Paul Oakenfold: Inside the DJ Booth
Paul Oakenfold doesn’t seem to respect standards set by others; he creates his own. The London native has the unflappable confidence of an industry veteran. After working in the music business for over 20 years, he ought to. When asked to define his occupation, he jokingly challenges The BoomBox. “Wow, how long have you got?” he asks.
Just this year, the multi-talented DJ has been on tour with Madonna and worked with some of music’s hottest up-and-comers. In the past, Oakenfold has toured with U2, created the score for the film “Swordfish” and was the first DJ to headline the Glastonbury Festival.
“What’s wonderful about the world I live in, as far as music is that you can wear many different hats,” he shares. “I produce, remix and release music under my own name and pseudonyms. I also deejay and run a small company with a team of people.”
When he was a boy watching his father work as a musician, Oakenfold knew he’d take part in that industry as well. He just needed a way in. It wasn’t long before the door cracked and he could shove his way through. Young and dedicated to winning, he took full advantage of the opportunity.
“I got to the age of having access to a recording studio,” Oakenfold explains. “I would go in there and hang out and learn the craft. I was lucky enough to work with good people that I learned from. It’s all about the team, really. Even now, I have a good engineer and programmer and a reliable person that I can just get on with it. I learned that from being around people who were just like-minded.”
Those studio sessions led to Oakenfold fathering an entirely new sub-genre — electronic dance music. Rihanna ought to cut him a massive check, as his inspiration influenced many of her electro-based hits. In fact, EDM has been trending in most urban music as of late. He’s gracious though, in that regard.
“I think we’re in a very healthy moment at the time. Everybody’s trying to jump in this space,” he says. “I don’t think you should take every option that comes along. I think you should be very choosy in what you do but we’re in a good place and we’ve all been working hard at it for a long, long time and finally it’s come to fruition for a lot of people.” Himself included.
Oakenfold was the head of an EDM supergroup called Planet Perfecto, under his Perfecto record label, and he’s had a successful music career as a solo artist as well. Currently, he’s readying his next studio LP, Pop Killer, for a 2013 release. The lead single will feature rap newcomer Azealia Banks.
“We just finished that,” he states proudly. “The album will be melodic, house beats. We’ve got collaborations with people from different genres. I suppose now house is pop music, so it’ll probably be classified as commercial.” Oakenfold just has an ear for what sounds good and people are paying attention.
Back when hip-hop was a fledgling industry in the 1980s, Oakenfold was responsible for a couple of key signings: DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Salt-n-Pepa. “I know that world really well,” he admits of hip-hop.
He likes to tell the story of Run-DMC‘s “It’s Like That” and how, when remixed as a dance track by producer Jason Nevins in 1998, the record shot to No. 1 in Europe. “I used to run Def Jam in England,” he reveals. “I worked head of A&R for Profile. Hip-hop has always been an important part of what I’ve done. I had Ice Cube on my first album and Grandmaster Flash and Pharrell Williams on my last album.” These are the moments that Oakenfold seems to live for — the melding of cultures to create something new.
One of his best experiences includes opening for U2 at Wembley Stadium in front of 100,000 people.
“The crowd response was good,” he says. “It was different from the kind of crowd that I’m used to but I played a lot of tracks that they were familiar with and some that they weren’t. They still had a lot of flavors from what I played.”
There’s no question as to whether or not Oakenfold is still excited by his work. He clearly is, with no truly horrific occurrences to reveal. But his worst ordeal is embarrassingly funny.
“I fell off the stage in New Zealand,” he shares with a chuckle. “What happens is, when you’re onstage, there are all these lights and you can’t see sometimes. It was a small stage and they didn’t put white tape around it — when it’s a black stage, you’re to put white tape around it. They didn’t do it and I fell off. I bounced back up. I was up in five minutes. The crowd noticed and people were definitely laughing.”
Top Five Songs of the Moment
1. “Not Over Yet,” Grace
2. “Come Together,” Paul Oakenfold
3. “Synchronized,” Federation
4. “Keep Me Alive,” Richard Beynon feat. FTR3
5. “Rewind,” Michael S.
Top Five Songs to Rock a Party
1. “Bullet In The Gun,” Planet Perfecto
2. “Firestarter,” The Prodigy
3. “Superstar DJ,” Chemical Brothers
4. “Pump Up the Volume,” M/A/R/R/S
5. “The Power,” Snap!
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