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Original publisher: M8 Magazine
Paul Oakenfold celebrates M8's decade of dance
TEN IN A ROW!
a decade of dance
Unless you've been living in a rabbit hole for the past few months you couldn't have failed to notice that it's 10 years since the dance revolution kicked off its shoes, slipped into a pair of trainers and began partying like the millennium had come a decade early. Over this past 10 years we've witnessed parties, raves and clubs, house, hardcore and jungle, DJs MCs and PAs, a massive general shift in popular culture and the emergence of Scotland's finest dance music monthly M8. Now, you may have been in it for the last 3, 4, 5 or even 6 years and think quite contentedly that you’ve seen, heard, danced, dropped, drunk, travelled, partied and posed it all. Fair enough. But spare a thought for Paul Oakenfold, the man many hold responsible for bringing the acid house sound to the UK, the man many hold responsible for the early 90's indie dance revolution, the man who's remixed and toured with U2 and the Rolling Stones, the man whose Perfecto imprint is one of the best known dance labels on the block, the man who was going to Ibiza in 1985....
WORDS - DAN IRWIN IMAGES - ROLLO SNOOK
So Paul, let's start off with that now mythical holiday you took to Ibiza in 87 which (if popular folklore is to be believed) was responsible for the birth of the acid house movement in the UK. Did you have any idea about the Ibiza scene before you went there or was it just a stroke of luck?
I'd actually been going there before that, from 1985. Basically a lot of my mates had come out of school and couldn't get jobs so they were working over there, giving out flyers, working in bars and generally dossing around, so I'd been going to Ibiza from quite an early age because my friends were there. From then it was simple, my birthday came round so I invited a couple of friends to come out to Ibiza to have a party. It was Johnny Walker and Nicky Holloway, and at the time Nicky was friendly with Danny Rampling, who I didn't know back then, he wasn't even a DJ at the time, but he came along anyway.
I had no intention of bringing this sound back, we were just doing it because we were having a laugh. I had a little club in South London, I liked Ibiza, I had loads of friends who'd work over there in the summer and then come home for the winter, so we just put on parties for them. I never really cared what anyone else thought, but suddenly everyone else started to come to the parties and it all kind of exploded. We didn't start doing it to make money or get in the press, we were bang into it and then everyone else got into it and before we knew it we found ourselves at the front of this scene.
So it wasn't really as simple as a two week holiday changing the face of popular culture forever?
It changed things for the other three because they'd never been there before, but I'd been going there for 3 years anyway, so I kind of knew what was going on.
Who were the influential people in Ibiza at that time?
Well certainly the original Balearic DJ Alfredo, but also a UK DJ called Trevor Fung. He was very instrumental in what went on out there but he never really gets the credit for it. Trevor knew all about the scene before Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker had even heard about it.
In terms of acid house developing in the UK where would you accredit it?
It definitely came from the Balearic movement and Balearic in its original form was playing the best of all kinds of music. At the time I was working for Champion Records, so we were involved with Farley Jackmaster Funk and lots of the original Chicago guys. I had access to a lot of those records and I was just incorporating them in what I was doing. At the Future I was playing the Cure, next to Salt 'n' Pepa, next to a house record. At Spectrum, which was the bigger club, we made acid house the theme of it because - as we had two clubs going at the same time, one Monday and one Thursday, - we couldn't have two playing the same type of music. So Thursday was the smaller club (Future) playing original Balearic and then Monday was all acid house and that's where the term acid house started appearing.
How do you feel about all the changes that have occurred in house over the last 10 years?
Well when we started doing clubs 10 years ago we were the real minority, we were just doing what we were into but, as far as I'm concerned now, youth culture is club culture. 10 years on you've got dance music in the charts, 24 hour dance radio all around the country (except in Scotland), you've got fashion-following club culture, the biggest groups in the world like U2 and the Rolling Stones getting dance mixes, clubs in every town and city in the UK and turntables are outselling guitars 3 to 1.
And what do you think of these changes?
I think it's great, if you've got something good then why not share it? When I did the opening of Amnesia in Ibiza a few weeks ago, we had 5000 there, which is the busiest that it's been in a long time. There was a huge cross-section of people there and everyone was having a great time. From my point of view I think it's really good that it's got as big as it has and I think that it's actually gonna get bigger. America, South Africa and South America are about to get on board and I think in another 10 year it's gonna be more of a global than just a European thing.
Are you personally involved in much stuff around the world?
Perfecto are doing 50 shows this year in America, 28 of which we've already done. We go out there every 2 months DJing all around America, playing the Perfecto sound. We introduce new artists like Man With No Name and the people out there love it.
So would you say that the things you're talking about in America and Ibiza at the moment are the same kind of vibe as the acid house vibe you experienced when you first started things here?
If it reminds me of anything, it's of the big rave era. You've got all these kids looking at the DJ, following his every move, they've got loads of fluoro lights and dummies in their mouths and they're just dancing madly. It's really weird for me, because it's like 'hang on, I've done all this 8 years ago' and now it's back round again. I played in South Africa last year to 11,000 people in a warehouse, in Argentina to 10,000 and both of them were just big raves really.
So would you say that the people today who go to Gatecrasher or Cream or whatever have grown up with dance music in the same way that the original acid house people grew up with Spectrum or Future or whatever?
And would you say that the vibe is the same?
Yeah, just 8 or 10 years further down the line, but still the same love of music and dancing and enjoying yourself.
What do you think of all the hype surrounding the 10 years on, "it's not as good as it was, where's there left for dance music to go now" type stuff?
I don't agree with it at all. I'm enjoying it now more than I've ever enjoyed it, I absolutely love DJing, watching people get off on the music, going and hanging out at parties, I think it's great. I disagree with the whingers of the scene, they're negative people, if they don't enjoy clubs then they shouldn't go.
So, first off, you were instrumental in the beginnings of acid house, then you were DJing at a lot of the big '89 and '90 raves. Where did you go from there?
I got involved with doing a lot of remix and production work. The Happy Mondays used to come down to Future, so did the Stone Roses, so I got involved with all the indie dance stuff that way. At the time I was mixing indie stuff up with hip hop and they heard me DJing at the club and asked me to do mixes for them. The same as U2, they heard me DJ and just asked me to work with them.
So what went on after that indie dance type phase?
That was when I first started my own label, Perfecto. At the time we were doing pretty well, we had 2 top 10 records, records out by Carl Cox, Robert Owens, Lost, Gary Clail, but then I got asked to tour with U2 and ended up putting everything on hold whilst I went away for 8 months. Then, from that, the production side of things was really busy, as was the DJing schedule and, a little while afterwards, I set up Perfecto through East West.
What phase of your dance music career have you most enjoyed?
There are actually quite a few, but all for different reasons. From the record company point of view, the first two records I put out when I did my deal with Warner Brothers sold 700,000 records. That was with Grace and Perfecto Allstarz, and within two months of signing the deal I'd sold 700,000 records so that was an achievement. Touring with U2, travelling around the world was also an achievement. Running my own clubs was an achievement, being the first British DJ ever to play at Twilo was an achievement. I also opened the Ministry and was the first DJ resident there, I was the first DJ to play festivals - I did the main stage at Glastonbury, so there have been many moments. There isn't one that I could say was 'it', each has been special in its own way.
So how did you get involved with the whole psychedelic trance thing?
Well I was going to Goa on holiday anyway and I started going to the parties. I also went to Thailand and went to the parties there, and for me those parties had the same kind of spirit as Ibiza. It was open air, and everyone loves to be in the open air, on a beach dancing all night long with beautiful people. All I tried to do was take the spirit and energy and some of the records that I was hearing and put them into what I was already doing. As a DJ, you're always travelling the world looking for new music, so it was just an extension of that really.
What is the secret of your success as a DJ?
Being original and working really hard. I get sent 150-200 records every week and I listen to every record, every mix. When I DJ, I work on arrangement, I work on key, I work on structure, I never just turn up with my record box and play; I'm prepared both mentally and physically. Say me and you went out and had it now, then tonight I'm working and there are 1000 people waiting to hear me play; I've got to turn it on, I've got to be in character and I've got to perform.
What about your residency at Cream, what made you decide to go down that route when at the time it was pretty much unheard of?
At the time I felt that the club scene was going nowhere for me. I'd already experienced being a resident with Future and the Ministry, so I knew what was involved and I wanted to try and give something back to the people rather than just turning up, DJing, getting back in my car doing the next gig. I let a few people know that I was looking at the idea of becoming a resident again, Ministry, Renaissance and Cream all expressed interest and I ended up going for Cream.
For me it's always been about the crowd and Cream had a crowd that was travelling from all over the country. The crowd were, and still are, always up for it and - being resident - being there week in, week out, you are in a position to take them on more of a creative journey. A true resident is someone who's there every week, someone who's there once a month isn't a proper resident, it's just a monthly guest spot.
Do you get to play the good, across the board spectrum of music that you like down there?
Yeah, I take it wherever I want to, I dictate musically what goes on in that room. I play everything from melodic stuff to psychedelic to breakbeat to some old classics.
Do you plan to keep your residency going at Cream for the foreseeable future?
Well my contract with Cream runs up until the end of the year and, at present, Cream is one of my major concerns. For me it's all about now, we're coming up to the end of the summer months, the students are back in town, it's the birthday in October, so there's a lot going on.
What do you think about the Creams, the Renaissances, the Ministries of this world and their inevitable commercialisation of clubbing?
I think that they fill a place in the market and do it well. Cream and Ministry and even Renaissance bring in DJs from all over the world that no one's used before. They've got some of the best sound systems in the world and I think that they put a lot of good things back into the scene. Nevertheless, I'm also into the small clubs, I think that there's room for both and I think that the contrast helps to keep clubbing healthy. For me personally, there's no difference between playing to 200 people and playing to 10,000 people.
There's been various reports floating around about Perfecto splitting from East West, what's the situation there?
Well to be honest, there's not really that much to say. At the end of the day it didn't work and it's time to move on. I'm still in a strong position, I've got a lot of options, but it's all about taking the right one. Without going too deeply into it I'm now in the process of going through my options, deciding what route to take and when I decide which one is best everyone will find out.
So are you still interested in the corporate side of things now that you've had your fingers burnt with BMG and Warners?
Major corporate companies are good for certain things, but the record industry has changed, things are moving on and if you don't move with the times and accept change you get left behind. And that I think is the problem with major record companies and dance music, they just don't really understand it. If you've got an independent set up and someone brings you a record you can turn the deal around in 2 days, but if you've got a deal with a major company that takes 6 weeks. An independent will get the record, sign the deal and get it out whereas the majors take forever. It just takes so long so that by the time you have got things sorted out you've lost the buzz on the record, and that's where the majority of my problems have stemmed from.
Your day-to-day tasks must invariably involve DJing, producing and running a record company. Which of your 'occupations' do you enjoy most?
There isn't one thing that I'd say I enjoy most, they're all part and parcel of each other. You're in the studio in the week producing a tune, then at the weekend you're out at a club playing it and the following week you're releasing it on your label.
Have you always been involved in the music business?
Well yeah, I worked at Champion Records before all the acid stuff, I signed Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince. I used to run Def Jam UK looking after the Beastie Boys, Run DMC and I was also head of Profile International, so I've done a lot of things on that kind of level.
Over the years, yourself and Steve Osbourne have built up quite a reputation with your Perfecto remixes. What is the situation with you and Steve?
The reason the mixes that Steve and I do are called Perfecto is because they are done in a certain style and anyone who books us to do one knows the type of sound that they're going to get. I also do mixes and tracks on my own and sometimes Steve goes off and does some stuff on his own so we've got a good relationship like that. There are certain tunes that are right for us to do together and some that aren't, we just have to make that decision.
What do you actually do when you get in the studio?
Well as a musician I play keyboards and play guitar, but in the studio that's irrelevant because the secret of producing is getting the right team around you. Steve and I work hard to get the right team of musicians and engineers around us and then instruct them on what to do, that is the job of a producer. Years ago we used to do it all ourselves, and when we had to sit there and stay up for 22 hours we did it, but now 10 years on, we've got the luxury of having engineers and the like to do it for us. Nevertheless, the pressure and responsibility of it all is still completely on us, it's us the record company will come to if they're not happy with the mix. And when you're working with high profile bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, U2 or the Rolling Stones the pressure is really on. It's never a case of just coming into the studio, saying 'do that' and pissing off down the pub for a couple of hours.
And, finally, let's go back to your roots once again. From the earliest days of acid house right up until the present day, drugs and dance music have been inexplicably linked together. Would you say that it was ecstasy culture which was the catalyst for the whole dance phenomena?
No, definitely not, it was all about the music. Once again this is the media totally misleading people as to what went on. When it first started there were no drugs, when we brought the music back from Ibiza I wasn't even into taking drugs, I was totally and utterly into the music and that's why I brought it back. In Ibiza, in '85, when I was first trying to get into this music I had never even heard of ecstasy.
Would you not agree that it was the drug angle that really catapulted the scene into the mainstream?
I don't think that you can say that it was any one thing. It was the attitude of the people involved, the whole style of dress, because at the time everyone was really smart, wearing shoes and trousers. It was the music, the environment and, overall, ecstasy played a really small part. When I had 1500 people in Spectrum there were only about 200 people who knew about the drug.
And that illustrates beautifully just how far acid house - and Paul Oakenfold - have come. From the days of ecstasy being the exclusive preserve of only a few hundred of clubland's elite to today's picture of up to half a million wankered every weekend on the stuff, Paul has been there to see it, mix it, play it and party it all.
Clubs have come and gone, scenes have gone through their ups and their downs, music has changed beyond all comprehension and still, somehow, the man with a million barnets has managed to weather the storm through it all. Oakey's one of those people that folks just love to knock and that's always going to be the way, for whatever reason. But whether you're a DJ, a producer, a record company mogul or even a club promoter who wants to know how to stay one step ahead of the pack, then you couldn't do better than take a look at Oakenfold's record; his CV speaks for itself.
Five Prior Years... what Oakey was up to before the first 'Summer of Love'
1982: Paul decides that he wants to work in the music business. He travels to NY to check out its 'happening' music scene in between jobbing for various record companies.
1983: Returns to the UK to work for Champion, pretty much 'doing it all' and even sleeping in the office. Signs acts for the UK including Salt 'n' Pepa and Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
1984: Does consultancy work for a variety of record companies including Def Jam. His reputation builds...
1985: Travels to Ibiza for the first time to visit pals out there doing various odd summer jobs and first picks up the Balearic vibe.
1986: Returns to Ibiza as frequently as he can in between his growing record company consultancy work.
1987: Acid house arrives, ecstasy arrives, and Paul brings it back to the UK (the music, not the ecstasy!). Paul opens the Project Club and, later, Spectrum and Phuture.
Well, I never! 5 things you didn't know about Oakey
1. He's a fully qualified chef!
2. He once appeared on TV's 'Blue Peter' and still has his 'Blue Peter' badge!
3. He produced Deacon Blue's 1992 album 'Whatever You Say, Say Nothing'. It sold a million and he was nominated for a Brit award!
4. Paul McCartney once asked him round, let him hear his new album and asked Oakey for his 'honest opinion' on it!
5. He's credited with turning U2 from glum-rockers into credible cutting edge rock after working with them, producing seminal remixes of 'Even Better Than The Real Thing' and 'Lemon', among others.
Top ten early visitors to Paul’s clubs
1. Primal Scream
2. The Jungle Posse
4. DJ Rap
5. Happy Mondays
6. Stone Roses
7. Mickey Finn
9. Mike Pickering
10. Graeme Park
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