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Original publisher: DJ Magazine
superstar DJ mixer
From South London soulboy to the safest pair of hands in remixing, Paul Oakenfold's come a long way from 88s summer of smiley.
DJing for U2's Zooropa tour was the latest instalment in a career steeped in the stuff of rock n roll legend, via a whole pile of pills, thrills and bellyaches with Manchester's original 24 hour party people, The Happy Mondays. After all that, is he the rock world's idea of the perfect house DJ? "I've played with the Mondays, Primal Scream, Stone Roses, U2, so yeah, you could say that," Paul grins, taking a well earned break from mixing a forthcoming compilation for the Ministry of Sound, "but then I've always been into all kinds of music and always will be. When I go home I listen to everything from old school reggae to classical. The last thing I want to hear is a dance record - it does my head in. It's the same when I DJ: I don't like to be pigeonholed. I try and play the best music from across the board, whether it's American garage or German techno. On the U2 tour I was playing Rage Against the Machine and hip hop in amongst all the house and everyone loved it." Paul has little time for musical snobbery, ridiculing the elitist, pigeonholing attitudes so prevalent in British dance culture. "I hate all that purist talk. Music should be available for everyone, not just the chosen few. It's the same with anything in life: if you've got something that's really great, then what is so wrong with sharing it?"
Paul was tempted from a promising career as a French chef in 1981, when his friend and fellow vinyl junkie Trevor Fung was DJing at a Covent Garden bar. "They were looking for DJs and Trevor said he could get me a job, so I thought I'd give it a go." Before long, he'd moved to New York, working for Arista and running a DJs record pool. Returning to England as the Profile label's UK agent, he resumed his burgeoning career as a funk DJ.
While Paul was holidaying in Ibiza with Trevor and future club promoter Ian Paul, they discovered that the now legendary holiday island held far more esoteric delights than the costa del lager excesses it had, until then, been famed for. Inspired by the open minded musical mix pioneered by Alfredo at Amnesia, they tried, and failed, to import the Balearic vibe to London two years before it finally took off at their Streatham club The Project in 1987. "The Ibiza thing didn't start in 87, it just started for everyone else," Paul smiles. "Credit where credit's due- Ian Paul and Trevor Fung really instigated that whole scene: Ian in running the club and Trevor in being the main DJ. Then you've got everyone like Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker coming along later. Trevor never gets a mention, and he should, because it wasn't all down to me or the others. He was playing Balearic music back in 85, even though it didn't catch on. Let's face it: it eventually took off because of the drugs and it's not worth hiding the fact. When E started getting popular, it really opened a lot of people up. Not just to music, but to life."
As the musical boundaries came down and the smiley T shirts came on, Mondays and Thursdays at Paul's clubs Spectrum and the Future were at the heart of any self-respecting Londoner's mid week itinerary. "Spectrum used to just get better and better every week," he recalls, "it's hard to remember specific examples of just how good it was. One thing that sticks in the mind is the time we had Graeme Park and Mike Pickering from the Hacienda at one end of the club on two turntables and Me and Colin Hudd at the other, cutting up tunes on four turntables. It was totally mad."
One of the first to move from the turntables to the studio, Paul's now more likely to be translating his up for it party spirit into his productions. He's just completed his debut single for his own Perfecto label with remix partner Steve Osbourne. Called 'Rise', the full-on Goa techno tribute meets half-speed dub reggae soundclash is a salutary call to arms against the status quo. At the moment Paul's enthusing about the Ministry's forthcoming compilation: a timely attempt to add some much needed depth to the proliferation of DJ-mixed collections. "Anyone can get fifteen records and segue them together. It's easy - I could do that in two hours and go home. I'm mixing it all together, but I'm also remixing each track, adding completely new elements, so even if you've got every track on the album, they'll be presented in a way you've never heard before."
With a sampler and a pair of Technics gracing bedsits across the country, it's this undimmed desire to kick against the pricks and do something different that keeps Paul one step ahead of the ever growing pack. "Right now every kid in the country wants to make a record and that's great. But there's no quality, no originality. What's the point of mashing up bits of everyone else's style and selling a couple of thousand copies? There's no quality control there. It's the same with DJing: everyone might want to be a DJ, but there's no point in going out and playing all the hits for two hours: what does that leave for the following DJ to play? If you want to be a DJ, then start off warming up, learn your craft, learn how to work a crowd." It's easy to criticise from such a position of security, but Paul's passion for music remains his overriding motivation. "There's too many people getting into it for the fame and money rather than the love of music. I've got a lot of time for people with that love, people like Paul Anderson or Norman Jay, people who'd be out there DJing even if there was no money in it. There's real depth there. I mean, last year I only did nine remixes. That's less than one a month. I'm concerned more about doing something with real longetivity, something with real depth and quality. At the end of the day, there are no boundaries in music and that's why it's so good: that’s why people live and die it."
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