Paul Oakenfold: Focus on yourself instead of worrying about what everyone else is up to

Paul Oakenfold is perhaps the world's most prolific individual electronic music producer and DJ. Mention his name to a person who has no interest in dance music whatsoever, and they are likely to recognize it still. At the age of 50, armed with an extensive list of achievements and accolades and still fueled by the desire to bring electronic dance music to the masses, Oakenfold has embarked on a major U.S. tour to promote his new album Trance Mission, a concept album consisting of ten classic dance tracks meticulously chosen and reworked entirely to be shared with today's generation of dance music consumers.

Gimme Noise caught up with Oakenfold before his set tonight at Rev Ultra Lounge in Minneapolis to talk about the idea behind Trance Mission and Pop Killer, the album of studio originals that he will also be releasing upon the Trance Mission tour's completion. He was happy to offer his perspective on today's culture of electronic dance music, as well as to offer some sagely advice to a music industry suddenly saturated by young DJs and producers.

Gimme Noise: Tell us about Trance Mission!

Primarily the idea was to take some of these classics that we've grown up with, mainly in England or Europe from back in the day, that were a lot of people's favorites in terms of me DJing and playing them in certain clubs, and redo them with a 2014 production sound so we can share them with the current generation that are not familiar with them -- DJs who never played them the first time around -- and give them a fresh take. It's unusual. That's part of why I really wanted to do it. It's really unusual in electronic music to cover records. What we usually do is remix them. We take the original line and do our interpretation.

All this was done from scratch with a new direction of current sounds and bringing it in line with what's going on in 2014. For instance, there's a rock record, the original Simple Minds record, "Themes for Great Cities." They're a rock band, a rock group. When I came across it, I always felt there was something I could do with the lead line of that track, but never had an opportunity and never thought it could ever happen. So, when the idea of this came along, it was the perfect track that I wanted to take.

What was the process of picking the songs?

It wasn't an easy record to make. It was a difficult process. Most of the original tracks made it. You have to get permission in certain countries around the world to do cover versions; you don't in England and America. So, we had to be very careful and respectful of the original artists. We came together with a long list, because over the years there has been many great records. There were some records that time-wise, it was taking too long to clear, because you have to go through the artist, the manager, the publisher, and on our side the record label, the A&R man, and these things take time. Unfortunately some of the tracks we wanted to use were taking too long and didn't make the cut. The initial body of the record is there, but the process wasn't like, oh, listen to this and tomorrow we'll cover it. It took three or four months to even get permission to do it.

When did you first come up with the idea for the album?

Probably the end of last summer. I started this small run of shows. I wouldn't even call it a tour. In the electronic world it's all about bigger, bigger, bigger. Bigger production, bigger venues, bigger clubs, bigger numbers. I've done that, and I was thinking, you know, I'd really like to get back to grass roots and play small clubs, not a big production, just myself, the crowd, and really good music. Come along on a Monday night to about five hundred people and really get down to great music.

When I started doing those shows I really enjoyed them, and I put a title around it, Trance Mission. The idea was to play a bunch of shows playing real underground cutting-edge music from the genre of trance. People would come up to me and go, "Oh, can you play that really old track from when you were the resident of Ministry?" Initially I was like, "No, that's not what this is about!" It's not about me playing old music, it's about playing cutting-edge new music and sharing it with you guys because the scene has become so commercial now. That's where the idea started to come from -- some of these old records that people had been asking for. We redo them. And we do them in a style and a sound that works currently. We share them with the new community. America has gotten into electronic music, and some of my colleagues have probably never heard these tracks. Maybe you'll listen to Simple Minds and you'll go, 'Let's go see the original!" You'll see what I've done.

Has it surprised you that dance music has become so mainstream?

No, not at all. I've had some huge success in mainstream. In America, my first album Bunkka sold a million records. Prodigy had a pop album that was number one. I knew the roots were there. It was just timing. Timing plays an important part in a lot of things, actually. It was a case of, you could see that it was becoming popular, and I think a lot of the credit actually goes to the likes of Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas, who introduced electronic music to the masses of mainstream America. From that people realized that they really liked dance music. More pop stars wanted to collaborate with electronic music producers and it started to grow. It's so natural. That's why it became so big so quick. You could see there was an up swell. You could see it was about to happen.


Does that affect you negatively or positively?

Personally? How does it affect me? It doesn't. I've already had mainstream success in America and the U.K. Is it positive? Absolutely. There's nothing wrong with sharing a wonderful scene with people who want to be a part of it. I don't think it's wrong to share good music.

What differences have you noticed between the dance music scene in Europe and in the United States?

Primarily, we've lived with the culture. Electronic music became youth culture in the '90s. Similar to America, hip-hop became youth culture. At that time we couldn't really relate to hip-hop. We couldn't really relate to those situations that rappers were rapping about. What we did relate to, strangely enough...I mean, this conversation could last for a day, how music plays such an important part in everyone's life, and everyone has a soundtrack to their life, and in America it was primarily what you heard on the radio.

In England, we didn't relate to the lyrical content of rap. We grew up listening to electronic music. The music, the scene, and the environment have been there for many many years -- over twenty years now. In Europe it was massive. You'd hear it on mainstream radio, where you wouldn't hear a Biggie Smalls record on mainstream radio, but in England you'd hear a house record. Now coming up to this time, you turn on the radio and you'll hear many electronic-based songs.

Have you had any markedly different experiences as a performer?

No. I've toured here on many different levels. I've toured here as the opening act for Madonna, which was much more commercial. I've toured, as your friend said, with Moby on the Area One tour, which was much more of an interesting crowd. It was half commercial and half underground. And, I've done purely underground clubs, where only people who were interested in electronic music knew about it. I've probably done hundreds of shows in America.

You've been on this tour since October. Any particularly memorable moments so far?

I mean, it's difficult to say. The tour's going really well. We're selling out, people seem to really enjoy the music, and it's wonderful that they understand the concept. It's a really enjoyable tour. We're releasing singles from the album -- the album comes out next week. We really worked hard on putting out a good record, and I'm really happy that people enjoy it.

And you already have another studio album, Pop Killer, set for release afterward?

I thought it was important to keep to my roots and put out a record that means a lot to me -- it means a lot to a lot of people, growing up and listening to these songs. My studio record is more of the same. What I mean by that is collaborations from singers from different genres. It will probably come out the end of this year/early next year. I'm excited. It's a big year for me.

Can you tell me some of the people that you worked with for Pop Killer?

Yes. Pop Killer is a collaboration album with various different singers. Some you will know, some you won't. It's got Eve, Baby E, Ryan Tedder from One Republic, Rico Love, Miguel, Azealia Banks, CeeLo, a bunch of different people.

There's such a saturation now of younger DJ's and producers. Looking back on your career, what advice would you offer them?

The key is to focus on yourself and what you do rather than worrying about what everyone else is up to. Learn. It's important as a DJ now to have all aspects of your game in place. It's important to produce music or collaborate with someone who does. It's important to have social media in place, and have a radio show, whether it's online, or in any shape or form - have a show where people can hear what you're doing and you can express yourself through it. You've got to have your own sound, and that's what will get the focus on you.

How do you continue to stay inspired?

How do you? I mean, that is the million dollar question. That comes from everyday situations. There is not a pot or a jar that I go to that has inspirational dust in it. It just comes from everyday situations, some days you're not inspired. Some days you want to do nothing, and watch Game of Thrones. I think that if you're forward thinking and you're open, and you're involving yourself in things that you like and your interests and new things, then inspiration comes from it. Ideas come from it. A lot of things come from it. Just be active.

Was there ever a period of time in your career where you felt stuck in any way or where you felt like you were looking for inspiration?

If you do, you try harder, or you look to figure it out. If you're stuck in the studio or you're stuck in terms of creativity, then you maybe stop things about it, step back, have a few days break from it and figure it out. You don't give up.

Can you tell us something about you, personally, that we don't know?

I'm a fully qualified French cuisine chef, and I watch a hell of a lot of programs on television, on the History Channel in particular. I just watched about twelve hours of various bits of footage on World War II, on D-Day. D-Day from space. I mean, you really want to know all this? (laughs) I just watched the second episode of World Wars last night, which is Adolf Hitler, and Winston Churchill. I'm curious to know about those individuals and how they became who they were. It's probably a conversation for another day. I don't know if your readers want to know about trench warfare in 1912 during World War I, so it's probably a conversation for another day.

So what's next for you?

I don't know at the moment. I just want to keep supporting both records. I may look at another residency in Las Vegas, because we were very instrumental as a team with Perfecto, laying the foundations down for Las Vegas. I've been offered a couple of residencies for next year, so I may look at that.

What can we expect tonight?

I'll play probably five or six tracks from the album, to share with people, and give people an experience of what's going on in the tracks. It will be a lot of new music, actually.

Paul Oakenfold performs this evening, Friday June 13, at Rev Ultra Lounge in downtowb Minneapolis. 10 PM, 21+

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