Say the words ‘Paul Oakenfold’ and you instantly think of dance music, but the superstar DJ and producer has influenced a lot more than that – like that’s not enough in itself – over the last four decades.
He begun his career proper at Champion Records and in his A&R position there signed Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince and Salt-n-Pepa, tipping an already burgeoning hip hop movement over into the mainstream.
But it was on a visit to Ibiza in 1987 that Oakenfold, along with Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Ian St Paul, discovered a Balearic house sound, and brought that back to the UK to kickstart dance music, the whole Madchester movement and club culture in general.
Since then, of course, Oakenfold has gone on to become a producer to the stars, Perfecto label owner, star remixer (Snoop Doggy Dogg, U2, Madonna) and worldwide DJ phenomenon (he’s played everywhere from Anchorage to Stonehenge, Bombay to the Great Wall of China).
Then there’s the movie and video game soundtracks and even dalliances with classical music. Look, he’s been quite successful, right? But you really want to know what plugins he uses, don’t you? Well, you might not find out here…
1. You have been a huge part of dance music for the last few decades. Tell us a little about some of the many highlights.
“I’ve been passionate about music since I was a child. I’ve now been a DJ for over 30 years, and have been lucky enough to travel the world doing what I love. There have been some true highlights: playing some unforgettable shows in truly life-changing places such as Mount Everest, the Great Wall of China, the Ushuaia rainforest in Argentina and more.
"I also previously worked as an A&R for Champion Records. I then launched my record label, Perfecto Records in 1989, and released some really influential records from the likes of Carl Cox, BT, Sandra Collins and many more.”
2. Tell us about a couple of the moments when you realised you were becoming so successful?
“I was resident of Spectrum Nightclub in London and it became the most popular club across Britain, where people would travel from all over the country. Also then when I was asked to go support U2 on their world tour.”
3. You are now considered something of a legend in dance music circles and were right at the start of the movement back in the late 80s. How does it feel looking back?
“It’s been a joy to be at the forefront of some of the most iconic moments in electronic music, such as playing the opening night of Ministry of Sound in 1991, or being the first ever artist to play Stonehenge back in 2018.
It’s been great making dance music such an important part of culture around the world!”
4. What is your overall philosophy?
"It’s all about what works really well for the dance floor. That’s where my main audience lives and where my main focus is.”
5. You’ve also been involved in computer game soundtracks…
“I was asked to write music for the James Bond computer game Golden Eye: Rogue Agent and then went on to do The Bourne Conspiracy and FIFA Soccer.”
6. How do you tend to start a track?
“My typical process is to start with an instrumental that we will write. I will then try it out in the nightclubs and if it works, then I look at adding a song to it.”
7. How do you know when a track is done?
“Once a song is added, I will then again play it out in the club, gauge the reaction, go back into the studio and fully mix it until I think it’s ready.”
8. Do you have any production tricks?
“My sound is a very melodic sound. There are no production tricks, it’s all about feeling for me. So, if I come across a sound that I like, I start to work and enhance that sound into a melodic rhythm.”
9. You’ve worked and collaborated with a lot of people over the years. What advice have you picked up?
“I generally like to collaborate in the studio with the collaborators. I’m not fond of collaborating online and sending tracks or ideas to one another. I think you get better results being in the room together.”
10. What's on your gear wish list?
“I don’t particularly have a wish list because I don’t know what equipment is coming out. But I do enjoy trying out new equipment when and if I come across it. For instance, I did recently road test some new Pioneer gear which I think is very good.”
11. Any advice for playing live?
"There is nothing like playing live. The feeling you get is absolutely amazing when you can move people and take them on a journey.”
12. What about studio advice?
“I really enjoy the process of working in the studio. To be honest, it’s been extremely tough during Covid. I’ve had to completely turn everything around and do it all virtually. But there’s nothing like sitting in the studio and making music for movies, TV, games and making tunes to play in the clubs.”
13. And from working in the industry?
“I’ve been in the music industry for many years now. I think it’s important to be honest and fair. Focus on yourself. Become the best you can. And where you can, try to help others. We as a record label, Perfecto Records, have always supported and encouraged the next generation.”
14. Tell us about some of the music you have coming out?
"My album Shine On is finished. I am so proud of it and it is out now. There was a single earlier this year, Hypnotic with Azealia Banks and with my good friend Benny Benassi on remix duties. And I can’t wait for my next single with Aloe Blacc, my favourite vocalist.”
15. And what else have you got planned for the near future?
“I am working on a road movie based on clubbing, where I will be scoring the entire thing. A very unique movie. Should be out early next year. Then it’s the anniversary of Perfecto Records where there will be a documentary and compilation which I will mix. So looking forward to that!”
Paul Oakenfold’s album Shine On is out now. He is appearing at Ministry of Sound’s Classical show at the O2 Arena on November 13th, and goes on tour in North America with Pet Shop Boys and New Order in 2022.