The Beatles had such a huge influence on popular music that they even inspired Paul Oakenfold. Yes, that Paul Oakenfold. The guy who's been playing electronic dance music well before it was cool to play electronic dance music. The guy whose name is synonymous with trance and house music. The guy who partied in Ibiza before it was cool to party in Ibiza. He might be the last person you'd suspect of being into the Fab Four. One of the most recognizable DJs in the world, Oakenfold is currently touring behind Trance Mission, a remix project of sorts for which he's taken 12 of the biggest trance hits and transformed them with 2014 production. His interest in music, however, began with Beatles.
"My parents were Beatles' fans, so I kind of ended up getting into them through them," he says via phone from his Los Angeles office. "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."
But to hear Oakenfold tell it, growing up in the U.K. in the '70s meant growing up with commercial radio stations that weren't as wedded to genre as the stations in the States were (and still are). As a result, when he started DJing in the early '80s, he played a huge range of music.
"I kind of gravitated towards DJing I suppose because a friend of mine was a DJ, and I liked the idea of playing all kinds of music," he says. "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."
His first gig as a DJ was at a London club called Rumours.
"I was very nervous but also very excited," he says. "I really enjoyed it. That's when I got that thought that yeah, I want to do this."
Soon, Oakenfold was associated with the popular acid house scene.
"The acid house scene started from me and a few friends going on holiday to Ibiza and bringing back that sound," he says.
He would then go on to work with Brit-pop bands the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses. It was just a matter of time before he had to think about ditching the day job.
"Sometimes, be careful what you wish for because sometimes it comes true," he says. "I started DJing and suddenly became a big DJ and had a day job and was trying to do two jobs at once. It was pretty hard going at the time. So, be careful what you wish for."
He moved to Los Angeles in 1999 to work on the soundtrack to the Halle Berry film Swordfish and then toured with Madonna (he opened for her when she appeared in Cleveland in 2012). For his new album, Trance Mission, he revisits classic trance songs such as "Theme for Great Cities," "Café Del Mar," "Toca Me" and "Madagascar." It's a continuous mix that features all the extreme highs and lows associated with the genre.
"Trance Mission is an album based on 12 classic songs from back in the day and they are cover versions and the point behind that is that usually in the electronic world you remix music," he says. "But this was a fresh take that had never really been done. Imagine a white piece of canvas. You paint the picture and you basically redo everything keeping the integrity of the original, but also adding a new flavor to it or a new take on it. So, for instance, the original could be 128 bpm and you could pitch it up to 138. You could add vocals. It could be a different arrangement and most importantly it's a 2014 production and sound because some of these tracks are 15 years old. So, it was a process but enjoyable."
DJs often work with samples when they engage in similar remix projects. Not Oakenfold.
"There are no samples whatsoever," he says. "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. But we ended up coming out with a great bunch. We're really happy with it."
In the press release sent out with advance music, he says, "Fuck the boundaries, fuck genres and fuck rules and regulations."
"Exactly," he says when asked about his philosophy. "Who put those there in the first place? Where does that exist in music? The idea was that 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?"
He says he doesn't see a lot of breaking rules and breaking boundaries in today's young electronic artists.
"Everyone seems to be copying and using more of the same," he says. "It's very accessible. So people tend to use the same thing. But electronic dance music's popularity has gone through the roof. It's incredibly popular at the moment. 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 and it's come through the music through the likes of Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas."
While Cleveland isn't known as a hotbed for electronica, Oakenfold has made it a regular tour stop for years and says the crowds have been great.
"Yeah, it's a great crowd in Cleveland," he says. "I really enjoy coming there. So, when they asked me if I'd come back I was like, 'Yeah, of course I will.' So, I look forward to it."
Paul Oakenfold with Kenneth Thomas
9 p.m. Saturday, June 14. Liquid, 1216 West Sixth St., 216-479-7717. Tickets: $15, liquidcleveland.com.
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