Posted June 9, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

DJ Paul Oakenfold: A new take on the classics

Paul Oakenfold
Paul Oakenfold

On his forthcoming album Trance Mission, DJ Paul Oakenfold covers versions of some of the biggest, most iconic and influential electronic records of all time. After his summer tour in support of the release, Oakenfold will then issue another record. He called us from his Los Angeles office to talk about the two projects.

Talk about the inspiration behind Trance Mission.
Trance Mission is an album based on 12 classic songs from back in the day. These are cover versions. Usually in the electronic world you remix music, but this was a fresh take that had never really been done. Imagine a white piece of canvas. You paint the picture, basically redoing everything. You keep the integrity of the original, but also add a new flavor to it or a new take on it. So, for instance, the original could be 128bpm and you could pitch it up to 138. You could add vocals. It could be a different arrangement. And, most importantly, it is 2014 production and sound because some of these tracks are 15 years old. It was a process, but it was enjoyable.

Did you use samples from the songs or you just recreated them completely?
No samples whatsoever. No stems from the originals. It’s all original. We put a whole team together on working on the choice of the songs because that was also quite difficult. Over the years there have been many records we have been playing in the clubs. There have been many classics. Choosing the songs was a difficult process, but we ended up coming out with a great bunch. We’re really happy with it.

What is one of the oldest songs on the record?
I think it’s Simple Minds.

What do you like about that song?
From the original, I liked that it was very melodic. That’s what I liked about the line. The original was released in 1982. Can you believe that? I came across it in ‘88. I thought the melodic line that was in it worked really, really well. I was like, “Man this track, this melody is fantastic. Let me take it and see what I can do with it.”

Where do the roots of trance music go back to?
I suppose to early- to mid-80s. But could you call Kraftwerk trance? I don’t know.

I think you said something in the press release about screw boundaries, rules and regulations.
Exactly. Who put those there in the first place? Where does that exist in music?

Talk about taking that attitude to this record in particular.
Who would take a 1981 Simple Minds track and turn it into a trance song? Who would take Adagio for Strings, which is a classical piece of music, and turn it into a big trance record? Adagio for Strings that was used in the movie Platoon. It’s been reworked by William Orbit who did a version, but nothing like you hear on here.

Do you think that in terms of breaking rules and breaking boundaries, do you see that a lot in today’s young electronic artists?
Not really. Everyone seems to be copying and using more of the same.

Do you think it is a byproduct of the technology that we have now or why do you think that is?
I do actually. It’s very accessible, so people tend to use the same thing.

Did I read that you were a Beatles fan when you were younger?
My parents were so I kind of ended up getting into them through my parents. They were playing the music constantly in the background. You don’t really even know that you’re going to become a fan, you’re just listening to it because it’s there.

I think you said that you kind of became a bedroom DJ. How did you gravitate towards the turntables after that?
My father was a musician, so I kind of always had music around. I suppose I gravitated toward being a DJ I because a friend of mine was a DJ and I liked the idea of playing all kinds of music. Growing up in England, you listen to a station called Radio 1 that plays exactly that—all kinds of music. So, you get lost in that spirit and way of listening to music. I find it very strange when I came to America and I turned on the radio and you’d only be hearing either top 40 or hip-hop or rock. There was no station playing all that music together.

Do you remember your first gig as a professional DJ?
Yeah, it was in a bar called Rumours. I was very nervous but also very excited. I really enjoyed it. That’s when I got that thought that yeah I want to do this.

I think in the ‘80s, you were associated with that whole acid house scene. How did that happen?
The acid house scene started from me and a few friends going on holiday to Ibiza and bringing back that sound. It really appealed to us. I was DJing at a club in London and was like, “I gotta start playing this.” I was really inspired.

So, that’s when things really took off?
Be careful what you wish for because sometimes it comes true. I suddenly became a big DJ. I had a day job was trying to do two jobs at once. Pretty hard going at the time. I’d finish DJing at 4 and have to be at work at 9. Sometimes I’d go straight to work and couldn’t tell my boss.

I always associate acid house with Manchester.
That’s not true. It actually started in London. Yeah, I mean Manchester was a year behind us.

You worked with The Stone Roses.
I produced the Happy Mondays and remixed The Stone Roses.

I still like going back and listening to their music. What did you like about working on it?
They’re a great band. It was just the right thing at the right time.

What about your work with U2? Did that start in the early ‘90s?
Yeah, I did a remix for them and ended up getting involved in a lot more production and touring.

That must’ve been a positive experience, though.
It was a wonderful experience and I was really lucky to get invited into their camp and work with them. Incredible band. Who can say that every time they release an album, they’ve got a classic on it? I mean, crazy.

I think you moved to the U.S. in ‘99. What prompted that decision?
I moved to Los Angeles to work on scoring a movie called Swordfish. I did that and then ended up working a lot in film, which was great. I still enjoy it.

To what do you attribute the current popularity of electronic music?
It’s gone through the roof.

Electronic music is incredibly popular at the moment. It’s a busy lane. Everyone is trying to get a piece of action. So, a lot is going on.

You’ve seen it go through many different phases.
I think primarily because it’s part of our culture in Europe. American culture in terms of music was hip-hop, but now you see the shift. It has come through music from the likes of Lady Gaga and The Black Eyed Peas.

Are you a fan of dubstep?
Some of it.

Are you going to play a lot from Trance Mission on the current tour?
I am actually. I finished the album. I’m going to be playing six or seven songs from it and hopefully people will enjoy it. There will also be some music from Pop Killer. Pop Killer is an album that features various different artists. That comes out later this year. I’m excited by that record.

Any names you want to drop?
I could drop a few actually. I’ve got Ryan Tedder, Miguel and Cee-Lo. I’ve got LP. There’s some good people on the record.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates
HQ – Atlantic City
Rev – Minneapolis
Liquid – Cleveland
XIV – Los Angeles
Sunshine Theater – Albuquerque
Interchange Festival – Bozeman
Digital Dreams – Toronto
Monarch – Phoenix
Club Rio – San Antonio
Stereo Live – Houston
Republic Live – Austin


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].