A lot of people know Paul Oakenfold as the greatest DJ that has ever lived. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. But he took the trance genre where it had never been before, in the spotlight.
Oakey began his DJ career in the late 70s, playing mostly easier selections (soul, groove, etc.), at a wine bar in the UK. In the early eighties, he came to New York City, which was at the time was nurturing the infant hip-hop genre. He really got into it, and when he returned to London, he brought his experience with him, and became one of the UK's most knowledgeable (if that can be the right word) hip-hop DJ's around.
He also got a brief job as an A&R coordinator for Champion, where he signed the then-unknown, but now famous artists Will Smith (aka Fresh Prince) and Salt-N-Pepa, among others. He also soon after got a job DJing soul and jazz at The Project in Streatham. This comes in later.
Ever heard of a place called Ibiza? Yeah, that little island near Spain, the one that is the party capital of the world. Paul spent a week there for his birthday in 1985 with some friends, and as usual, took the sound with him when he returned home.
When he came back to England, he persuaded the owner of the club he DJed at (The Project, see above) to let him DJ some of the more Balearic sound for an after-hours gig. This turned into one of the first successful major Acid House nights in the UK by 1987.
Consequently, around this time, Paul's production career started to take shape, when he worked with Steve Osbourne under the alias of Electra. After a few productions, and winning the Brit Award for Best Producer in 1991, Paul started remixing even more.
It soon became evident that Paul Oakenfold was more than a star, but a talented musician, when (somewhat ironically), his remix of U2's "Even Better than the Real Thing" soared higher on the charts than the original. Just before this, Paul and Steve Osbourne began working under the name Perfecto (interesting factoid: Oakey claims he got the name from the first and last initials of his name). Later on, Paul remixed a lot of U2's songs, including "Beautiful Day", and was hired to work with U2 on their Zoo TV world tour.
Perfecto also soon grew into a full-fledged record label (with a hot-ass logo, no less), and Paul continued playing sets, taking up a two-year residency at Liverpool's Cream; remixing songs; and every now and then, producing ones of his own.
Soon after, Oakey decided it was time for something new, and challenging himself, he practically threw away the notoriety he had in the UK and Europe, and moved to the US, where his career took a dip, but steadily rose, promoting dance music in yet another part of the world.
Paul still does sets all over the world, most recently, his BBC Radio1 tour. I plan to go see him this week here in NYC, where I live, in fact, for his Thanksgiving event. Earlier in 2002, Paul released his first true album, Bunkka, which, rather unexpectedly, was not a pure dance album, but a much more diverse selection of productions, including rock, hip-hop, dance, and odd, but usually pleasing combinations of them. Some people didn't like it because of that, but I think it really shows the guy's talent, to be able to do more than one genre of music well.
Paul composed the theme song for the show Big Brother, and did the soundtrack for the movie Swordfish, starring John Travolta, and also for Planet of the Apes. I am purposely not naming the other myriad sets he has played and tours he has done in that time. There would be just too many.
I understand Perfecto has its own clothing line coming out soon.
Having listened to a lot of Paul's more contemporary work, including almost 30 hours worth of his live sets, there are some trends that became evident in Paul's music.
- He doesn't use exotic beats very often. The closest I have heard to him getting out of the ordinary was Global Underground in Oslo, where a good half of the set is Drum 'n Bass (and also Jungle, a subgenre of it). This was the first time I heard Oakey mix D'n B, and it was good. Really good. Despite often using simple time signatures, he DJs the music very well, and picks his songs really well, to the point that the beat never gets boring.
- He likes to pack in usually one really cool transition in each set he does. Rarely is there more than one. Example: The transition from the first to the second track in The Essential Mix, Live in Goa (part 2). These transitions are the ones that you notice, but that you WANT to notice, the ones that really show what Oakey is made of. This stands apart from his normal style, that of making his transitions as seamless as possible (which is good), to the point where you sometimes don't even know that there is a new song on.
- He never, ever, ever devotes an entire set to a particular genre of music. All of the songs may be trancey in a way, but often, you will get some slow Ambient in there, or even house or hip-hop occasionally.
Paul does it for the music, and for the crowd. One thing he loves is pleasing the crowd. There is nothing sicker than hearing him make an insane transition to a crowd favorite song, and hearing 5 thousand people cheer louder than the speakers. It sometimes gets to the point where the crowd becomes
part of the music. He loves the crowd, and the crowd loves him.
He is not the greatest-looking guy in the world, nor is he the richest, but he is a DJ, and he is damn good at what he does, but more importantly, is the reason why he does it. He does it for the art-- the art of DJ. With an actor or pop artist, the people do not love the music, they love the "artist", but with Oakey, it is the other way around, the people love the music, and because they love it so much, and because he is so connected with his art, they in turn love him.
Sources: http://www.pauloakenfold.com, listening to hours upon hours of Oakey, reading articles on him, asking friends about him, and generally, being a fan, and loving the music. Big props to Oakey, and I hope you do a great set this Thanksgiving!