Old-school master

One of the founders of the British acid house scene, DJ Paul Oakenfold has spun together a fortune out of dance music, writes Dave Bannister

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 10:58pm

PAUL OAKENFOLD, aka "The World's Most Successful DJ on the Planet Ever", returns next month to a city where he holds a special place in clubbing history. Oakey was the headliner at the seminal handover party Unity, held at a time when Hong Kong's clubbing scene was hitting the mainstream.

At the time, Oakenfold was ranked the world's top DJ, with his relentless, melodic trance sets the most popular sound around. Now approaching his 50th birthday, the British DJ has been overtaken by younger DJs playing more eclectic beats such as American dubstepper Skrillex and Canadian electro-house champion Deadmau5.

"I think rankings do matter and, of course, the names at the top reap the rewards of those positions," says Oakenfold, who was last year ranked 69th on DJ Mag's top 100 DJ list. "But I tend not to take it all too seriously. I'm happy with how busy I am. Any more and it might not be fun."

Regardless, he's sold more than a million albums, won Grammies and has remixed everyone from Madonna to Bruno Mars, for whom he created the recent dance-floor smash version of the hit Locked Out Of Heaven. He's written film scores and made it big in America where he sometimes hangs out with Hollywood A-listers. In case there is any doubt, Guinness World Records ranks him "the world's most successful club DJ".

Oakenfold's calendar is as busy as ever. From a recent set at Coachella in the US to his annual return to Ibiza, birthplace of the British acid house scene 25 years ago, he spends much of his life on the road.

As a founding father of the music movement that took the world by storm, Oakey's story is enshrined in club lore. He began DJing as a teenager and went to New York to tap into the burgeoning hip hop scene. But it was a trip to the Spanish island of Ibiza in 1987 for his 24th birthday that changed his life.

Oakenfold and fellow London club DJs Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker went to a club in an old farm where an Argentinean DJ called Alfredo was whipping the loved-up crowd into a frenzy with an eclectic mix of pop, house and Balearic beats. They brought the sound back to London and replicated the nights for invite-only crowds - the first being Rampling's Shoom. Ecstasy and acid swept the country entwined with the music. Raves spread across the nation and 1988 was Britain's Summer Of Love.

"There was something so special about that one trip," Oakenfold says. "Watching Alfredo at Amnesia as the sun came up was a turning point for me. I knew this is what I wanted to be a part of. I have so many amazing memories of Ibiza. I guess the first few trips I made there in the late '80s influenced not only everything I went on to do and everything I do today, but they also gave birth to two key nights in London which were instrumental in starting the scene back in Britain."

Oakenfold has seen Ibiza transformed from the free-spirited scene of 25 years ago into the global Mecca of the dance party scene, dominated by commercial mega-clubs such as Amnesia and Space. A generation on, tens of thousands of young people go every summer to lose themselves in music and various forms of misbehaviour for two weeks.

"The vibe has certainly evolved, but there has always been a certain magic that you only find on that island - that's been the same since the first time I went," Oakenfold says.

"There are amazing new venues and brands starting up - such as Ushuaia - which is cool, but the door prices are out of control. Kids who go on clubbing holidays have to be more selective about which nights they go to, because entry and drinks prices are off the chart."

Does anywhere else compare? "Certainly, Las Vegas is on a par, as far as partying is concerned, but, of course, musically, Vegas is a little more commercial. Ibiza is still number one."

Oakenfold knows a thing or two about music and commercial success. He's amassed a tidy fortune that includes a house next to former British prime minister Tony Blair in London. He set up Perfecto Records, conquered America with trance, and remixed tracks for the Rolling Stones and U2. On top of scores of mix albums, he has produced two of his own and a long-awaited third release, Pop Killer, is due out this year.

"It's a series of collaborations with different artists, some electronic dance music, some pop, some urban," he says. He's previously revealed blues singer ZZ Ward, hip hop/pop outfit Wallpaper and Azealia Banks are on the album. The sound will be typical Oakenfold though - "big melodic songs with cutting-edge electronic beats underneath".

As the electronic scene subdivided into dozens of genres and movements, Oakenfold has been dismissed by many for being too commercial in his sound. He has never apologised for this and he insists he balances out his pop work with more underground music.

Oakenfold is eager to return to Hong Kong where he's played several times over the past 20 years. "Right now, it's all about completing the album, touring and, of course, recording singles and remixes for my label," he says. "I'm really happy being on the road 24/7."


Paul Oakenfold, May 3, 8pm, W Hotel, 1 Austin Road, West Kowloon, HK$480-HK$688, Inquiries: 2146 8000