DJ Paul Oakenfold took trance global; now he's pushing for its return

Daily News correspondentDecember 12, 2013 

Many consider Paul Oakenfold the godfather of electronic music. He pioneered the European trance movement in the mid-1990s and held long-term DJ positions at big clubs in Ibiza, London and Las Vegas. The three-time Grammy nominee has toured with Madonna and U2.

Now, Oakenfold is performing in Anchorage as part of his "Trance Mission" tour, which he says will bring a fresh visual and audio experience to U.S. audiences. In addition to the tour, Oakenfold's releasing a "Trance Mission" album, which will feature new versions of 10 of his favorite releases. The tour is intended to appeal to longtime trance fans who will appreciate fresh versions of classics, as well as attract new audiences to the genre.

"The idea is to take classics that we've grown up with -- not remix them or make them into cover versions, but bring them in line with the production sounds of today. It's tough work, to create new sounds and keep the integrity of the artists," he explains by phone in a playful Cockney accent.

Oakenfold will be arriving in Alaska by way of Fort Lauderdale as part of his North American tour. "The tour has been going incredibly well," he says. "It's going a lot better than I thought because trance is very much an underground sound. We've actually extended the tour by three shows, and I predict the sound is going to become very popular in 2014 because attendance keeps increasing. There seems to be a shift towards trance."

Born in Kent, England, Oakenfold says he was obsessed with music at a young age and got his start spinning soul tracks in a London wine bar. At 21, his career took an interesting and short-lived turn when he traveled to New York and worked in talent scouting and artist development for Champion Records. Hip-hop was exploding in his West Harlem neighborhood. Using his insight into the new genre, he signed the likes of Salt-N-Pepa, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.

When he returned to London, Oakenfold was considered an authority on hip-hop and became a British promoter for the Beastie Boys and Run-D.M.C. It was during a birthday trip to Ibiza that he was exposed to yet another completely new sound -- a mashup of eclectic beats and melodies known as acid house. He brought this style back with him to London, and it would change his life and career path forever.

Already a successful DJ and promoter, Oakenfold formed Perfecto Records in the late 1980s. The label has produced some of the biggest-selling trance releases of all time, including Planet Perfecto's "Bullet in the Gun," Man With No Name's "Teleport" and Oakenfold's own "Grace -- Not Over Yet" and "Southern Sun," which has appeared on over 150 compilation albums.

Even those who don't follow the electronic music scene will recognize some of Oakenfold's work. "Starry Eyed Surprise," an upbeat, bubble-gum dance track, ranked at 41 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts and appeared in advertisements for Diet Coke and Apple. It's unfortunate that the vocals were performed by mediocre rapper Shifty Shellshock, the one-hit wonder from Crazy Town who is mostly recognizable from his turns on VH1's reality TV rehab shows. Still, the track is fun, and it resonated with club-goers and pop consumers alike.

Increasing electronic music's fan base has long been an interest of Oakenfold's.

"My favorite DJ residency, by far, has to be at The Palms in Las Vegas," he says. "When we started in the casino, electronic music wasn't happening. All the DJs were playing mashups. But we worked nearly three years on building out one of the biggest residencies in Las Vegas and you look at it now, and the electronic scene has completely developed. It's good for the electronic scene worldwide. Vegas really changed the landscape."

The man who has played at some of the most exotic locations in the world -- including on top of the Great Wall of China -- looks forward to the chance of glimpsing the northern lights during his Alaskan trip. He'll be taking a few days off after the show and hopes to blend in. "I'm excited about this remote destination," he says. "I know it's very rare that DJs make their way up to Alaska and I look forward to having a pint with some locals."

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