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Q&A: Paul Oakenfold

World’s Most Successful Club DJ has trouble remembering last night’s gig, much less twelve years ago

Paul Oakenfold, DJ, Ultra Music festival, Bayfront ParkPaul Oakenfold, DJ, Ultra Music festival, Bayfront Park

Paul Oakenfold DJing at the Ultra Music festival in Bayfront Park in January of 2001.


DROP WHAT DOES THE MAN who was anointed the World’s Most Successful Club DJ by the Guinness Book of World Records do next? He goes Hollywood. London-born Paul Oakenfold composed the score for the John Travolta thriller Swordfish and remixed the title track to Planet of the Apes. But Oakenfold’s heart still lies behind the decks. He toured the United States with U2 in 1992, returning on his own a few years later. Championing the sound of trance (pulsing beats, supersize synth riffs and massive breakdowns and climaxes), Oakenfold is loved by millions but loathed by some hard-core dance fans who feel his sound is too commercial. It doesn’t seem to matter, though, since Oakenfold, along with Sasha and John Digweed, has become one of England’s most popular musical exports. Showing no signs of fatigue after a late night at the Area: One after-show party in New York (where he and Moby were tag-team-spinning rave classics), Oakenfold – wearing a blue-and-white polka-dot shirt, jeans and more jewelry than most Jewish grandmothers – sat in the bar at the painfully hip 60 Thompson hotel, drinking coffee.

I was watching a Lakers playoff game recently — did I see you courtside, next to Jack Nicholson?
Yeah [laughs sheepishly].

Now you’ve really gone all Hollywood.
It was my first basketball game. At halftime I was in this room with all these stars. It was great sitting there saying, “Wow, I never realized how small they are.”

Did Big Jack offer anything?
We met briefly. He was talking a lot of basketball, and I didn’t really know what he was talking about. So you just nod your head and politely answer his questions.

Many in the dance-music underground can’t stand your type of music, and some of your own fans in Internet chat rooms are calling you a sellout for doing Swordfish. You can’t win, can you?
Of course not. Dance music is an underground thing because it’s not on radio. Ninety percent of the music I play is not on vinyl, it’s acetate. You can’t get any more underground than that. I mean, OK, I want to play for a lot more people just because I want them to hear what I’m doing — the most important things to me are the crowd and, obviously, the music. With Swordfish, I don’t see it as a sellout. It’s not a cheesy album.

When was your first DJ gig?
It was twelve years ago at this place called Rumours in London. I played Earth, Wind and Fire and some popular English bands. There was a lot of disco about then. I was very nervous, that’s about all I can remember. I have trouble remembering last night’s gig, much less twelve years ago.

With all the traveling you do, why not get your own plane? You could afford it.
Are you kidding? Those things are too bloody expensive. Lenny Kravitz has a time share in one — that might be the way to go. Get a bunch of us together…drop Digweed off in Singapore, I’ll go to Bangkok. Oh, forget it — it’ll be too messy.

Do you have a favorite U.S. city?
I love Boston because of the Irish. They’re just bonkers. New Orleans for the madness and Dallas because everything is big. My first time there I went to some diner after the gig and ordered steak and eggs. The steak was actually an entire cow, I think. I ate so much I couldn’t sleep afterward.

You just signed to Maverick.
Yes, making more money for Madonna. I’m doing a proper artist album in 2002. There’s a lot of break beats and hip-hop on it. It’s definitely not a dance record. I’m collaborating with people because I can’t sing. Believe me, you don’t want to hear me sing.

Before your musical career, you went to school to be a chef. What would you cook if you had only one hour?
I like fast meals: pastas and stir-fries, healthy, wholesome food. Generally, though, I juice everything. It’s really a lot better for your digestive system.

You juice the stir-fries?
No, but that might be something to try. It would be quicker. I have tons of vegetables for lunch: beets, carrots, put an apple in there, and I just juice the lot of them.

How has Area: One been for you?
Really good. We’ve had an interesting couple of days in New York, though. My bus was involved in a hit-and-run after the first show, and at the second show my tour manager left my records at the hotel. I’ve never, ever had that happen to me before.

Does he still have a job?
Ah, no. He was with me for five years, and I don’t want to sound hard, but it’s a professional situation, and we’ve let people down, you know? But we’d made arrangements for everyone to see the show in New Jersey.

You took the stage as a white curtain rose and background music blared, with smoke billowing out. That’s quite an entrance.
It’s all about it being a show. Performance is almost as important as the music.

So it wasn’t some ego-driven, “I am God” sort of thing?
No. If it was, I’d have been on the mike every five minutes.

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