Fatboy Slim, aka Norman Cook, has lived quite a life. His career has been a remarkable shape-shifting beast that famously started when he formed The Housemartins as a bassist in the 1980s. From there, Cook emerged as a new purveyor of sounds and developed into one of the first superstar DJs to dominate popular culture.
Cook is a difficult man to pin down. Never wanting to remain confined by one particular genre, his punk upbringing gave him a grounding in music that he rarely strayed from. However, something separated The Clash from the rest of the punks on the scene, a factor that lured in Cook as a youngster and never let go. The Clash opened up his ears, his eyes, and his ambitions like no act had ever done before.
As The Clash’s label CBS put it, they were “the only band that matters”, and for Cook living in the suburbs of Brighton, that statement couldn’t be more true. He wasn’t the only person to feel profoundly affected by not just the music which The Clash delivered, but their powerful message too. The band politicised Cook during his youth, and the impact they had on him is still ingrained within the DJ all these decades later.
“The Clash opened a lot of people’s minds to other sides of music,” Cook told Australia’s Double J. “Particularly with that album [1980’s Sandinista!], they were opening it up to lots of reggae music and dub and stuff like that, which they were educating us about.”
Adding: “That was one of the many reasons why I think The Clash are just the best band ever, in the history of bands. They were the greatest gang in town, the greatest rock’n’roll icons. But then, just at the time when they could have cleaned up, they were like, ‘No! We’re going to explore other things around the world’.”
This exploration is something that Cook has integrated into his career with unerring accuracy. Following the split of The Housemartins in 1988, Cook followed his heart and made the left-field move into dance music. DJing was always a passion that he wanted to follow, and that all started with The Clash, too.
“They turned me on to a lot of politics but they really turned me on to music,” he continued. “I saw Grandmaster Flash for the first time supporting them and that was how I got into to the idea of DJing and mixing. Then Mick Jones with Big Audio Dynamite went on to pioneer sampling.
“The idea of white people having a bash at black music in their own style, which was something that had never really been done before. Nowadays people call it dance music, but when I was young, it was called black music or white music and white people didn’t make black music. But The Clash found a way and using samplers and turntables was a way that you could. It was an entry point.”
Cook then honestly added: “It was a white suburban kid’s version of what we thought was groovy in New York.”
The cultural impact of The Clash is a facet of their charm that isn’t discussed enough. The band made Cook realise there was a whole world out there, one that he was previously unaware existed. It was the pre-internet age, and block parties in New York seemed like a universe away, but then The Clash came along. Suddenly, Cook’s life wasn’t limited to Sussex, and music provided him with an escape from his mundane surroundings.