Paul Oakenfold

The venerable DJ talks about the emergence of electronic music, the new Ibiza and being in a youth-oriented business for 25 years

Paul Oakenfold laughs when asked what he thinks about being an elder statesman for electronic music. The 47-year-old British-born DJ certainly has the rights that honor. During his quarter-century in the business, he was named the world’s best DJ in 1998, and earned Grammy nominations in 2004 and 2007.

Music, however, is an industry that exalts youth, so it’s understandable why Oakenfold would want shake off such a title. Throughout the conversation he stresses the need to stay fresh and be on top of his craft, which is why he says he doesn’t tour as much as his contemporaries. That’s why his future seems to be in Hollywood, where he’s been busy scoring movies, with credits including Swordfish and The Matrix Reloaded, all while plotting the next step that will keep his as the name that is synonymous with electronic music.

On April 30, he continues his monthly Perfecto residency at Rain in the Palms.

You were voted the No. 1 DJ in the world in 1998. How does it feel to still be relevant 13 years later?

I think in our culture if you stay ahead of the curve and you’re into what you do, it’s important. If you look at the likes of U2 and Madonna, if you look at Jay-Z—I mean he’s been around for nearly 20 years—that’s a long time to be relevant. If you are willing to embrace change and look at new music—and that’s what I’ve always looked at, especially with Vegas. I’ve always felt Vegas was the new Ibiza, and was always going to be a focus point in terms of music in America. It’s common sense that people want to go and enjoy themselves and have fun, and if you look at, socially, what was going on in the world and America, you can see people were working hard and the recession kicked in, but people still need to go out and let all their worries go and have fun. Whether it’s one night a month, one night a year, one night a week, where would you do that? You would go to a destination like Las Vegas. I always felt that Vegas was the linchpin for having a good time and, eventually, music. That’s kind of why I set up my night there a few years ago.

Would you say electronic music has experienced a resurgence in the mainstream in America?

In my opinion it’s only just started. It was never popular in the mainstream. Hats off to [Lady] Gaga and the [Black Eyed] Peas because they’re influential to electronic music in the mainstream. Before that it was always hip-hop orientated. You see the change with a lot of urban acts doing electronic music, with the likes of Usher, who had a huge hit, and Flo Rida. So it’s becoming more popular. I think Las Vegas has a lot to do with it. There are so many international DJs that have residencies here. Electronic conferences are selling out [such as Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra Music Festival], so I think it’s really just starting.

It’s always been more popular in Europe than in the U.S. How is it different playing there versus here?

When I first came to America [in 1999], you’d always find pockets that were into electronic music, but that was always underground. Now it’s mainstream here, and in Europe and the rest of the world it’s always been mainstream. You can have instrumental electronic songs, and they can go in to the equivalent of the Billboard 100. Here, that would be very difficult to happen. Kids grow up listening to electronic music [in Europe] like they do in America listening to urban music. For us it’s the norm.

You have an unexpected connection with the hip-hop community. How did that influence your music?

In the late 1980s I had a job working for Def Jam Records or Profile Records at the time, with Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, so I was involved with quite a lot of the urban side of things. I still like it, even on my first album I had Ice Cube and I’ve had Pharrell [Williams] and Grandmaster Flash, so I’m a big fan. I just felt that my roots are electronic, and I’ve always wanted to take electronic and urban acts and put them together. I’ve been doing that for many years now.

Who have you always wanted to collaborate with?

Dr. Dre. The difficult thing is we’re both producers, unless he raps. I’d like to do a rap track with him, him and Eminem. It would be a really big challenge to go in the studio with someone who is so incredibly far away from where I’m at in my world.

Where does a DJ like you go from here?

That’s why I’m in Los Angeles; film is where you go. Not every DJ obviously can do it, but scoring film, producing other artists, that’s mainly what I do. As much as I love DJing, I have my residency in Vegas and I don’t travel anywhere near as much as other DJs, and I don’t play anywhere near as much as other DJs. My focus is on the residency and producing other artists.

If you had to listen to one song on a loop, what would it be?

Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?” It’s still relevant to today.

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