Pioneers of dance music: Carl Cox

If you’re new to electronic music making and you’re looking to get started making beats and tracks – in whatever genre you may favor – then it’s vital you have a good understanding of this music’s history and how it grew from humble origins to the global, multi-billion dollar phenomenon it is today.

In this occasional series – kicking off today with legendary British DJ and Techno producer Carl Cox – I’ll be giving you a crash course in some of the biggest producers and pioneers in dance music history. I’ll explore their backgrounds, the musical influences that shaped their work, the music gear they use(d) as well as encouraging you to listen to some of their most important tracks – essential ear training for all producers!

There’ll be lots of great videos to watch too including the very best dance music related documentaries and plenty of archive footage of some of the most important gigs.

Carl Cox in brief:

Place of birth: Manchester, England

Date of birth: 29 July 1962

Resides: Hove, England.

Notable Awards: Best International DJ Award (three times). Best Techno DJ Award (six times).

Debut Single: I Want You (Forever). Perfecto Records.

Aliases: The People’s Choice. The 3 Deck Wizard.

Official Website:

What type of music does Carl Cox make?

Carl Cox produces and mixes mainly techno and tech-house music using a variety of music equipment including drum machines such as the Roland TR-8 and synthesisers from the likes of Moog and Behringher.

‘Carl Cox wrote the script of what it means to be a DJ.’

– David Guetta

Carl Cox, the early years:

Carl Cox has played an instrumental role in the birth and subsequent growth of dance music culture in his home country, England, as well as around the world (Ibiza in particular).

Cox started DJing at the tender age of 10, playing his dad’s records at school, and he was clubbing at 14 but his music career began to take off in earnest at the age of 15 when he bought a set of turntables and began working as a mobile DJ. By the early 80s Cox was in London playing the latest rare groove, New York hip-hop and electro records.

It was while DJing in London that Cox was first exposed to the very earliest Chicago house records from across the Atlantic and Cox credits the 1987 ‘Acid Trax’ by Phuture (a.k.a. DJ Pierre) in particular with pushing his career into a new direction.

Carl Cox heard the Phuture

As one of the first champions of this new wave of underground club music emanating from the U.S., he appeared as a warm up DJ at Paul Oakenfold’s ‘Future’ night and was subsequently invited to play at the very first night of Danny Rampling’s Shoom night in the summer of 1987.

Inspired by parties and club nights in Ibiza, this club night – and its DJs – are credited with playing a pivotal role in kick starting the UK’s acid house and illegal rave scene (AKA the 1988 ‘Second Summer of Love‘).

‘The People’s Choice’

From the late 80s onwards, Cox appeared regularly at some of the UK’s biggest unlicensed raves (where he was billed as ‘The People’s Choice’), often playing to huge crowds and against a backdrop of police crack downs and tabloid press fury.

Carl Cox’s 1st single:

In the early 1990s Cox released his debut single “I Want You (Forever)” on Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto label”.

Carl Cox ‘s debut single I want you (forever). Perfecto Records.

I Want You (Forever) reached Number 23 in the national UK charts. Following modest chart success with two further singles, Cox headed back underground to focus on techno while the UK rave and club scene fragmented into numerous scenes and genres including jungle.

The 1994 Criminal Justice Act brought an end to the UK’s illegal rave scene and the scene’s star DJs returned to playing legitimate clubs including a new generation of “super clubs” such as Cream, Gatecrasher and Ministry of Sound as well as legal dance festivals.

Cox continued to produce his own music, as well as remixing records by other artists and running various music related projects and businesses. His 1995 mix CD, ‘F.A.C.T,‘ became a techno benchmark and sold over 250,000 copies.

Techno drives home somewhere. It takes you to an element of surprise, not knowing where you’re going. It’s scary but wonderful at the same time.

– Carl Cox.

Cox established his own record label – Intec Records – in 1999. Intec Records released music from 1999 to 2006. It relaunched as Intel Digital in 2010.

Carl Cox’s record labels:

  1. Intec Records, formed 1999 (now closed.)
  2. Intec Digital, formed 2010
  3. Awesome Soundwave (ASW) formed 2018 (with label partner, Christopher Coe, AKA Digital Primate.)

Carl Cox in Ibiza

Cox’s talent and drive took him to Ibiza and the legendary Space night club where he would reign supreme for 15 consecutive summers from 2001 until 2016. Cox’s final 15 week summer residency was his biggest ever, with every night selling out.

Is Carl Cox retired?

At the age of 59 Carl Cox remains one of the most hard working and in demand DJs and there are even plans for a rebooted Space nightclub in the works. Cox runs a successfull motosports business and in May 2021 Cox signed a record deal with BMG Rights Management.

Ages ago I told myself that if I have to sit down to play a party, then it’s over. I’m not there yet.
Carl Cox in the studio: what software does Cal Cox use?

– Carl Cox discusses his life, drive and work ethic with The Guardian

List of Carl Cox albums (in chronological order):

  1. At the end of the Cliche (Woldwide Ultimatum Records, 1996).*
  2. Phuture 2000 (Moonshine Music, 1999)*
  3. Carl Cox Global Part 2 (Virgin Music, 2002)
  4. Second Sign (Picas, 2005)*
  5. Carl Cox at Space (Gridlock, 2005)
  6. Carl Cox at Space (Gridlock, 2005)
  7. Carl Cox at Space – King of Clubs (Midtown Recods, 2008)
  8. Carl Cox and Friends (Midtown Recods, 2008)
  9. Mainstage Madness (Mixmag cover CD compilation, 2009)
  10. Carl Cox at Space – Join our Revolution (Safehouse Management 2009)
  11. Space: Revolution Conutinues (Safehouse Management 2010)
  12. Black Rock Desert (Global Underground 2010)
  13. All Roads Lead to the Dancefloor (Intec Digital 2011)*
  14. Ibiza – The Revolution Recruits (Safehouse Management 2012)
  15. Pure Intec Two (with John Rundell, Intec Digital 2013)
  16. Space – The Party Unites (Safehouse Management 2013)

*studio albums.

Watch the Carl Cox documentary Space is the Place

Space is the Place

If you want to know more about Carl Cox’s life and career then you must watch this fantastic 2016 documentary from Director / Editor Patrick Nation and Producer Debbie Butts.

Carl Cox: Space Is the Place – a collaboration between dance music culture website Resident Advisor and British broadcaster Channel 4 – is a warm and engaging look at a true dance music pioneer and icon.

Filmed during Carl’s last ever ‘Music is Revolution’ residency at the legendary Ibiza club Space – a club Carl had played every Summer for 15 years.

Not for nothing is Carl Cox known as one of the most charming and hardworking DJs in the business and this intimate documentary delivers numerous interesting insights into Carl’s career and personal life as well as plenty of great music and archive footage of one of the most important clubs in dance music culture.

Carl Cox Resident Advisor Exchange Interview:

Below you can listen to RA Exchange 53 featuring Carl Cox and RA’s Grego O’Halloran discussing Carl’s career indepth and playing some of his favorite tunes:

14 Facts about Carl Cox you probably never knew:

  1. Carl started DJing at 10 and by 14 he was going clubbing.
  2. After leaving school at 16, Carl was working simultaneously as a supermarket shelf-stacker, scaffolder and fledgling DJ.
  3. As he was one of the most well known DJs on the early acid house rave scene, the police would bug his phone in an effort to find out where and when parties were happening.
  4. As well as releasing tracks under his own name, Carl Cox also releases work under the aliases Stone Circle, Conquer and the Carl Cox Project.
  5. Carl Cox made his acting debut in the British film Human Traffic, starring as Pablo Hassan, manager of the Asylum nightclub.
  6. When not DJing and producing, Carl is a keen motorsports enthusiast and owns his own racing team (Carl Cox Motorsports) as well as an impressive collection of over 100 motorbikes and cars.
  7. Despite his global success, Carl has never had a UK number one. His highest ranking chart position was number 24 (the 1996 track Two Paintings and a Drum.)
  8. Carl has won over 20 industry awards and has a record 32 consecutive nominations at the annual DJ Awards since the awards began in 1998.
  9. At the turn of the millennium Cox performed at Bondi beach, Australia, before flying to Honolulu, Hawaii, playing both sets at midnight due to the time difference.
  10. Carl is closely associated with Brighton – where he had a residency at the Zap night club – on the south east coast of England but he now lives in neighboring town Hove.
  11. As well as his house in Hove, Carl has a farmhouse and studio on Mornigton peninsula, near Melbourne.
  12. Carl considered quitting DJing in 2007 after witnessing a gang related shooting while playing a set at a festival in Caracas, Venezuela but after a week away he returned determined to bring joy to the dance floor.
  13. Carl is known as ‘The Three Deck Wizard’ and ‘The People’s Choice’.
  14. Ironically, for a man who had once suffered the indignity of being branded an “Acid house Kingpin” by the British tabloids, in 2021 Carl Cox appeared in an official NHS video to discuss the importance of vaccination and how it supports the UK’s nightlife sector.

(sources: Carl Cox official biography, The Guardian, DJ Mag, Mixmag, Resident Advisor)

Carl Cox Biography: Oh Yes, Oh Yes!

Published in August 2021 by White Rabbit books, Oh Yes, Oh Yes! is the official Carl Cox biography. In his own words Carl describes his journey from record enthusiast and supermarket shelf stacker to warm up DJ at the birth of Acid House to award winning, multi-millionaire global superstar DJ and techno record producer.

There is a deluxe signed edition of Oh Yes, Oh Yes! which comes with a poster and 10-inch vinyl, but it is currently out of stock.

Carl Cox quotes:

Well, in the good ol’ days we didn’t have computers that had enough processing power to play music from. The old days were very much back to basics — two turntables and a mixer. But that gave us the DJing skills to be able to mix and play like we did, and to now emulate that in what we can do today with software like Traktor or Serato

– Carl Cox discusses gear and techniques with DJ Mag

I am in Burning Man now – I’m gonna go again next year and I’m gonna go again the year after that. The things that I experienced there, the things that I saw, the people I met, how I felt about it when I left, it gave me another purpose to live

Carl Cox discusses his love of playing at the Burning Man festival with DJ Mag.

Carl Cox offers advice to aspiring DJs:

At the end of the day, you’re seen as a performing artist and behind all of the machines, there has to be some sort of personality and passion that people can see. You have to be doing what you’re doing because you love it. If you really do believe in what you’re doing and you’re not following any fashion, then you’ll be successful. I’m testament to that.

Carl Cox discusses the creative process with The Mancunion

I try to lead, not follow. I try not to compromise. I try not to be seen to be someone that’s just playing the top twenty Beatport records you could buy off the shelf, because that’s too easy.

– Carl Cox discusses how to be a great DJ (source inthemix)

Carl Cox on vinyl vs digital:

I love vinyl. I have 150,000 records in my garage from 1968 to the present day. But in the end, technology has prevailed. As much as I love vinyl, unfortunately it has had its day so it’s digital all the way.

– Carl Cox on the vinyl vs digital, DJ Mag, 2010

What software does Carl Cox use?

Carl Cox uses Ableton Live in the studio. He is also known to use Komplete. For DJing duties Carl uses Traktor.

First and foremost I always open up Ableton Live … I can open it up and dive straight into making music with minimal setup and without having to rely on external plug-ins. It has everything you need to start making music right in the box.

Carl Cox discusses his studio with Noisegate

Carl Cox on plugins:

The quality has gotten to a point where people don’t feel as though they’re missing out by not having the hardware and we now have the computing power to run these high quality plug-ins properly.

via Noisegate

Carl Cox gear list:

  • Pioneer CDJs
  • Vestax PMCCCX mixer
  • Native Instruments’ Traktor running on a MacBook
  • Maschine
  • Pioneer Toraiz
  • Ableton Live
  • Roland TR-8S drum machine
  • Roland TR-909 drum machine
  • Behringher TD-3 bass synth
  • Moog Mother-32 semi-modular synth
  • Moog Minitaur bass synth

Note that the above gear list is by no means exhaustive.

In the Resident Advisor video below you get plenty of good shots of Carl Cox’s latest gear set up – and skill set! (February 2021).

(Just some of) Carl Cox’s tasty gear, February 2021.

5 Drum Machines to make Techno like Carl Cox:

If you’re looking for a hardware drum machine to create driving techno and house beats similar to Carl Cox then I recommend:

  1. Roland TR-8S
  2. Elektron Analog Rthm MK II
  3. Arturia DrumBrute Impact
  4. Acidlab Detroit 909 Clone
  5. Behringher RD-9 Rhythm Designer

Get the Carl Cox sound in your projects:

If you’re looking to get signature Carl Cox sounds in your own tracks then you might like to know that Carl has contributed preset chord sets to Scaler plugin as well as presets for the Carbon Electra synth plugin.

Carl Cox sample collection DVD: If you want the ultimate collection of royalty free samples and loops produced by Carl Cox then head on over to Loopmasters and bag a copy of the Carl Cox Collective – My Life in Music DVD. This 1.61Gb library of loops and one shot sounds includes pounding break, bass and drum loops, chords stabs, leads, warm pads, FX builds and much more. It’s everything you need to create a Carl Cox style techno or tech-house track.

You can download a free taster pack at Loopmasters: Carl Cox Collective sample pack at Loopmasters

Carl Cox’s final set at Space – watch the legendary 9 hour set!

Grab a cup of coffee or three and sit back and enjoy this crash course in firing up a crowd as Carl Cox plays his last ever set at Space in Ibiza, 2016. If you’re new to the world of dance music production and DJing this video represents a great introduction.

Carl Cox’s final set at Space, Ibiza 2016

Carl Cox resources:

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