Before everyone grabbed on to (and subsequently strangled the life out of) the “Las Vegas is the new Ibiza” tagline, Paul Oakenfold can be credited as one of the first in the scene to call it, circa 2008. His groundbreaking three-year Perfecto residency at Rain changed the game as we know it, including the electronic dance music that now commands the prime-time slot, instilling the idea of a costumed cast of performers hanging from the ceiling and even allowing the previously taboo glow sticks back into the club. The model of a world-renowned DJ/producer as the main draw subsequently helped transform Las Vegas into the electronic-dance-music playground it now is. We caught up with the legendary British DJ/producer Oakenfold before he returns to Las Vegas to spin a guest set at Lavo on April 9.
You were the first big headlining DJ/producer in this current wave of electronic dance music in Las Vegas. What are your thoughts on the path clubbing in the city has taken?
It’s great. It’s similar to what we have—and still have—in Europe with Ibiza. When I went home, a lot of British people asked me, “What’s it like [in Las Vegas]? What’s going on?” There are a lot of DJs, whether [they have] a monthly, weekly, bimonthly residency. It’s good for the scene.
When you held your residency at Rain, you averaged headlining a few times per month, but some of these DJs that are dubbed “residents” maybe only play a few times per year. What do you think about the definition of a residency now?
To make sure it works, you’ve got to be there every week and work on it every week. That’s the key to success, apart from having a good theme built around us. Things change. A residency was every week; now some people call it a monthly residency, and it is what it is. It doesn’t bother me in any way, shape or form.
Since Perfecto can be attributed to the shift in music programming/creating interactive club experiences in Las Vegas, do you think electronic music will continue as the dominant draw in Vegas clubs, or will we move on to more commercial hip-hop or open-format again?
I think it will continue without a doubt.
Would you do another Las Vegas residency?
If it’s the right one, yeah. We did Perfecto for three years, and toward the end of it I had other things that I needed to do, and I liked the idea of taking some time away from it and seeing what happens.
What’s your opinion of the sound electronic music has taken as of late?
Well, it all sounds the same, doesn’t it? It all sounds the same, and everyone’s playing the same records. I’m generalizing of course; not everyone’s got the same records. It’s interesting because you hear a lot of the promoters complaining, but they’re still booking the same DJs.
What will it take for current producers to experiment more with the music—and who could lead that charge?
Daft Punk will change it when their record drops, because a lot of the new producers all look [up to] Daft Punk and they’re going to follow them straightaway. What’s good is the Daft Punk album is based around live musicians—they’re not following a trend—and it’s still more of an ’80s sound with their influences. That will be incredibly refreshing, because the record will do very well and a lot of people will realize they don’t have to copy everyone else.
From my point of view, it’s songs: songs, melody and great singers with more of a cutting-edge sound. It’s harder to find sounds, because technology is so readily available and unless you’re working with live musicians, it’s very difficult to find sounds that no one else is using. You’ve got to have songs. It’s all about the songs. Why do you think that three of the biggest DJs—Calvin Harris, David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia—are successful? Because it’s songs. That’s where it is in my opinion.
How would you describe your Fluoro sound as opposed to the Perfecto sound Las Vegas is familiar with?
Fluoro I’ve always been a fan of, I enjoy it, it’s very melodic, but very cutting edge. I don’t tend to play Fluoro sets in America. I’ve always been playing different kinds of stuff. Even with my three-hour residency in Vegas, the last hour was more underground; the first hour was more commercial. I haven’t really found a club in America where I can play Fluoro. It’s a real late-night/after-hours sound. Saying that, there’s always a way of making it happen, just like we did with Perfecto in Vegas.
People are starting to get more into underground sounds though, correct?
That’s the sound of Ibiza. The difference is the biggest sound in Ibiza is east techno, and that is quite refreshing to hear. It’s like anything: People who jump into the scene, they’re only familiar with a certain sound, and then you start to dig deeper and find a niche, something that you like. It could be anything, whether it’s drum and bass, techno, deep house—whatever. And then you start to find the DJs that you like, follow those DJs and become a fan of that sound.
Any plans for an after-hours gig in Las Vegas?
We were talking about doing an after-hours. I’d like to play there once a month and do after-hours. Although it’s got to be with the people who have the same kind of vision.
Since you’ll be at Lavo on a Tuesday industry night with more locals, how will you musically gear your set?
The industry like yourself has been good and supported me, so the whole idea was to come back and do an industry night to give something back, really. That’s why I’m doing Lavo. Vegas is a big part of what I’ve done; I’m proud of what I’ve done in Vegas, and we created a scene when there was nothing there. A lot of my community was all against it. I took some stick for going to Vegas. I have a lot of good friends there, so to come and play more of an industry night was something I thought I’d like to do, and I’ll play my style, which is melodic.
A fan wanted to ask if you’d ever consider throwing it back and ending a set with Amoeba Assassin’s “Piledriver.”
[Laughs.] The strangest thing is we keep getting these demands for some of the classics. So we just re-released “Bullet in the Gun” with all new remixes. We re-released some of the classics with all new remixes, and it’s surprising that people who know the original love it, and then you get a whole new crowd that goes, “What is that record?”
What else is on the radar for you?
I’ve got a song out now called “Who Do You Love?” and I’ve done a collaboration with the Joyriders called “Top of the World.” I’ve just been putting out more underground, big-room records until I get my main record released for Sony. I enjoy it, there’s no pressure at the moment to just put music out. I’m enjoying that it doesn’t have to go on the radio yet. At the moment, I’m having a lot of fun with music.
Who are some promising artists you’re watching that could be the next generation of producers with staying power?
I like what Disfunktion are doing, and I like Project 46. A lot of the new producers, there’s so many of them, but I like these guys because they understand song and melody.