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Mixmag, August 1998

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Original publisher: Mixmag

Photo captions
Paul Oakenfold: a decade in Ibiza, and all in the same pair of trousers
The future's bright, the future's Oakey...
Paul Oakenfold: Cream at Amnesia, Ibiza, 7/7/98
"Oi, Oakey – got any U2?" "Tsk, 'course I have..."
"First floor: haberdashery, leather goods and lingerie..."


Oakenfold's Balearic flashbacks

Ibiza 98: the DJ

"Ibiza changed my life"

It's over a decade since Paul Oakenfold took a holiday on a quiet Spanish resort with a few mates. But that trip changed not only his life, but that of thousands of clubbers worldwide. So what exactly was so special about Ibiza, and has it still got its magic today?


WE all know the story don't we? It goes a little something like this. It's the Summer of 1987, right, and there's these four blokes from South London; proper music heads the lot of them. You want names? Let's just call them Paul, Nicky, Danny and Johnny. Anyway, they're out on this little Spanish island aren't they? Paul's been before – he's got a mate who's working there, Trevor – and he's decided to fly out for a few weeks to celebrate his 26th birthday. Paul saw it like this: "I've always been a sharing person. When I find something I love I want to share it with other people; a record, a place, whatever. And that's what this island's about. Someone comes and then they bring back a couple of friends who bring back a couple of friends and so on."
    The island's not particularly well-known, certainly not as packed-out as the tourist traps of, say, Benidorm or Majorca. But Paul's always liked it. It's got a cool vibe, part hippy-trippy and part jet set rich and famous, and, besides, there's this DJ – a Spanish geezer called Alfredo – who plays all kinds of different music, mixing Farley Jackmaster Funk with The Cure or LL Cool J with some old Woodentops record. It's much better than the pretentious, exclusive, trendy bollocks of the London club scene.
    So anyway, the point is that one night they're down at this after hours club that kicks off around three or four in the morning and runs through to midday – a wicked party venue just set back from the road between the island's two main towns – and they decide to take this new drug that's knocking about. Of course, the drug is not new as such – it's been a mainstay of the gay scene in Chicago and New York since the early 80s – but it's new to our four heroes. So they pop their pills one night back in the summer of 1987 and ...and what?
    Hold on a second. Let's just fill in a few blanks. The Paul was Paul Oakenfold (with his mates Nicky Holloway, Danny Rampling, Johnny Walker and Trevor Fung), the club was Amnesia, the island was Ibiza and the drug ecstasy. So the myth of Ibiza had begun. So the 'Summer Of Love' followed a year later. So acid house was born. So British clubland was irrevocably repackaged and revitalised. So British popular culture underwent its greatest upheaval since the kids tore out their cinema seats watching Bill Haley's 'Rock Around The Clock'. So that's what. So a lot.
    Flash forward a decade or so and the same Paul Oakenfold is sitting in the plush pool bar at Pikes Hotel just off the main road between Ibiza Town and San Antonio (just a stone's throw from Amnesia in fact). He's sipping on his freshly squeezed and reminiscing about the parties he went to at this very hotel: Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones, the whole champagne set shenanigans.
    These days Oakenfold is a living legend. It's a crap term (generally used of clapped-out lounge singers and ageing, cosmetically enhanced film stars) but in his case it happens to be appropriate. Just check out the story of his ecstasy conversion. Because that's a legend if ever I heard one. But is it true?
    "For me, it's all about the music. The drugs just complement the music. I suppose if you speak to people who aren't so into music then they'll tell you otherwise. But music and drugs have always gone hand in hand; it's more a question of what was the drug of the generation; whether it's marijuana, cocaine or E."
    Yeah. But is the story true?
    "Sure it's true. Before '87, I came here and just got off on Alfredo's music. Then I took a pill and it was, like, 'Oh my God!' And then? Well. You're on a mission aren't you?"
    Mission is right. Because when the four pioneers returned to London, they attacked the club scene with a missionary zeal; preaching the Balearic gospel to anyone who'd listen. Danny opened the seminal Shoom with his girlfriend Jenni and Nicky took the music to a more populist level with Trip at The Astoria. But it was Oakenfold who really set himself a challenge when he negotiated a Monday night (Future) at what was then London's most celebrated venue, Heaven. Within a month he was 12 grand in debt and was beginning to wonder if he'd made an expensive mistake.
    "I believed in it though. Even at the time it felt significant and right. We didn't care if we were making a statement but we just felt that we were on a better buzz than the people in London. Not even a drug buzz. Just having a lot more fun. At first we only had that hardcore following that had been to Ibiza, the people who gave out flyers and the bar workers, and we were barely breaking even. But slowly everyone brought someone who brought someone who brought someone. And it just got going. Just like Ibiza itself."
    This seems to be a theme of Oakenfold's life; that word of mouth philosophy and his passion for sharing the music. And its a theme that has taken him full circle; from his time on the Amnesia dancefloor as one of the first proto-ravers to tonight's session at Cream's opening in Ibiza at – where else? – Amnesia. Though these days the venue is Brit-dominated, and the stretching queue is strictly Anglo-file.
    His set is as free-form and eclectic as you would expect from Oakenfold and the punters are as knowledgeable and appreciative as you would expect from Cream. It's perfect synergy between DJ and dancefloor as he delivers a four-hour ride of ever-widening ripples of classic house, friendly trance and harder, complex breaks and the dancefloor replays the favour with a non-stop frenzy of the king that only the Cream crowd deliver. And when Oakenfold drops the Daft Punk-meets-disco flavour of Stardust's 'Music Sounds Better With you' (his prediction for Tune Of The Summer), the whole venue hits Spinal Tap's fictional "eleven". Suddenly everyone's mouthing wordlessly at one another like dazed goldfish in a bowl of neat vodka.
    Later, we meet on Amnesia's outdoor balcony, watching the sunrise and Oakenfold asks, "What did you think?" At first I think he's after some kind of approval (from me?). But then I realise he's just checking I've had a good time. That desire to share once again.
    The truth is that Oakenfold is still preaching the music gospel. Not house music. Or club music. Just good music.
    "I grew up on pop music," he says. "Because of that I'm open-minded. If you're only into one sound then where do you go when that sound dies? In all kinds of music there's a lot of crap. It's just a question of knowing what's the best of each type. And that stems from coming to Ibiza ten years ago when the DJs were brave enough to do that."
    Of course Ibiza's very different these days. Oakenfold's memories of way back when are littered with references to long-forgotten bars, a time when Café Del Mar was off the beaten track outside San Antonio and the term 'superclub' was used only of Manchester United or Real Madrid. And there are regrets too: the rampant commercialism, the attitude of some of the Ibizencos and the attitude of the English lager boy/thug element.
    "I have an on-off, love-hate relationship with this island. Like last year I was here for six weeks and my Dad died, Princess Di died and I saw a kid killed in front of me, knocked off his motorbike. I've finished with girlfriends here. A lot of relationships have fallen apart. Mixed emotions. But Ibiza has changed my life. It touched me deeply and continues to draw me back."
    Listening to Oakenfold's 10-year old memories outside Amnesia (apart from the obvious irony) is a melancholy experience; kind of like looking at the baby photos of British popular culture. But the proud father is ever optimistic.
    "The whole scene's still growing. Divisions in music are breaking down. Kids who buy Oasis also buy the Chemical Brothers, my mix of U2 outsells the original, turntables outsell guitars and, musically, everyone's eyes are on England."
    And Ibiza?
    "You know what? The spirit of the island is just the same. You are free here. You can do what the fu*k you want to do, you can party 24 hours a day. There's people here now who were in primary school in 1988. And that's great. If I was 20 I'd definitely still be coming here. Well, I am... you know what I mean."
    He laughs. We know what he means. So what about you Oakey? Where are you heading?
    "Who knows? I've got my residency at Cream and the American tour and I'm not looking further than the end of the year. Maybe I'll accept a new challenge. It'll still be music but maybe it'll be a more chilled out thing. I don't know. Just sitting there with my cyber glasses on, floating into the future..."