The Guinness Book of Records would have you
believe that Paul Oakenfold is the world’s biggest DJ. Don’t take
it too literally because he’s a tiny little fellow, just over 5ft
— no wonder they chose him to write the Big Brother theme music.
But what he lacks in height, he more than makes up for in being
nice and “y’knows”.
We met up with him on the Perfecto tour at the UEA in Norwich, back
in late 1999 — the golden era of commercial house, or something...
He starts by trying to hide a few cans of Stella on a ledge behind
a mirror — and we fall around laughing as they fall straight down
the back. We start with an easy one...
You’re meant to be the biggest DJ in
the world, so we keep hearing...
<interruption: Sorry mate,
I was just gonna pop a beer in your fridge>
Yeah! Surprised, eh? I mean,
y’know, I mean — “the biggest DJ in the world” — what does
it mean? It’s great from my point of view that the people have voted
me, y’know? In all honesty it means a lot but I’m not going to sit
here and say I’m any better than any other DJ. I’m not that kind
of person. It does matter when it’s voted by the people. Guinness
Book of Records was a complete and utter shock. They rung me up.
I said: “Why am I in it?” They said it’s based on achievement:
I’ve achieved more than any other DJ because I was first DJ to play
at Glastonbury, supported U2 and done all that. Again it doesn’t
necessarily mean that I’m better than anyone else, and all my mates
have been taking the piss out of me anyway! So, y’know, that’s all
it really means.
When you travel around the world do
you find crowds different?
Of course, y’know? There’s pockets
of people globally that are into what we’re all doing, y’know? From
fanzines to running and starting their own little clubs, and what
I want to do is to go and support those people — so I’m lucky enough
to be asked to go and DJ, so we go and DJ, and that’s what I do.
I mean, I do little interviews and support that scene, and then
come back and talk about it, and with the Internet now it makes
it a lot easier. This year I’ve been to Cuba, Vietnam, India — locations
that I kind of really wouldn’t think that there were little dance
scenes going on; Wanghai — Wanghai is an hour and a half from Hong
Kong, north, in China. They’ve got, like, a really good scene going
on there. All Chinese, no Westerners. Me and my mate were the only
two Westerners in there. But they all used to go down to Hong Kong
and go down to parties. So they’ve taken the essence and the idea
and started their own little thing.
Do they view you as a person who
will act as a contact for them worldwide. Do they all try to shove
tapes into your hand?
Of course, y’know? That’s good.
If I can help them in any way, I mean, on this tour, y’know, through
the course of travelling, I saw and heard Herman (Cattaneo), who
is a DJ from Argentina, and I was very impressed with him, so I
flew him over for three dates of the tour. I also met this DJ called
Mark Lewis who lives in Los Angeles and I really liked what he was
doing. The whole idea of this tour is to showcase their talent.
It’s all up-and-coming DJs, the Dopes and Jan Johnson, and apart
from Double Double Dutch, you wouldn’t have heard all of
We think this is a good value-for-money
tour, at £11 a ticket, compared to the cost of going to London clubs.
Well, sure, I mean, here, this evening,
we’ve brought our own banners, our own sound system, our own lights,
our own visuals. You’ve got two DJs and two acts, which ain’t bad.
But we haven’t made no money on the tour. And it’s not about making
money, it’s about giving something back, y’know? Next time we come
here, I mean, tonight’s sold out. Next time we come here again it
should be sold out again because we all give them ‘a night out’.
I mean, one of the security guards was telling me every other person
who turns up here, the acts don’t put in half the amount of effort.
(Discussion moves to other visiting dance acts, from Faithless
A lot of clubs nowadays seem to get
sponsorship from tobacco companies. What do you think of that?
What do I think of that?
I don’t. I don’t think, y’know? I mean, you have a choice. You have
a choice in life. We’re very lucky to have a choice to do what you
want to do. If you smoke, you smoke; if you don’t, you don’t. The
way I see it is if that students do smoke and they’re being handed
out free cigarettes, it’s a touch, it’s a result. It saves them
a bit of money, ‘course it does, y’know? So I don’t see nothing
wrong with it myself, y’know? Some student unions don’t want it.
You’re not forcing someone to take a cigarette, you’re giving them
an option — it’s your choice.
Do you go after the sponsorship?
No. Sponsorship comes to us. I mean,
we again are really lucky because Sega have never sponsored. Ministry
and Gatecrasher went to Sega and they wouldn’t do it. Sega came
to us, they said, y’know, we want to get involved with a person
rather than a club. What do you get when Gatecrasher comes? What
are we getting? Gatecrasher is a unique club, and no disrespect
to Gatecrasher, because I love Gatecrasher, and I play there and
it's one of my favourite clubs in the world. But I don’t understand
the concept of what you actually get. They put a few banners up.
What are you getting? The DJ? Which? I just don’t understand that
concept of why, as a promoter, you want to book another club into
your venue, y’know?
Do you prefer doing Perfecto tours to
just fitting in with another night?
Yeah, for sure. There’s quality
control on this tour. Even right down to the catering. We’ve got
our own catering here, y’know? And I enjoy playing to students actually.
There’s not much attitude and where it is, it’s the right attitude
— “let’s go and fucking have it and enjoy ourselves”, y’know?
I like that.
(Discussion follows about how it’s not just students at the UEA
tonight, but soon moves on to the university’s security guards’
attitude to top DJs...)
They just want to fire the guy in an old geezers’ suit, who’s up
out on the front, on the gates. Gordon Bennett! I showed him my
Access All Areas passes and he’s still “Park your car there”!
It’s like: “Look at all this equipment we’ve got — boxes, bags”.
“Well I don’t care, you’ll have to carry it”. There’s no
need for it, absolutely no need for it.
What do you think about the fact that,
as far as we can see, most of the biggest records on Perfecto have
been cover versions/rely heavily on recognisable samples.
Like the Dope Smugglaz’ Double
Double Dutch and The Word, and Pigbag — the Perfecto
Allstars with Reach Up.
The biggest record on Perfecto,
sales-wise, was Grace Not Over. As for Pigbag, yeah, you’re
quite right, but that was really, er... I was playing the original
and all we actually done is sampled it, well, we didn’t even sample
it, we replayed the b-line and the horns. Everything else is original,
like the vocals. As for the Dopes, yeah, I mean, well, the Dopes,
they are what they are. They smuggle, they’re Smugglaz. They’re
very much into.. well, you ask them what they’re into.
We intend to.
They’re very much like the new school
of the KLF, taking something. It’s Double Double Dutch. It’s
not a cover version, they’ve just sampled the lead line — le
de de lerd, do de de, ner ner ner ner. When you listen to the
rest of the album, there’s not that many samples on there. And realistically,
I think that’s unfair to a certain extent. You look at Puff Daddy’s
album and it’s everyone else’s backing track with him rapping over
the top. The Smugglaz have only got The Word and Double
Double Dutch which they actually sampled, the rest of their
tracks is their own tracks.
But, y’know, music’s changed. It’s easier to put out a cover version
than make your own records.
What do you do on your nights off?
Kick back. The same as you — eat
dinner, hang out with my girlfriend, chill out, play Sega. I’ve
got a Sega at home and I’m really I’m really into the games and
my mates are as well.
Have you played Beat Mania? (game
where the controller is a little turntable)
They asked me to get involved with
it, but I didn’t get involved in the end.
(to Vincey) You’ve got a proper student haircut there.
Matt: Hahaha — hasn’t had it cut
for 10 years.
Yeah, it is a proper student haircut.
V: Well, my girlfriend
doesn’t like me getting it cut.
M: Your girlfriend doesn’t like you at all...
Have you ever heard of Xenon Productions?
They have a list of about 100 big-name DJs on their website, saying
we’re no longer a DJ agency, but we will supply contact information
for £100. You’re one of them. (we produce evidence...)
You’re joking. Fucking bastards.
They just rip people off.
Are you very careful, as a big
name, about how it’s used?
Of course, y’know, I mean, you have
to be. The bigger you become, the more people try to exploit it.
Do you take all the DJing offers you
I get 50 offers a week. There’s
no way you could, y’know? I do on average seven to eight shows a
month — three Fridays, four Saturdays. One show a night. The majority
of DJs do two to three shows a night. Turn up, play, and leave.
And a lot of them play midweek. I don’t. I will not condemn them
and say that I’m right and they’re wrong. I’m not. I’m telling you
this is my approach to DJing and I believe I’m giving something
back. I get out there. I’m not on ‘till 12 but I’ve been here since
half-nine, walking around, talking to people, getting the vibe,
and usually after I’ve finished DJing I do the same. It’s very important
to listen to people, y’know? Especially the crowd, because that’s
the most important thing for me — the crowd. Y’know?
Is that a reason why you gave
up you residency at Cream – to play to new crowds?
No, not at all, it’s the complete
opposite. By being a resident in the club you can build the direct
contact with a clientele, a crowd that come on a regular basis.
Again, this is my decision. All the other DJs were going there,
turning up five minutes before playing and leaving. I don’t do that.
I go to the same club every week and it’s the reverse. So instead
of me travelling around the country, the crowd usually come to the
club. So you build up that continuity that no other club has because
the music doesn’t change every week. And it works. The reason why
I left Cream was because it was brilliant — I’d reached the peak.
I couldn’t go no any further and all I was going to do was to tread
water. Through experience I’ve found London is the capital of the
world. Everyone wants to know about London, right? London, it’s
no secret, isn’t happening at a club level like the rest of the
country, and it’s a very big challenge for me, so if I can pull
it off again after starting in London. If I can go back to London
and re-create something that’s half as good as anywhere out of London,
then it will be an achievement not only for myself but for clubs
in London because they’re no good, y’know? It’s a shame. It’s just
that it don’t seem to work in London.
Why do you think it has taken
London so long to start trying to build super clubs?
Well, many reasons. I mean, when
I opened Ministry of Sound as a resident there for six or seven
months. Ministry was saying that “We’ve spent all our money and
we haven’t got enough money to pay you, can you do it for our club?”;
I believed in the club and believed what they were saying. So I
did it for six months and I said “Look, I’ve done this for six
months now; you’re making money and I need to get paid”. And
they’re making out like “Well, we can’t pay you”, and it
was like “Fuck you! You’re in it just for you to make money and
I’m the one who’s packing the club”.
So they’ve been trading on your
Ministry, they’ve gone off and done
what they’ve doing. With London there’s so many clubs and there’s
so many bars — you got so much choice. In Norwich, you’ve got a
couple of clubs, so they’re all got to come to one place.
(some rambling by Vincey about
We came across a line saying you were
“reassuring expensive” — actually it could have been on your
I don’t think I cost a more that
your Pete Tongs, your Fatboy Slims. I think at the end of the day,
again, people have a choice. Y’know, I earn a lot less than a lot
of DJs because I only do one show a night. I could earn a fucking
fortune if I really really want to. I could be doing three shows
a night, working midweek, Sundays, but I chose not to because it’s
not what motivates me. Personally, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much if
I had to play all the time. Even on this tour — it’s a six-week
week tour, but we only chose to play Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
every week. I won’t play more because I don’t want to burn myself
How do you manage your time between
label and DJing?
Well, depending on what comes in.
If something comes in that I like and I want to do it, just look
at my diary and say “Well, I’m available, not next week but the
week after”, book the studio for a week and then I go and do
it. Next week I could in the office, following week doing a remix,
the following week producing. Same as anyone really manages their
time. Just open a diary and look at when you’re available to do
things. Sometimes you can’t do things because you’re not available,
but that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it, y’know? I was asked
to DJ at the MTV Awards, which was yesterday, but I was in Hull.
Listen, I’d love to have gone, but at the end of the day I was committed
to Hull and the tour had been booked three-to-four months in advance.
Big stadiums are people listening
I think they listening to me because
you can see the reactions, y’know? They scream or they wave, y’know?
I don’t think they’re coming to see me at all. They’re obviously
going to see The Stones, U2, Bjork. They’ve come to see them.
Do you play records to confuse
If they’re a rock & roll crowd,
it’s pointless me going on stage and banging out full-on trance.
But I won’t play full-on trance. I grew up on popular music. I like
Nirvana, I love The Beatles, I listen to Bob Marley, I sit at home
and listen to new age music. So I approach the job as a professional
and my job as a warm-up act for Bjork is to get the crowd going,
y’know, so that when Bjork comes on the crowd are going mad. That’s
my job as a professional. Not it’s ‘all about me’. I did Net Aid
the other week and I was first act on, the Eurythmics were second
act on, and I worked from Fatboy Slim to LL Cool J. I was playing
no banging stuff. I dropped Queen Another One Bites The Dust
and they were doing (some hand-waving thing). There were
70,000 people there and I’d warmed them up in the right way for
the act. That’s it.
Did you enjoy playing the old
house set for the Happy Mondays comeback tour?
Yeah, I did. Again it was the same
approach — what’s the point of playing all this new stuff? This
is a laugh, let’s have a party, pull out all those old tunes, haven’t
heard this in years, this is great! Then the Mondays came on and
you were into it.
Did the Happy Mondays' comeback
live up to expectations?
I though the record wasn’t as good
as it could have been, even though I produced it. I felt it wasn’t
as good. The record itself, I mean, I just felt the lyrical content
and idea just didn’t stand up. I felt the tour was great. The tour
was either going to fall flat on its face or they were going to
pull it off, and they pulled it off. They’re actually better as
musicians now than they were originally.
When was the last time you bought a
Last Saturday, in HMV. Sony have
got this collection of albums out where they get old Sinatra tracks
on, Dean Martin, Dusty Springfield. It’s nice to have in the background
while pottering around. I like all those collections.
How much space do your records
I’ve got two rooms as a library.
How do you pack your records for
When I’m DJing, I’ve got my boxes
of tunes and you’re constantly taking old tunes out and putting
new tunes in. You’re updating the box because today you could have
got a record and thought this is fucking brilliant, I’ve got to
play it tonight, so it goes in.
If you’ve got, say 2000 old trance
records, how do you decide?
If you have time you go to your
library and look at things, but the library is there really for
a studio purpose, so if I want to find a bass line, or sample some
drums, or get some ideas I tend to go to the library and pull out
When you’re actually doing your
DJ sets, how do you get all the records back in the right sleeves?
It’s not hard. It’s not hard to
pull out a record, then take the other record and put it back in.
All you’ve got to do is take that record off and put it on the side
and pull another record out. Once you got that record on you take
that record and put it in its sleeve.
Do you ever make any errors, spectacular
At the end of the day we’re all
human and we all have our off days, whether you’re working in a
bank or you’re DJing. Not every day you’re going to be on it. But
there is a certain level of professionalism, even if you fuck up.
You might be fucking up to yourself, you might be slightly out or
the keys are the wrong keys, buy the crowd really realistically
wouldn’t know that. The only way the crowd would know if you’re
fucked up if the beats are coming like a train coming off the rails.
But I can be slightly out and work it. But look, I’ve fucked up
sometimes and I’ve just gone like (shrugging thing), and
the crowds have laughed and cheered, and so have I. So, it happens.
When was the last time you heard the
milkman whistling one of your tunes? (Er... what time do you usually
get to bed?)
This morning was five. On average,
even if I’m not working I can’t go to bed at 11 o’clock, I can’t
sleep. I get to sleep around 1 to 3. When you finish show the adrenalin
is really pumping, so I can’t come off and go straight to a hotel
room and sit in a hotel room. I have to unwind, whether I’m watching
television or I’m sitting having a beer to myself, to come down.
Do you ever feel like inviting
everyone back to a party afterwards?
I do — I had a party last night.
About six people. I was hunting the streets of Hull looking for
anyone who would come. I’ve got a great little party trick that
I bought, actually.
(Pulls out Austin Powers talking novelty remember: this
is 1999) — ‘Ooooh behave! hahahahahahahaha’, ‘Yeaaaaaaaaaah baby!
hehehehehehehehe’, ‘Crikey! I’ve lost my mojo!’
We’ve got a sad cult movie
friend who bought the lady and the man.
I thought you guys would be sitting
there watching porn movies
V: No, we have girlfriends
(remember: this is 1999)
Can’t you watch a porn movie
with a girl?
V: Yeah, course you can!
M: Yeah, just not yours.
Name me the porn movies that you’ve watched.
V: I haven’t seen a porn movie
M: Grow up, Paul.
So a party back at your house afterwards?
M: Yeah, you coming?
V: You can come and paint the
music room. Century Red.
V: We were going to bring a record and
ask you to play it, but we didn’t, obviously.
M: Yeah, have you heard of someone
M: We appear to be the only people
to have found a copy.
V: I’ll email you the number...Can
we take some bad pictures of you?
Not really, no.
Then we spot a coat hanger with the No 23,
take a picture of it and head to interview Chico of the Dope Smugglaz
in the shower...