Paul Oakenfold has never suffered from a shortage of ambition. The English dance veteran brought acid house to Ibiza and helped turn an obscure Iberian backwater into a global clubbing mecca. He became the first DJ to play the main stage at Glastonbury, and his chart-conquering remixes have even outperformed originals by the likes of U2.
On forthcoming album “Trance Mission,” trance’s elder statesman has embraced a new challenge: reintroducing timeless trance classics to a new generation of fans who mostly weren’t even alive yet when he made his name as a dance pioneer.
“The idea was to let people hear these wonderful tracks that were a big part of our lives growing up and maybe even check out the originals,” explains Oakenfold. “I don’t know if this current generation has ever heard any of these tracks. They’ve only been in it a few years and maybe only know EDM, and this could be a good start for them to get into something a little deeper.”
Rather than simply remixing the tracks, as others have ad nauseum, Oakenfold elected to produce completely new cover versions using only the notation of the originals’ lead melodies.
“Everything’s redone on the track,” he says. “Imagine a white piece of canvas on which you do your interpretation of that track with a 2014 production sound, because some of them date back more than 15 years.”
Listen to the album’s entire first disc in the form of Oakenfold’s continuous mini-mix, exclusively provided to Billboard:
The cover album concept took form during last fall’s stripped-down club tour, during which he received many requests to play classics whose old-school arrangements and low-fi elements were ill suited for inclusion in a modern club set. Oakenfold says the idea also stems from his longstanding desire to rework Simple Minds’ “Theme for Great Cities,” an old set-staple whose live rock drums made it challenging to mix.
“I always wanted to revisit that record and do it the right way so it could work for a club,” he says. “Strangely enough, I did get to do it and it was the first one I did.”
No fewer than 50 tunes joined “Theme for Great Cities” on Oakenfold’s shortlist, which he and his Perfecto Records team eventually whittled down to the album’s 12 tracks. The second disc includes remix versions of each cover courtesy of his stable of Perfecto artists.
“There are many different styles under the umbrella of trance, and it shows on the album,” says Oakenfold. “From psytrance to breaks to new school trance, I looked at the original, chose the direction and hoped it would work.”
Oakenfold insisted on respectfully sourcing permission from the original artists, which proved to be a tedious and time-consuming process. By reinterpreting sacrosanct songs like “Adagio for Strings” and “Café Del Mar,” he also knew the project could face resistance from the fiercely protective trance community.
“Not everyone’s going to like my interpretation of a classic record and that’s understandable,” says Oakenfold. “I understand there are purists who say it will never beat the original, but I think those people are missing the point.”
Such detractors appear to be in the minority. Oakenfold has been thrilled with the album’s reception by DJs new and old, as well as on the dance floors of his North American “Trance Mission Summer Tour,” which kicked off in Chicago on May 16th. Oakenfold sees this as a testament to trance’s staying power.
“Trance will always be a dominant sound of electronic music,” he says. “It’s a genre that has a lot of emotion, and I like playing a melodic sound that really touches people.”
“Trance Mission” will be available through Perfecto Records on June 20th.