You’ll either find this epic or exhausting, depending on how much you enjoy the mixological stylings of Fatboy Slim. I think it’s eleven and a half minutes of pure epic. The kind of throw-everything-at-it epic with ambitions of deep import that psychedelic rock bands used to produce because the acid told them they needed to turn the people on, man! It may not sound much like what you’d recognize from your late 60’s “experimental phase” but it’s in the same spiritual wheelhouse. Fatboy Slim wants to uplift you, send you off with a feeling of wellbeing, tune your vibes up, etc. etc. It’s the perfect song for that slow afterglow as you leave that basement acid rave, and the drugs are wearing off and you come out and see the sun rising.
I have to say, this is one of the most irritating songs by an artist I otherwise greatly enjoy. Right up there with Daft Punk’s Technologic. Fatboy Slim has made some of the most genre-expanding electronic music of our times. In this case, he really nailed the exact formula for maximum irritate-the-adults effect. And yet, I still find myself enjoying this grating song on some level. For one thing, I find it rather funny. It came out in 2004, when the words ‘dot com’ could still serve as a punchline. This was when consumers were flabbergasted to find that the Dole banana company had its own website, and the internet in general still felt like a vaguely shiesty youth fad. Now we take it for granted that literally everything under the sun can be appended with a dot com, gov, org, edu, etc. We barely remember when just saying “dot com” after a string of absolute gibberish was qualified as an edgy joke. The language is of URLs and hashtags is our lingua franca now. Live with it.
Fatboy Slim has been around long enough that you can probably recognize the elements of his aesthetic within a few seconds. You know, irresistibly catchy beats paired with herky-jerky samples that are almost discomfiting in their oddness, almost pushing the boundary into ‘too weird to dance to’ but always still making you dance. Having an identifiable style is a tall order for a demi-anonymous musician working in a genre that’s faceless kind of by definition. There’s a lot of interchangeable DJ’s and producers cranking out beats and splicing samples, and whatever human warmth their music generates usually comes from passing guest vocalists. In that environment a career with lasting power is unusual. Norman Cook, of course, is a trailblazer who helped usher in the era of mainstream electronic music, and it’s probably fair to say that some of the genre’s cliches originated as his own personal tics.
This Fatboy Slim song sounds like it should be on the soundtrack of one of those horror movies that lean heavily on gratuitous digital filters and aggressive jump cuts for their scares, and as such it’s not really much of a song. However, I did think that some of you might enjoy watching the video, which juxtaposes footage of Californians frolicking in the sun with depressing images of life in the Soviet Union. That was a very relevant and timely point to have made in 1996, when Norman Cook released his debut album. Yes, Americans are greasy, scantily clad and fond of gaudy tattoos, while Russia is full of snow and sad people. Accurate. Some of us feel the warm tingle of fond nostalgia when we see a Zhiguli puttering through the slush.
Ahh, a real classic song of my lifetime. One of the quintessential musical moments of the 1990’s. A generational touchstone. Who would have thought that a wub-wub song would become all of those things. Who would have thought that one of the most important and enduring musical minds of the decade would be this “Fatboy Slim”, a semi-anonymous schmuck from Surrey? Well, that’s a rebuke to all of you who dismissed electronic music and all of its subgenres. If you’ve read the official year-end music industry reports, rock music is officially dead again, commanding none of the top ten positions on any chart measurement of popularity. That’s mostly thanks to the predominance of hip hop, but the other major market force is EDM, which is now as ubiquitous as corn syrup. It’s the additive that makes bland things taste so sweet! So, damn straight that Fatboy Slim, Aphex Twin, the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy and other trailblazers from the 90’s are now bona-fide legacy acts.
(Photo: Steve Dykes)
A Google search for the words Right Here, Right Now yields a Google Map of my home address. I can zoom in and view a satellite image of my building in real time. The Fatboy Slim song is only the third item down. It’s not entirely off topic, though. We’re at the apex of human civilization, if you subscribe to the view that all of history is an upward progress. (That’s up for debate.) According to Fatboy Slim’s educational and scientifically accurate video, the apex of evolutionary progress is the “Why try harder?” kid. It’s a punchline familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a ‘stages of man’ cartoon. Yes, we’ve become somewhat less-than-glorious in our sedentary ways, and the flying cars we were promised have still not arrived. The hot theory in anthropology right now is that maybe this whole agriculture thing was a huge mistake and we all should have stuck to eating nuts and berries. Or, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, everything from the creation of the universe on down has been a bad move. On the other hand, though, most of us don’t die at birth or from minor injuries/drinking tainted water/bubonic plague/smallpox/crucifixion/eaten by lions etc. which is nice. We’re noble savages no longer, hardly anyone knows how to build a pyramid by hand anymore, and we’re all collectively pre-diabetic. But we have satellites, internet and EDM records. So, you know, it’s a trade-off.
To retox is when you wake up in the morning and immediately start drinking to ward off a hangover. I just made that up. We already have a word for when you do that. I think what we have here is a kind of a spiritual retoxification, as in when you get pumped up to go party. It’s strange to think that the world is so old that we actually have classic EDM now, just as it used to be weird when ‘classic rock’ became a thing. This is like, your dad’s EDM, from the old days. Fatboy Slim is a grandee now, he’s middle aged and all awash in laurels. I’m waiting for some wit to make a Bob Seeger-sampling remix of Give Me That Old Time EDM. No, really, I want to hear that. Anyway, this here is some primo classic big beat music, coming out of the year 2000, which puts it on the downward side of the big beat trend, when electronica ceded ground back to guitar rock for a short period of time. If you’re the type who favors guitar music, all those words sound like gibberish, and they kind of are; electronic music subgenres all sound the same, as is the nature of all hyperspecific subgenres. This is what trendy electronic music sounded like in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and it doesn’t even sound that dated. I mean you can definitely timestamp it for what it is, if you’re familiar with what the trends have been, but not so much that it makes you groan. I honestly have no idea how I came to know so much about ED subgenres; I sure as hell wasn’t listening to this stuff when it first came out. I guess it’s kind of an acquired taste.