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Original publisher: Muzik Magazine
Why did Oakey quit Cream?
Why did Oakey quit his residency at Cream? Is he taking a new one in London? How does he cope with celebrity status and stalkers? Is he really hooking up with The Happy Mondays? And what’s up with Perfecto? In an exclusive interview, Paul Oakenfold reveals all
words Calvin Bush
pics Jamie Baker & Andrew Hobbs
“OAKEY! How could you? Two beautiful years, the best music in the world, the best DJ in the world, every Saturday, at the best club in the world. The greatest times of my life. And now you’ve gone and quit. How could you desert us like this? What have we done to deserve this treatment? I’ll never go to Cream again.”
“Paul Oakenfold? A bastard and a traitor. I’ll never buy the man’s records again.”
“We’ll miss you. You gave us nights in the Courtyard we’ll never forget. Good luck, mate, whatever you do.”
A sample of just three of the many letters we received here at Muzik when the news was finally announced: after a two year residency at Liverpool’s Cream, Paul Oakenfold played his last set there as a resident on New Years Eve. It took almost everyone by surprise. A brief communication and that was it. One of the most important DJ residencies at Britain had come to an end.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Paul Oakenfold’s residency at Cream. Here was the world’s most popular DJ (that’s official - ask the Guinness Book Of Records) with his own room to do whatever the hell he wanted, every Saturday night. His loyalty was impeccable. He rarely missed a night, and even when he did, he’d be on the phone checking up to see everything was okay.
Paul Oakenfold at Cream became a laboratory, a unique theatre of sound where every week new anthems were established, artists broken, sounds pioneered. And every week, nearly 2,000 people would cram into Cream’s Annexe to have their Saturday nights made immortal.
Ensconced in Kensington Royal Garden Hotel, Oakenfold is far more relaxed than we’d expected. He still wears those scampish youthful looks, but there’s no sign of the flashing ego or weary impatience so many Premier League DJs give off. Even his clothes are classic casual - Evisu jeans, Adidas shell-toes, blue cardie-top. Only the barely perceptible greying tips of his thickset black hair give any clue that the world’s most in-demand DJ is starting to feel the pace at the age of 34.
So what were your feelings after your last ever Cream residency gig on New Year’s Eve?
“Mixed really. I was sad that I was leaving. It had obviously crossed my mind - am I making the right decision? Because I am leaving without a doubt the best room in the country, the best sound system, the best crowd. Everyone who’s been to that room knows how good it was. I worked really hard at it and it had got to the point where I couldn’t take it anywhere else. So I needed to leave it at its peak, so I could look back and say, ‘Yeah, I really achieved something with that club’.
“What some people don’t understand is that it was really really hard going there. Three hours up and three hours back every Saturday becomes very tiring.”
When you signed up with Cream, it really set a trend for resident DJs.
“It did set the trend. And the trend got diluted. Because people treat the term residency very lightly. [Angrily] Playing once a month, 12 gigs a year, is not a residency. I mean, if you’re only playing once a month, who’s playing the other three Saturdays in the month?”
The story goes that you gave up Cream to be a resident at (ex-Cream partner) Darren Hughes’ new club, due to open later this year in London.
“Nah, that’s just idle gossip on the scene. [Sighing exasperatedly] I have not accepted any residency in London. I haven’t signed anything.”
Have you been offered a residency in London?
“I’ve been offered lots of other residencies around the country. My only regular appearances at the moment are for Radio 1 - one a month from around the world. And then I’m going to get back to the gigs I couldn’t do for two years, visiting places like Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton, Hull, Devon. The Gatecrashers and other gigs I used to really enjoy. It’s time to catch up.”
So you’re not caught in a tug-of-war between James Barton and Darren Hughes?
“I’m not agreeing anything with anyone at this stage. lt’s just rumours. I’m as close to Darren as I am to [Cream manager] Jim King. I’ve got respect for both parties. And they’ve both been good to me. But if I decide to become resident at another club, it’s nothing to do with anyone else except me.”
Your sound seems to have moved away from the Goa trance thing you were into a few years ago.
“Well, yeah, that’s a fair comment. Going to Goa parties really reminded me of the early days of Ibiza, so I got a buzz from it. Musically I took elements from it and incorporated them into what I do. I don’t play any more or less Goa than I used to. The media took it in the wrong way, as if l was a Goa trance DJ. I never have been and I never will be. And the music on that scene has changed - it’s got a lot harder and less soulful. I’m into the more melodic, uplifting sound, but the scene has moved away from that.”
You say you incorporated elements of Goa into your own sound. It must have pissed off some of those at the heart of the Goa scene?
“Yeah, it did. They’re very paranoid. I got slagged off by them saying that I was jumping on their bandwagon. Like, what bandwagon? I was going to Goa six or seven years ago. I wasn’t interested in them, I was interested in me. The problem with that scene is they’re all peace, love and happiness and then behind your back they’re all slagging you off. I think they were intimidated because they thought that I was going to steal their so-called glory. I don’t need to steal someone else’s glory.”
What’s happening with Perfecto since you left Warners? All we’ve heard is The Dope Smugglaz, which isn’t exactly typical Oakenfold DJ set fare.
“Well, as a label, I’ve regrouped. I resigned from Warners. I had a terrible problem with the Managing Director, who didn’t want me to sign bands. He was saying I should sign Dannii Minogues, which isn’t what I’m about. It’s a waste of my time and a waste of his.
Perfecto is very misleading in some ways. It’s always been about albums and artists, not necessarily what I play as DJ. At the moment, The Dope Smugglaz are finishing their album. The other two acts I’ve signed, one is a hip hop act, and the other is a new rock band, a band for the next century. Signing the latest dance record for £50,000 is going nowhere.”
As well as your Radio 1 shows, you’ve also got a series of shows on the Galaxy network. What’s that all about?
“Each show is based on a different theme, mainly novels. The first one is Filth by Irvine Welsh. Someone reads some of the narrative and I create a soundtrack around it. You’re at home, you listen to the narrative, you listen to the music and you picture the film. We’ve been talking to Ewan MacGregor and people like that. I want to put more of a twist on it so we’re not just getting the author, we’re getting film stars, pop stars, even Jimmy Hill if I’m doing one on football.
Have you reed Filth?
“No, I haven’t. It wasn’t just me who chose it, it was me and the producers from Galaxy. I’m dyslexic, so I don’t really read much. I find it hard to read. But I have read the narratives.”
HE may be operating in that rarefied stratosphere reserved for mega-famous celebrities, but one the striking things about Paul Oakenfold is how conspicuous he is by his absence from the celebrity glamour circuit. You won’t find Oakey hanging out with Val Kilmer or playing some James Bond villain. When the pictures emerged from the Cream New Year’s Eve plane, the one carrying Norman Cook, Zoe Ball and a whole media dress in tow, Oakenfold looked more like their manager than a fellow celebrity, with his sharp suit, stern face and briefcase.
You’ve avoided becoming a celebrity outside the club scene itself. How have you managed to avoid the tabloid lifestyle?
“I just don’t want to play the game. I got thrown into a situation that I learnt a lot from. I toured with the biggest fucking band in the world [U2]. I’ve DJed at Madonna’s party, at Naomi Campbell’s party and I’m comfortable in those situations. I’ve got the best of both worlds. If I walk into a club, I get bugged, if I’m walking down the High Street, I don’t.”
Do you get any weird people bugging you in clubs?
“I had a stalker that got a bit out of hand. It started off quite harmlessly, just giving me presents, coming up to the decks. She started off where she would come and dance, getting off the music. Then it became photographs and from there it was just harassment. She tried to climb over the booth once when I was in the middle of DJing. I couldn’t work out what she wanted. Somehow she got backstage once. She just appeared. I was like, “What the fuck is she doing?” We had to eject her from Cream. And she’s banned now.”
What else have you got lined up for this year?
“I’m going to produce. . . [long pause] I’m going to produce. . . er. . .”
The Happy Mondays?
“[Sighs] Yeah. Well, there’s talk of it. Shaun’s a mate and he’s got a huge tax bill. They’ve asked me to open up as DJ on the tour. I can’t do all the dates, but I will do some. And they want me to work on remixes of some of the old stuff and to produce some new stuff. If the track’s bad, I won’t do it. It’s not about what I get out of it. I am open to producing a new track. And I’m going to produce a Dope Smugglaz track featuring Shaun Ryder.”
Finally, what message do you have to all the Cream regulars who reckon you’ve betrayed them?
“I’m not deserting anyone. I need to move on. I have to move on. And I will miss it as much as they will. I miss it already. And I will still go back two or three times a year to play there. But I won’t sit here and reminisce. I’m a forward-thinker. Let’s move on.”
‘Residence - Two Years Of Paul Oakenfold’ is out now on Virgin
DO you know who Paul Oakenfold’s mystery stalker was? Maybe you were at school with her? Or one of her flatmates? Do you have any stories about her? Or of any other DJ stalkers? Call the Muzik office on 0171-261-5993. And don’t worry. We’ll call you straight back.
Paul Oakenfold reflects on some of the biggest tunes you can find on his ‘Residence’ compilation:
Underworld - ‘Dark & Long’ (Original Mix)
“I’m always looking for records that are not commercial and that have got a twist to them. And this was one. I totally believed in it. I didn’t care if no one else was playing it. I knew I could work it and I knew I could make it a big record. I played it every week for nine months. That’s the only way to break a record.”
CJ Bolland - ‘The Prophet’
“This was a B-side that everyone missed. It’s an incredible record, the power, the dynamics, it’s such a big sound. I played this for nearly a year and at exactly the same time every time - the last record of the night. I wanted to stamp my mark. This tune was a statement for me. It was pure punk, let’s fucking have it punk.”
Amoeba Assassins - ‘Rollercoaster’ (Oakey’s Courtyard Mix)
“They brought me this demo and I signed them to Perfecto. I played this for six months on acetate.”
Planet Heaven - ‘Naughtical Bodies’
“What was great about the Cream residency was that I had loads of kids who’d come to hear me who also had access to studios. They’d make music for me, for my room and bring me DATs. I’d cut acetates and play them and end up having big records for that room made by local kids. This was one of the biggest, by a kid who was at university up there, listening to my sound and making records for me. And it ended up getting signed too.”
Mansun - ‘Wide Open Space’ (Perfecto Mix)
“This is my own remix, which I turned into a Cream anthem. The lyric was very emotional and the vocals are so soulful. I used to play it every single week, always as the second record in. The first record always had to be an instrumental, but the second one would always be a song. An out-and-out Courtyard song.”
The Cream dancefloor decides
Name: Matthew Timms
Personal details: 21 year old student from Manchester.
How long have you been coming to Cream? Five years.
What do you think of Cream tonight? Better than ever. It’s fucking rocking, it’s not lost it at all.
What do you think about Oakey leaving? I’m absolutely devastated. He is the life and soul of this club. He’s the lord of the dance.
What do you think about DJs like Seb Fontaine and Tall Paul coming in? They don’t match up to his status, his quality. He is what house music is all about. I’ll still come to Cream, but without Oakey not so often.
Name: Paul Jones
Personal details: 23 year old Cream worker from Liverpool.
How long have you been coming to Cream? Since it started and I’ve been working here for four years.
What do you think about Oakey leaving? He’s got to try different things. A lot of people are disappointed but it’s given him a chance to do other things. The club’s doing well now so he can’t be missed that much! The courtyard with Oakey will go down in clubbing history.
What do you think about DJs like Seb Fontaine and Tall Paul coming in? The kids like them and they’re getting crowds in, but it’s not my taste.
Name: Sarita Roodurmun
Personal details: 19 year old student from Liverpool.
How long have you been coming to Cream? Years, but I used come here a lot more to hear Oakey.
What do you think of Cream tonight? Tonight the atmosphere is as good as it used to be. It hasn’t been like this for ages and that’s to do with Seb.
What do you think about Oakey leaving? He’ll be back.
What do you think about DJs like Seb Fontaine and Tall Paul coming in? Seb Fontaine is one of the best DJs about. I hope it stays like this, it’s one of the best nights I’ve had at Cream.
Name: Lee Kelly
Personal details: 31 year old “security consultant” from Toxteth.
What do you think of Cream tonight? It’s a lockout.
What do you think about Oakey leaving? Like Shankly said about Liverpool, there’s no one player bigger than club.
What do you think about DJs like Seb Fontaine and Tall Paul coming in? They might come through and be the biggest thing ever. You’ve gotta let the young blood come through. Oakenfold wasn’t the club and the club wasn’t Oakenfold. It’ll go on without him.
Name: Fiona Marsh
Personal details: 22 year old manager from Chester.
How long have you been coming to Cream? Four years.
What do you think about Oakey leaving? It’s a bit of a break for Cream and it will encourage new people to come and see the format. It isn’t gonna make a difference to the crowd. People want change.
What do you think about DJs like Seb Fontaine and Tall Paul coming in? Wicked. Oakey had been here for two years and Seb Fontaine’s a blinding DJ. I heard Oakey play for weeks in a row and he played the same thing. It’s a bit more cheesy but more of a laugh.
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