Paul Oakenfold is inarguably one of the most important figures in the history of dance music. He is a British DJ, producer, remixer, and label owner who is responsible for breaking house music to British clubbers during the late ’80s, then took the genre aboveground, masterminding dance-minded productions and remixes by rock and pop stars such as Happy Mondays and U2.
His journey into dance music began at the age of 16 in London, where Oakenfold began mixing with a friend by the name of Trevor Fung to play soul and rare groove at a basement bar in Covent Garden. By the late ’70s, he established himself in New York and began working for Arista Records and soaking up the disco scene through Larry Levan’s genre-spanning sets at the Paradise Garage. By the early ’80s, he took his music industry knowledge and went back to London where he worked as a club promoter and British agent for the Beastie Boys and Run-D.M.C. During that time, he kept on DJing and ended up at one of the first venues for house music in England called Project from 1985-1986. During a vacation on the island of Ibiza in Spain in 1987, Paul was introduced to their exploding club scene and imported the crucial mix of house, soul, Italian disco, and alternative music later dubbed the Balearic style and the rest is history.
He also founded the highly successful dance label Perfecto Records, and held celebrated residencies at two of the biggest U.K. superclubs of all time, Ministry of Sound and Cream. Since the mid-’90s, he’s been inextricably associated with trance, and mix CDs such as Tranceport (1998) and his two Global Underground volumes have remained some of the genre’s biggest-selling releases. However, he has always maintained an eclectic approach to mixing, incorporating styles such as drum’n’bass, downtempo, and excerpts from film scores into his sets. As a producer, he’s expanded into hip-hop, pop, and alternative rock on studio albums Bunkka (2002) and A Lively Mind (2006), which featured guests such as Ice Cube, Pharrell Williams, and Ryan Tedder, and he’s contributed music to numerous films, television programs, and video games. Long recognized as one of the world’s most popular DJs, he has maintained a tireless work ethic well into the 21st century, constantly touring across the globe (including performances at landmarks such as the Great Wall of China, Mount Everest, and Stonehenge), releasing mixes such as Dreamstate, Vol. 1 (2017), and working with mega-stars such as Madonna, Cher, and Britney Spears. He has continued branching out during the 2020s, releasing singles with Luis Fonsi, Azealia Banks, and Aloe Blacc.
By the mid-’90s, dance music had reached the mainstream of British radio and culture, with Oakenfold at the front of a new wave of globe-trotting DJs; he toured with U2 and supported live gigs by INXS, the Orb, Simply Red, Boy George, and Primal Scream.
Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches
During 1988-1989, house music and the Balearic style gestated at several Oakenfold-run club nights (Future at the Sound Shaft, then Spectrum and Land of Oz at Heaven) before emerging above terra firma as a distinctly British entity. Oakenfold and Steve Osborne had been working with new dance converts Happy Mondays, and their production for the 1989 Happy Mondays single “(W.F.L.) Wrote for Luck” was voted Dance Record of the Year by NME. The duo’s production for the Happy Mondays’ breakout full-length, Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, placed them squarely in the vaunted territory of other new dance producers like Andrew Weatherall (who achieved similar success with Primal Scream’s Screamadelica from the same year). Soon, major labels were lining up to have Oakenfold and Osborne remix their biggest pop stars, including U2, Simply Red, New Order, the Cure, Massive Attack, M People, Arrested Development, the Shamen, the Stone Roses, and even Snoop Doggy Dogg (some as Perfecto, the combination remix service and RCA-connected record label founded by the pair in 1990). The Oakenfold/Osborne team were nominated by BPI as Best Producers from 1990 to 1993.
By the mid-’90s, dance music had reached the mainstream of British radio and culture, with Oakenfold at the front of a new wave of globe-trotting DJs; he toured with U2 and supported live gigs by INXS, the Orb, Simply Red, Boy George, and Primal Scream. On Britain’s ever-growing club circuit, he inaugurated the London superclub Ministry of Sound early in the 1990s and became a resident at Britain’s other superclub, Liverpool’s Cream, instead of taking big money for independent gigs. He also cut down his remix schedule to less than five per year, concentrating instead on the release of a half dozen mix albums, including several volumes in the Journeys by DJ series. He also regularly contributed to Pete Tong’s Essential Mix program, heard weekly on BBC Radio 1; Oakenfold’s late-1994 broadcast, focusing on the Goa trance style and subsequently referred to as Goa Mix, quickly achieved legendary status, and has remained the most requested broadcast on Radio 1. 1998’s Tranceport, a U.S.-only release, helped establish an American fan base for Oakenfold as well as trance as a whole. Oakenfold left Cream in 1999, after which Virgin commemorated the occasion with the release of Resident: Two Years of Oakenfold at Cream. Perfecto Presents Another World arrived the following year.
Swordfish: The Album
Oakenfold’s American audience expanded greatly during the early 2000s, as he began playing at major events and touring with the likes of Moby and Carl Cox. After relocating to Los Angeles in order to focus on stateside performances as well as film score work, Swordfish: The Album, a soundtrack Oakenfold constructed for the computer-hacker movie of the same name, appeared in 2001. In 2002, Bunkka became his first album of original productions. Oakenfold became the first DJ to spin at the Great Wall of China in 2003, commemorating the feat with the Great Wall double-CD. Further mix albums like Creamfields (2004) and Perfecto Presents…The Club (2005) appeared before his second production effort, A Lively Mind, landed in 2006. Perfecto: Vegas would arrive in 2009, the same year Oakenfold produced the title cut to Madonna’s hits collection Celebration.
In 2011, he announced a new project titled Pop Killer, which was set to feature guest artists like Cee Lo Green and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. However, years passed and he continued to churn out compilation mixes like the We Are Planet Perfecto series and his third LP, 2014’s Trance Mission. Talk of Pop Killer resurfaced in 2016 with the release of the single “U Are,” which featured Amba Shepherd and BRKLYN, but the album still did not surface. In 2017, Oakenfold released the mix Dreamstate, Vol 1. During the same year, he played a DJ set at the base camp of Mount Everest; at an altitude of 17,600 feet, it was referred to as the “highest party on Earth.” The following year, Oakenfold performed the first-ever DJ set at Stonehenge; his set was subsequently released as Sunset at Stonehenge. He issued single collaborations with a wide range of artists during the 2020s. Oakenfold’s 2020 output included “The World Can Wait” with Luis Fonsi, “With You” with Alexander Popov featuring LZRZ, and “What’s Your Love Like” with Eve and Baby E. In 2021, Oakenfold released a cover of Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” with Kilanova and Aisha Vaughan, and teamed up with Azealia Banks on the single “Hypnotic.” He also released the documentary SoundTrek Mount Everest: A Musical Journey, and issued “I’m in Love” with Aloe Blacc.
With additional investments in his new award-winning tequila called Perfectomundo, Oakenfold understands the power of diversifying his brand portfolio and still keeping it real…
While that grows, he is preparing for his North American tour with New Order and Pet Shop Boys beginning in late December 2021.
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