It’s an aging autumn afternoon in London, England, and the world’s most successful DJ (this according to the Guinness Book of World Records), Paul Oakenfold, is sitting in the offices of his Perfecto records imprint waxing lyrical about the perils of life at the top.
“It’s good and bad,” says Oakenfold. “The bigger I’ve become the more DJs wanna have a pop. They wanna dis you, which is a shame because some of the people that have said bad things I actually thought were friends. I don’t know why they’re jealous, ’cause this scene isn’t about the DJs as far as I’m concerned; this scene is about the people who come to the club.”
Though he’s arguably the most controversial figure on the dance scene, it’s hard to feel sympathy for Oakey. He’s a whip-smart business man and keen artist who has spent the last fifteen years stealthily rising to his position as the current don of dance and godfather of groove. Along the way, he’s been unabashed in interviews about his lofty goals, a trait which has left him criticized by many of his peers. Longtime friend Norman Cook — a.k.a. Fatboy Slim — tried explaining to RollingStone.com in April why his mate gets such flack, saying, “Paul does kind of set himself up for a backlash because he does say some quite outspoken things, and I could see people wanting to have a pop at him.”
In particular, it was Oakey’s comments last year about wanting to break America that drew him the most criticism. Though he now claims the remarks were misunderstood, they will likely haunt him again this year, as he releases his U.S.-only double mix CD, Perfecto Presents Another World.
“I think some small dance magazines and DJs were panicking that not only me, but all the English were gonna come and take over,” he says. “One, I don’t know how anyone can take over America, and two, the point they’re missing, that actually does surprise me, is that all America is is part of an overall global dance scene.”
Perhaps, but after finishing his tour of Asia, remixing U2’s latest single, “Beautiful Day” and pounding out a remix for the new film Get Carter, America is the one place Oakey plans on concentrating, especially now that he’s no longer tied down to a residency at a British superclub.
“No one’s trying to overtake America,” he says. “But any artist in any kind of music wants to do well there, and that’s what I wanna do. I wanna come and DJ there ’cause in my opinion, at the moment America’s the place . . . With this album I wanted to take it a step further and give people who are not just into dance music, but like to hear good tunes, an idea of really what I’m about. I’ve worked with the Stones, with U2, with INXS. I’ve done remixes for Snoop Doggy Dogg, Arrested Development. If you listen to the record, it really is a journey. It drops in pieces of music from Vangelis’ Blade Runner to a Dead Can Dance record.”
Not to mention Led Zeppelin‘s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and BT-produced tracks too, though if the lawyers at Oakenfold’s label Warner Brothers had had it their way, it would have been a different mix entirely.
“The lawyers that were clearing the tracks were like, ‘Why are we clearing tracks from other record companies? Why don’t we use [fellow Warner artist] Cher?'” Oakenfold chuckles. “When they told me this I just burst out laughing. I said, ‘You are so out of touch! Come on! Wake Up!'”
No doubt they have, and if Oakey has his way, many others soon will be, as well.