Paul Oakenfold’s name is one of those amazing monuments in dance music that any generation from the 80’s on would recognize. The English producer has won 2 Grammy Awards and has done over 100 remixes for multitudes of big name artists such as Madonna, U2, The Rolling Stones and Justin Timberlake. And while many are more familiar with his work as a massive rave and festival DJ, in his earlier days working A&R in New York he signed Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Salt-n-Pepa, as well as brokered deals for the Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C.
While passing through Chicago to headline Spring Awakening, we asked him to name some of the most memorable moments he’s experienced in the last 30 years of his career…
1. Ibiza 1987 and how it shaped the whole scene in Europe.
That’s exactly what it did – prior to that it was nightclubs and dance music but nobody focused on the DJ or the music. Now it’s all about the DJ performing.
2. The birth of the superstar DJ and nightclubs in Britain with the Ministry of Sound, Cream, Creamfields, Southwest 4, DJs like Carl Cox, Sasha, Digweed, etc and the birth of electronic acts like Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers.
Back then there were four superstar DJs traveling the world: Sasha, Digweed, Carl Cox and me. It all started in Britain and now it’s worldwide.
3. Electronic Music moving to venues like the Hollywood Bowl & Madison Square Garden.
When I first played there, those venues were not DJ friendly. The second time I played the bowl they were much more open-minded. The first time was in 2003, the second time was in 2007. Dance music is coming of age in a big way and there have been huge signs of progression in dance music.
4. DJs playing with symphonies.
I’ve been involved in loads of soundtracks and movies, and have worked with the Boston Pops which is a 75 piece orchestra. Performing with orchestras has been a new trend emerging from England. One of the things that I love about electronic music is that it’s always pushing barriers.
5. Having the pleasure to perform gigs like The Great Wall of China and Mt Everest.
DJing The Great Wall of China and Mt Everest was special. They both took a lot of planning, had a lot of moving parts, a lot of permissions from people needed. They were unique and wonderful moments, both really cool because you would never expect electronic music to be played there.
6. DJs collaborating and playing with big pop stars.
The merging of styles and collaborations are both the norm now. Back in the day, trying to collab with pop artists or rappers was very difficult. They didn’t understand electronic music back then. In 2001 I collaborated with Ice Cube and Nelly Furtado on tracks, but those type of collaborations were almost unheard of.
7. Major festivals embracing electronic music.
There used to not be any electronic music festivals. There were rock festivals and traditional festivals, but raves were more of an underground thing. We would party in a field for two days…30 years later there’s now EDC. It’s crazy because those raves were where all of this culture began. Festivals are now huge elaborate things, it used to be dangerous and now it’s much more normal.
8. Independent radio shows having huge followings.
This is very important for modern DJs to be able to promote themselves and their records through their shows. Traditional radio set up is long gone. I’m a big fan of Pete Tong and Armin van Buuren’s radio shows.
9. The next generation of artists making music in their bedrooms and sharing it on the internet and becoming big.
It’s amazing. I’m looking for new talent all the time, I want to sign them to my label.
First published in issue 149 of 5 Magazine featuring Pomo, Joey Negro, Paul Oakenfold, Adam Warped and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full Access to Real House Music for only $2 per month.