UK DJ and producer Paul Oakenfold talks Madge, the Happy Mondays and a career at the top.
A survivor from the Ibiza and UK acid house phenomenon in the late ’80s and early ’90s, 50-year-old British DJ and producer Paul Oakenfold’s CV is nothing short of astounding. He’s produced and worked with Madonna, played Wembley Stadium, the Great Wall of China and Madison Square Garden. Oakenfold was also the first ever DJ to play a headline slot at Glastonbury Festival in the UK, which marked one of many game-changing moments for electronic music. The good news for Dubai fans? He’s on the line-up for Sandance’s New Year’s Eve party on December 31.
Having toured America with hedonistic band the Happy Mondays in the early ’90s, Oakenfold has also seen his fair share of debauchery over the years. Older and more discreet, he alludes to the tour with his tongue firmly in cheek. Speaking of that little trip, Oakenfold merely quips: ‘Readers should use their imagination then add plus ten – that’s all I’m going to say.’
Oakenfold has had so many highlights in his lengthy career, he finds it tricky to pick a particular moment, although he mentions a free gig he once held in London. ‘I did my own free show on Clapham Common and the police counted 70,000 people and they couldn’t handle it.’
A cheeky chappy, noticeably of the London variety, Oakenfold was a precocious talent in his youth, setting up in New York for several months in the mid ’80s and pretending he was a journalist for music magazine NME to gain access to clubs and celebrities. When asked if he’s still as audacious, the answer is affirmative. ‘Absolutely, I haven’t mellowed but journalism is actually something I’m going to go back to. I’m going to start doing articles for the Huffington Post next year, so I’m really excited about that.’
Oakenfold isn’t a guy who likes to look back to the halcyon days of acid house before it became commercial and mainstream, although this is hinted at when he reveals that he attended the rcent Stone Roses gig here in Media City last February.
A support DJ for the band’s legendary UK Spike Island gig in 1990, he remembers the original concert.
‘It was fantastic – it was the movement, the cultural movement – a youthful uprise. I saw the Stone Roses last time I was in Dubai – now that was not Spike Island.’
A workaholic, Oakenfold’s phone is apparently glued to his ear 24/7. He claims that if it isn’t, then he’ll miss opportunities, ‘especially in the music industry’. He acknowledges that this non-stop attitude does need balancing out with quieter moments. ‘Balance is the most important thing. Where I get my balance is where you can’t get me or where I’m sitting on an aeroplane and that’s where I get time to think.’
A prolific talent-spotter with a keen ear for a hit, over the years Oakenfold has discovered DJ Jazzy Jeff and Salt-n-Pepa and acted as an agent for the likes of the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC. Having grown up listening to an eclectic mix of music on BBC Radio 1 in the UK, Oakenfold finds discovering new talent straightforward – by simply listening to music and travelling. ‘Growing up in England, you’re listening to all kinds of music, so as a kid, that’s your influences. It’s never really changed. You could say to me, “listen, when you’re in Dubai next month, I’ve got this really great singer – you need to hear her,” and I’d say yeah.’
Oakenfold’s trip to Goa in the ’90s is a testament to this wholly open-minded approach. Influenced by the high-tempo, dark beats that reverberated during the beach parties at the time, Oakenfold’s music moved away from the euphoric trance which was dominating the genre and resulted in him performing his ‘Goa Mix’ on BBC Radio 1, which became hugely popular and influential.
Perhaps the biggest star Oakenfold’s worked with is Madonna. He appeared for two months on the singer’s 2008 Confessions Tour and is complimentary about her, when the subject of whether she’s someone who’s in a position to listen to advice comes up. ‘Madonna is an inspiring woman and working in the studio with her... Look, she’s professional and she knows what she wants – there’s nothing wrong with that. She’s been around a long time and that’s because she’s really good at what she does. In terms of when you’re working in the studio and you say “try this” or “let’s look at this”, then yeah, she’s open.’
Incongruously, a recent song he’s written, ‘Woman’s World,’ has been picked up for Cher’s comeback album. Oakenfold is equally puzzled by the collaboration. ‘It is random – the single’s out in certain countries and it’s doing quite well but I never in a million years thought I’d be producing Cher, it’s probably the most random thing I’ve done.’
When he appears at Sandance on New Year’s Eve he’s clearly going to be abandoning any associations with Cher and will be back on crowd-pleasing form. ‘I’m going to play a cross section of some commercial stuff (because it is New Year’s Eve), some classics and some new music. With his longevity and pedigree, who are we to argue.
Paul Oakenfold appears as part of the line-up for Sandance NYE on December 31. Dhs450-600. 3pm-3am. Atlantis Beach, Palm Jumeirah (055 200 4321). www.timeouttickets.com.