Legend Paul Oakenfold dreams of US dance revolution

July 29th 2013 When Marcy met house legend Paul Oakenfold
In 2013 I had a long talk with British house legend Paul Oakenfold. In this feature interview we spoke about the future of dance in Europe and the US.

This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)

House legend Paul Oakenfold dreams of beginning the American dance revolution

"Deep house is the next big thing"

foto paul 2 768x511 - Legend Paul Oakenfold dreams of US dance revolution

Paul Oakenfold (49) is a man of few words. At least, that’s what I expected on the basis of my research, when I had the opportunity to speak with him in Amsterdam. The contrary appears to be true: Paul is kind and accessible, still as passionate as ever and diligently on the look for new musical challenges. That challenge is situated mainly in the United States, where the Brit by origin has been living for years. “Electronic dance music in the US is still in its primary stage. Mainstream reigns supreme, only after that the deepening follows.”

To break the ice, I confront this pioneer of the dance scene with a few dilemmas. Europe or America? Resolute Paul Oakenfold starts: “When it comes to music, I always chose Europe. Europeans are more open to new music, they are more creative and more cutting edge. Besides that, Europe has much better radio stations!”

“I miss my record store visits”

With a father who was a musician, Paul Oakenfold grew up surrounded by several music genres. He was mostly interested in bands. After discovering the underground scene and playing there – at so-called illegal M25 raves in London – he soon started working as a producer with well-known bands like The Cure, Culture Beat, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2. His love for Run DMC and Public Enemy stems from those days as well. He became one of my personal heroes with his sublime remix of Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack. Confronted with my admiration, his eyes start glowing of pleasure. This brings us to the next dilemma: vinyl or digital? Without any hesitation: “Vinyl! Vinyl has a warm sound; the cracks just add to the experience.” Mesmerizing: “I miss my record store visits. The anticipation while waiting in the back of the store until you could listen to a track. By the way, the world’s best record store is situated in Amsterdam. Which one? Well, of course I will keep that pearl to myself. Fact is that you can find the most extraordinary tracks in that store. One day I was biking through Amsterdam and found a bootleg of a show that I did with Madonna at this shop. Some guy from Naples had recorded the show and pressed it on vinyl. And I walked right into it. Unbelievable. In the end I handed it to Madonna as a present.”

Oldskool records

Later during our conversation once more in his incomparable style Paul illustrates his never-ending love for oldskool records. “When I moved from London to Los Angeles I put all my vinyl’s neatly in boxes, labeled them and collected all the information on a list. When I was ready to unload the boxes, I searched for the piece of paper with the list. I’m sure you already guessed: the note was lost. Well, what to do? Nothing left, but unpacking those records one by one and rearranging them from the start. I never got further than the third box of 250 (!). Every time again, I pulled out another track that I forgot I even had, and wanted to hear it. And another, and another…”

foto paul 3 768x512 - Legend Paul Oakenfold dreams of US dance revolution

“I miss the soul”

These days, on tour Paul Oakenfold rarely plays with vinyl anymore. “I truly respect Sven Väth. He’s been playing with vinyl for thirty years. Travel wise, I personally think it’s very relaxed to work with USB-sticks. Saves a lot of lifting. The down-side of digital is that thousands of tracks are released every day. The quest for new music feels clinical. I miss the soul.” This underlines immediately how this founder of dance music defines the difference between the dance generation of today and ‘the hippies of the nineties’. “The present generation wants it all now, instantly. It has nothing do to with music.” But don’t get him wrong! Paul does not long back to past times. He embraces change, it keeps him alive. With a big smile: “I only still talk about those days with my mates in the pub. We all laugh our asses off about the time when I fell of a stage of something silly like that.”

Paul Oakenfold can’t choose between producing and DJing. “They’re both very special. I do love going into the studio to start working with a blanc canvas and come out totally excited with the sense: ‘This is it! Now we created a diamond’. That moment, that feeling, is indescribable.”


On August 9th Paul’s double-CD We Are Planet Perfecto, Vol. 3 – Vegas To Ibiza is released on his own label Perfecto Records. Which of the two disks does he prefer? “I don’t have a preference. I do have a strong opinion about the difference between the two: it’s the tempo. Together the disks constitute a journey. I start out with a sound that’s popular in The States – they’re only beginning with house music now – and I finish on CD2 with a sound that is more appreciated in Europe.” He’s anxious to get to work in the US and lift house to the next level. His dream is to find a band or act like the Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Prodigy or Fat Boy Slim, that will build a bridge between dance and other genres. “I haven’t seen that in America yet. Nor has a huge American DJ arisen, I still haven’t met an Armin van Buuren there.” Besides this, Oakenfold has a clear view on the future of house short-term: “Deep house is the next big thing.”

foto paul 1 768x510 - Legend Paul Oakenfold dreams of US dance revolution


The whole year ‘round, Paul Oakenfold is traveling the world, except for January and February, when he’s always at home in the City of Angels. There, his interests focus right now on listening to movie-soundtracks. Also, he’s spending a lot of time in the studio. On top of this, he doesn’t organize any pool parties but likes to gather likeminded spirits around him in so-called think-tanks. Does he, who’s an haute cuisine chef, cook for his guests on those occasions? “No, I hire catering during these events.” Paul is rather covert about his private life. “I’m on the road most of the time and already share such a huge part of my personal life, that I need my home to be alone and unwind.” He doesn’t mind revealing what he would do if tomorrow the world would come to an end. “Of course, I would spend that remaining time with my family and friends.” With a boyish grin: “And I will probably get hammered.”

Paul Oakenfold doesn’t mind a good party. This becomes clear when he jokingly tells how he stays fit, seen as he will be fifty in August and his existence does not involve a nine-to-five job. With a broad smile: “I just drink a lot of beer.” Continuing on a serious and passionate tone: “I take a lot of vitamins. Especially vitamin D, everybody needs to take that. With vitamins you can add years to your life. The same goes for sleeping. Sleep provides time for your body to recuperate. DJing is hard work. Luckily, I know how far I can go. I know what my ‘cutoff point’ is. And although I never sleep well on a plane, I always try to catch some z’s for a few hours.”


“One of the first times in The Netherlands, in the early nineties, Paul was the opener for the band Primal Scream in pop temple Paradiso in Amsterdam. He decided to go for a bike ride before the show and – how surprising – make a pitstop at a coffeeshop. “I took two hits of a joint and was stoned off my ass. So, when I continued my bike ride, I got completely lost. I didn’t even remember the name of the hotel where I was staying. Finally, I found the hotel, where I took a nap before my gig that night. It was pretty clear that the band members of Primal Scream had not done that. They were stoned out of their mind. I still can’t grasp how they were able to do that concert.” Thinking of Amsterdam, warm feelings bubble up. “I’ve had some amazing moments in that city.”


Paul Oakenfold’s three nominations for the American Grammy Awards were a huge boost. The nominations were for his Creamfield compilation in 2004, his artist album ‘A Lively Mind’ in 2007 and once more in 2009 for his producing work for Madonna. “I truly respect the Grammy’s. They recognize electronic dance music. The Brits can learn a lot from this!” Outraged: “Great-Britain is the cradle of house music, yet there’s no official recognition for the genre. Reggae, ska, indie… yes. But on the terrain of dance music there’s now respect for their own people. What I like about The Netherlands so much, is that you love your DJs. You treat them well. In England this is totally missing.”

This interview with Paul Oakenfold is originally published on DJMag.nl in August 2013.

Who is Paul Oakenfold?

Paul Oakenfold is the UK’s number one DJ. This simple statement, however, doesn’t even begin to properly acknowledge Oakenfold’s stellar contribution to our musical landscape. His signature can be seen in everything from the early rise of hip-hop and the re-invention of British dance culture to the Balearic explosion and the birth of ‘Madchester’.

All this began in the late-seventies when a very young Paul Oakenfold, together with his friend Trevor Fung, cut their musical teeth by mixing soul and rare-groove at a basement bar in London’s Covent Garden. His imagination stirred, Oakenfold decided to find the roots of his new-found obsession by moving to West Harlem in New York. Paul Oakenfold worked as a courier for local dance radio stations in the Big Apple. By night he checked out the city’s burgeoning new club environment, witnessing the extraordinary birth of hip-hop. Fired up, Oakenfold was determined to break into the music industry.

Returning to London, Paul Oakenfold landed a job as an A&R man at Champion Records. He had a keen ear and quickly signed Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – the latter, of course, to be subsequently revealed as Will Smith – and Salt n’ Pepa. From Champion, Oakenfold moved to the London offices of Profile and Def Jam. By this time, however, he was increasingly interested in DJ’ing and producing, twin ambitions that were soon to be amply fulfilled.

In 1987 Paul Oakenfold, together with fellow-DJs Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Ian St Paul, travelled to the Balearic island of Ibiza for a summer holiday. There was potential for a vivid new underground scene, although no one realised at the time just how Ibiza would come to dominate club culture in years to come. Paul Oakenfold returned to England with a new Balearic house sound. He began running regular club nights in London, most particularly Spectrum of the Future at Heaven. The club became the fulcrum of a new dance attitude, attracting not only the regular London crews but also out of town rock musicians, including the Manchester bands, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.

In 1989 Paul Oakenfold and his production partner Steve Osborne were asked to produce Happy Mondays, a band on the seminal Manchester label, Factory. The result was the Madchester Rave On EP, a mash-up of dance, indie, funk and pop that acted as a catalyst for the ‘baggy’ scene, along the way inspiring a whole string of bands in Manchester and beyond. It preceded the biggest album of the band’s career, the Oakenfold / Osborne produced Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches in 1990. It was the start of a long connection between Paul Oakenfold and rock music. He was, for instance, the DJ at The Stone Roses’ historic Spike Island concert and, along with Osborne, remixed such bands as New Order, The Cure and Massive Attack. Indeed, the Oakenfold / Osborne team were nominated by the BPI as Best Producers in 1990.

In 1991, Paul Oakenfold was approached by U2, who were then finishing the Achtung Baby album. Paul ended up remixing Even Better Than the Real Thing and Mysterious Ways, giving the band an entirely new dimension.

Determined to control his own destiny, Paul Oakenfold launched his own record label, Perfecto, in 1990. In the subsequent years, Perfecto has been not only a conduit for Paul’s own remix activities but also a platform for new talent, encouraging such DJ talents as Timo Maas and Hernan Cattaneo.

Through the Nineties, Paul Oakenfold’s DJ reputation went into overdrive. He held DJ residencies at Cream in Liverpool and London’s Ministry of Sound, for instance, while every summer returning to Ibiza where the strange little underground scene of the late-Eighties had become a pivotal part of dance culturPaul Oakenfold also became the first DJ to play on the main stage at the Glastonbury Festival.

As a remixer, Oakenfold chalked up an enormous number of credits, working with everyone from Arrested Development and Snoop Doggy Dogg to Madonna, for whom he remixed the single, What It Feels Like For A Girl. Since the start of 2001, Paul Oakenfold has concentrated his efforts on America.

More Paul Oakenfold?

Share This Post