Put simply: Carl Cox is the man. He's been the island's top dog for close to two decades, plus running respected techno imprint Intec Digital, and spending at least half the year at his sprawling property in Australia.
He's so busy, in fact, that it's tough for DJ Mag Ibiza to pin him down — we finally manage to nab him for a chat at his home in the Ibizan hills at a shockingly early 10:00am. As we chat over breakfast, it's not tough to see that Coxy is finding Space's impending closure tough — he's filled with an endearing mix of excitement and sadness when we mention the club's upcoming Closing Fiesta.
Bittersweet farewells aside, Cox is as smiley and jovial as ever when we meet eventually, to talk moving on, VIP club culture, and the pressures of being (arguably) the world's most famous DJ...
What's your thoughts on DJ personas — DJing seems to have become as much about performance as it has about the music...
“I think that when an artist has a really strong persona about them — it's usually just them. You know, there'll never be another Eats Everything, or another Seth Troxler, for example. These guys have their own personas, their own delivery, and you can't spray that on. There's no book to learn how to be a great performer, it can't be taught.”
Speaking of performance, a lot has changed since those early days for you playing on the terrace. There's now massive stage production, lights, pyrotechnics, the works. Which do you prefer?
“You know, it's hard to say which one I preferred — but you're right, it's definitely different. The last set I played last Tuesday at Space was just as tough as the set I played the first time I ever played on the terrace. At the end of the day, it's all about your music, that's never changed — no matter what you're playing on or how it's set up. I find them equally the same, it's not better for worse, it's still an equally pleasurable performance. Rawness, yep, that's amazing. High-end production, yep, that's great, too. But at the end of the day, it's the track that matters.”
When you're not in Ibiza, you spend a lot of time in Australia. What attracted you down under?
“I was one of the first ever UK DJs to go to Australia, I think I first went around '89. I got to go because my record 'I Want You Forever' was a radio hit in Australia, so it made sense for me to go out there. I wasn't expecting that much out of it at the beginning, I was just excited to have the opportunity to go to Australia.
I think I had four stop-overs to get there [laughs]. I'm still going back every year because it's summer over there when the season ends — I get to go to the beach and enjoy the sunshine!
“I was always more attracted to Melbourne than Sydney, Sydney always seemed a bit transient. So now I live half the year about 45 minutes outside Melbourne, it's probably the most suburban place in the entire world — everything shuts at 9pm [laughs].
At the end of the day, it's very grounding and I get to live my own life, not the life of a top international DJ. You know, the guy who's hanging out at all these celebrity parities and blah blah — I'm not into that, I'm just not into it. I've always just been into life, having something true.
Having true friends around me and a place that I can call my home. I just felt like I couldn't be that person many places in the world, not even in the UK — but in Australia, I can. So that's how it came about.”
How do you handle the whole superstar DJ thing, you always have a few security around you at Space. Does it get tiresome?
“It doesn't get tiresome, no, but it's not always like this. I'm in the lion's den right now — this is Ibiza. And sometimes I do feel like everyone wants a piece of me. I can deal with it up to a point, but then it's time to walk away from it, too. If you can imagine, if I go to an airport, for example.
From the time I get out of the car, even to just walk across the carpark to departures — I've already been stopped five times for a selfie. Then I go to check-in, and there's more people with selfies — I even get selfies with the security [laughs].
I can't run away from it, I have to embrace it, but I think this situation came upon us. Years ago we never had this situation — people either had their cameras with them or they asked you to sign something. Now, with selfies, I think kids almost think it's their right to have it, and it's hard to say no.
I've had to adapt to this situation, it's a monster I've created for myself, in a way [laughs]. But my escape is when I get on that plane and go to Australia, because that's where I can ride my motorbikes and walk around the streets — no one cares that much. But when I'm in the lions den, it's a different story...”
You've said 'All Roads Lead To The Dancefloor' will be your last album. Why is that?
“Ahh well, that was my fourth album. If I was a band, my first album would have been: 'Oh my God, it's amazing! It's the best thing ever'. Then the second album would have been: 'Oh it's the worst thing he's ever done, it's so awful'. Then the third: 'Oh well, he's changed his sound, he's obviously in love. It's a tune of ballads — how nice!'.
Well, not many people get past the third album, and I've done four. But this last album, I decided I wanted to do it all in Australia and use the best percussionists, vocalists, you name it. We also took it live and did two live shows — and people loved it. I loved doing it too, I think people liked seeing me outside the turntables too. But it cost an absolute fortune [laughs].
“Thing is, we'd never really had a specific hit record from the album though, so no one could latch on to it, you had to buy the album in its entirety and follow the concept of it. But I don't think people are actually listening that hard for that anymore, they just want that one hit record.
The whole thing also took about two years in total, I feel like it took a lot of time out of my life. I would like to put out another album, never say never! But maybe not under Carl Cox, the expectation is just so high.”
Interesting you mention expectations — you're often labeled as a living legend. Do you ever find it hard to live up to the pressure?
“Not really, because I simply don't see myself as that person. I just don't. If you said to me right now, 'Let's go and grab some pie and mash and hang out', I'd say, 'Yippee!' I'm not sure if that's legendary, I just know I like pie and mash [laughs]. Other people might see me as that but that might be because they've seen me do all these things within my lifetime. If you see me as someone who is legendary, then that is great — but me, as myself, I don't feel like that.”
So many nights come and go in Ibiza. Why has your night in particular achieved such longevity?
“Because I think we really understand the island. We live on the island, and I respect the island for what is it and what it has given me. That, for me, is very important for a successful night on this island because people support you here, if you support them. I walk away from Ibiza and I still talk about it from the heart — about why I love this place so much.
I've been coming since 1984, that's longer than most people on the dancefloor have been alive [laughs]. Those acts that come to Ibiza just to get famous or just to make money — it doesn't work. Or if you think: 'If I get this night, or if I buy into it then I'll be set'. If all you want from this island is attention, it doesn't work. Before I started to DJ on the island, I was just coming here and enjoying it.
You know, meeting new people, listening to other DJs play their music, at the end of the day we are foreigners here. I can't just come and go, the island is in my heart, it's always with me.”
There's been a lot of nostalgia looking back on Space's history. It can't have been rosy all the time — what's been the toughest challenge?
“I think the biggest challenge is that when we started there wasn't anything like us on the island. Musically, especially. There wasn't anything around us that could really compete with us. Now, it's like everything around us is competing with us [laughs].
Apart from Sankeys that's gone hip-hop on Tuesdays, there's Maceo at Pacha, and so on and so on — nothing's really bothered us to be honest, but it's a lot more saturated. All I could do at the end of the day was make sure that I always do my best, that we do something new every week, we never had the same theme.
Any year that you pick, there was always a different sound, a different energy, a different concept — we always made it unique. We never subscribed to the same tired old format. For example, having d&b or hip-hop on in the terrace — it's always important to shock people a bit.”
The big question: what will you do next year?
“Well, I'm not retiring. I will be done, at some point, but it's just not yet. Pepe (Rosello) is 80 years old and he has been there and done it all, and he's decided to walk away from the club at this point. If he walks away from the club, then so do I, because we grew up into this situation together.”
Pepe really loves the club, doesn't he?
“You know, out of all the DJs he must have experienced and all the people he's come across, he still sees me as his son. It's very endearing, and of course I have my own father, but Pepe has really, really supported me from the very beginning with the whole ideal of me being a part of Ibizan culture. I can't give him anything but love and respect for what he's given me, it goes hand and hand. It's not like, he's the club owner and he pays me to DJ — I'd play there anyway regardless. But he's given me an amazing stage to perform on. And if we pack out the club, then we know we've done a good job.”
Do you want it to end?
“Thing is, it's not as if it's broken. If Pepe turned around and said, 'Let's do another five years!', I'd say, 'Okay, let's go!'. You can see that we could still keep going, as long as I still kept going with it. That's it, it's over. I need to accept that, drown my sorrows with a couple of drinks, and move onto another realm. As we all know, the island is changing, and Space closing is a really big change. All I'm going to do is keep on coming back. As you can imagine, I've got lots of offers — and wherever I play, I promise I will make it really special.”
You mentioned the island is changing — is Ibiza too VIP focused?
“Yes, absolutely, that's where the money is. Everyone is chasing the money, and there's people who want to spend the money. It will pander to that, that's it. It's a shame because when I came here I had no money, but I still had a great time. There was no real VIP culture, not the way it is now.
Whereas now if you want a table it's like, 'Who are you?' and if you're not 'someone' you're often banished to the bar. You look at the way it is with a lot of the beach bars and clubs, walking in as a punter, you're already paying overpriced tickets, but there's tiers of spending which dictate how much you'll enjoy your night.
People don't ring up and say, 'Is the club open tonight? Who is DJing?' — they ring and say 'Can I get a table?'. It's like, 'Hang on, you're going clubbing but you want to sit down all-night?'. That's what's happening more and more — it's a bit of shame, really.”