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Known as DJ Quentox (The OX that Rocks) Cook and DJ Baptiste started putting on Youth Club Hip Hop jams in Brighton, sowing the seeds of the City’s flourishing Hip Hop scene today. These primitive 80’s block parties are recalled in the music documentary ‘South Coast’ which documents Brighton’s cult Hip Hop scene from its grass roots to the present day.
In 1985 Cook’s friend Paul Heaton had formed a guitar band called The Housemartins. Their bassist quit on the eve of their first national tour, so Cook agreed to move to Hull to join them. The band soon had a hit single with “Happy Hour”. They also reached number one just before Christmas 1986 with a version of “Caravan of Love” originally a hit the year before for Isley-Jasper-Isley. However, by 1988 they had split up. Heaton and the band’s drummer Dave Hemingway went on to form The Beautiful South, while Cook moved back to Brighton to pursue his interest in the style of music he preferred. It was at this time that he first started working with young studio engineer Simon Thornton, with whom he continues to make records. All Cook’s records released from that point onwards have involved both of them to varying degrees (Thornton is credited in 2004 as “Executive Producer” for example).
Cook achieved his first solo hit in 1989, featuring his future Beats International member MC Wildski called “Blame It on the Bassline”. Credited to “Norman Cook feat. MC Wildski”, the song followed the basic template of what was to come in the style of the music of Beats International. It became a modest hit in the UK Singles Chart, reaching #29.
Cook formed Beats International, a loose confederation of studio musicians including vocalists Lindy Layton, Lester Noel, D.J. Baptiste, rapper MC Wildski, and keyboardist Andy Boucher. Their first album Let Them Eat Bingo included the number one single “Dub Be Good to Me”, which caused a legal dispute revolving around allegations of infringement of copyright through the liberal use of unauthorised samples: the bassline was a note-for-note lift from “The Guns of Brixton” by The Clash and the lyrics borrowed heavily from “Just Be Good to Me” by The S.O.S. Band. The 1991 follow-up album Excursion on the Version, an exploration of dub and reggae rhythms, failed to repeat the success of its predecessor.
Cook then formed Freak Power with horn player Ashley Slater and singer Jesse Graham. They released their debut album Drive Thru Booty in 1994, which contained the single “Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out”. The cut was picked up by the Levi’s company for use in a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. In 1996, Cook re-joined Freak Power for the second album More of Everything for Everybody.
In 1995, Cook enlisted help from producer friends Tim Jeffery and JC Reid to create a solo house music album under the Pizzaman pseudonym. The Pizzamania album spawned 3 UK Top 40 hits in “Trippin’ on Sunshine”, “Sex on the Streets” and “Happiness”. “Happiness” was picked up by the Del Monte Foods corporation for use in a UK fruit juice ad. The music videos for “Trippin’ on Sunshine”, “Sex on the Streets” and “Happiness” were all directed by Michael Dominic.
Cook is also behind a group The Mighty Dub Katz along with Gareth Hansome (aka GMoney), Cook’s former flatmate. Together they started the Boutique Nightclub in Brighton, formerly known as the Big Beat Boutique.