When you’ve been around as long as the illustrious Paul Oakenfold, reflection comes all too easily. But for a man whose CV includes A&R duties for Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, exporting the sound of Ibiza to British club culture, and scoring multi-million-dollar movies and videogames, the long-serving electronic veteran remains as relevant to the global dance community has he did two decades ago.
Between documenting the history of clubbing for national television and embracing the newly awoken American club scene to the maximum, Oakenfold is the definition of a busy man. His dual Four Seasons concept (four mixes to compliment each season, plus an accompanying tour) has provided a year-round soundtrack and club experience with cutting-edge music at its epicenter. With the releases finally available in their entirety, Beatport News caught up with the ever-innovative club baron amongst the industrious chaos of the Amsterdam Dance Event to talk seasonal soundtracks, the regeneration of musical journeys, and the art of leaving you comfort zone.
Amsterdam Dance Event is the first many of us have seen you sit down for more than a few seconds. How are you feeling as we approach the final leg of 2012?
It has been an incredible year for me and while it has been completely knackering, the team around me has helped make it a truly memorable one. The emphasis for 2012 has been on the Four Seasons concept and essentially getting myself back out on the road touring. We laid the foundations for my live shows in Las Vegas—a place that is definitely now to America what Ibiza is to Europe. There was a lot less scoring for videogames and films, which allowed me to put the focus on getting back out DJing in different countries. It was lovely getting back out there and catching up with some old friends along the way, revisiting some of my favorite clubs and playing some newer ones along the way. It certainly wasn’t a quiet one, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
Your Four Seasons concept has literally scaled the best part of the year. Talk us through the live/compilation concept and your experience of coordinating such a huge wave of music across the globe?
I wanted to do something that ran the course of the year as I toured internationally, but it needed to be a concept that evolved and never became stagnant. Therefore, the tour and albums were split into the four seasons of the year to allow for an extensive collection of long-playing and physical experiences. The idea behind it was to put a visual experience to the soundtrack of the cutting edge of electronic music that shaped moods and experiences across the year. We went out and sourced the guys that were right for the visual side of the concept and then spent a long time sourcing and selecting the music, which I really feel represented a wide overlook of what was going on out there. A really enjoyable part part was merging these elements and going to some of the key clubs across the globe to explain our concept and vision of one resident DJ creating a new visual and aural experience alongside the new music found on the corresponding compilations. The whole thing gelled seamlessly and I am pleased to say that the clubs and the crowd lapped it up. Now we have the full collection available and I think it is great for those who haven’t been able to follow it from the outset in 2011 to be able to pick it up as a full-bodied insight into the journey the concept forged throughout the year.
Among your global wanderings for Four Seasons, it seems fair to say that America has taken to the concept with considerable enthusiasm. As one of the first high-profile DJs to bag a residency in Las Vegas, did the sudden surge of enthusiasm from the States surprise you, and does their current ethos regarding electronic music align with your own finely tuned values?
This is a very good question, but I must be careful, as it could be a loaded one. The times have changed for electronic music—it is now all about short bursts of energy. With so much going on at such a fast pace, there is desperation for the fans to have everything all at once. You can see this in DJ sets across the globe, but especially in America. Regrettably it is no longer about seven-hour sets and extended musical experiences, but more about hitting it hard and getting on with it. I don’t necessarily like that approach or enjoy seeing it, as I still love the idea of taking people on a journey in music and sharing experiences both new and unusual, not to mention showcasing the art of DJing. America doesn’t seem to see the art within the craft anymore, so it is reduced to just a few older DJs keeping that element alive and making it exciting and technical. America doesn’t want that yet, but it doesn’t make it any less sincere or meaningful to the industry. I believe their time will come and there is still a lot to get enthusiastic about where the States is concerned.
You recently celebrated the realms of European club land through the British prime-time documentary How Clubbing Changed the World [which you can watch in full below]. With America now proving a popular hub for yourself and your residencies alike, do you agree with the skepticism that has surrounded it of late?
How did the documentary turn out? I was so busy touring that I never got to see it in the end, but it is incredible to see the heritage of clubbing addressed on national TV. The short answer is yes. The case is completely different for Europe because the foundation for consistent club culture was already there. Americans have been trying to work clubbing into their own for decades, but even in the good-old days of American house music it just never stuck like it did across the water. More recently, a few elements fell into place and mainstream radio finally embraced it and the rest is as we see and hear of it now.
So in that respect, the changing culture of popular music and technology must have been a strong engineer to what is now widely referred to as “the global club explosion,” and can it last in the way it currently is?
Absolutely! I believe people like Lady Gaga have helped by using electronic rhythm and melodies, therefore making it digestible to the popular market. With these factors aligned, it was only a matter of time, especially when you consider the wider effects the internet has had upon music. Whichever way you look at it, there is no denying it is electronic music’s time to grow culturally, especially so in America. That may sometimes involve the repetition of the same two records by a small and select cluster of DJs, but I still see the crowd and the fans dictating what they like and want to hear no matter where you go in the world. Eventually they will get sick of this and dig deeper into rich heritage and more underground avenues of the genre in a bid to find differentiation, which is the natural journey for a generation who have first experienced it in the public domain.
With a career spanning decades and a list of achievements stretching for miles, you have made the concept of being a long-serving dance icon look relatively easy. What have been the greatest challenges for you as an artist outside of the more obvious developments in culture and technology?
If I am honest, the moments where I have truly left my comfort zone have been the most challenging. Scoring the soundtrack to Swordfish was a huge task. When you are faced with a $90 million movie and are working alongside the likes of Halle Berry, John Travolta, and Robert Downey Jr., you realize what a big ask the whole process of making a film really is—let alone scoring it. Entering the studio with Madonna and opening for U2 were also key moments of progress for me because these were the furthest I had ever strayed from my comfort zone. It is relatively surreal to transition from the club crowds to an arena full of that unique community of fans that those artists share, but even back then it was interesting to see such a positive reaction that we now consider as common practice within the industry.
After dedicating so much energy to Four Seasons, what are your plans for 2013? Can we expect to finally hear your Pop Killers album in its entirety?
Having put myself back out there with Four Seasons and the touring schedule, next year will certainly center around my new artist album, Pop Killer, and touring the world in support of that. It features some wonderful collaboration tracks from the likes of Azealia Banks, Cee-Lo Green, and some incredible up-and-coming artists, so I am really excited to finally unveil this record. There are a lot of people doing the pop/club crossover nowadays, but for me it is about maintaining a consistent quality within the idea of these double-edged electronic tracks. We will have to wait and see what the public verdict is on that, though.