Review by Toni Woodward with photography by Bianca Barrett

House DJ, Hannah Wants, returns to Birmingham as the opening act for tonight’s event which sees her competently warm up the crowd for well over an hour exploiting that Friday feeling to the max. As the audience size gradually increases during her set, you can see people’s inability to stand still for long as they enter the venue evidencing her proficiency. The Arena has a rotating podium placed in the centre surrounded by barriers for crowd safety with circular video screens above the stage area that are displaying Hannah Wants in a massive font. She is fully focused on lining up each track ensuring the flow as she mixes up classic floor fillers, such as Xpansions rave classic Move Your Body, with lesser known deep house numbers. However, when Hannah has a moment she is filming the audience’s appreciation which is well deserved and is shown fully when she ends her set with Luther Vandross Never Too Much that sends most of the crowd into a grooving frenzy preparing the way for Mr Norman Cook.

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As the acid house smiley face carpet is laid down on the podium, you realise how much faster the changeover between DJs is compared with bands as it is only a brief period of time before the breaks legend that is Fatboy Slim takes to the stage, adorned in a Hawaiian shirt that is as colourful as his performance. Needless to say, Norman Cook is unlikely to let you down when stood behind the decks considering he has been honing his craft for the past 25 years of so yet his ability to create such an electrifying atmosphere is niche.

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For over 90 minutes he takes the audience on a dance odyssey, toying with us by dropping in tiny samples of his big hits such as The Rockefeller Skank along with tantalising samples including an a Capella version of Bohemian Rhapsody, whilst turning the vast space into the vibe of a club. The scene is enhanced by the lighting that ranges from strobes to single coloured spotlights flying across the moving masses as an elaborate selection of effects are also launched including pyrotechnics and ticker tape.

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Throughout his set, the barefooted renegade is kicking the air, winding up the audience with various gestures of pulling faces into a camera which are transmitted intermittently via the circular screens. Between the images of Norman gurning, are displayed a well-constructed collection of clips that work with the music being played such as samples from Al Pacino and Run DMC, and a series of famous faces filmed in black and white that morph into one another ending with Aretha Franklin and a near full rendition of Say A Little Prayer.

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After taking us on a journey that included a wealth of different genres, Norman Cook drops some of the tracks he has been tempting us with which elevates the mood to another level and gets the seated area shaking with the amount of movement that is taking place. Deee-Lite and Daft Link’s One More Time are guaranteed to get people of a certain generation properly dancing and then to mix them in with his own classics, you aren’t going to get a better 30 minutes of commercial dance music. Star 69, Right Here, Right Now and Praise You sees Fatboy Slim push the throttle even further before letting rip with the genius mash up of The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction and finally in its entirety The Rockafeller Skank.

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Before arriving at The Arena, I wasn’t sure how the night’s proceedings were going to work and whether it would be my cup of tea, how wrong was I to have been apprehensive. There is a reason why Norman Cook holds the status he does and that is pure talent. I didn’t stop dancing for the whole set, apart from when we were commanded by the DJs choice of samples and visuals to sit down (an experience that did make me play NIN Head Like A Hole in my head for a moment), because the selection and construction of the tracks had been so well-thought out and executed it would have been nigh on impossible not to have moved.

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