“Look, I’m not an EDM act. I don’t want to be a pop star.”
It’s a Wednesday night in Los Angeles and Paul Oakenfold is staring across a dimly lit bar above the city. “I’m very lucky people still listen to me and like what I do. It’s not easy. It’s not easy for anyone in music.”
Oakenfold has just finished a two-hour Q&A commemorating the 30th anniversary of his 1987 summer in Ibiza — the historic trip which helped catalyze Britain’s acid house revolution. There’s a sternness to his voice that blots out the white noise of the surrounding bar chatter.
“I find it a bit difficult holding my hand up and going ‘I’ve been around for 30 years.’ It’s not an easy thing to admit to yourself when you’re DJing to 21-year-olds.”
Three decades in the dance music industry have left Oakenfold noticeably sardonic, yet there’s a certain charm to his candid self-deprecation. Rather than gloat about his accomplishments, Oakenfold acts the part of grizzled veteran: brutally honest and perpetually self-aware. In his Q&A, for instance, Paul lamented how he wished someone had talked him out of his two-year Vegas residency, while referring to his 2002 global single “Starry Eyed Surprise” as “an annoying song.”
The fact is, by this point in his career, Oakenfold isn’t out to impress anyone — he’s done that three times over. This is, after all, the same man who performed on the Great Wall of China, headlined Glastonbury, and toured with U2 and Madonna — the same man who has sold over 10 million records on his imprint Perfecto and currently commands a global radio show with an average weekly listenership of 25 million.
Oakenfold’s greatest legacy, however, may be his contribution to British (and in turn, global) club culture. In 1987, Oakenfold visited the island of Ibiza with a few friends, discovering a new kind of clubbing experience fueled by DJ-centric dancefloors and rampant ecstasy consumption. Oakenfold brought this vision back to the UK, starting a weekly acid house residency at The Sanctuary known as ‘Spectrum at Heaven in Charing Cross.’ Over the next few years, Britain experienced a full-blown acid house revolution, which later came be known as the iconic ‘Second Summer of Love.’
“Youth culture became club culture which led to raves,” Oakenfold says. Before long, upwards of 50,000 people were partying in fields, giving birth to festivals as know them today.
Now, 30 years on, Paul is paying homage to this iconic era with an expansive world tour and compilation album, titled Generations. The tour finds Oakenfold celebrating the various stages of his career, from downtempo, to house and trance — all of which will be encapsulated in the music played during the tour as well as in an official, 3-disc, 60-track compilation album.
Much of his Oakenfold’s career has been predicated on his desire to take electronic music into new spaces, whether it be the Hollywood Bowl, or Wembley Stadium. His Generations tour will continue the theme, with Oakenfold hiking 17,000 feet to perform at Mt Everest’s Base Camp. “I really want to take electronic music and push it as far as it can go,” he says of the task.
What’s more, Generations will be a precursor to some even more ambitious international plans. “We’re in the process of putting seven shows over a few years in incredibly unique places,” Oakenfold says. “The first place will absolutely blow your mind, because it’s never been done. We don’t even know if the equipment will work.”
Though Oakenfold couldn’t disclose the location, he promised it will be worth the wait. “When they tell you what it is, you’re gonna laugh your head off.”
At over 30 years into his career, one might ask Paul what’s driving him to do all this. He’s certainly made his mark in the dance world and beyond, and could just as easily rest on his laurels. Yet, unhindered by the pressures of success, Oakenfold has perhaps found himself in his most creatively liberated state yet.
“That moment where I went to Ibiza — did I ever think the start of the scene with a couple of friends would lead me to sitting here with you, seeing the world through a box of records? No. I’m very lucky, I’m very fortunate. And I’m in a great moment where I’m just enjoying it. I’m comfortable with who I am and where I am.”