Back when most of us were only concerned with what kind of Underoos we were going to wear that day, Carl Cox was already peddling dance music. And while DJs today enjoy playing atop enormous stages with seizure-inducing light shows, it's safe to say that in the late '80s, Cox was playing strictly underground clubs.
Surely, Cox deserves a lot of recognition for paving the way for today's EDM superstars. And for the past seven years, Ultra Music Festival has honored the legend by giving him his own tent.
The Carl Cox and Friends mega-structure feels worlds away from the main stage, which tends to cater to the DJ of the moment -- not always the DJ with the most talent. But Cox's careful curation (yes, Cox insists on complete control in picking the lineup for his tent) always showcases a broad yet forward-thinking collection of DJs and producers who understand that EDM is more than just the drop.
We here at Crossfade spoke with Cox about electronic dance music's rise in popularity, how he came to work with Ultra, and whether he expects to survive the two-weekend blitz.
Crossfade: Can you describe the Carl Cox tent at Ultra?
Carl Cox: I think I've made a little niche for myself within the festival. Now that they're celebrating 15 years, I think that's something we should all celebrate -- that the music has lasted this long and still seems to be more popular than ever. And to part of that is great. I've been involved with dance music since '88 -- 27 years ago. To work with Ultra Music Festival, it's something I'm very honored and proud to be a part of. I'm really looking forward to coming back and doing what I do to the highest level.
How many years have you been doing the tent at Ultra?
I think my tent has been done for the last 7 years, and I played two years before that. I haven't performed at Ultra for the whole 15 years.
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When Ultra first approached you about doing a tent at the festival, were you hesitant?
The thing about it is when I played Ultra, I was alongside Donald Glaude, Paul Oakenfold ... It was like another DJ upon another DJ upon another DJ, and it was only an hour set. I knew I had a lot more to offer than just playing alongside other DJs and playing a small selection of music.
I've always created my own events and done my own parties in the past. But I really wanted the people to see I have more water in my well -- more water being that I was able to play longer, that I was able to create something within a festival, and to have not main act DJs, but DJs who believe in the music they are playing. I was able to exercise the fact that a different style of music existed that put me where I am today. And that's what I'm still basically purveying. Acts like Loco Dice, Richie Hawtin ... we can't put these guys on the main stage at Ultra. But now we can give them a space purely based on the music that they play.
When I was given the opportunity to do this I never doubted for a minute that it wouldn't be successful. We were offering something different and unique toward that festival. To me, it was a bit of a challenge, of course. But it certainly paid off.
When putting together the lineup for the tent, does Ultra give you free rein?
Ultra has been fantastic. They've said, "We really want you on board at our festival. What do you need?" All I really wanted was a good space, a great sound system, a good production, and free rein on the DJs that I believe would compliment the festival. I want to give a different viewpoint of what [dance music] stands for. I was very glad and fortunate that they believe in my selection of DJs. They don't tell me, "These DJs are popular and we want them at your tent."
You've been in the game for a while, and only recently, one could argue, that dance music has crossed over into the mainstream in the United States. Are you surprised?
No, not really. I was playing in America when there was no such thing as EDM. It was basically a house music DJ. It was always house music. It was never techno, electro, or any of that stuff. House music was predominately only played in black gay clubs, especially in New York City, Washington D.C., and Detroit. It wasn't on rotation on MTV or on radio stations. But I've seen this whole thing develop into something great and knew when America as a whole came together, this is what was going to happen.
Every year, I stop by your your tent and I think you can't possibly outdo yourself the following year. But you always do -- between the lineup and the production. Any surprises this year?
To be honest, [last year], we really did raise the bar in production for that tent. Of all the events I did that year, doesn't matter where I play, I still believe that the best production that I ever played on was that Ultra tent. It was just amazing. But we look back at it and think: What do we do now? [Laughs] But we do have something special, but it's not going to be too far reaching. We still got a lot of left in what we create, in the sense that production was second to none. But we do have some really cool ideas of what we're doing next. I think people will enjoy it a bit more this time around than last time.
Are you amazed at how much Ultra's grown over the years?
It's phenomenal. There's no other event like it of its kind. I thought it was far reaching when they wanted to do a first day, never mind two weekends.
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Do you think you'll be able to survive two weekends of Ultra?
Yeah, I'll be there. I really feel like I can do this. I've never been involved with one festival that spans two weekends. It's going to be interesting. Obviously, we are going to want to make each night unique. The first weekend we have one set of DJs playing and the second weekend we have another set of DJs.
Ultra Music Festival 2013. With Deadmau5, Swedish House Mafia, Tiesto, Avicii, and others. Friday, March 16, to Sunday, March 17, and Friday, March 22, to Sunday, March 24.. Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Visit ultramusicfestival.com.