Woodstock '99 Report #43: Fatboy Slim Turns The Tables On Rock

Festival-goers dance as DJ brings turntable skills to rave area.

ROME, N.Y. — Fatboy Slim was billed as part of Woodstock '99's main talent roster, up there with all the rock and hip-hop bands. Despite that star billing, the British DJ seemed happy to let his vinyl records do all the talking as he parked himself behind a bank of turntables early Sunday morning in the airplane hangar that's serving as the festival's rave area.

Tens of thousands of festival-goers packed the area in anticipation of a grand entrance by the DJ (born Norman Cook), who has enjoyed U.S. pop success with the singles "The Rockafeller Skank" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Praise You."

They didn't get it. Instead, Fatboy Slim quietly relieved a warm-up DJ of his duties at 1:45 a.m. Several minutes later, a white spotlight shone down on the turntables to reveal Fatboy Slim's balding scalp and ear-to-ear smile. The crowd erupted, and the DJ pumped his fist in approval.

Fatboy Slim is a practitioner of the British dance form known as big beat. The drum pumps furiously, while vocal and instrumental samples have the virtuosity of a guitar as they cut through the beat, presenting jagged riffs. The music is designed to turn and bend even as it turns into traditional verses and choruses.

Fatboy Slim gave a perfect example of big beat with "Going Out of My Head," a reworking of the Who's "I Can't Explain" on which he sampled and recombined the riff of the British rock band (and Woodstock 1969 performer) with a frantic drum beat.

The set was stopped momentarily after someone accidentally started to drive a truck into the area. After a 10-minute delay, Slim playfully threw on a 45-second snippet of Carl Douglas' 1974 disco hit "Kung Fu Fighting" before returning to his own dance music.

A measure of Fatboy Slim's popularity is the stream of fans who danced to his set well outside the packed airport hangar on the festival's south end.

Leslie Luga, 24, from Boston, was among the fans relegated to the outside concrete. But that didn't stop her from taking her shirt off and dancing freely in a black bra.

"He's f---ing awesome," she said. "He has the world eating from the palm of his f---ing hand. He has a good ear for what to sample, where to put it."