Fatboy Slim, Northumbria University, Newcastle

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The Independent Culture

Whether bringing 250,000 people to his home town of Brighton for a free beach party or rocking student venues like this, Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook's ability to deliver crowd-pleasing party DJ sets is renowned. Less successful, however, has been his recording career, with sales dwindling with each new album.

Inevitably, the gulf between DJ sets and album outings has grown ever wider. Indeed, the almost schizophrenic career paths of the two sides of Fatboy epitomise the dichotomy facing the dance music industry: sure, people still want to dance, but they no longer want to buy the album afterwards.

It was no surprise that, just as the famed Brighton party was breaking records for a one-day rave, so Fatboy's then-latest album, Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, could be found in huge quantities at Asda, knocked down to £2.99. So, where's this forty-something dance music fanatic to go to when the divide between his two worlds has grown so wide? The answer is backwards.

With his latest album, Palookaville, Cook has rediscovered the punk and psychobilly sounds that made him pogo as a teenager. By employing a live and raw band for his recordings, he's reignited his tired, old dance sound with an exciting, older punk rush, narrowing the gap between the genres in the process. Nothing new here, of course. Dance producers have long attempted the cross-generational fusion of punk and dance music. But with Cook you get the feeling that this is the music he's always wished he could release.

Forget his jazz punk forays with Freak Power, or the cheesy house anthems of Pizzaman. Forget, too, the big beats of Fatboy Slim of old. This newer version has no sense of youth-grabbing desperation about it. At Northumbria University, that cavern between album and performance finally showed signs of being narrowed, as Cook donned his bass guitar for the first time since his days in leftie Indie-pop outfit The Housemartins to join support band Jonny Quality in renditions of Palookaville stand-out tracks "Long Way From Home", "Push and Shove" and "Wonderful Night". As Jonny Quality offered their rendition of current Fatboy Slim single "Slash Dot Dash", Cook made his way to the decks, arms aloft with triumph.

But, for the hardcore dance fans, the DJ-meets-live-band sound clash is little more than a diversion, with Cook delivering what you would expect from a seasoned pro. If the theme of the evening was bridging the divide, though, the biggest irony came with the stage set-up. Cook was raised on a DJ podium; the live band strutted their stuff on stage. The genres may have blended perfectly but the two worlds still seemed forever separate.

Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook, it would seem, will forever straddle two worlds; only occasionally bringing them together.

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