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THE HOT SEAT - PAUL OAKENFOLD

We throw a few curveballs the way of Paul Oakenfold

DJ Mag catches up with Paul Oakenfold at his central London hotel the day after his beloved Chelsea are knocked out of the Champions League. 

“For Chelsea to get where we did get to this season with no strikers was unbelievable — I had my kit on last night, I was waiting for the call!” he jokes.
He gives your hack, a fellow Blues fan, a copy of the Chelsea vs Galatasaray programme which he appears in, talking about former Chelsea star Didier Drogba, and then plays us some tracks from his new album, which we're not allowed to tell you about yet.

Paul, of course, is one of the most important figures in the development of dance music worldwide, and still likes pushing the boundaries — he's just been playing in Alaska and the Cayman Islands. “I enjoy going to remote places and helping to develop a scene,” he says.

Never mind all this music business for a minute though, who's going to win the World Cup?
“Germany. I'll explain briefly why. Very much like Spain a few years ago, when the nucleus of their team was Barcelona and they played together all the time, the nucleus of the German team is Bayern [Munich]. I think it'll be a Germany — Argentina final, with Brazil knocked out in the semis by Germany. I've worked it all out.

“I want England to win, but we're realists — we're not going to win. I think we'll scrape through the group stage, although Suarez could knock us out.”

Why did you embark on your 'Trance Mission' album, covering various trance classics?
“Good question. Well, I put together a tour playing in small venues. All I'd been doing was playing festivals and large venues with big production. Five, six, seven, eight, nine-thousand people. So then I thought, why not strip it all down, no production, go into small venues — the smallest I played was 600, anything up to 1500. So it was me, the crowd, and music — that was it.

“The whole idea was to play just trance, but it wasn't a retro set, it was just playing young and fresh trance. People kept coming up and saying, 'Could you play that track that you used to play then?' And I'd go, 'No, no, no, I'm not gonna play that'.

Then I thought, 'If I take some of those classics from 15 years ago that were big for me, and re-do them with a 2014 production sound' — so that's what I started to do, and I started to play them on the tour. And I'm educating a lot of people who hadn't heard those tracks from back in the day.

“It's worked out really well, but it's been a lot of work — for me and the team. We got there, and I hope people like it.”

Is there a sense in which EDM has eclipsed trance in recent times?
“Oh yeah. There's two things that have happened in our community. One, the producers who used to make records for the DJs now wanna be the DJs, and with all due respect they hold their hands up and say they're not DJs, they're producers, but technology's made it easy for them to be a DJ. That's fine.

The second thing that's changed is that trance used to dominate, it used to be the biggest sound, whether you liked it or not. And what happened is that EDM moved in, so that took us off the main stage and put us on the second stage. Now deep house is the big thing, in England if not necessarily in America, now we're on the third stage. So we've gone from playing to 20,000 people to playing over here to 5000 people. It's been quite an interesting shift.

“In America playing all the main festivals, you ain't on the main stage no more. We're over in a smaller arena — not all the time, but occasionally we are. We all know EDM is the biggest dominating sound... we were calling it big room in America.”

But is trance going to come back?
“It's going to be very interesting to see. 'Trance Mission' is going to come out, and I think it'll do well. Then I'm gonna put out my third artist album, 'Pop Killer' — hopefully this year, fingers crossed. The record industry's changed, people want single, single, single — and then the album.

What's gonna be really interesting is... my first artist album 'Bunkka', I did over a million albums. My second album ['A Lively Mind'] I did 700,000. I don't know how well this album's gonna do, but here's the point — I am not doing anything different on my third artist album to what I did on my first, it's collaborations, it's singers from different genres, and it's electronic music.

The shift is that the pop world has now caught up with what we're doing.

So when my album comes out, people could listen to it and go, 'Great songs, get it, understand it', or they could go 'That sounds commercial as fuck, what is that all about?'

Not understanding that it's my third artist album, and I'm doing exactly the same. I did 'Starry Eyed Surprise' that was a pop record worldwide, it sold a million and a half singles. Now pop music has caught up with what we do. That's why a lot of people from our community are having a lot of success. Calvin's doing incredibly well...”

Quite a few trance producers jumped ship to EDM, didn't they?
“Some of the producers and DJs, the music that they're making is called nu skool trance, and it's 128bpm. Above & Beyond's first new record 'Sticky Fingers', I love that track — it's 128bpm. We all know trance is 135, 138 whatever — Armin's track was 128bpm, that's nu skool trance. It's house tempo. I try not to get caught up in genres though, if it's melodic and I like it, I'll play it.”

When I heard you first went to Vegas to help try to kick off the dance scene over there, I thought 'What the fuck's he doing? No chance!' But, sure enough... where are you gonna move to next?
“Ha ha ha! Good question. God, did I take some fucking flack for Vegas! I've never known a moment where the community I was in were all like 'He's over, he's gone to Vegas, it's where all the old people go to die'. I was like, 'What the fuck's going on here?' I was setting up a residency in somewhere I thought I could make happen, like I did in Ibiza. You won't believe it now — it's ridiculous now.

“I have to say thank you to a bunch of people that helped me, cos I can never take credit for that on my own. I was there every single week for the first year, and then the second year when I was a Ministry resident and a Cream resident I took some weeks off.

But it was hard work, there was 5000 people in that room every week. But we were named in the Top 10 residencies in Vegas of all-time, including Frank Sinatra and all that — they really recognised all our hard work and what we did to put Vegas on the map for electronic music.”

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