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Interview: Paul Oakenfold

By Ellie Hanagan
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The daddy of trance, Paul Oakenfold has been at the forefront of dance music since the 1980s. He recently released the mix compilation We Are Planet Perfecto Volume 01, and we caught up with him to talk about the state of trance. Read on for the interview.

Can you describe how you felt when you first went to Goa and discovered the music over there?

I know it sounds like a cliché, but there really was something quite enlightening about the experiences I had in Goa. It’s easy to see why so many people have traveled there to party and decided to stay for good. It’s a seductive way of life that is very appealing. It’s hedonistic but also very respectful of nature and there’s a real sense of community. The music being played in Goa in the ‘90s – which was being released on labels like Dragonfly and Tip [a] – was, and continues to be, a huge influence on what I play as a DJ.

Have you been back to Goa / Anjuna Beach recently?

I haven’t been to Goa for many years but I’m sure musically it’s as cutting-edge as it always has been. The Goa sound has evolved into the psy-sound, which I guess you could argue is now hugely focal in Israel, but the scene and the sound is thriving internationally. I see Thomas Cook does holidays to Goa now, and I’ve seen pictures of big five-star hotels on the coast, so maybe it’s changed since I was last there. I know there have been some recent discussions about the idea of maybe doing some shows in India in 2012, so hopefully I’ll get to find out for myself.

You like to play lots of different genres and are vocal about not wanting to be stuck to one sound, but as a pioneer of trance music, would you say you connect with the genre more than others?

There is a particular side of trance that I am particularly fond of. Yes, I would say I have a special bond with this style of music, but I still regard myself as a DJ who looks for strong melody and song in any and all genres when finding material for my shows. 

What would you say to people who say trance music hasn’t evolved since the 90s?

You’re wrong.

What do you think about artists like Lady Gaga and Rihanna working with dance producers?

It’s cool. Music should have no rules or boundaries to restrict artists from collaborating outside of their known genre. Die hard fans will always have something to say when their idols do something they feel is outside of the genre they feel the artist belongs to. That will never change. But from the other side of the fence, the day an artist feels confined to only one style or sound… well I guess it could be seen as a kind of prison sentence – no?

Do you think the quality of dance music is being watered down or is it a good thing because dance music is appealing to more people?

I think the quality of dance music is getting better and better. One side of the scene is becoming more and more commercial, but at the same time, it’s causing those from the middle who are not into this movement to head deeper underground. While the charts might be dominated by the pop side of dance music, the underground is thriving alongside it – but you don’t read about it because it’s underground. 

Las Vegas has been tipped as the new Ibiza – you seem to have caught onto this early with your residency held at Rain Nightclub three years ago! Why did you choose Vegas over New York or LA?

If you’ve been to Vegas you’ll know the answer to that question. There are a load of similarities between Vegas and Ibiza –both are huge party destinations where people go to let off steam, have a good time and stay out every night of the week. It made sense that we did the residency in the main party city of the US where people flock from all over the country to go wild.

Who do you rate as the next big trance artist?

Protoculture [a] is amazing and so are Federation. I love both their music right now. Phynn [a] has also done a few hot remixes for me recently, and I seem to be playing a lot of Thomas Datt [a]’s recent stuff, which has got that same vibe the Goa sound had. I’m really into his stuff – he’s remixing something for me now for my next compilation.

Who’s your favourite trance artist?

There are just too many really talented guys making records of the style I like to play to single just one out. Astrix [a], Liquid Soul [a], John 00 Fleming [a], Protoculture, Federation, Ace Ventura [a], Flegma and Zyce, Will Atkinson [a], Nick Sentience [a], Ritmo [a]… I could fill a page with names. They’re all great.

Your Perfecto label joined forces with Armin van Buuren’s Armada last year – there seems to be so much more love between trance artists compared to other genres!

Yeah, we’re really happy to be working with Armada. They have a strong team of really cool employees that everyone in the Perfecto office enjoys dealing with. We want our records to be pushed as far and wide as possible, so it made perfect sense to be involved with them.

Early on in your career you developed the Balearic trance sound at Amnesia in Ibiza – do you get much time to party while you’re over there?

Sometimes!

When’s the last time you went out clubbing for fun?

I tour constantly so when I do have a rare few days off I’m sorry to say spending time with family and close friends or being in the studio tends to take priority over clubbing. I still go out a lot but usually to gigs to see bands as opposed to clubs to see DJs.

What record are you really hammering right now?

It’s hard to pick one, but the Marcus Schossow [a] remix of “Sleep” on Perfecto has been massive down here on this leg of the South American tour.

What would you say is the best trance track of all time (hard question – sorry!)?

Wow, now you’ve put me on the spot. I always answer these questions and then afterwards remember something I should have included. Maybe Age of Love “Age of Love” or BT [a] “Loving You More” or Sasha [a] “Expander”… I really can’t think. Can you give me another week and I’ll get back to you?

“Southern Sun” was a massive hit, but what would you say was your best release?

I can’t answer that. I guess “Bullet in the Gun” was one of the most successful.

You’ve had a lot of them, but what do you personally believe to have been your biggest achievement so far?

Working with the names I’ve worked with, releasing records on my own label, travelling the world… I’m proud of all of it in equal measure.

You’ve worked with almost all the big names, but is there anyone left who you’d like to collaborate with?

Jay-Z.

You used to want to be a chef – do you still do much cooking?

Absolutely – all the time. I’m passionate about food and wine. Experiencing different countries’ cuisines is one of the true perks of being on the road. I love trying new dishes, experiencing new tastes and then learning how to make those dishes.

What’s your specialty dish?

It’s a pasta and shellfish dish. I can’t tell you exactly what’s in it or I’d be giving away a family secret.

Apart from the release of We Are Planet Perfecto, what else have you got coming up? Isn’t your third studio album, Pop Killer, due for release next year?

Ha ha. Yes, this is the most commonly asked question at the moment. Yes, the album is pretty much there, and it will see a release in 2012. I also have some collaborations planned and will be kicking off my Four Seasons international tour concept which includes a killer visual show and a compilation series which will climax with a box set at the end of the year.