Dance-floor deity Paul Oakenfold celebrates a new collection of remixes.
Thu Nov 22 2007
Photograph: Bjoern Kommepell
He’s hovered near the top of clubland’s annual Top 100 DJ polls for years. His releases have amassed sales of over 2 million in the dance-music-averse U.S. alone. The Guinness Book of World Records calls him “the world’s most popular DJ.” In short, the U.K.-born Paul Oakenfold—who’s marking the release of his new Greatest Hits and Remixes with a gig at Pacha on Thanksgiving—is a superstar.
And that fame is also Oakenfold’s curse. To some, he’s a symbol of bloat, of the grandiose excess that the mainstream end of the dance-music scene reached for in its grab for the almighty dollar. Even worse, a lot of people think of him as a trance DJ—and a blatantly commercial one, at that. “It’s generally people who have never seen me play who call me a trance DJ,” Oakenfold says with a resigned chuckle from his current home of L.A. “If you actually come and hear me, you’ll realize there’s a big, big difference between myself and a trance DJ. C’mon—I just remixed Britney Spears’s ‘Gimme More,’ and it’s got nothing to do with trance!”
If you can see past the Britney reference, he’s got a point. Oakenfold’s current material certainly fits the trance mold at times; he’s provided mixes for CD series with names like Tranceport, for instance. But even at his tranciest, his tunes don’t mirror the Wagnerian grandiosity of, say, Paul van Dyk’s style—his tracks are of a more meaty, populist nature. And trance haters conveniently ignore his iconic, frequently brilliant early work. After all, this is the guy who coproduced Happy Mondays’ Pills ’n’ Thrills and Bellyaches in 1989, and provided beautiful remixes for early-’90s tracks like Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Symphony” (included on the new CD) and Allison Limerick’s “Where Love Lives.”
“When people ask me to describe my sound, ‘melodic’ is the answer,” Oakenfold says. “It was the answer in the beginning of my career, and it still is. It’s melody that allows me to feel the music. Of course, some of it is trance, but I play breaks, I play house, I play a bit of techno. Which is how it should be, right?”
Apparently so—Oakenfold regularly spins for crowds numbering in the thousands, and his true fans tend to be rabid. “I’ve played in Birmingham, Alabama,” he says, adopting a pan-Southern drawl. “I’ve played in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ve played in Alaska. No one even knows that these places have dance-music scenes, but people are willing to drive four or five hours, even ten hours, to get to the venue, which is pretty amazing.”
Sometimes it can get a bit out of hand; Oakenfold has suffered his share of stalker types. “Back in the Cream days,” he says, referring to his residency at the glam Liverpool club during the late ’90s, “it was quite weird. There were like five or six of them. We had to have a couple of them banned from the club; they were tossing underwear and things like that, and one of them actually climbed over the barrier and into the DJ booth in the middle of a set.” Actually, that’s a DJ’s dream come true, isn’t it? “Not if you saw what they looked like!”
Those fans may have to look for another superstar to hound. “I moved to Los Angeles from London five years ago with the idea of working on films,” Oakenfold says, “and at that point I made a conscious effort to halve the deejaying. I’ve scored Swordfish, I’ve worked on Shrek 2, Matrix: Reloaded and films like that, and I have three films coming out in the first quarter of next year; film work is now my main job. It’s tiring to be on the road deejaying all the time when you’re doing this kind of work, and I could easily see giving it up.” After 20 years at the top, he’s certainly earned that right.
Made at Pacha: Paul Oakenfold is Thu 22. Greatest Hits and Remixes (Ultra) is out now.