Tracking the arc of the Sun - Interview with DJ Chris Coco
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Chris Coco has soundtracked more sunsets across the globe and has tirelessly championed the horizontal groove for almost three decades. He can also be seen dropping Cosmic Disco and sublime House, he knows how to start and finish a party and we were lucky to have some time to chat with the maestro of mellow.
Think of sunshine, chill out DJ sets, a truly expansive collection of music and just a few names will come to mind. Chris Coco is one of them with a career that spans back to Brighton and the early Acid House scene. This multi talented artist, DJ, writer and label boss is as productive as ever with his weekly Melodica show that is a wealth of stunning, emotive, forward thinking music, live DJ sets as well as running his own label DSPPR.
Your DJing career spans back to the 1980s and you’re the master of building sets, radio shows and compilations. It’s obvious to listeners that you naturally enjoy sharing music you discover. I get the impression that in your youth you enjoyed making compilation tapes for friends?
I was definitely the guy at house parties searching through the record collection of the host, or their parents, for anything interesting to play. I also used to tape stuff off the radio, anticipating whether I would like it by the name of the song, then later, yes, I would make mix tapes as love poems. Of course at that time 90 minutes of music on a cassette had a much greater value than 90 mins of music now. I still like to ‘let the music do the talking’.
Your Melodica radio show remains central to what you do, did you ever realise that 12 years on you’d still be producing a regular show?
I don’t really think about it, it just happens every week, that’s how it is. The good thing about Melodica is that it’s totally not commercial, which means I’m free to just share music that I’m feeling that week. That’s hopefully a simple and effective approach.
You clearly love discovering new music to keep producing such a high quality radio show. Has it got easier or harder to find things you’re confident that your audience will enjoy?
Again, it’s best not to think too much about it. It’s easier to find stuff in the digital era than it was with physical products. If you like something you can ask for it, or buy it, or steal it, usually without even leaving the house. The problem now is the mountain of choice, which often leads to a boring place where there’s too much music that is OK, using all the ‘right’ sounds that ultimately doesn't take you somewhere special.
With over 100,000 followers on Mixcloud as someone who is quite a discerning DJ it must make you realise that you’ve built quite a legacy over the years. How hard has it been to stay true to yourself throughout that time?
It’s not really possible to get away from myself, my truth may change but I am always here.
In the past decade, the likes of Discogs, YouTube and social media made it more accessible for DJs to discover international music from previous decades that they had missed due to it not gaining exposure the first time round. Are there any websites and platforms that have helped you broaden your musical horizons?
I think Mixcloud is a great platform for listening to mixes and discovering new music. Now, I really love Bandcamp as a place to go exploring, it’s like an infinitely large and expanding local record store. You can always find a new place to go in the basement to make a new discovery.
How much have you missed getting out and travelling to play your DJ sets over the past 18 months and have you had any opportunity to play out?
I have tried not to think about it, because in that time it didn’t exist for anybody so there was no FOMO anxiety. But now, when I have been playing, I realise how much I did miss it — the social interaction, the chance encounter, the joy of sharing music with other people in real life; the smell of a place, the beer, of course, the little moments - a smile, a mix that comes together really well, a sequence of tracks you would never think of at home.
You have a strong love for House and Disco, do you get much opportunity to play longer sets and go on a journey from the more laid back and leftfield sounds to something for the dancefloor?
That’s the ideal situation. In my head it makes total sense to go from super slow downtempo grooves all the way up to House music in a long set. I did that at The Chill Out Tent real life event in a field in the South of England in the Summer. I started with Ambient and Reggae on a sunny afternoon and ended with Cosmic Disco some time the next morning. It doesn't happen often enough but we’re working on more events like that next summer.
We know how important Ibiza was to the development of dance music in the UK and on a global stage. How important is it today?
I think there was a period in the 80s/90s when dance music was changing the Pop world and wider culture really fast. At that time what DJs played in Ibiza influenced other people around the world. Those times are long gone. Now with the wide range of new and old music available digitally it is much more difficult to make an impression with a single track. So it’s not as important culturally as it was. But there is still a unique feel to the ‘Balearic’ music that is played on the island and this definitely influences the community of DJs and producers who follow such things.
Your recent collaboration with George Solar titled September On The Island (Dub Version) via your own Disappear label is your tribute to your favourite time of the year on the White Isle. What is it that makes it so special as someone who has been there a lot of times and keeps going back?
If you stay for the summer you feel something change on the first of September. Most big luxury yachts sail back up north, as normal service resumes in the cities around Europe. The volume of tourists decreases and the air feels fresher. The island breathes out with a huge sigh of relief. So it’s just a different vibe, less pressure, less heat, less stress, nicer people chilling out in the warm fade of the end of summer.
Over your long career you’ll have played some stunning locations, where is your favourite place to play music as the sun goes down?
I think Ibiza is still my favourite to be honest. Maybe it’s just the memory of sunsets past and the first encounter with Jose Padilla at Cafe Del Mar. Bali can be pretty spectacular too when you get one of those amazing tropical sunsets that seem to explode after the sun disappears. But, to be honest, I’m happy anywhere where you can play for that moment, the connection between the music, the environment and the people experiencing it is always special.
And what is the perfect track as the sun slips into the sea?
How long have you got? There are loads of classics, but here’s a selection of more recent releases that work:
Atardecer - Songs To Play At Sunset
Do you think music venues and festivals too easily overlook Balearic and chill out DJs in favour of cramming more four to the floor sets when having that alternative space has always been quite important?
Yes. In the lockdown I started a project called The Chill Out Tent online with the express aim of updating the idea of an alternative space for more chilled and experimental music at festivals and parties. We do monthly online events that built up a really lovely community when nobody could go out. Our aim is still to get a chill out tent at every festival going.
You can find out more about the project here: https://chillouttent.com/
The Big Chill was a major hub for artists who created sub 100 BPM music from the mid 90s for over a decade. How important was the festival to that movement and what is its legacy with festivals and similar events since?
The answer is similar to your question about Ibiza. The Big Chill in its heyday was groundbreaking. At the time it was the only boutique festival of its kind, pioneering new sounds as well as things that are now obligatory at festivals like the ‘wellness’ area and a good, varied food offer. They also created an amazing community of individuals and families with a load of kids, including my own, who grew up with the sense of freedom that the event fostered. So it was massively important. Since then the festival landscape has changed a great deal, there are loads more events and the whole sector is much more commercial and ‘professional’. As you might guess, I’m a fan of the more open, chaotic, but ultimately beautiful phase of cultural development!
Your recent collaborative album release Sueño Mediterráneo with Luca Averna is a wonderful homage to Italian Dream House, was this your plan when you first started chatting about making music together?
Yes. I went round to Luca’s place in Ibiza to record the sounds on his vintage Roland 909 drum machine, then we got chatting, and by the end of the session we had already decided to make an album based on that Italian Dream House sound. Over the course of a few months we got together once a week, ate pasta and spent time in the studio working on the tunes that found their way onto that album.
Can we expect more in the same vein from you both?
Yes. There’s a collaborative album with another Italian maestro, DJ Rocca, which will be out in Summer 2022. It starts with our slightly nerdy obsession with dubs of old disco and proto house records and flows from there. You can hear the first fruits of that one here:
What plans have you got coming up in the next few months?
Lots more music. I spent the time when we couldn’t DJ making music and trying to refine the release process. So now I have a label called DSPPR (Disappear) to release projects that I like from other people, and a massive backlog of music that I have made with various collaborators.
Check the work of SONLIFE here. He’s a great producer from London who has a lovely new take on the chillout sound.
Where do you discover brand new music these days?
Bandcamp, friends, old fashioned real life record shops, Shazaming other DJs sets. Discover new digital dance music with Trackhunter
Chris Coco website
Chris Coco on Mixcloud