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Original publisher: Muzik Magazine
The world’s biggest DJ comes home to save London clubland
“I AM THE BIGGEST DJ IN THE WORLD”
Paul Oakenfold on coming Home
Is Home the club to save London nightlife? Paul Oakenfold thinks so. He wants to make his residency the most important club night. And if anyone can do it. . .
words Dave Fowler pics Jeremy Simons
EVERY football team needs a Michael Owen and every nightclub needs a Paul Oakenfold. Home in London, the global superclub for the next millennium, has just made Oakenfold its resident, in one move ensuring both critical and commercial success. DJs don’t come any bigger, any better or any more focused than Paul Oakenfold. He is the past, present and future of house music. The Don. And the reason we’ve flown to the first Home, in Sydney, Australia, for the weekend.
“Facts are facts,” he agrees from a poolside lounger at Sydney’s swankiest hotel. “I’m in the Guinness Book of Records because I’m the most successful DJ in the world. I have achieved more than anyone. I was the first DJ to play Glastonbury’s main stage, the first DJ to support an international rock band and the first to tour with bands like The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays. I was involved in starting scenes like Balearic and the ’88 movement. I was the first global DJ; the first to play live on the internet. Yes, I’m the biggest DJ in the world. I feel embarrassed to say it, but I am. The industry may slag me for saying it, but I don’t care.”
Pretty arrogant, eh? But in fact it’s taken over four hours of constant cajoling, probing and harassment to push the world’s greatest DJ to admit to his status. Even now he’s worried what ‘the people’ might think, even though those same people have voted him Number One themselves. This is the Oakenfold paradox, the web of contradictions underpinning an ultra-successful personality obsessed with the public perception of being ‘normal’.
Oakenfold, it seems, is the permanently “embarrassed” over-achiever. The star more at home with kids on the Sydney harbor ferry than the industry he helped create. The man who lunches at fashionable eateries like The Caprice, but sinks pints with the same tight circle of friends he has had for 20 years, “even though some of them have got a little bit jealous.” The native Londoner who deserted the capital for a residency in Liverpool. The interviewee who half answers one question, then answers half a dozen more at once. The self-professed wine lover who bizarrely names pink champagne as his favourite tipple. The man who with his Perfecto label created and evangelized the melodic trance sound, then abandoned it just when it became the dominant musical force in Europe. The dyslexic with a fear of a twisted word, but a lust for knowledge through travel.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous remark on Russia, Oakenfold is little short of a riddle inside a mystery inside an enigma.
“We all know the north is better than the south,” he starts, anticipating our first question, then answering it in his trademark oblique fashion, “and that’s why I want the challenge of making Home, London, like a northern club. The timing is right now for me to come home in both senses of the word. I have learned from travelling the world that all eyes are on London. When I was resident at Cream, some magazines sent to interview me didn’t even know where Liverpool was. It wasn’t until I mentioned The Beatles that they really got it.
“At Cream, I had the best room in the country, but apart from the people who went to the club, who saw it? I realized that, on a global scale, it’s all about London. London is the centre of the world when it comes to music. And Home will be the biggest club opening the world has ever seen. You know, you’ve got leaders and followers: I believe that this club is a leader, otherwise I wouldn’t be involved.”
Which is all impressively bullish, of course, but let’s not forget that Home is in the kitsh-cauldron of Leicester Square, home to the Hippodrome, gaggles of inane tourists, errant crack addicts and global consumerism at its worst. Anyway, after seven long years, does Oakenfold even have a London crowd any more? And is it prepared to wave lightsticks à la Gatecrasher?
“The whole scene started in central London 10 years ago with Spectrum, Shoom and Trip,” counters Oakenfold. “The challenge for me is to recreate what I had at Spectrum and Cream, and, yes, London will be hard. As far as the cynics are concerned Home is over before it’s started. It’s tacky and full of Ted tourists. You’ve got all the west London lot who are going to slag it off within five minutes of walking in. There are people slagging it before the doors open. They’re wankers, and they shouldn’t be allowed in.
“Sure, Leicester Square can be tacky, but the music and door policy will make Home work. It will be a northern superclub in terms of vibe; a creative, cutting-edge nightclub, pulling an international crowd – the sort of people who will fly in from New York or Europe for the weekend. I hope that the north of England comes down and experiences it too. Let’s put it this way, if I get half of the atmosphere we had at Cream, we will have achieved what no one else has in London. This isn’t a ready-made club, and Home is not a ready-made brand. Home will take three to six months to find its feet. If anything, I’m taking a gamble by working in the hardest city in the country, but if you’re questioning my London appeal, ask the Ministry: they sell out every time I play there.”
Home is Oakenfold’s club in almost every sense. His every wish is the club designer’s and promoter’s command. Take cocaine, for example – or rather don’t, as anyone using it will be banned from the club, whoever they are, at Oakey’s personal request. The sound system has been fitted by Steve Dash, who famously fitted out clubs like New York’s Paradise Garage, Twilo and, of course, Cream. It’s reported to be the best in the world. There’s also some kind of secret sonic weapon that can be activated from the DJ box, “an amazing unique sound tool”, that Oakey’s keeping mum about and we’ll have to discover for ourselves. The box itself perfectly matches the Oakenfold style: eye level to the crowd, designed to be surrounded on all sides by a wall of outstretched arms and heaving breasts. There’s a fridge, and a slew of gadgetry. If you’ve experienced his special effect-laden sets at Cream, you’ll know what to expect. The Oakenfold box, though, is primarily about moving the crowd, not his own ego: it’s a magic box more than a box of tricks.
Oakenfold’s contract with Home took seven months to negotiate. You can read into that what you want, but the bottom line is a three year deal, with him spinning from one to four every Sunday morning. There is “nothing he can’t have” at the club, (let’s face it, if he wasn’t given it, he could buy it) and he gets 10 weeks off a year. But that’s not strictly holiday. It is, as Oakey puts it, to conquer America.
“I will nail America,” he states emphatically. “I’ve sold 75,000 trance albums in a year and I’ve just nailed a six album deal with Warner Brothers. I will pioneer America and nail it for all of us.”
Then there is the notorious Oakenfold rider, a clause which means the whole bar is effectively at his permanent disposal, but he insists that “the rider is really only for outdoor festivals, I never use it in a club”. He’ll be travelling to the gig by taxi, as he “would be embarrassed by a limo.” (So would we.) And the fee per gig? Rumour puts it in excess of £10,000 per set. Not bad when rumour also suggests he gets £25,000 for every mixed CD he does. Ker-ching, indeed.
Money is a sticky subject for most of us. But particularly for this self-professed man of the people, too “embarrassed” to give his fans the wrong impression. But we live in a capitalist society, and people will earn what the market will support. If you don’t like that, then fuck off to North Korea. Oakenfold, naturally, echoes these sentiments, with a more diplomatic giftwrapping.
“It’s not really about what I get paid, he claims hesitantly. “I deliver what I do and if I didn’t, people wouldn’t pay me. I could earn a lot more than I do by playing more gigs and doing more remixes, but I don’t. I’m not greedy. I know that less is more, in a sense. I’m into quality. When it comes to money, I’m discreet. I invest. I save. I give to my family. I’ve got a team of people managing portfolios and property investments. I’ve worked extremely hard to get into a situation where I can do anything I want. Anything. I don’t look at a bill and go ‘oh, my God, I’ve just spent 20 grand’. We could fly to New York tomorrow on Concorde, but that’s not where my head is at. What I’m saying is that you are worth what you deliver and I get paid what I’m worth. If people call me greedy they are either jealous or naïve. You know, the difference between me and a lot of British DJs is that I don’t worry about them. I worry about me. Let’s make an analogy: is Zola worth 40 grand a week? Chelsea seem to think so, and so do I. And I’m a season ticket holder.”
Coming home means a massive change in lifestyle for London’s prodigal son. For starters, it means he’s closer to his tight-knit family and his Essex-Italian-Irish girlfriend Angela Costa, whom he met at the Milk Bar 10 years ago. Angela runs Perfecto clothing, and recently revealed in a magazine that “Paul wears Calvin Klein underwear, snores too much and carries my make-up bag when I’m tour with him. We have two kittens, Shimmi and Vega.” You can take or leave the trivia, but there is a serious side to being with family, as Oakenfold explains:
“One of the best things about playing in London will be Sundays. I’m looking forward to Sundays. I’m close to my family, especially since my father died. My parents brought me up in a very positive way, and I’ve always appreciated that. I feel it’s my responsibility to look after my family, particularly my Mum.”
ALL that money. All that time away from home. All those mini-bars. All those air hostesses. How does Oakenfold exercise restraint, when most British DJs (most British blokes, come to think of it) would rush in and sate all and every desire? What stops him doing a Nicky Holloway?
“We all love to party,” confides Oakenfold, “but the important thing is a question of balance. I work long hours, so I have to take my health very seriously. I drink loads of water. I have a personal nutritionist, an acupuncturist and a reflexologist. I get Ayurvedic messages (for purification and rejuvenation); I enjoy flotation tanks, I do yoga. I’m interested in health and I’m also a spiritual, if not strictly religious, person. I enjoy going to countries where the happiness of being alive is more important than a new BMW.
“In essence, I make sure everything I do is from the heart, even if it involves risk. All my decisions are from the heart, even when they turn out to be mistakes. The perfect example was the melodic trance sound of Perfecto. I changed the format. What a mistake! I was bogged down with politics and a distribution company who didn’t have a clue and I misread the situation. It won’t happen again.”
His honesty is disarming, but then Oakenfold’s focus is now tighter than ever. After rocking Home, Sydney with consummate ease, he claims that Home, London, will be “10 times better”. Given this superbly designed and run Australian club, a great warm-up in Jules Beaumont, an astonishingly friendly crowd and weekend-long “recovery” parties, it’s hard to see just how. . . but then we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Oakenfold.
His parting shot is a case in point: “Tell your readers I have not reached my full potential. After Home is up and running, my next goal is to be the first resident on a global scale on the internet. You’ll be able to hook into me live via the Perfecto web site, wherever you are in the world. I’ll be your own resident in your own front room. I’m already a household name in Europe, and via technology I’ll be a household name in China and everywhere else. Let’s make the music heard. Let’s conquer the world for Britain.”
10 years ago Oakenfold wore a bandana and a smiley T-shirt. Today he wears a crown. And 10 years from now?
Think big, readers. Think very big.
The finer things in life. . .
Where to run into the world’s biggest DJ
The Oriental in Bangkok: “Each floor has its own dedicated service department. The service is unbeatable.”
The Four Seasons in Bali: “This is probably the best hotel in the world. Even if the readers can’t afford to stay there, they should check it out on the web.”
The Grand Hyatt in Shanghai: “It’s the third tallest building in the world. The hotel lobby is on the 50th floor.”
West hotels: “They are a small American chain; trendy but with an edge. They have great karma with features like waterfalls in the lobby.”
The Armand chain: “13 hotels in America, all with great service.”
Simpsons: for British food
J Chickley: for fish
The Caprice: for lunch
Nobu: for Eastern food with a Western twist
The Ivy: Oakey’s favourite
21 clubs for the 21st Century
Where is it? In the heart of London’s West End – 1 Leicester Square, London W1
How long’s it been there? It’s opening Friday September 10th
What does it look like? Seven-floor hyper modern clubbing environment
Music policy? Very London, very up for it. Loosely, US house on Fridays, pumping trance on Saturdays
Describe it to us:
DJs: Built around residents with Danny Rampling on Fridays, with occasional guests including Danny Tenaglia and Back To Basics. Oakey every Saturday, with fellow residents Steve Lawler, Dave Haslam and Dave Ralph
What makes Home a club for the 21st century? A mix of pumping dance music, restaurant, shops, members’ bar and alternative dancefloors makes this a real Home from home for everyone from up-for-it clubbers to well-heeled Soho drinkers
Details: Opening night entry £12 (£10 every Friday after); Saturday entry £15. Open 10pm-4am. Tel: 0181-964-1999
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