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Ministry Magazine, September 1998



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Original publisher: Ministry of Sound



Ministry Magazine

SPECIAL FUTURE ISSUE

Oakenfold's vision of clubland's future

"It's like the dance scene's started all over again..."

Clubland's prophet speaks

Photography: Tim Bret-Day, Astro Suzuki / Assisted by: Sarah Greenwood / Hair: Terése Broccoli @ Rockit / Make-up: Charlotte Day @ Rockit / Styling: Jason Kelvin / Thanks to: Metro Peartree Studio / Words: Scott Manson


The dance world's gone dewy-eyed. And you know what? It's getting bloody boring. From TV and radio specials on 10 years of house to books and yes, magazine articles about being first in the door at Shoom, the vultures have descended to pick dry the bones of culture past. Clearly, Socrates was wrong. His maxim: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" should now read, "Those music producers and A&R folk who remember the past will repeat it again and again and again...."
    In fact, given the number of remixed classic tunes that've been bothering our eardrums lately you'd be forgiven for thinking that dance music had lost its direction. The paradox is that the person who's best placed to predict what's around the corner is the very bloke who's partly responsible for the feeding frenzy in the first place. Say hello to Paul Oakenfold.

Paul the prophet?
Although we're here to talk about the future of music, it's worth pointing out why Paul Oakenfold is our pick for dance prophet. Where to start, though? How about helping bring the acid house sound to Britain? Oh, and trance to a house audience. Then there was the stint as tour DJ for U2, and producing a set of seminal remixes for artists such as Massive Attack and Happy Mondays. More recently, his weekly residency at Cream has helped to keep the club in the premier league while this year's 50-date American tour is only half-way through and already he's been offered residencies at a host of high-profile US clubs. Paul Oakenfold is at the top of his profession and, from that height, he can see the way the land lies. So listen up.
    "I feel renewed, revitalised, it's like the dance scene's started all over again."
    Oakey is intense. You'd expect the seen-it-all swagger of a cynical old pro. Instead, one of the world's biggest DJs is talking away ten-to-the-dozen like he's just come home from his first day at school.
    "I've seen the future and it's America. Britain may be the home of dance culture but this place is absolutely going off. Raves with 10,000 people, loads of dance radio stations, American clubbers coming to Ibiza – there's a breath of fresh air blowing in from over there."
    If America provided the youthful exuberance, then Singapore has provided the vision that's inspired the rejuvenated Oakey. One place in particular is singled out as "the club of the future, no question". That club is Zouk, where up to 3,000 Singaporeans can be found within its sprawling complex every Saturday. With car valeting service, a classy indoor clothes store, an even classier outdoor bar and restaurant and a state-of-the-art sound system, it's no wonder that this three-roomed danceteria has blown Oakenfold away. They've even got a room called The Future and, yes, that's the one Oakey played in.
    "What impressed me most was how well they treated the punters. The decor was all by Philippe Starck, there was air conditioning. You could have a classy night out, but still be in a full-on dance club."
    He points out that the concept has already taken seed in Britain, with the steady increase in so-called 'club-bars' in cities like London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. Clubbers don't necessarily want to get sweaty and dance all night, he says, they want somewhere they can chat and chill too.
    Yeah but Paul, isn't it the older, 25+ clubbers that want these places? After all, there's still a hell of a lot of people who bloody love dancing around steaming hot clubs with their tops off.
    "They don't know any different," he says firmly. "Give them something better, like proper air conditioning for a start and they'll appreciate it. I guarantee that when I do what I plan to do I will give total quality. I have plans."
    He seems on the verge of saying more about some mysterious plan to set up his own club or bar but when pressed insists that it's not something he can talk about at the moment. I earwig on all his regular mobile phone conversations throughout the day to try and get the lowdown but hear nothing more exciting than his forthcoming hotel reservation [three days in Sicily's top hotel, if you please].
    All this talk of the future makes Paul dwell on what might have been had he, Danny Rampling and the rest of the gang simply given into temptation and stayed on as hippies in Ibiza back in 1987.
    "Maybe Brandon Block and Alex P would've discovered it in '94 instead, then we'd have all been wearing Nutbag T-shirts instead of smiley faces," he laughs.
    But what about all this smiley nostalgia, don't you sometimes hanker after all the old sweaty Shoom days?
    "If I want to reminisce I'll go to the pub with my mates. You know, no matter how much money those retro house nights offer me – and I've been approached by a few – I could never play there. You've just got to look forward."
    To be fair, if you were Paul Oakenfold you certainly wouldn't want to look back. His history of horrific haircuts [which includes one stupendously bad mullett] is legendary. Indeed, his DJing career started in the mid-'80s New Romantic training ground that was the Blitz club [owned by spooky-haired Visage frontman Steve Strange] and Paul admits that he has plenty of unflattering pictures hidden away at home.
    He chuckles mischievously. "Bad hair, horrible fashion and tacky music – there's a good idea for a youth culture, eh?"

Oakenfold's perfect vision
When it comes to the clubs of the future, Zouk may provide the structural blueprint but technology also plays a big part in Oakenfold's vision. Although he scoffs at the idea of the DJ ever being replaced by an automatic mixing machine, the internet and its use as a bridge between club and living room is something that excites.
    "Every show we're doing in America is broadcast on-line. We're the first touring dance collective to do this and the response has been fantastic. It gives me such a buzz to know that there are kids out there who can't get to the club, or maybe they can't afford it, so instead they're having a massive house party with their mates and Paul Oakenfold is basically playing out in their living room."
    He adds that, in the next few years, there'll be film quality visuals broadcast alongside the sound. "Clubs will have huge video walls so that scenes from dancefloors across the world can be broadcast. Technology brings us closer together – a global village of clubbers."
    But progress is not without its problems. In his role as top talent spotter for Perfecto Records, Paul's already hearing the effect of cheaper technology on music production. And it's not good.
    "The upside is that as studio kit gets cheaper then more people can get into making their own sound." He grimaces and adds, "But there's no quality control. People are buying the kit, churning out pre-set sounds and basically trying to run before they can walk. In the last two years dance music has lost a lot of its creativity."
    As new genres and subdivisions continue to mutate and expand almost daily, the concern for Oakey is that artists aren't given the time to develop before they're tossed aside in favour of the latest new sound. Naturally, the media comes for a broadside in this respect.
    "Stop chasing new styles," he insists. "Give musicians and genres time to breathe and grow. Dance music is still a one-hit singles culture but it doesn't have to be that way. Look at the Prodigy or The Chemical Brothers – we can make good albums if the support is there."

Brave new world?
Nobody likes to be proved wrong and Paul Oakenfold is no different from the rest of us in this respect. That's why it's so hard to get any predictions for future music from him. The problem, he says, is that gifted musicians often disappear up the road marked 'self-indulgent wankery' and never return. It's the ones who're smart enough to go to clubs and listen to what punters like that'll do well.
    "When I toured with U2 I'd go to all the good record stores in every city and pick up their big tunes. A&R people have to step back and look at the bigger picture – I've signed tunes from Israel, Australia, America – all over the world basically."
    So come on then Oakey, you've already said that the old guard of DJs like yourself, Pete Tong and Danny Rampling will bow out in the next few years. Spill the beans, who're the faces of the future?
    "The most underrated DJ in Britain is a guy called Big Al [not to be confused with South Park's Big Gay Al] who's a resident at Cardiff's Escape club. He plays melodic uplifting trance and already he's up there with the best in the world."
    Other names to watch include Gatecrasher's Scott Bond, DJing sidekick Dave Ralph ["put him on at any time of the night and he'll get the musical mix just right"] a Dutch DJ called Tiësto ["he's technically brilliant and he reads a crowd so well"] and a London girl called Nancy Noise. Erm, hasn't she been around for years, though?
    "Yeah but you have to understand that it takes years of experience to make a good DJ. Slick mixing is only 30% of DJing – the most important aspect is understanding a crowd and really feeling the music. Listen to Nancy and you're like 'how did she get into that tune?', and then before you know it she's slid from bangin' house to some funky old hip hop tune, then into an acapella and so on. Simply mixing the latest big tunes isn't enough – you're being paid to entertain."
    Musically, Paul's still the standard-bearer for trance. No other genre has come close to encapsulating a whole lifestyle around its sound and he compares trance's freedom and energy to the original acid house vibe.
    "Looking on a global scale, trance is the sound of the future. By crossing cultural divides it's becoming the universal dance language."
    And when it comes to new music, there's one band that Oakey can't stop raving about.
    "The Dope Smugglaz. I truly believe they'll be really big," he says.
    Um, haven't they just been signed to Perfecto, though? By you?
    He laughs briefly but there's no mistaking the passion he has for the Leeds collective's sound.
    "I hear thousands of new artists every year but I sign very few. These guys are absolutely unbelievable, though. Their sound is unique and, importantly, they can cut it as DJs too. I heard them play the VIP room at Creamfields and they just blew me away. They'd mix The Beatles into house music then drop in drum'n'bass – the whole place was going mad."

The drugs don't work
As Oakenfold and his premier league DJing peers start to move on and let the new blood come through there's a few words of advice that he'd like to share.
    "It's funny because no one could ever give me advice. There'd never been DJs like us before so really I've been winging it for the last ten years." Smiling, he ticks points off on his fingers like he's reciting a mantra.
    "Work hard, be as original and focused as possible and always believe in yourself. Oh, and don't get sucked down the druggy road – it really doesn't make you a better DJ, no matter what some people might think."
    But what about your future? Where does one of dance culture's founding fathers go next?
    "Business-wise, I've got a couple of non-musical projects that'll happen by the year 2000. On a personal level – who knows?" he shrugs. "I'm getting into the internet in a big way at the moment."
    Yup, the man that makes every club party central spends hours surfing the web like a spoddy sixth-former. His top sites at the moment include the NASA page with its real-time cameras in space and, oddly, the Four Seasons hotel site from Bali. "You can go on a virtual tour of the hotel!" he enthuses. Mmm, cool.
    Despite the spoddy appearance and the fact that Oakey admits that his hard partying days are coming to a close, you'll still spot him out on the odd mad bender.
    "All these younger DJs give me stick, call me a lightweight because I'm not out caning it with them, but I do still have my moments. A couple of weeks ago I did a restaurant, three bars and two clubs in one night." His eyes light up at the memory. "I was out for 24 hours and ended up staggering around The Gallery with Seb Fontaine and Darren Stokes. Took part, got hammered and had a top night."
    There's an air of optimism that surrounds Paul Oakenfold. A can-do spirit that says don't fear the future because you're the one who's shaping it. He may wrap it up in the odd corporate soundbite and PR-push but it's clear that he's always looking for the next level. Oakey is still on it – watch him go.



Metal Oakey
We're building a prototype Paul Oakenfold robot so future generations can continue to enjoy the great man's talents. Unfortunately it only has a five phrase vocabulary so we got Oakey on the program. Here's his choice:
1 "Does my main course come with any veg?"
2 "Have I got any messages?"
3 "You just can't find the staff these days."
4 "Oh, I see British Airways has lost my record box again."
5 "Why can't you just book me on a direct flight to Ibiza?"