The Gospel According to Oakenfold
One word – Oakenfold – within the DJ industry, the minds of clubbers spanning 4 decades, a media favorite DJing at the world’s most prestigious and unique environments, it’s a word that ranks as truly iconic! Paul Oakenfold started his musical and early/pro DJ journey in the late 80s. Although London, UK based, his passion for club culture and its associated music took him as a fan to New York’s legendary nightclubs, where watching legendary DJs such as Larry Levan inspired Paul to set out on the same path himself. Along the way however, without even knowing it, he would become a trail/blazing, trend-setting industry professional with a long list of ‘world firsts’ that any Artist could look back on proudly.
Then there’s ‘that Ibiza story’ – the birth of dance music culture’… Really? Well, yeah actually. And who better to recount it in it’s finite detail than the man himself? Denon DJ set out to lock Paul down for an extended interview back in 2017. Although we later published a short video clip/extract from that session, we’re happy now to be able to bring you the full 30+ minute interview – a fascinating insight into the life, works, memories and adventures of the man they call, ‘Oakey’ plus the music, personalities, clubs and industry accompanying it! Let’s take a flavor of some of the time periods he explores and enjoy the video below in its full glory…
70s/80s, A&R + Pirate Radio
Paul kicks off with his early days in record stores. Although training to be a Chef, the music bug had snared him, recalling the environment of the ritual record buying experience and the money it involved. Imports from the US were expensive then and Paul’s love for the 1980s Soul/Jazz-Funk just added to the investment in vinyl. Fortunately, he could later draw some supportive finances from the burgeoning dance music industry as he landed A&R (artist and repertoire) rolls for labels such as Champion (UK), Profile (US) and even as a promoter for early Def Jam records. A stint in the world of Pirate Radio, notably with London’s then underground and now mainstream, KISS 100 FM, added its own adventures and dangers!
New York, New York!
It was where Paul felt at home. The city of New York had that vibe – visiting clubs such as the Roxy, Paradise Garage, Funhouse and Danceteria and listening to the sound of NYC radio, WBLS and KTU etc. This heady mix of music and culture highlighted DJ’s like Frankie Crocker, Red Alert, Larry Levan, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaatta and more to the young Oakenfold. The city that never sleeps also birthed breakdancing and electro-funk too, with a soundtrack that included D-Train’s ‘You’re the One for Me’ and the Peech Boys ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’, unreproducible even with today’s technology!
1988’s ‘The 2nd Summer of Love’
The story has been recounted many times, but Paul really brings it home as it happened from his perspective. Four British guys go on holiday in Ibiza, September 1987, and that was the “birth of club culture as we know it today”. Goodbye to the post-Punk/New Romantic sound, hello Balearic beats and (Detroit/Chicago) Acid House, with clubs like The Future, Shoom, The Trip and Spectrum. Although maturing to be time-stamped as March 1988 and labelled as the ‘2nd Summer of Love’, these clubs coincided with early ‘dancing in a field/warehouse’ illegal Rave’s (very much the birth of today’s EDM festivals), this period remains the acknowledged start of the DJ culture, dance music experience we know today. Back in Ibiza at Cafe del Mar and Mambo, the gentler sound of chill-out music was synchronously happening too.. in mainland Europe, in came Belgian ‘New Beat’.
Madchester & Bristol!
Oakenfold recounts his studio days (with engineer, Steve Osborne), which led to touring with bands like the Happy Mondays and Stone Roses – a first for any DJ/Producer in the late 80s. Being an honorary member of the Manchester and Bristol (UK) scenes, Paul was courted by these city’s band members who used to watch him spin in London, playing eclectic mixes of music (goodbye rule book) then demanding his DJ/rhythmic/bassline Midas touch to their music – it was all about getting played on the dancefloor! Ultimately, it had to be a natural progression, but then again, another Oakey/industry first – Paul soon found himself as the official opening ‘act’ for full on, tens of thousands crowd numbers stadium gigs, opening for U2 and Madonna etc. The Rolling Stones, INXS and Red Hot Chilli Peppers soon enticed Paul to remix their tracks – it was all going quite well for this London lad, but he was more interested in what was next!
Trance and that ‘Superstar DJ’ thing
Creating a more progressive sound to a fast-rising genre in the late 90s, Paul birthed the Perfecto and Fluoro labels, finding himself in the A&R chair again, this time ensconced in a plush A&R office in West London. The label output (BT, Grace, Tilt, PPK, Quivver to name just a few) got full support from DJ luminaries in that scene, Tiësto, Sascha, Paul Van Dyk and John Digweed etc. Paul recounts that records really did sell in those days. Oakenfold himself however was truly on fire at this time. The entity of the ‘superstar DJ’ was prevalent and rumours of vast sums paid for his appearance ran round the gossip mongers in the industry. He was fast approaching the title of the world’s number one DJ, able to fly from literally one city/country to another, taking in sometimes up to 3 gigs in a row on the same day/night! Paul however, remained with his feet on the ground – humble and courteous as he’d always been.
As the writer of this article, and at one of his ‘heights of fame’ moments, opening the ‘Home’ club in London’s Leicester Square, I’d share a wonderful memory of my own if I may? Paul had added myself and some friends to the guest-list for Home’s opening night. It was literally the hottest ticket in town. In a packed top floor arena, Oakey was brought on from the green-room, flanked by personal security, literally in an entrance that would rival a WWF wrestling star. Once in view and with the whole room chanting ‘Oakey, Oakey’, he walked casually through the ‘parting like the red sea’ crowd, where I managed to catch his eye from the sidelines. He looked at me, and mouthed the words “did you get in alright?” – I nodded, smiling.. he smiled back, acknowledging, then carried on walking calmly through the surrounding adulation. Needless to say, he took the roof off that night!
From the late 90s, to the years approaching 2010, Paul secured four super-club residencies. His fondest memories cite Cream in Liverpool, UK and London’s Ministry of Sound. He was in his comfort zone playing on the MoS’s rotary UREI mixer, as Paul himself had one in his bedroom! His passion for resident DJing gigs is obvious, though he’s firm in the belief that he didn’t want to commit wholly to these, as travel and diversity in gigs and locations is of course important too. Residency DJing however gave Oakey the chance to develop the room (sound/lighting), establish and dictate the musical direction and crowd, plus have the opportunity to play records, created specifically for ‘that crowd in that room’, six-months in advance of release so that the buzz alone resulted in an instant crossover hit (‘Bullet in the Gun’ for example). With this amount of success, experience and being at the very top of his game, where realistically could Oakenfold go next in his career?
Hi Mr Oakenfold, this is Hollywood Calling…
And sure enough they did. Paul’s own ‘artist’ track, ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ caught the attention of Hollywood film producers, looking for a contemporary, electronica sound for a then new ($90 Million budget) film called ‘Swordfish’. Following a high level meeting, Paul took the gig, co-scoring the music and ultimately found himself with boots on the ground in Los Angeles, California, a hit film under his ‘scoring’ belt and a resulting slew of similar offers coming his way (including one of his favorites, ‘Blade 2’). Grasping the moment as one of those once in a lifetime career opportunities, Paul moved from London to L.A, where he’s resided now for the past seventeen years. Even with major film scores happening, and although he’d previously tackled that difficult first ‘DJ turned Solo Artist’ album (titled ‘Bunkka’, and a process he wasn’t wholly comfortable with), Paul then set to work on his ‘artist album’ number two – the world of music consumption, longevity and impact was however changing.
Generations of Love
As the late 70s Disco band Odyssey sang, ‘Going Back to My Roots’ was certainly the theme for Oakenfold’s next DJing evolution. In 2016/17 preparation for his Generations’ tour, celebrating the 30 year anniversary of the Ibiza instigated ‘Second Summer of Love’, he embarked on various gigs in what transpired yet again as ‘world firsts’ – a warm up (or should that be chill-down) adventure, setting a Guinness World Record for the highest altitude DJ gig, located at Base Camp level of Mt. Everest. Weeks of high altitude, low oxygen training helped out, plus this was where Paul first partnered with Denon DJ, taking our MCX8000 DJ controller along for this historic gig. Paul needed a standalone unit that could manage the extreme conditions he was to play in, so we were happy to support him.
PRIME Vinyl Heaven
And so the ‘Generations – 3 Decades of Dance’ tour began. Paul wanted to celebrate the visual crowd and DJ interaction atmosphere of mixing live with actual vinyl records. Sure, only certain tracks were available on vinyl, so Paul also requested our then flagship, mainstage media players to handle his USB’s and digital music – enter then, our VL12 turntables and SC5000 media players, alongside the centerpiece X1800 PRIME mixer. Although the experience of mixing older, classic club records (sometimes with a non too accurate/consistent BPM) admittedly took some re-learning to bring those skills back to his fingers. Once the stabilisers were off however, the ride was a fun one from there!