How Carl Cox became known as the ‘Three-Deck Wizard’
In the ‘90s UK rave heyday, before being billed as ‘The People’s Choice’, Carl Cox was known as the ‘Three-Deck Wizard’ thanks to his ferocious, fast-paced DJ style. In this excerpt from his new autobiography, Oh Yes, Oh Yes, Coxy shares the story of the first time he worked three-deck magic at a rave, and how it changed the course of his life forever
I knew I was playing in a way that no one else was. Danny Rampling calls my style ‘ferocious’ because I attack the decks with all I’ve got. I just wanted to push myself further and further — I was sure that this art form was in its early days and that there was more to it than just programming and mixing. At one rave I carried on playing until 10am and it was here that I did something that would change my career and — I believe — the perception of what a DJ actually does.
At a big event there would often be a spare deck on the side in case one went down. You’d be on the one’s and two’s and having a spare was essential, especially as it was likely that if something went wrong the sound guy would have already disappeared into the middle of the dancefloor frenzy and even if you did find him he’d be in no fit state to help out.
I was rocking it — I could feel the energy back from the crowd and I felt like I had more to say, a lot more. Every top DJ was there and I was still quite unknown but felt I was ready to step up. There were over 15,000 people still there and Maxine, my girlfriend and manager at the time, looked at me and said, ‘There are three decks there, you know you can do it.’ Caught up in the moment, I stuck a record on the spare deck and mixed it in. The sound was fatter than I had imagined it could be and, as most of my sets are unplanned, it wasn’t difficult to keep going. It was like slow motion for me as I pulled out my records. I had two copies of ‘French Kiss’ by Lil Louis and I mixed in the a capella of Doug Lazy’s ‘Let It Roll’. The crowd had been winding down, ready for the journey home, when the music hit them. It was as if I had just re-energised them with this magical sound as 15,000 people found the hidden reserves to get back on the dancefloor.
Suddenly I had the extra platform to generate the deepness to my set that I’d been looking for. People were amazed and party goers and promoters alike came over to see what was going on. The word spread like wildfire around the party and groups of ravers came over to see what the newly christened ‘Three Deck Wizard’ was up to. Maxine handed out my business card to all the promoters and said, ‘If you want to book him, his name’s Carl Cox,’ and that was it. The cork was definitely out of the bottle and nothing was going to get it back in. The Three Deck Wizard was born and I was suddenly a somebody in the DJ world. I never looked back.
I could see what was making me stand out from the other DJs. Creating the atmosphere with my records was always the essence of what I was doing. So when I was mixing between two records in my unique style people were really responding to something that they weren’t getting anywhere else, and when I’d drop in that extra tune to my three-turntable sets it would take people to another planet.
By 1990 I was now headlining and my name was out there. I was on the flyers alongside the big names from the scene. It seemed like one minute I had my name on a bit of paper behind the decks at Shoom as I played to 200 people, the next thing it’s on posters all across the country as I played to 20,000 people. At first the promoters weren’t quite sure how to bill me. You normally put something after the DJ’s name to explain where the DJ had come from. For example, for the Love Dove Dance 1 ‘Mother of all Night Raves’ that the flyer proclaimed had ‘The Greatest line-up of DJs ever assembled in the UK’ they billed the support DJs as Nicky Holloway (‘Pasha & the Milk Bar’), Kiss FM’s Colin Dale and Grooverider & Fabio (from Rage). The first headliner was easy :‘From Radio One & the Milk Bar’, Pete Tong.
Then it was my turn. I wasn’t playing anywhere of note regularly so there was no reference point for the punters. They had to know me by name and reputation; I didn’t have a venue or radio station to stand alongside. I don’t know how and where the name started, but I was billed as ‘The People’s Choice’, Carl Cox. And that became my regular billing. People were asking promoters to book me and wouldn’t buy tickets unless I was on the bill. I’ve heard stories of people spending weekends driving around looking for the rave that Coxy was playing rather than going to something local. ‘People’s Choice’ — I liked that. It made me feel wanted.