'Rockafella Skank'
Norman Cook reflects on his promos that defined an era...

The world has changed a lot in the two decades since Fatboy Slim’s sophomore effort, 'You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby' was unleashed to the world.

MTV has cashed in on reality TV and abandoned its roots, leaving the format ripe for the picking by online video platforms, while chart success is now measured in streams rather than sales.

Back in 1998 things were a little bit different. The pop promo was still king, with many of today’s finest film-making talents still honing their craft in the short-form format. It was a period of unabashed creativity, and Cook was right at the forefront of the video revolution, working with some of the best in the business.

Collaborating with the likes of Spike Jonze and Roman Coppola, the album’s five singles served as the creative spark for some of the most memorable and iconic promos of the 90s.

As 'You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby' celebrates its 20th anniversary and Fatboy Slim prepares to headline Love Saves the Day and Elrow Town London later this summer, Paul Weedon sat down for a chat with Mr Cook to discuss the album’s visual legacy and the rise, fall and subsequent rebirth of the humble music promo.

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How much input did you tend to have in the creative process when it came to music videos in the beginning? Were you fairly hands-on?

At the beginning I was very hands on in my attempts to not make videos because I thought all the best one’s had been made – check out my idea for ‘Everybody Loves A 303’.

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What changed?

Spike Jonze opened my eyes to the joy of a more sideways approach that was still accessible and I happily surrendered control to him, Roman Coppola, Hammer and Tongs etc, who did a much better job.

Do you still enjoy the process now?

Not really. I’m back to thinking that all the good ideas are virals, rather than ‘promos’. Looking back, Spike kind of invented the viral approach where the idea is more important than the budget. And I’d prefer to use hotshot YouTubers rather than film directors… YouTube killed the video star.

One of the things that’s always struck me about some of your videos is how overtly ‘American’ they feel. And I don’t mean that in a negative way at all – many of them are made by American directors, but was that a conscious aesthetic that you were keen to push in the early days?

Interesting observation. I was spending an awful lot of time in America at that time, so maybe something rubbed off. I reckon that was probably more to do with the fact that the American record company needed videos to sell me more than Skint did.

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So, let’s start with 'Rockafeller Skank', which had two videos, one of which was ‘unofficially’ made for you by Spike Jonze. How did you first come to meet Spike?

He left a home-made VHS of him dancing to Rockafella Skank in a kinda proto-Torrance / 'Praise You' way in my hotel room in Los Angeles when I played a show there. I had never met him before. He totally searched me out and turned me on.

I understand his version couldn’t be shown in the UK. What was the story there? It couldn’t be shown because he hadn’t got legal clearance from the people featured in it. It was never meant for broadcast.

Doug Aitken shot the video that was ultimately used. Watching it again now, it’s still completely bonkers. What do you remember most from that shoot?

It was kind of cool driving round the Nevada desert in convertible trying to find the different locations for the shoot, but really, I was just pretending to be in Fear and Loathing.

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Roman Coppola directed the music video for 'Gangster Trippin'. How much truth is there in the story that the script simply read ‘blow stuff up’?

Totally true. We went for dinner and he was trying to explain references to ‘Zabriskie Point’ and the symbolism of man’s inherent futility, but his actual summing up of the idea was, “Let’s blow shit up”. He had me at “blow”.

Is there a particular shot in that video that still stands out for you? I just remember lying flat in a bunker with Roman at Pinewood Studio’s backlot next to James Bond’s water tank, waiting for the toilet to explode thinking, “My job is so cool”.

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'Praise You' is one of the iconic music videos. Talk me through how that came to fruition. How did Spike originally pitch it to you?

Spike had drawn me in with the home made 'Rockafeller...' clip and I just said to him, “Can we do something along the same line for 'Praise You'?” He said, “Sure, but we’ll up the game and form a dance troupe’. I said, “Great, but don’t change any of the production values or budget.” And he was like, “Naturally”.

You were there for that shoot, weren’t you? What was the atmosphere like outside that movie theatre?

It was bemusement for everyone who didn’t know what was going on. Mind you, I had played a show the night before and was also slightly dazed. The theatre was our second attempt. Our first one had been by Santa Monica Boulevard, but everyone completely ignored us, so we aborted. We only had a finite amount of takes because of the element of surprise being lost, so when the theatre manager stopped us we had to just bribe him and carry on. There was no take three. It was a crazy night spent jumping in and out of mini buses and pretending to be tourists.

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'Right Here, Right Now' has attained an iconic status all of its own now too. When you were working with Hammer and Tongs at the time, were you vaguely aware of the impact it was going to have?

The impact of evolution on mankind? Yes, we knew it was going to resonate... Actually, as this was hand animated and pre CGI, I was slightly worried when I saw the early versions that it was not going to work on the budget. You could still see the strings and people’s hands moving the toy lizards… But Hammer and Tongs knew exactly what they were doing and I knew we had something visionary in the can.

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In contrast to the other four videos made for singles on the album, 'Build It Up - Tear It Down' feels like the antithesis of everything you were doing elsewhere with the likes of Roman and Spike. What was the idea behind it?

It wasn’t actually a promo at all. It was my friend Tim Day’s home movie of the last night of the original Big Beat Boutique venue, our home club in Brighton that I was the resident at. He happened to cut the souvenir to that track and we ended up using it commercially. Its budget was on a par with the Praise You video.

Do you have a video from the 'You've Come A Long Way, Baby' era that you’re most proud of?

I still love the fact that I was told by my American record company and MTV that the ‘Praise You’ video was substandard and should be shelved and a ‘proper’ one made.

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Words: Paul Weedon // @Twotafkap

Fatboy Slim headlines Love Saves The Day on May 26th and Elrow Town London on August 19th. The 20th anniversary edition of 'You've Come A Long Way, Baby' is available now.

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