Fatboy Slim’s single “The Rockafeller Skank” probably represents the late 90s better than any other single song could. Busy, full of samples, and perfectly at home on the radio or in a club, the song met every criterion for a hit. And its popularity reflects that – since its release in 1998, the song has been used in over a dozen TV shows and movies.
But despite popular perception, Fatboy Slim is far from a one-hit-wonder. He’s had several popular albums, and Norman Cook, the producer behind the pseudonym, has been involved in several other popular projects.
However, popular tastes have shifted away from Cook’s DJ sensibilities, leaving many wondering, what happened to Fatboy Slim after the early 2000s?
Fatboy Slim’s Early Life: Housemartins & Might Dub Katz
The man most people know as Fatboy Slim was actually born Quentin Leo Cook, in Surrey, England, in 1963. When he was 16 he started playing drums for Disque Attack, part of the new-New Wave rock movement coming out of the UK in the late 80s.
Promoted to frontman after the former lead left the group to focus on school, Cook quickly came to love being the focus of attention on stage. In 1980, he met Paul Heaton, with whom he formed the Stomping Pondfrogs, another new-New Wave group. Cook also began DJing around this time, as he began his university studies.
In 1985, Paul Heaton’s most recent project, The Housemartins, were about to leave on their first major tour. The night before their first show, the bassist quit the group. Heaton approached Cook, and Cook agreed to join the group.
The Housemartins had a national hit with “Happy Hour”, and over the next two years released two albums that broke into the UK’s Top 10: London 0 Hull 4 and The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death.
By 1988, Heaton and Cook decided to split up, each moving on to focus on their preferred style of music. Heaton began to produce poppier songs with The Beautiful South, while Cook returned to his DJ roots. Shortly after the split, Cook began to work with Simon Thornton.
Thornton, at that time a relatively unknown studio engineer, helped Cook produce his first solo hit, “Blame It on the Bassline,” featuring MC Wildski. The song was a precursor to what would become Cook’s standard formula and was a club hit.
With MC Wildski and a few others, Cook formed Beats International. The group released Let Them Eat Bingo in 1990. The album was financially devastating for Cook, thanks to a court case proving he used many samples without permission. (The lead single from Let Them Eat Bingo stole its bassline from The Clash, and the lyrics were lifted from The S.O.S. Band.)
Norman Cook was forced to declare bankruptcy, and Beats International’s follow-up album, Excursion on the Version, failed to chart.
It looked like the failure of Excursion, shortly after his bankruptcy, would end Cook’s career then. Then in 1994 he released Drive-Thru Booty with his new group, Freak Power. Booty‘s lead single, “Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out,” was used in an ad campaign by Levi Strauss & Co., the jean company.
The royalties from Levi’s campaign helped get his career back on track. He used part of the money to create an album of house tracks, released under the name Pizzaman. The eponymous album led to 3 singles in the UK Top 40, and another successful ad campaign, this time with Del Monte Foods.
Cook used the Del Monte royalties to form The Mighty Dub Katz and launch Big Beat Boutique, a nightclub in Brighton. With steady streams of revenue, Cook no longer had any need to produce commercially viable music. Ironically, this led to him creating his most popular songs yet.
In 1996, Norman Cook adopted the moniker “Fatboy Slim.” Under the oxymoronic pseudonym, he released Better Living Through Chemistry. The lead single, “Everybody Needs a 303,” put Cook back onto the UK Top 40, and set the stage for “The Rockerfeller Skank,” released in 1998. The lasting impact of this song was covered in this article’s introduction, but to reiterate, it was and continues to be, an iconic song.
A few months after “The Rockerfeller Skank” dropped, Fatboy Slim released You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby. “Praise You,” the second single from that album, became Cook’s first track to reach the #1 spot in the UK. The album itself was internationally successful.
Part of the album’s success was due to Cook’s music videos. The video for “Praise You” won multiple awards, and helped introduce Fatboy Slim to American audiences.
In 2000, Norman Cook released Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars. The video for the lead single, “Weapon of Choice,” starred Christopher Walken, and earned Cook another round of awards. By this point, Cook was internationally famous, so when he held a free open-air concert in Brighton, England, an estimated 250,000 people attended. Organizers had expected only 60,000, so the event was overcrowded, and police chose to shut it down early after someone died.
Over the next few years, Cook spent most of his time on tour, entering the studio only to help produce for other artists. His most notable work during this time was producing “Crazy Beat,” from Blur’s 2003 album Think Tank.
Palookaville, Fatboy Slim’s third album, was released in 2004, and while successful, failed to net the same critical acclaim as Cook’s earlier work. However, it provided the fodder for a Greatest Hits, which Cook called Why Try Harder.
Why Try Harder featured a dozen hits from Cook’s career and a few new tracks, but by this point, it was clear that Fatboy Slim’s production style was no longer what radio stations and clubs were after… in the States & UK.
In Cuba, however, Cook was able to secure new fans by working with Studio ! K7 for their compilation album The Revolution Presents: Revolution, also known as The Revolution (3). The album, featuring some of the biggest contemporary Cuban music artists, was wildly successful in Cuba and internationally, and was instrumental in helping break cultural barriers between Cuban culture and the rest of the world.
The Revolution (3) was the last project Cook worked on using the Fatboy Slim pseudonym. In 2008, he debuted his new project, The Brighton Port Authority.
What’s Fatboy Slim Doing Now in 2018 – Recent Updates
The Brighton Port Authority came together in 2008, a collaborative project led by Norman Cook. David Byrne and Iggy Pop are a couple of the more notable acts to have worked with them. In 2009, they released their first and only studio album, I think We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat. Simon Thornton, one of Cook’s most credited engineers, co-produced the album, helping tie together over two decades of working together.
Over the next few years, Cook released a couple remix albums and played several big large shows, including the 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony. His most recent hit was “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat,” released in October 2013, which gained even more fame after being remixed by Calvin Harris.
Norman Cook continues to play massive festival sets, many of which sell out, and he has been credited by multiple venues as one of the most important artists of the early 2000s.
In his personal life, Cook and his wife, Zoe Ball, recently separated. They’d been for over 17 years, and tabloids are reporting the separation is due to Ball’s frustration with Cook. Cook has been sober for several years since he went into rehab for alcohol. This didn’t work well with Ball’s desire to continue the same lifestyle the couple had when they first met.
Cook has said he wants to salvage the marriage, but considering this is the couple’s second split (the first was in 2003,) it seems unlikely they’ll be able to patch things up.