Click on an image to zoom in.
(SCANS GO HERE)
Original publisher: URB Magazine
Paul Oakenfold at Wembley Stadium Netaid Concert, London, October 1999
Burning Man Festival 2000
ADDRED AND LOATHED IN EQUAL MEASURES, VETERAN UK DJ/PRODUCER PAUL OAKENFOLD IS FIRED UP ABOUT AMERICA, AND HIS CONSTANT TOURING HAS YIELDED A SIZABLE FOLLOWING HERE. BUT THE MAN GUINNESS DEEMED THE WORLD'S MOST SUCCESSFUL CLUB DJ REMAINS UNFAZED BY HIS TITLE. "IT'S FOR THE PEOPLE TO JUDGE YOU," HE SAYS.
WORDS: JIM BUTLER/PHOTOGRAPHY: GRANT FLEMING, EDDIE OTCHERE, JAMES PATRICK DAWSON
One simple, undeniable fact: Paul Oakenfold is the world's most successful DJ. Now read that again. Paul Oakenfold is the world's most successful DJ. Not necessarily the best, the most adventurous or the most technically proficient, but the most successful. But how is such a title awarded, and who has bestowed such an honor on the 30-something Londoner who in classic boy's own fashion has done rather good? Check the Guinness Book of World Records.
Relaxing in a swanky Thames-side bar close to Putney Bridge, the world's most successful DJ is pontificating over what such a term means. "It's to do with achievement," he proffers, in between sips of orange juice. "It doesn't mean I'm better than anyone else, it just means I've achieved more. I did sell a million records in one year. I was the first DJ to take DJing outside of club events – I played the main stage at Glastonbury 10 years ago [opening for the Happy Mondays]. So it's based on that."
Thus, Paul Oakenfold is the world's most successful DJ. And the world's most successful DJ has his sights set on potentially the world's biggest untapped dance market: America. In fact, if we are to take the rumors (of which there are plenty) as gospel, Paul Oakenfold is going to nail America. He is going to invade America, just as his limey forefathers The Beatles, The Clash and, erm, EMF, mythically did before him and place a great big whopping Union Jack right on the heart of its dance floor. But these are simply rumors.
It seems anyone vaguely connected to the multifarious beast that is the global dance music industry has an opinion on Paul Oakenfold. He is loved as much as he is loathed and his projects are deified and derided in equal measure. The fact that he is still the ubiquitous public face of dance music, over 10 years since acid house's glorious late-'80s inception, only begins to explain the phenomenon that is Paul Oakenfold. As Keith Richards memorably put it when attempting to explain the nature of The Rolling Stones, you're born and The Rolling Stones are there. Ditto Paul Oakenfold. You want to dance and there's Paul Oakenfold.
"What else can I do in the UK?" asks a perplexed Oakenfold, moving forward in his seat as if to underline his point. "Nothing. It doesn't interest me. The more I get involved in the politics of British dance music, the more it makes me want to get out of the madness. It's only the crowds that keep me in it."
It's fair to say that Oakenfold, loafing it in his beloved Chelsea soccer team jogging bottoms, just worn-in Caterpillars and baggy sweater (a Stussy hat the one concession to any semblance of showy attire), has something of a love/hate relationship with the UK dance scene at present. In his eyes the scene which he helped to deliver all those years ago has disappeared to the place where the sun don't shine. It's gotten too political, with too much infighting and bitching among its ranks. Ergo America.
"America is currently the best place in the world to be," he explains in his soft London twang, his voice barely rising above whisper level. "It really is that simple. America is the most exciting place in the world right now for dance music. You see it's young, well it's younger, and there's some fantastic young new DJs that I've come across – which from my point of view is very important to say, because there's been all this nonsense about a so-called British invasion of America."
Ah yes, the small matter of the latest bout of UK cultural imperialism, led arrogantly by Paul the Lionheart. So is Oakenfold really trying to invade America, as some reports have suggested?
"No," he states emphatically, his voice getting into third gear now. "No individual can take over one country. The point that the person who made that comment missed is that this scene has always been about sharing. The dance scene is a global reality and I'm fortunate enough to have traveled the world and been a part of that."
But you've been quoted in the UK as saying that you were going to pioneer America for the Brits.
"Well, I don't talk to the press in the UK at present because I'm always being misquoted. I haven't spoken to anyone since last November. Of course I'm not invading America," he laughs. "That has been said by Christopher Lawrence's wife [in an XLR8R article], who got upset not just with me – she named Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers – and she thought that we were trying to go over there and take over. Fact: Any artist in the world wants to do well in America – no big deal. I'm not trying to take over anything, because if you look at the history of dance music you'll see it's a global scene and we're all part of it. The only reason I go over to America is very simple: It's fucking great.
"I'm open to criticism just like anyone else, but when someone gets really personal . . ." He pauses. "You see, from what I can gather, [Lawrence's wife] has been saying that us English DJs, not just me, are going over to America and taking work away from her husband and other young American DJs. Of course we're not. There's probably only what, five English DJs who are going over to America at the moment [over 100, more like it–Ed.], so I thought that what she said was very immature. But you know," he shrugs with the weary acceptance that this won't be the last time he has to counter such suggestions, "you just have to get on with it."
Staring into the headlights of the media's current fascination with the supposed "dance boom" in America, it's easy to be blinded by the knee-jerk reporting that passes for objective journalism. Dance music has always had a hold on the hearts and minds of young Americans; it's only the ignorance of the more insular and conservative U.S. rock press and the arrogance of much of the UK's dance press that has distorted reality.
But there are signs that the tide is turning. In the UK, style mag The Face recently ran a considered and measured article about the current seismic shift in attitudes taking hold in the U.S. Without ever couching the language in typically triumphant tones and noting how their lads were doing the do, the article focused on a new generation of American DJs breaking through to the other side. Terry Mullan, DJ Dan, Sandra Collins, Jimmy Van M, Keoki and Micro – DJs who get little or no attention across the Atlantic and yet will be very familiar to regular readers of these pages – were hailed as saviors for America.
Oakenfold believes it's all in the timing. "I've been going over to America for 10 years," he recalls. "I remember playing at Twilo and they weren't into it. I remember touring with the Happy Mondays and they didn't really get the music. So I've learned from experience that it's about timing. Over the last couple of years, the climate has been right for me to go to America. It's that simple."
Paul Oakenfold believes in keeping it simple. This dance lark, it seems, is not a matter of splitting the atom or rocket science, but about keeping it simple so that the greatest number of people can understand in the shortest amount of time. When quizzed in the UK about his American intentions, he stuck to this philosophy, "We're not interested in the clubs," he was quoted as saying. "We're going straight at it from the college, alternative route. I've got acts who can come out there and tour, just like Oasis."
For the last three years, Oakenfold has regularly brought his Perfecto label over to America and toured – not just concentrating on the New York, Los Angeles, Miami axis, but going to the heart of America. He calls it his American dream. "That's why the last album I did in America [Tranceport] did so well," he explains, fiddling with his hat and taking it off to reveal a less extravagant spike than usual. "We've gone out and toured constantly." At last count, the album had shifted over 150,000 units – unprecedented for a DJ mix.
Now as if to consolidate his hold and draw a line under this stage of his American development, Oakenfold has released Perfecto Presents Another World, which debuted on the Billboard 200 at 114, the highest debut chart position for a mix album yet. Though it's simply another mix album, it's designed to highlight the multifaceted nature of Oakenfold. He's not just a – shock, horror, gasp – trance DJ, don't you know?
"Perfect World is a step further in highlighting what I do," he says. "Rather than taking 10 to 20 of the latest club tunes, it features a lot of original material. It features classic material that I've had remixed especially, such as Led Zeppelin. It's got dialogue on it, it's got additional production where I've put keyboards on and it's got a few downtempo tracks. The whole idea of the album is set out as a journey. In England I've done these kinds of things, but over in America they just know me as a trance DJ, which I've never solely been."
So you're not just a trance DJ then? "No, the whole idea is to give people a clearer idea of what I'm really about. If anyone knows me, they'll know I've remixed The Rolling Stones and INXS, produced the Happy Mondays, worked with Snoop Dogg, but in America they only know me as a DJ. They don't know me as a producer or the other work I've done, so what I've done with Another World is go a step further and also take a step back to make people aware I'm not just a trance DJ; I never have been and I never will be.
"So I felt the only way to truly show the bigger picture was to do two CDs taking you on a journey that doesn't give you the latest 12 tunes, which with respect, everyone is doing. You pick up your Ministry of Sound albums and it's just the latest bunch of tunes, and a couple of months later there's another one. It doesn't necessarily mean people are going to like my compilation more; they probably won't. But I think mine will be around a lot longer 'cause it gives people more than just the current flavor of the month."
Clocking in at an astonishing two hours and 26 minutes, "journey" could almost be an understatement for Another World. Taking in chunky, funky tech workouts beloved of Tenaglia et al, melodic liquid house rhythms, acidic punk funk and gut-wrenching, instinctual trance textures, it is the sound that has divided Oakenfold's home country in two. To many in the UK, Oakenfold is a joke. Although the use of Pete Tong's name has passed into cultural usage to signify something gone wrong – "it's all gone a bit Pete Tong," geddit? – it's Oakenfold that really gets up the noses of the sneaker-scuffing underground. The man who at the turn of the '90s was opening for the likes of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and who had run one of the most infamous and nefarious of acid house bastions, Spectrum, is now laughed at for championing what some see as toy-town rave music, also known as trance.
Naturally, Oakenfold couldn't give a monkey's. He knows what the kids (well, a fair proportion of them, anyway) want. They want elongated breakdowns, calculated chord changes and emotive strings and Oakenfold delivers – and then some. He doesn't care about what he perceives to be the whining of a vocal minority; he's interested in hearing what the kids dancing and losing themselves to the intimacy of the beat – and thus discovering themselves in his flawless mixing – have to say.
"It's quite straightforward really," he notes, warming to his theme. "All I do is go out there and play music to the people. At the end of the day they judge you, they let you know, 'cause you're directly in contact with that crowd week in, week out. If you ain't rocking that crowd, they're gonna let you know 'cause they're paying good money to see you and that's all they really care about. And that's all I've really cared about. It's about that person that comes through that door and giving them the best possible night of their life, wherever it is in the world."
And it seems to Oakenfold that in America, the constant criticism that characterizes much of the fickle UK scene has yet to take hold. "Absolutely, in America it's not like that – it's simple and that's why I like it. I like going to all these places, I like going all the way up to Alaska and playing at a party for 300 people. It's very simple. For example, I'd always wanted to go to Alaska and the promoter had read in an article that I wanted to go and DJ in Anchorage. So he rang up my agent and said, 'Look, we can't afford to pay him but we can pay his flights and accommodation." I was like, 'I'll go.' So we went up there in July and played in this club and it was unbelievable."
Paul Oakenfold is having a ball. He openly admits that his American adventure has given him a new lease on life. "I'm enjoying DJing more now than ever and what's more, I don't think I've reached my peak," he beams. As for the future, he's just going to see what happens. "I don't look too far in advance. I'm focusing on certain key areas, like America, and I'm not analyzing the scene too much. So yeah, I'm happier now than ever. Last week, I had two records in the UK Top 10, I've just had the most successful range of Perfecto nights throughout the summer at Pacha in Ibiza and I'm coming off a major, major, major tour in America, but I still find it hard to sit here and go on about how well I'm doing. It's for the people to judge you."
And with that, he's gone. He pulls his Stussy hat back on, zips up his understated green bomber jacket and slips the bar man a note to cover our ludicrously overpriced drinks. Minimum of fuss, minimum of effort. Just keeping it simple. Ladies and gentlemen, the world's most successful DJ has left the building.
THE YEAR'S BEST MOMENTS ACCORDING TO OAKEY
Playing in Denver, CO, at Red Rocks
It's this amphitheater set in the mountains near Denver which holds 8,000 people. It was a phenomenal gig, one of my highlights of the summer, especially as it was a Perfecto night.
Chelsea FC winning the FA Cup
Yeah, I was there. It wasn't a great game, but it's always good to win a cup.
Burning Man Festival
Not a dance festival – more an alternative art approach that lasted for five days. Was I there for all five days? No way. I was there for a couple – we didn't have enough water for all five. It was a great gig though; there was no direct pressure on me so I could try out some different things.
Working on the new U2 record
We started work on "Beautiful Day," U2's first single in three years, a month ago. We're not working on the entire album, just this single. We've made it more funky – we think that it's going to be big in the club world, but then I would say that! Let's just say I'm happy with it.
Playing in Alaska
Playing to 300 people on a Tuesday night in Anchorage was a wonderful experience, and I really look forward to going back there next year.
OAKEY'S TOP FIVE TUNES OF 2000
DJ Rolando – Knights of the Jaguar (Underground Resistance)
This was something I picked up on a year-and-a-half ago in South America, and once I discovered it, just played it non-stop. I tried to sign it in March this year, actually that was the second time as I tried to sign it for the first time in November last year. It's just the biggest tune of the year and completely different to everything else around. The same with "Zombie Nation" – it's just a real vibe record.
Bukaa – Descent (140db Records)
A big-sounding, underground, dark, progressive tune. It's what I call a DJ's tune, in that it's a tune that when you play it, other DJs come up to you and ask what it is.
Planet Perfecto – Bullet in a Gun (Rabbit in the Moon remix) (Planet Perfecto)
It's a big commercial tune, but with them giving it to the underground. I really like what they did with it.
PMT – Gotcha (Acetate)
A breaks track that is very dark and big-sounding. This really works on the dance floor.
Timo Maas – Ubik (Perfecto)
A funky techno tune that every DJ has been asking for, so we've given it to them. Timo's sound has come at the right time – every DJ was looking for someone different and Timo came along. It's funny because Timo has been doing this for five years now, but no one caught on. It's all about timing and a little bit of luck, really. It was Paul van Dyk everyone was raving about last year and Judge Jules the year before that. Next year it'll be someone different.
Press Articles >