Paul Oakenfold: “What interests me is the future”

Once upon a time, long, long ago, a young boy made his very first trip to his local record store. With one pocket full of paper-round-derived savings and another pocket full of innocence, hope and naivety, he bounded into the store excitedly, skipping past the cassettes and heading straight for the compact disc section, having recently acquired his very first CD player.

Finally finding what he was looking for, which was the new U2 album Achtung Baby (hey, they were cool at the time), he eagerly approached the sales counter. Sensing a young impressionable mind ripe for exploitation, the sales assistant suggested the boy add on to his purchase the single release of Even Better Than the Real Thing remixes. Keen to build a collection of CDs, the boy took the assistant’s advice and spent the last of his savings. Glancing at the cover of the single, the boy was a little confused, but being aware that he needed to maintain an image of knowledge and integrity if he was to return to the store, he reluctantly walked out without asking the two burning questions on his mind – what exactly is a remix? And what the hell does Perfecto mean?

So there began my journey into dance music. It took me a while to move beyond U2 and Perfecto remixes, but in terms of being turned on to a whole new music, Paul Oakenfold pretty much did it for me. I’ve always been surprised by the criticism that gets thrown at him from some quarters of the dance music community, typically directed toward his more commercial endeavours. But from where I’m sitting, Oakenfold has attained the right to do whatever he wants. More than anyone, he served to bring together the worlds of rock and dance in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, remixing and touring with U2, and producing the classic Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches by the Happy Mondays.

Go back a little further and, as the dance music history books tell us, Oakenfold’s birthday trip to Ibiza in 1987 laid the foundations for the development of acid house in the UK. Go back even further and he’s in New York witnessing the birth of hip-hop. Even without all that, being responsible for Not Over Yet would be enough to secure a place in the annals of EDM history.

So when ITM presented the opportunity to speak to the man himself, I put my hand up to take the call and see what he’s got planned for his upcoming Four Seasons tour, and to get his take on the current dance music explosion in the US, given he’s been based there for a number of years. I also wanted to get some first-hand reflections on his past achievements, but as you’ll see, that road was very quickly blocked off. Read on for an interview with a legend of dance music, and only one slightly awkward moment.

What are you up to at the moment?

I’m back on the road with Madonna and I’ve been in England doing some parties for the Olympics, and then back to Vegas tomorrow for some shows, and then I’m coming to Australia for this tour which is really exciting as I haven’t been down there for a while.

So what can we expect for the tour?

It’s more the underground sound of what Perfecto does. We’ve got a whole visual concept and we’re playing new cutting-edge music. The tour is called Four Seasons. Every season we release a digital compilation representing the underground sound of electronic music, and we’ve been doing really well in Europe and North America, and we wanted to bring it to Australia – the country certainly embraces the cutting-edge sound of what goes on so it made sense to come down and play.

Your recent Radio 1 Essential Mix generated a fair bit of attention. How does that set compare to what you play live?

There’s a big split, or divide, in electronic music. You have the sound of America, which is very mainstream, and which everyone seems to be playing, but that’s the way it works. At the moment in America they’re embracing electronic music like no other form of music, but they still want more of the commercial side of it. Then you have the underground sound that’s really flourishing in Europe, and that’s more the Four Seasons sound. It gives you a chance to play both, which is refreshing, other than playing just one sound. I grew up playing all kinds of music, so I really enjoy it.

Paul Oakenfold Essential Mix, July 2012

There’s a lot of media attention on the current American embracing of dance music. As someone who has been based there for a number of years now, how do you view it all?

We were very instrumental in that. Three years ago I started my residency in Las Vegas and I took a lot of flak from people. A lot of people see Vegas as a place where you hear indie music and hip-hop. I always felt Vegas could be to America what Ibiza is to Europe. It’s not rocket science. It’s got several nightclubs and you can go and hang out 24 hours, and it seemed the obvious place. We did a residency there for three years, and now it’s become the lynchpin of electronic music in America. It’s the destination for a global community now. It’s absolutely booming out there.

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