. I’ll be coming back and doing it properly this time around.

EDMTunes: Absolutely, they’ve definitely done some new improvements even since last year. Going back to Formula One; Are you planning on going to some of the races?

Carl Cox: I’m looking to be there for qualifying, I’m lucky to be there for a great day on Sunday. Look out for me on the grid because I’m going to be on there.

EDMTunes: That’s awesome! Are you going as a spectator or are you doing anything in conjunction with Formula One?

Carl Cox: Yeah, I’m I’m too big to jump in any of those cars.

*synchronized laughter*

EDMTunes: Speaking of which, so your true passion besides music is drag racing. For people that follow cars, Formula One is more of the highfalutin fancy type of racing. Drag racing is a bit different. How do you think of Formula One versus the drag racing that you’re involved with?

Carl Cox: Yeah, I mean the thing about drag race is nobody drinks champagne and gin and tonics. It’s all beer. Drag racing is the complete opposite to all of that [Formula 1] and I love it. I love Grassroots. I come from Grassroots. It’s the reason why I support sidecar racing, support various other races I actually do apart from me being a drag racer. I actually do hill climb racing as well and historic, muscle car of racing events as well. Also some Classic events here in Australia and in New Zealand. And I’ll do quite a lot of track days as well with supercars. I’m kind of the person that I would take you to a drag race and show you why I love it and you can walk into the pits talk to the drivers, even turn a spanner.

It’s really exciting stuff, where in Formula One you just get to look. You can hardly take a picture sometimes because they don’t want you to you know about what the car looks like. Aerodynamically they change the tires because that’s four different color tires and they move you along, right?

Antron Brown, one of our drag racers, Top Fuel drag racers. He loves showing people and getting them to even touch the car, all this sort of stuff is so beautiful to see and the kids really love it because they feel like getting involved in what you see.

In Formula One you’re so far removed from all of that. It can become very boring at times as well so it’s not my favorite sport, for sure. But I do like all aspects about motorsports. I’m extremely involved. My attention goes to electric cars around in certain parts of the world. These cars were absolutely amazing to see what what they go through. Eventually we’ll be going into Extreme H which is basically hydrogen…

EDMTunes: Yes, I was going to ask you about that.

Carl Cox: Yeah, so Extreme H, there’s people developing hydrogen engines for these cars and that’s the goal. Everything that they actually make is all about sustainable energy looking after the planet, this kind of thing. And obviously hydrogen does all of that, but the engine is combustible, right?

EDMTunes: Right.

Carl Cox: People miss the sound of a combustion engine that, you know, when you rev it up, they miss that. With electric cars go all you hear are the electric motors right? And the wind going “weeeuuuu” and that’s it. People miss the sound, but apart from the sound you’re not burning any emissions. It won’t go into domestic cars at the moment because they’re still trying to find a way to make it even more sustainable. Affordable is another story…

EDMTunes: Have you driven a prototype of one of the hydrogen vehicles?

Carl Cox: Not at the moment, but looking into that. In November, they’ll be rolling out the hydrogen cars called Odyssey 21s in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m looking to be there as an ambassador for Extreme H.

EDMTunes: We’d love to hear your review on how it feels driving hydrogen vs electric vs gas. So, that’s that’s really cool.

Carl Cox: Electric cars are like a light switch, right?

When you’re building power, especially from a turbine point of view, you feel the boost come in when you’ve got a naturally aspirated engine. You feel everything that you’re doing on the throttle pedal. So it’s all about you and how you control that. Hydrogen will be more like that, and the drivers can’t wait for it to happen because that’s what they miss. Basically the controlability of power.

EDMTunes: On that note, have you ever taken your love for racing or the feeling, or the emotion for racing and brought that into your music with a track that’s inspired by racing? I think of Charlotte De Witte doing a lot of that recently. Has that crossed your mind or have you done something like that?

Carl Cox: Well, everyone has asked me to do it. I see it as a bit cheesy in some ways. You could do it, but it’s hard to get it where it doesn’t sound like an engine. It shouldn’t sound like anything. It should sound like a sound, right? But there’s a beauty in hearing a Formula One car, like a V-10 going down straight away at 200 miles an hour. Ooooormmm…. there’s something about that 21,000 revolutions a minute sound but it’s so quick. To have that in a track. You probably wouldn’t recognize it. So, the only people that I feel that have done that sound any justice is a band called Yello. They got a track called ‘The Race’. In the track, they basically panned a race car from one side of the speaker to the other and and basically the chorus goes and is the race… And you hear this car going almost through the speakers. So you’ve got like a quadraphonic set. You would get left to right and right to left and it would like like it’s going around the room.

EDMTunes: Wow!

Carl Cox: When you heard that in the club it was incredible. So if you want to download that track and hear what my experience was… it’s a little bit hard to do. When I was in a studio with Boris Blanc, and Dieter Meier I asked them about how they did that surround sound. And the boys said: “Oh Carl, you see the button on the panel? you slide it left to right weeeeiiiiiiiuuuuu…” I thought it was something fancy they created, but he just went left to right. So I’ll never forget that as long as I live, but what came out of it was incredible. Now, I think it was Honda that was using Funktion One to make this elaborate sound development as they were building the car, which is pretty crazy. I would like to do something like that in a track if I could. It would make a difference because just having that sound in a track is easy to do. But it probably wouldn’t come across in the way that original sound was developed.

EDMTunes: So switching gears, I understand that you’re going to be doing some Playground fundraisers for Burning Man. I know that’s another one of your pastimes. You enjoy going to Burning Man each year. So tell us a little bit about that.

Carl Cox: Yes, it is something a lot of people don’t know really, which is my involvement in what I’ve created over the years. It has been a lot and I’ve spent a lot of money. You need money to do all of this stuff and no one man is an island and I just can’t carry the whole expense by myself. So I do need help, and if people are going to Burning Man and they really experience what we create and really enjoy it at the cost of nothing when they get there. It’s been nice to see how people support what we do before they know the value to it. It’s entertainment after all. And what we bring to the table, it’s been amazing, over the years. So, when I first went to Burning Man, which is 2008 for the first five years, I didn’t do much. I was just creating music while I was staying in my RV. And at a particular time people would come to the RV and enjoy, what I was doing, um, but I was there for Syd Gris, who founded the Opulent Temple. He absolutely loved it. That was my way of giving back to the people.

I would pay an arm and a leg to be there. And then I’d get my ticket and I would go there and I would give, my sets and my music to the people and people just love the fact that I was doing that giving back. That’s what I’ve always done every single year, even now into 2024 when we have our own non-profit camp, which is called Playground. Now it’s become a staple diet of us being there every year at Burning Man, at 2&D, which was our address for where we set up. I also do quite a few sets there, but one of the sets that people really love on the whole playa is my funky Disco sets.

Each record that I play is the original track. So it’s not a mashup or a rework. I lay down the music the way it was played. I put it into a place so people can still groove. I don’t even mix them. I’ll just make a drop right on the beat and then play the next record. For me it’s hard to do that but I do it. People just love it and walk away from Burning Man and they’ll say: “have you been to Carl Cox’s purple disco party?” and some people go: “Well, I was too trashed to make it” or “that’s the only thing came for”. It’s amazing to be able to turn that on The Playa and I feel like that’s my way of giving back to people who make the journey to be there. People walk away going I really enjoyed that. That’s why I do it. And um and so we’ve decided that we wanted to also give this to people who couldn’t get to the playa. Then these Playground fundraisers are one way of experiencing it without getting dirty.

The playa is a very special place. I have to say there’s nothing else on planet Earth like it so I just keep going back. We just finished being there from last year and we’re already making plans on what we’re going to do next year. Even though the last year was the wettest we’ve ever seen it in the history of Burning man, it’s still fantastic. I absolutely loved it. There were certain DJs that were there and decided that their white shoes were going to get dirty and they left really quickly, but it wasn’t me, right? I stayed there all the way through until the end that’s the reason why I was there. It wasn’t just me, there’s thousands of people also staying and they respect the fact that, you know, things happen but it just to knuckle down and get on with it. So you know, it sorts out the wheat from the chaff at the end of the day. So, of course, we’re going back this year and we love the support we get from the fans over the years.

EDMTunes: I’m sure you heard that we had our own little version of that at Ultra this year and I can tell you the same type of thing happened. After everybody’s shoes got soaked and muddy everybody let go of their inhibitions which sounds a lot like that Burning Man experience in a way.

Carl Cox: Yeah, people do not understand the setup of a lot of these events. I mean if you go to Coachella, it’s dry, nice palm trees, nice food, vendors and all sorts of it’s nice, right? When we were doing raves back in the 90’s in the UK, 99,5% of the time, it was raining. You just got on with it. Glastonbury, 80% of the time, raining, wet muddy. But people have such a great time with it because you just have to let go. You’re gonna get muddy, you’re gonna get wet, you’ll probably end up with influenza, but you’ve had a great time. It’s all about how you live your life.

If you live your life going “I’m not going anymore because it’s raining”- you’re going to miss out on a great experience. All of the people that went are going to be talking about it, you know, how did you get through it and what did you do to get through whatever you were thinking? And Burning Man it was like I’ve never seen it, it rained so hard like it for so long, and then looking outside, it was Armageddon. OMG. It’s like, what do we do here? We were in our RV and I’m sure people were having a harder time than we were, but we couldn’t go to the bathroom because the toilet was full and it wasn’t getting service, so we had to go in a bucket.

EDMTunes: my God

Carl Cox: Then walk that bucket in the mud to a toilet to empty it out because it got too full. So that’s one thing. It’s not the nicest story, but this is what it takes to get to that nice bit in the end. Now we’re going back again, they say, how?! I’m like, “Why wouldn’t you go back? You didn’t have a good time because your shoes got wet?” Seriously?!

EDMTunes: So looking ahead to the rest of 2024. What else can we expect from you over the rest of the year?

Carl Cox: Well, I’m really focusing more now than before on my hybrid/live sets. Most of my bookings are probably 80% hybrid /live and 20% DJ sets. it’s great because I’m also being challenged by it like the way I used to get challenged by what I did, playing three turntables etc. But it’s great with the visual and lighting package that we roll out. So it’s like a curated show in some ways. Anything I do with the mixer, sends a MIDI signal to the lighting guys, and also my visual guys.

Which is unbelievable. If we don’t play anything, It’s a blackout. Nothing. When we play something, then something happens and it’s great. The Hybrid Live shows are never the same. That’s the creative nature of what I try to roll out. I try to stay away from the confetti cannons. I try to stay away from all of the CO2 and the fireworks. I try and get people to be immersed in the idea of what you’re surrounded by and the music. Let’s get that across so that’s my mission this year.

EDMTunes: Excellent. That coincidentally brings me to my last question. You’ve probably had to tell this story before and I’ve had it asked to me before, but I figured best coming from you. The train horn in your sets that’s become a bit of a staple. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about?

Carl Cox: The mad thing about the train horn is that they had one in DC10 Ibiza, you know, 25 years ago. It’s just one of those things, where it had nothing to do with anything or anybody. It’s just a train horn, right? So you had all this music and the atmosphere and people screaming, “Oh my God. Yeah!” And then all of a sudden GONG and people go “what the fuck did that come from?!” And the train horn in DC-10 was about when the next DJ was coming on – to get everybody’s attention.

So, Russell from Ultra decided that he would like that atmosphere to be created at the Megastructure, but the only person that’s going to be using it is me. If there’s no Carl Cox there’s no train horn. They found the loudest train horn you could possibly find on top of everything else. So I use it as a drop. There’s two things that I do that, no one else can do. They can do it but it won’t be the same. So what are they? “Oh yes, Oh yes”, and so the last “Yes” is where I make the drop. So if there’s something in the record that’s coming and then on that last moment I go “Oh yes oh yes” and drop it. Sometimes on the last Oh Yes, I drop the track and the train horn at the same time.

Oh yes oh [train horn sound] people lose their marbles when they hear that. I don’t use it all the time but on certain tracks where I know it’s gonna really blow up and you walk away going “Jesus. What was that?” You really feel like the train is coming at you. And this really is something special. I used to have a massive bell in club called Zouk in Singapore. The owner would ring this bell whenever the track was really slamming it. In fact, Danny Tanaglia used a cowbell in a lot of his music. That was his sound, so when you had the bell you were really in it. But yes, that’s where the train sound came from.

EDMTunes: I don’t know if you’ve heard this but there’s an urban legend that the train horn had to do with back in your youth. When you were first starting out, that there was a train that would run by your studio or something. Have you ever heard that?

Carl Cox: No, no. I haven’t heard that [laughter]. Although I haven’t heard a train going past my studio or any studio I’ve been at. So it’s an urban myth.

EDMTunes: Thank you so much Carl! We will see you at Formula One Week at M2 in Miami!

Carl Cox: Thank you so much, I’m glad we were able to have this conversation. See you soon!