Paul Oakenfold: Focus on yourself instead of worrying about what everyone else is up to

Categories: Q&A
Courtesy of the Artist
Paul Oakenfold

Paul Oakenfold is perhaps the world's most prolific individual electronic music producer and DJ. Mention his name to a person who has no interest in dance music whatsoever, and they are likely to recognize it still. At the age of 50, armed with an extensive list of achievements and accolades and still fueled by the desire to bring electronic dance music to the masses, Oakenfold has embarked on a major U.S. tour to promote his new album Trance Mission, a concept album consisting of ten classic dance tracks meticulously chosen and reworked entirely to be shared with today's generation of dance music consumers.

Gimme Noise caught up with Oakenfold before his set tonight at Rev Ultra Lounge in Minneapolis to talk about the idea behind Trance Mission and Pop Killer, the album of studio originals that he will also be releasing upon the Trance Mission tour's completion. He was happy to offer his perspective on today's culture of electronic dance music, as well as to offer some sagely advice to a music industry suddenly saturated by young DJs and producers.

Courtesy of the Artist
Paul Oakenfold

Gimme Noise: Tell us about Trance Mission!

Primarily the idea was to take some of these classics that we've grown up with, mainly in England or Europe from back in the day, that were a lot of people's favorites in terms of me DJing and playing them in certain clubs, and redo them with a 2014 production sound so we can share them with the current generation that are not familiar with them -- DJs who never played them the first time around -- and give them a fresh take. It's unusual. That's part of why I really wanted to do it. It's really unusual in electronic music to cover records. What we usually do is remix them. We take the original line and do our interpretation.

All this was done from scratch with a new direction of current sounds and bringing it in line with what's going on in 2014. For instance, there's a rock record, the original Simple Minds record, "Themes for Great Cities." They're a rock band, a rock group. When I came across it, I always felt there was something I could do with the lead line of that track, but never had an opportunity and never thought it could ever happen. So, when the idea of this came along, it was the perfect track that I wanted to take.

What was the process of picking the songs?

It wasn't an easy record to make. It was a difficult process. Most of the original tracks made it. You have to get permission in certain countries around the world to do cover versions; you don't in England and America. So, we had to be very careful and respectful of the original artists. We came together with a long list, because over the years there has been many great records. There were some records that time-wise, it was taking too long to clear, because you have to go through the artist, the manager, the publisher, and on our side the record label, the A&R man, and these things take time. Unfortunately some of the tracks we wanted to use were taking too long and didn't make the cut. The initial body of the record is there, but the process wasn't like, oh, listen to this and tomorrow we'll cover it. It took three or four months to even get permission to do it.

When did you first come up with the idea for the album?

Probably the end of last summer. I started this small run of shows. I wouldn't even call it a tour. In the electronic world it's all about bigger, bigger, bigger. Bigger production, bigger venues, bigger clubs, bigger numbers. I've done that, and I was thinking, you know, I'd really like to get back to grass roots and play small clubs, not a big production, just myself, the crowd, and really good music. Come along on a Monday night to about five hundred people and really get down to great music.

When I started doing those shows I really enjoyed them, and I put a title around it, Trance Mission. The idea was to play a bunch of shows playing real underground cutting-edge music from the genre of trance. People would come up to me and go, "Oh, can you play that really old track from when you were the resident of Ministry?" Initially I was like, "No, that's not what this is about!" It's not about me playing old music, it's about playing cutting-edge new music and sharing it with you guys because the scene has become so commercial now. That's where the idea started to come from -- some of these old records that people had been asking for. We redo them. And we do them in a style and a sound that works currently. We share them with the new community. America has gotten into electronic music, and some of my colleagues have probably never heard these tracks. Maybe you'll listen to Simple Minds and you'll go, 'Let's go see the original!" You'll see what I've done.

Has it surprised you that dance music has become so mainstream?

No, not at all. I've had some huge success in mainstream. In America, my first album Bunkka sold a million records. Prodigy had a pop album that was number one. I knew the roots were there. It was just timing. Timing plays an important part in a lot of things, actually. It was a case of, you could see that it was becoming popular, and I think a lot of the credit actually goes to the likes of Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas, who introduced electronic music to the masses of mainstream America. From that people realized that they really liked dance music. More pop stars wanted to collaborate with electronic music producers and it started to grow. It's so natural. That's why it became so big so quick. You could see there was an up swell. You could see it was about to happen.

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