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Paul Oakenfold [interview]
There have been many stories written about you, and you've basically become an icon to an entire generation of DJs. Who were the jocks that inspired you when you were coming up back in the day?

There was only one, and that was Larry Levan. I spent time in New York and I used to go to the [Paradise] Garage, and I could never figure out how people would stay up all night long. It took me about six or seven weeks to figure out that they were doing drugs. My friend and I would come there at six or seven in the morning virtually collapsing, drinking loads of coffee trying to stay up and Levan for me was the DJ who was very open-minded. He would play the Clash and Queen alongside dance and disco records. I felt that where I grew up, you needed to be more musically open-minded and I was. So if there was any DJ that influenced me, it was him. No English DJ did that to me.

Were you clubbing in England before you had experienced Levan's spinning?

Yes, I was. Without being big-headed here, I always felt that I was ahead of the game. I was younger and more determined; I was lot more hungry. When DJs in England weren't mixing, I was learning to mix, because I had experienced it in New York. I had seen things that a lot of DJs hadn't seen. Even though I wasn't really a DJ, it's because I spent time here [in New York]. I had been to Vinyl Mania before anyone else had, I had been to the Paradise Garage, I had been to the Roxy, Bonds and Studio 54. I did all that at such and early age. So when I went back to England, I was mentally more educated than most of the English DJs. So I never looked up to any English DJs, because I had seen what it was all about in New York.

Skipping to now, Do you feel that the English scene is more influential than New York is now? You don't come here for inspiration anymore do you?

No, there's no inspiration here anymore. The heart of dance music now is England. It was New York, but times have changed and now it's London. Maybe times will change again and it will be Buenos Aires. Who knows where it's gonna be in the future, but at the moment, the heart of dance music is London. We have our time now and America had it's time before. The best thing a DJ in America could do, and I'm not dissing New York or America in any way, is come over to England and see how it's done. This is why a lot of the American DJs spend time in Britian now. I mean this in a positive way, I love New York, and I used to live here, I have the utmost respect for Frankie Knuckles and David Morales and Danny, etc... but New York is not the end-all-be-all of dance music. Europe's a lot more ahead of the game right now.

So then, if New York is not looked up to, why do English clubbers flock to the clubs they're guest DJing at?

Because they're a lot bigger over there than they are here. They worked hard for what they have and they deserve it. Fair play to them, but New York hasn't been 'it' for quite a few years now. So you read in the press about your Juniors and your Dannys, but if that's New York's best shot, people need to come to England and see what happens. Junior came to England and he slated it. He slagged it off because he didn't understand it. It's not fair to come to one place that you've never been before and slag it off and I'm sure if you spoke to Roger Sanchez or David Morales, they would give you a much more in-depth view of the country or Europe for that matter because Europe's an important part of what's going on. Junior's king of the castle here, but that doens't mean fuck-all in England. New York is just a little blob on the scene now. You've got Frankfurt, you've got Paris with Air, Daft Punk, Dimirty, you've got a huge scene out of Amsterdam, you've got a huge scene in Berlin. In Berlin, you have the biggest open-air festival [Love Parade], it's actually bigger than the Rio Festival and it's all based on dance music. 24 hour radio stations, clubs every single day of the week. Everywhere in Europe is past New York.

I have asked this of many other people i've interviewed from England, but what do you see as the reasons why the UK have surpassed America when it comes to dance music -- music that by and large, we created.

The first and most important thing is youth culture. America's youth culture as far as I can see, have grown up on hip hop. And then you have your hispanics that are growing up on something completely different, then you've got another form of music which is huge in America which is country. These things are not happening in the UK. R+B and hip hop is not a form of music that kids grow up on. In England, kids grow up on dance music. Our youth culture is dance culture. In Europe, we're all growing up on similar sounds whether it's techno or house, it's still dance. As an international traveling DJ, I can say the last place on the world map to catch onto dance music is America.

Well, it certainly doesn't hurt that your national radio station has Pete Tong playing upfront dance music at 6:00 on Friday night back announcing every song. Since we don't have syndicated radio here like in the UK, and the corporate mentality that runs the radio isn't about to play un-proven music during prime time listening, can the scene happen here without a show like Pete Tong's Essential Selection?

Yeah, we did. We've been running clubs since '85. Let's say you don't have a radio station with a syndicated show. America when it comes to dance music has only just started. You are where we were in '87. You have no infrastructure when it comes to dance music other than the old DJs who dictate what goes on in New York. You have pockets of younger DJs around America from Orlando, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco who are younger in age and younger mentally who are more open minded and ready to take it to the next level. But you're years behind the UK, because your youth culture is so different. In England when you leave school, you become a clubber, because that's what youth culture is all about.

So you're saying that hip hop in the UK is like dance music is to the US?

Exactly, exactly -- brilliant example. In England, you have 24 hour radio stations, 24 hour clubs, you go anywhere from a hairdresser to a restaurant to a supermarket and they're all playing dance music. You have dance music all over the pop charts, you even have dance remixes of rock records in the chart. You've got dance compilations outselling major rock bands. The whole country's gone dance mad. NME just did a report that said over a million people are taking ecstacy each weekend.

Well, being that it appears America is so hard to crack with this music, how do you plan on going about promoting your label and yourself here? Will you go about it like you do in Britain, or will you adapt to our environment and go about it that way?

What I have done up until now is deliberately stayed out of America. I did a one-off party a year and a half ago at Twilo in conjunction with CMJ and it was 'okay.' From a numbers point of view, it was packed, but I felt musically, I went way over their heads. Because the rest of the world was really focusing on England and what we were doing musically, we had invitations to play all over the world. We did tours of Asia, we did like five or six tours of South America, Brazil right on down; South Africa as well...Then America started to get on the English vibe. I felt from my point of view I would let everyone else come over and lay the foundations. You had Danny Rampling, Carl Cox, Nick Warren, John Digweed all come over and do what they were doing. Trade were doing their once a month at Twilo. They were doing what they were doing and I felt that when I was ready to go, I would do it on my terms. So what we decided to do is this year do five tours of 16 gigs per tour in America; same approach as a rock 'n roll band. To break a rock 'n roll record, you have to work really hard and tour constantly. If we come here five times, 16 gigs per time, not only would I and my support DJ play, but we would bring bands -- the whole experience. We would give them what no other English DJs have given them thus far. Initially the first step, and you have to do this by steps because it is a plan, would be me and another DJ doing the whole night creating a theme and a sound. The next time we come back, we'll bring an act. What we're trying to do is set up the whole evening so it's an experience.

When you signed your deal with Kinetic two years ago, did you still have this plan or did you want to try this then and it's taken this long to come to fruition or did you not know what you were going to do then?

I always have a plan. I could tell you what I'm gonna do for the next two years. We haven't put every Perfecto record out through Kinetic thus far because there's only so much you can do. The whole world is two to three steps ahead of America. All we're doing now is what we've done in Asia, South America, South Africa and Europe.You start off with two DJs going in. Then we come back with an act; then two more DJs, then we build it and off the back of the tour, we start releasing albums and then the acts will come on their own and stand on their own two feet and do their own tours. Eventually, you could have five Perfecto tours going on next year with me on one and all the other different acts and DJs on the others.

About your residency at Cream -- you went and decided to stay put when every other DJ in Britain was doing the club circuit. What made you decide to go against the grain?

I felt for me it was time for a change it was time to give something back rather than take. EVERY DJ was touring the UK doing 3-4 gigs per night. I wanted to do one gig a night, I wanted to get back to breaking records because if you're playing in the same club every week, you're breaking records. I wanted to stay at the club, get there early, hang out, play all night and then leave at the end. So, for me, I'm not saying I'm right, but for me, it was a decision I wanted to make. For other DJs, they still play all over the country but that's up to them

Do you think they're raping the scene?

Yeah, I do. I think they're totally raping the scene.

Do you take a loss by having a residency?

Yeah, I lose money. I could earn four times as much money if I traveled or if I played other gigs. In theory, I've taken myself out of the market. I play four Saturdays out of the month and two Fridays. The four Saturdays are at the same club and the two Fridays as a guest DJ around the country.

Given that you wanted to break some records, how have you fared after one full year now at Cream?

I believe that I have definately broken some records. One, the Olive "You're Not Alone" which I guess isn't fair cause it's my mix. I've caused the label to re-release Y-Traxx "Mystery Land," Mansun "Wide Open Space"...what happens is that the norm is that 60-70% of my set is on acetate. Record companies cut you an acetate, and I have the song 5-6 weeks before promos go out. Promos last about 4-5 weeks, so I've got a record about 13 weeks before it's released. So you kind of find yourself in a situation where you're a funnel for new music. That's what I strive for as a DJ -- constantly moving forward because I have access to these tunes. That's what turns me on as a DJ. I also tie in with three of the biggest shops in England where I give them my top 20 for the month and I inform them on what's coming. By doing all this, I'm getting back to what being a DJ was all about; which was breaking records. When we started DJing, that's what we was doing. We were playing in the same club week in, week out breaking records. Everyone lost their way, and I kind of felt that I had to get back to what it was all about for me.

10/26/2000 12:42
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