INTERVIEW: One for the candy kids, a chat with Paul Oakenfield

Maybe I am a sad case Paul, maybe I am. I remember smoke rising, slashed by beams of red and blue light. Lights streaming across thousands of sweaty, dancing bodies. The bass beat pounded as my heart raced in time. I remember staring, with rapt attention as a kid swung glow sticks on long wires, leaving trails of neon green in the air. Oh yeah, I guess there was music too, spun by the UK’s premiere disc jockey, Mr. Paul Oakenfold.

Oakenfold hit the dance scene in the early ”70s, maintaining a low profile while seeking to diversify the emerging sound of disco. In the ”80s he moved back and forth between the Britain and America, dipping his hands in the emerging dance scene, while also involving himself in rap culture. He managed the Beastie Boys in the UK for a time and claims to have helped identify and sign Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff. In the ”90s he emerged as a prominent DJ, both independently mixing and producing.

More recently Oakenfold released Bunkka, a progressive dance album that meshes traditional dance music with a more rock influenced sound. He recently embarked on an international tour, performing with a live accompanying band.

On the phone Paul Oakenfold is curt, not quite impolite, but bound by a definite pretension. He speaks quickly, with an almost dismissive tone. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s annoyed or maybe he just doesn’t like me. What follows is an excerpt from the lighter part of our conversation.

Hatchet: Is it different playing with a real band, as opposed to spinning?

Paul Oakenfold: When you’re spinning you do it on your own. Now I’m working with three other members on a stage. So there’s a lot more going on.

H: Is it harder for you?
PO: Yes, it is harder.

H: What’s the difference in the response you get, playing with a band, as opposed to just spinning?

PO: It’s interesting. I feel like the crowds are interested to see what it’s all about. A lot of people kind of stand there, watching like you usually do with a band. Some people continue to dance.

H: Just a bit about dance culture. I’m sure you know, a lot of clubs in the U.S. have gotten shut down that used to book DJ’s. Is it affecting you?

PO: It doesn’t seem to be affecting me. Not living in America, when I do come to D.C. maybe three times a year I generally sell out.

H: Have you noticed a decline in the support for dance music?

PO: I haven’t personally felt it. I have been told though that there are not too many people coming out. I think you have to look at the bigger picture. Sales have gone up globally.

H: Recently they’ve closed down a lot of clubs in D.C. because people think it attracts a drug element.

PO: In England, about eight years ago, the government tried to blame dance culture for the drug problem in the UK. People will do drugs whether they go to a club or not. It’s been in music since the Beatles. I think in England it’s unfair to blame the whole of fucking society’s drug problem on dance culture. That’s what they did.

H: What did people do? That seems like a pretty tough thing to face down.

PO: There was an uproar and everyone who was level-minded realized that that was a fucking silly statement. And the government couldn’t shut down the clubs.

H: But could they?

PO: They brought a new law in eight years ago in England saying that if there was more than four people they could classify it as a party and they could shut it down. They could be driving by your house and you and your mates could be sitting around, having a beer, having a laugh, and they could come into your house and shut you down.

H: That’s crazy.

PO: That’s the law that they brought in, in England. How stupid is that? You can’t do it like this.

H: Do you think things have gotten better since back then?

PO: In Europe they’ve gotten a lot better, a lot more open-minded. They realize that you just have to be a but more sensible.

H: Do you really think though, that drug culture and dance culture don’t mix?

PO: I’m no expert on drugs. What I’m saying is you don’t have to do drugs to come in and listen to music. It’s all about the music.

H: Do you think there are people who feel the other way? People who think you have to do drugs to enjoy dance music?

PO: I’ve never encountered anyone like that.

H: Really?

PO: Yeah. I’ve never encountered a person who could say that it isn’t about the music, its just about the drugs. It is only about the music. Sad cases are people who have to take drugs to come listen to this music.

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