MTS 2020: By his second album, the man now known around the world as Fatboy Slim had hit upon the formula for making hit records – just add equal parts breakbeats, some acid house, and a big repetitive pop arrangement and hook. Then let it bubble, and stand well back.
He’d developed this magical musical alchemy through what he refers to as ‘The Holy Trinity’ of mixes – Brimful of Asha, Renegade Master and The Rockafeller Skank. These three tracks were certified global chart smashes, and went on to become the blueprint for everything that followed.
“After those I was absolutely buzzing with ideas,” says Norm. “And I’d hit the formula, of what was, by then, called ‘big beat’. A lot of the underground club stuff was great, but they were missing that verse/chorus, verse/chorus, middle eight. I’d been in enough pop bands over the years to know that’s how it worked.
“I wanted to take this music out of the nightclubs and onto the radio. So I took all of those dancefloor ingredients, but arranged them in a manner that the human brain would associate with pop music. That was one of the many things I learned by the time I got to this album.”
You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby was 11 tracks of pure jukebox gold. Built for dancefloors, house parties, student dorms, car rides, keggers, and ragers, on both sides of the Atlantic. It would be one of the albums of the ’90s, and the soundtrack to a generation.
“It was also the soundtrack to my life, so far,” says Norm. “The idea of what big beat was for me, at that point, was the sum collection of everything that’s gone before into your head, with no kinda agenda.
“Not, ‘Oh. I make rock ‘n’ roll music’, or, ‘I make dance music’. I grew up listening to The Beatles, then a bit of glam rock. Then I cut my teeth during punk rock. Then I got into hip-hop, then acid house. Basically, it’s all those influences, without any kind of reverence of the rules or genre.
“Back then I was like, ‘What can I get away with?’. I’d try to make pop records out of the wrong ingredients. As long as it had a catchy hook, a bit of repetition, and you could dance to it, you could get away with pretty much anything.”
Track-by-track with Fatboy Slim
1. Right Here, Right Now
“The original intention of this was to do something with an emotional weight. Then I saw a poll in one of the magazines talking about what was the ‘best dance tune, ever’. They’d picked Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack. I was like, ‘Fuck yeah! It’s just better than all the others. It’s just so... emotional. What makes it emotional?’
“I looked back at it and what made it emotional was the strings. So I set out to make a ‘string tune’. I just got a whole load of orchestra samples together and wove them into this enormous riff.
“Yeah, the original idea was that I just wanted to do a big emotive strings tune. The fact that it’s still causing emotions is great. Be it [in its use by] Greta Thunberg or Manchester City – it’s still stirring people after all these years.”
2. The Rockafeller Skank
“I loved Rock the Funky Beat by Natural Born Chillers. There was a big crossover with big beat and that jump up jungle sound at the Boutique. We’d play those kinda jungle records at 33!
“I loved the repetition and hookiness – ‘If. You. Really. Wanna. Rock. The funky beats. Funky beats’. It was great, as they’d chopped it up into syllables.
“The sample I used was an intro from a Vinyl Dogs record. They had the rapper Lord Finesse just speaking, ‘Check it out. Right about now. It’s no other, than the funk soul brother, Lord Finesse...’ I just heard ‘Right about now’ and ‘The funk soul brother’, and liked it, and put it in the sampler. Then after I added that Northern soul rhythm track, it suddenly sounded like a pop record.”
3. Fucking In Heaven
“[Laughs]. That’s Freddy Fresh on vocals. He wanted me to do a remix and posted me a DAT, along with a recoding explaining what he’d sent.
“He was like, ‘Hi, Norm. It’s Freddy here. Here’s all the parts. Let me know if you can do this, because if I could have a remix by Fatboy Slim I’d be fucking in heaven. And, by the way, please don’t play this to anyone...’ As soon as he said that I was like, ‘Right! Let’s plug the DAT into the sampler!’
“Again, the vocal, ‘Fatboy Slim is fucking in heaven’ just had a ring to it. And as soon as I chopped it into bits it had a rhythm to it, and as soon as I started making a tune, it was like, ‘That’s the hook! Let’s not bother having anything else...’”
4. Gangster Tripping
“The vocal is off an MC Tunes record that had just come out. He name-checked me, accidentally [laughs]. I was like, ‘I’ll have some of that!’ He said, ‘What we doing when the fat boy’s tripping?’ It seemed apt.
“The musical blueprint for that was an AV8 record that went, ‘Come on. Rock one time to the beat’. [Yes Yes, Y’all, by DJ Rags]. It was this ghetto sampling with this mindless repetition. All that was a big influence on me. For them guys it was kinda stoner, New York hip-hop. But for us it was ecstasy party hip-hop [laughs].
“I also sample a DJ Shadow record. That West Coast scene was definitely in tune with what we were doing, too, which was mashing up breakbeats the wrong way.”
5. Build It Up, Tear It Down
“When I think of this, I think more about the video, which was the final night down the Big Beat Boutique, before it was knocked down.
“I got invited to play the last ever set. I asked if I could take a bit of the dancefloor home. They said, ‘If you bring tools you can take the whole building!’. So we turned up with a saw and a big sledgehammer, and destroyed the club as they filmed it!
“By that point I wasn’t scared to sample rock records in there, as well. There’d been that whole Madchester thing, and I didn’t wanna just be someone who’d been in a rock band, using a few breakbeats, you know? I wanted to deconstruct it a bit more.”
“My nod to the West Coast American scene. As we’d been experimenting with ‘the new melting pot’ we came up with a whole load of West Coast artists who were obviously taking different drugs to the rest of them. So you ended up with the Crystal Method, the Bassbin Twins, and tracks like Higher State Of Consciousness [by Josh Wink].
“A lot of their tunes were based on the Planet Rock beat, with an acid line on it. They called it ‘tweeking’. I was just celebrating my relationship with America. None of the bands I had ever been in before had been big there.
"So this was very much my Americana album. From the cover – which is just my mangled brain driving around America, finally getting to see all these places I’d heard so many songs about.”
7. Soul Surfing
“This idea came from the guy who did the surfing in The Rockafeller Skank video. He just said to me, ‘So, you know about soul surfing?’. I said, ‘No’. He said, ‘All these kids use these really short surf boards and that’s surfing for the last 20 years – short boards and all these fancy tricks. We go back to the really old school where it’s all really long boards, and it’s called ‘soul surfing’. It’s less gimmicks and a lot more soul’.
"I just really liked the idea. It’s what I’d like in music. So, that’s where the title came from. Then for the music I was just kind of trying to do more with Northern soul samples. Again, it was based around that style, like The Rockafeller Skank.”
8. You’re Not From Brighton
“No one is from Brighton [laughs]. I’ve got about two friends who are actually from here. Brighton is a place you go to because you don’t fit in where you live – either because you’re gay or like clubbing too much. Whatever. We all end up here.
“This track started from a sample from a tune that I used to play with a vocoder line in it that sounded like it said, ‘You’re not from Brighton’. It never said that, but we’d all sing it, along to that bit. We re-recorded it so it said it. I thought it would be funny.
“By that point the Skint empire was building up. People were taking note of Brighton. Before that, if you went anywhere and said ‘Brighton’, they’d either know Brighton Rock or Quadrophenia. Then, all of a sudden, people were going, ‘Oh! Skint Records!’ I felt like we were putting it on the map at the time. We were very pro-Brighton and wanted to make a tune about that.”
9. Praise You
“In my crate digging I came across this tune called Take Yo’ Praise by Camille Yarbrough. She obligingly enough sang the first three lines acapella. I was like, ‘Ooh. Three lines? That could be enough’. So I just put them in the sampler to see what would happen.
“It was really, really slow, so I got out my ‘slow’ sample disk, and on it was this piano loop [hums it]. And as soon as I put that vocal hook over that it worked. I didn’t even have to timestretch it or anything!
“Before Auto-Tune, the only way you could make that work was to timestretch it to the right speed and change the pitch. This just happened to be the right key. Again, as soon as I put those two samples together, it sounded like a pop record.”
10. Love Island
“I was resident at a club called Manumission in Ibiza. We called Ibiza ‘Love Island’. They were making a film called Manumission – The Movie and they asked if I’d make a track for it.
“I kinda liked it so much, and it didn’t look like their film was gonna get made any time soon – they’d had it for about six months and not done anything with it – so I said, ‘Do you mind if I do another version and put it on my album?’. And they were cool with that. I just beefed up the drums a little, kept it four-on-the-floor, but more breakbeaty.
“It was my love letter to Ibiza, and Manumission, and all the crazy inspiration I got from the people that ran and frequented that place.”
11. Acid 8000
“This track reminded me of the last track on The Beatles’ Abbey Road, The End – the big long outro. Acid 8000 became that long rolling outro.
“It was me being self-indulgent. I’d put enough pop singles on the album, so I could have a moment going off on the 303. I just wanted to do an acid house/breakbeat tune. I loved acid house/breakbeat tunes.
“When I did 303 passes I’d do them when I had friends around. Sometimes when I might have been a little high – my friends would notice that I’d make a sort of ‘lead guitarist face’. [Mimes vibing out on an imagined searing 303 solo]. Yeah [laughs]. Acid 8000 was a nod to my self-indulgent guitar solo moments; a great way to end the album.”