At the recent world premiere for “What We Started,” AXS had the opportunity to speak with one of the film’s stars, legendary DJ Carl Cox. The world-renowned British beat maker who is commonly referred to as the “Godfather” of electronic dance music, came up alongside other pioneers of the time, such as Paul Oakenfold. If you know your EDM history, you know that Carl’s reputation as one of the genre’s most respected figures has been well-earned.
His experience in music spans over 30 years. Carl went from playing regionally in England, to doing shows across Europe. In the late ‘80s, he emerged as a leader in the sub-genre known as acid house and earned the reputation as a master at using three decks. He went from making music, to producing top 30 hits, to starting his own record label. He eventually landed a longstanding residency at Space, one of the hottest nightclubs in the world (up until its closing in 2016) and as a true champion of techno, was given the name “King Carl.”
Prior to viewing the documentary, we asked Carl if he could have ever predicted the kind of popularity that electronic dance music is experiencing today. He explained, “When we started all of this, we never really knew at the end of the day that it would go on for so long. It has not petered out in any way shape or form; it just gets stronger and stronger from a worldwide perspective.”
Carl says a lot of what motivated him to start doing this in England 30 years ago, was a movement that was actually taking place here in America. “My inspiration was in a lot of the early house music that came from Larry Levan, Junior Vasquez, and, God rest his soul, Frankie Knuckles. These guys are more or less the same age as me but I wasn’t around to see them fully.”
“But, the truth is, I was the only person who could really inspire me,” he continued. “I looked to myself to be pushed or to discover new music; or to just keep doing what I’m doing. That was something I had to come to understand. I didn’t really follow different DJs or anything. I just had to follow a path that I created. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m still here today.”
As one of the main subjects of the film, Carl describes the documentary as “a view of discovery.” He added, “People who don’t understand what the house scene is about will know who we are and how passionate we are about our music by the time they finish the movie. They’ll be able to understand what we strive to do with our productions and our shows. For us, playing in front of 25 thousand people is just as important as playing in front of 25 people. In the end, it’s about reaching as many people as we can with the music.”
“What We Started” does a superb job at showcasing all of that. The documentary encompasses every era and takes the viewer on a journey from the perspective of different DJs; each who have had a massive influence on the genre. Filmmakers Bert Marcus, Cyrus Saidi, Cassandra Hamar and Pete Tong took an avant-garde approach in how they highlighted the juxtaposition of their two main subjects: Carl Cox and Martin Garrix. Using them as vehicles to examine the culture as a whole gives viewers an authentic look at the resilience, ingenuity and love for a movement that has changed the world of music.