Carl Cox: “Maybe I wasn’t supposed to have children. But never say never”

Veteran DJ Carl Cox reflects on the influence of his Barbadian roots, the changing face of Ibiza and working with Nile Rodgers

The 16-year-old Carl was into football, music and girls. It was a happy time. I was never a loner, always had my friends. We were a family. We’d go to a lot of nightclubs, take coaches to Canvey Island, dressing up older to get in. The girlfriend situation, though… that was a confusing time. Did they like me? Did they want to talk to me?

My family first came to Manchester from Barbados in the late 1960s. They were always very working-class people Their values made me who I am today. We never had much money. Before I was a DJ, I learned my trade as a scaffolder, before that as a painter and decorator, and I stacked tins of baked beans before that. I was a wedding DJ for 10 years. I knew I had to work, and work hard, if I wanted to buy records. I’ve never owed anyone any money.

My first exposure to music came from my father. Like many West Indian or Barbadian families, we had a lot of parties at home. My dad religiously bought these seven-inch records and shared his love of music with everyone. It was anything from old funk to reggae to country, from James Brown to Dolly Parton to Marc Bolan. I think it’s a natural order that I took such an avid interest. Now, my collection of music from 1968 to present day is over 150,000 pieces of vinyl.

I first went to Ibiza in 1984, with my sister and girlfriend at the time. We hired a little Fiat Panda and slept in the car for the first two days. Back then it was all about Spanish DJs playing to Spanish people. Then there was me, arriving from Carshalton in south London, hearing music I’d never heard before in clubs that blew me away. That was my initiation. The next year I decided I was going to try and become a DJ.

Carl Cox onstage

I had an enterprising approach early on. At 24, I got £1000 from The Prince’s Trust to buy my own DJ equipment and start my own small business. This was a big turning point. I had to cross that bridge and make the decision of what direction I was going. I could earn £500 a week as a scaffolder or £60 a week as a self-employed DJ. I would tell my younger self that you are taking a big step back to move forward. I’d say, your dad will tell you that you’re dreaming, that it would amount to nothing. But he’s from a different time. Your mum will see what you’re about as a person, where you’re going. I would tell the young Carl, stick to your path.

I haven’t had a natural eight-hour sleep for many years. If I carried on with that rock and roll, party lifestyle I’d be dead. I’d tell my younger self to learn how to say no. Missing that extra beer or a party isn’t the end of the world. Now I want to have a life beyond the party. I’m into my cars, my motorcycles. You can’t waste a day.

I’ll never forget meeting David Bowie… he asked me to turn it down

Ibiza has been a part of my life cycle for the longest time. I’ve just ended my 15-year residency at Space. I always had a good feeling there. It was like a family. We created something from nothing. Our nights were always successful but circumstances change and it’s the right time to do something else. It’s been emotional but the time was right. Now I’ll get three days of my life back every week. I can go anywhere in the world, see anyone, do anything. I can enjoy the rest of my life as I know it. But I’m not over. I’m not finished.

I always said that if I found a girlfriend that I could have children with, then I would. But I’ve never been around. I didn’t want to bring a child into this world and say: “Right, I’m off for six months.” That would be unfair. I’ve had relationships, and I’ve thought maybe this is the one and we will have a family but I’ve never been prepared to stop DJing and become the father that I should be. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to have children. But now I will be slowing down. I will be around to be that person. So maybe it could happen. Never say never. It worked out okay for Michael Douglas, so why not me?

I’ll never forget meeting David Bowie. I first bought Golden Years in 1976 and I’ve always been a huge supporter of him. Moby asked us both to be involved in a festival in America [Area Festival in 2002], which involved live acts and people who were progressive in their sound. We performed at the same time, which I think annoyed him because of how noisy my set was. He joked after, asking me to turn it down next time. But I think we both developed a newfound respect for one another, and what we both did. It was a sad day when I heard he was gone. We’ll never hear anyone of his like again.

DID YOU KNOW…

In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

If I really wanted to impress the teenage Carl, I’d tell him that one day he’d make music with Nile Rodgers. I remember going to Virgin Record Store in Marble Arch in 1977 to buy Chic’s Dance, Dance, Dance A-side. This was a seminal record for me – the start of something wonderful. I’d met Nile before but then two years ago in Melbourne he got in touch and said he wanted to work together. I was just like: “Hold on, hang about…” There we were, he’s going through the motions, doing his thing, and I’m just staring at him. That was the moment. It was like an out-of-body experience. If I told the young Carl that… Wow. He wouldn’t be able to visualise that.

If I could relive any time in my life, it would be when I was around nine or 10, with all my mates on our pushbikes at the yearly parade in Carshalton. I’ve got a picture of that day hanging up. It was a time of innocence, a time of adventure. Where this is what we’ve got, let’s take the day and go for it. Those moments are gone now. We can’t get them back.

Pure Intec 3, mixed by Carl Cox and Jon Rundell, is out now on Intec Digital