This month, living legend Paul Oakenfold is once again staking his claim to be the go-to international cultural ambassador for the dance music scene. This is a man that should need no introduction. Drawing on over two decades of experience, the UK-bred star has toured the world, produced records with massive success, ran labels, and generally been a badass shaman of sorts delivering an emotive selection of trance and dance cuts over the years to soundtrack the electronic music narrative. His latest project has been his Trance Mission—an album of re-imagined trance classics selectively covered and curated for a the current generation. Now with the album just a few days from release, we spoke to Oakenfold to get an idea of the objectives of this mission.
Though the conversation started off with some admittedly basic questions (“what is the essence of trance?”) Oakenfold fielded the questions like a champ and politely answered “Trance is melodic, emotional music” similarly noting that the music hasn’t changed for him and that’s why he did the album. Delving deeper into the concept behind the album, Oakenfold continued, “The variety I’ve done on this album are the styles of trance music today. This is not a compilation, but an album. Each track was made individually on my take of what and where I feel that song would fit into the trance world. So as a trance DJ, I play all those songs. New school trance which is 128BPM and a lot of my colleagues are making at the moment and then there’s the typical 138 trance, the psytrance sounds, the breaks sounds within trance and I didn’t set out to make these tracks fit together within the shape of a compilation. Now when we decided to do put out two versions of the album—one standalone unmixed for DJs to play and one that would tell a story through a mix—the choice of where to plot these, and the arrangements of these tracks ended up being very important part of this so it ended up giving a flow that seemed to work, so it has become a compilation of some sort. I never set out to do that. I set out to just do interpretations of classic tracks."
Waxing poetic about the various levels of meaning in this album, it’s clear that Oakenfold is not operating from a script, but rather speaking from his genuine passion and love for trance music, the scene, and his role within dance music as a whole. On the one hand, Oakenfold notes that the record is meant as a window for new ravers to dive deeper and on the other, a mirror of his own journey and appreciation for trance music. “The concept and the approach starts with the material of choice—that’s the most difficult thing—to choose the records. There’s been so many of them. Sometimes, I found it difficult to say ‘not this track, but this one” because there's a lot more that meant a lot to me over the years and are some of the ones I’ve been playing. Furthermore, the idea behind this record is to bring some of these the moments that we had growing up in the dance and the rave to the current generation—primarily in America—that have never heard these and have started to get into trance music. The current generation in America has really grown up on EDM; that was the big explosion. In Europe, we grew up on a different sound and I thought it’d be a nice take to do these versions and show the people. In terms of the production sound, the originals are 15-years-old, so these are a very fresh take in terms of the production. It’s a current, 2014 take on the sound and the software that’s been used is generally the software that I think everyone’s been using. It makes me think what we’ll be using in 15 years and where trance music will be! The only thing that has changed, in my opinion, is that the technology has come along and it’s easier to make music now.”
Oakenfold is wise and knows the project’s popularity isn’t guaranteed, despite how much passion and soul he’s poured into this. “Not everyone is going to like them, and not everyone has liked them. If you go online, some people don’t like my interpretation of 'Adagio for Strings,' but it’s been remixed 100 times! I was even involved in the early 'Adagio for Strings' with William Orbit who had the big hit with it, and then Ferry Corsten did the remix of it and then we had a pop top 40 version of it. It’s a very close record to me and I wanted to do an interpretation that I felt would add to the essence of the original composition, which is the orchestral side of things because that’s the moment everyone really loves. I wanted to add a big room sound and I wanted to add a vocal part with soul, emotion, and feeling because that’s what I got from the original and I love my take on it. I think it’s a great take and not everyone else feels the same way and that’s fair enough! We’re not all meant to like the same things. “
The wisdom that we’re not all meant to like the same things is cliche as ever, but it’s important. It's a necessary reminder in an age where technology and dance music’s increasing popularity has resulted in a flood of copycat artists attempting only to get a buck rather then do so in pursuit of an artistic purpose and give people and dance music fans as a whole, something special. “It’s this current generation’s music just as their parents had Woodstock and their moment with their music. This generation loves their music and they’re very proud of it. They love going to the festivals; they’re all online as part of really strong, wonderful communities. I really enjoy it. I think it’s a real special moment and we shouldn’t forget that.”
While Oakenfold notes that the moment is special, he also adds that it’s important that everyone digs deeper. “I hope and suggest they dig deeper. There’s many forms of electronic music and if you dig deeper you’ll start find a variety of more producers you like and more DJs you like. Unfortunately, one of the all time greatest DJs just passed away and to see Frankie Knuckles DJ was a wonderful thing. Unfortunately no one is going to get see him again, and that’s why I suggest everyone digs deeper and listens. I’m obviously hoping no one else dies very soon, but the point is there’s a ton of amazing and incredible talent out that people should dig deeper and listen to.”
Oakenfold cites Argentina’s Hernan Catteo as one amazing DJ that everyone should check out and adds, “If I can share, educate, and help in any shape or form, I will! I’m proud to be part of this generation that loves electronic music.”
One shape Oakenfold is pushing the movement through is touring. “I’m on tour at the moment and we started it three weeks ago. The shows have been actually amazing and thank you to everyone who has come out and most of of them have been sold out. There’s been a really warm and special reaction to this and I’ve been playing six or seven tracks from the album to give people a taste of what the album will be and it’s been great. It’s been a lot of fun and the tour will continue through America 'til the middle of July, and then on to Europe for a month and a half and I come back in September for a bunch of shows. There’s a bunch of places in America we haven’t hit and couldn’t before summer and that’s great. There’s a lot of clubs that want to hear it and the reaction has been fantastic.”
Beyond Trance Mission, Oakenfold has also had another artist album long in the pipeline and as I start to bring it up, he chuckles because he knows exactly what’s coming. “Tell me about Pop Killer!” Laughing a bit, Oakenfold answers and gives us the business in a straightforward way. “It’s finished and realistically, we’re looking at the end of the year or January to release the album, but there will be singles from it this year—perhaps September or October.”
The album has already had numerous rumors around it as far as who Oakenfold would work with and who would appear on it. "In terms of Pop Killer, it’s my third artist album where I’ve collaborated with artists with different genres. My last two albums did incredibly well, but in all honesty it’s an incredibly difficult process and it takes me a very long time to do these. One thing I that am curious to see, and I am aware of this change, is that in the past I was always perceived in the more commercial world despite the big singles in America and in Europe, as being left of center. I didn't fit comfortably in the pop world but now that electronic music has become commercial so my record will be perceived as a more commercial record despite the fact that I’ve done nothing different from the last two! It’s all about great songs, great singers and cutting-edge beats. As I said, we live in a much more commercial world in terms of electronic music."
Check out Paul Oakenfold on his remaining North American Trance Mission Summer Tour 2014 dates:
June 27 – Sunshine Theater – Albuquerque
June 28 – Interchange Festival – Bozeman
June 29 – Digital Dreams – Toronto
July 3 – Monarch – Phoenix
July 4 – Club Rio – San Antonio
July 5 – Stereo Live – Houston
September 5 – Republic Live – Austin
September 13 – Foundation – Seattle