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Just as the new millennium was starting, PAUL OAKENFOLD decided to get back to his roots. Oakenfold was very probably the world's leading DJ and certainly one of the crucial figures in the relentless rise of club culture, yet there was still no album that truly represented his own personal landscape and musical vision. Despite his long and distinguished work as a re-mixer and producer, the real Oakenfold had still to be revealed as an artist.
"For the past 10 years I've been creating music under various different names, but I was never comfortable with putting out an Oakenfold record," he said. "It was, however, an idea that I'd been thinking about for a long time and Steve Osborne, my colleague in some of the production work I was doing at the time, kept putting pressure on me, saying 'you should do it, you should do it'. So eventually I felt it was time to make that record."
The result was Bunkka, the first genuine Paul Oakenfold album, released by Maverick Records on June 18, 2002. It is an album that confronted most people's pre-conceptions of Paul Oakenfold. While much of the musical vocabulary is borrowed from dance technology, this was no conventional dance album. "I'd always wanted to do something that represented my own musical background," he says. "I grew up on pop music, I love guitar bands, and I was very influenced and involved in hip-hop during the early days, so I wanted to build from those roots upwards rather than doing a contemporary dance record." By his own admission, however, Oakenfold is no singer. To help realize his ambition he enlisted a disparate collection of talents, including Grant-Lee Phillips, founder of '90s L.A. rock band Grant Lee Buffalo.
Oakenfold's restless imagination has been evident throughout his career. His signature can be seen in everything from the early rise of hip-hop and the re-invention of British dance culture. Most recently, Oakenfold's talents have also been recognized by the American film industry. He scored the music for John Travolta's 2001 movie, Swordfish, and also contributed to director Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes.
Running concurrently with his burgeoning film career, Oakenfold recently had five albums in the American Top 50 Electronic Chart. They included Perfecto Presents Another World which, when released at the end of 2000, became America's biggest-ever DJ mix album.
His career began in London at the end of the '70s, when Oakenfold learned the DJ craft in small clubs around the city's West End. Oakenfold's rising reputation led to a job as an A&R man at the U.K.-based Champion Records where his first signing was Will Smith, then performing as the latter half of Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. Oakenfold's second was Salt-N-Pepa. From Champion, Oakenfold moved to the London offices of the Profile and Def Jam record companies. By this time, however, Oakenfold's priority reverted to his DJ career, an ambition soon to be amply fulfilled.
Oakenfold changed European youth culture in the late '80s and early '90s. He was among the first DJs to start regular club sessions on the Spanish island of Ibiza, leading to a new sound in dance music and the now-annual pilgrimage of European youth to the island each summer. Oakenfold also started regular 'Balearic' club nights in London, attracting not only the regular London dance audience but also a cross-over of youth culture and styles, including the U.K. rock bands Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, which were subsequently to become pivotal in influencing British popular music.
In 1989 Oakenfold and his production partner Steve Osborne were asked to produce Happy Mondays. The result was the Madchester Rave On EP, a record that inspired a whole generation of U.K. artists. It preceded the biggest album of the band's career, the Oakenfold/Osborne produced Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches in 1990.
It was the start of a long connection between Oakenfold and rock music. He was the DJ at several significant British rock concerts and, along with Osborne, re-mixed such U.K. bands as New Order, The Cure, and Massive Attack. Indeed, the Oakenfold/Osborne team were nominated by the BPI - the U.K. equivalent of the Grammy Awards - as Best Producers in 1990.
A year later, in 1991, Oakenfold was approached by U2, who were then finishing the Achtung Baby album. He ended up re-mixing "Even Better Than the Real Thing" and "Mysterious Ways," giving the band an entirely new dimension. Indeed, Oakenfold's mix of "Even Better Than the Real Thing" was released as a single in its own right, reaching higher in the U.K. chart than U2's original version. These activities were the start of Oakenfold's very long partnership with the band. He was, for instance, invited to DJ on the historic ZOO TV tour; most recently, Oakenfold re-mixed "Beautiful Day," a Number One hit for U2 on U.S. dance charts.
Determined to control his own destiny, Oakenfold launched his own U.K. record label, Perfecto, in 1990. In the subsequent years, Perfecto has been not only a conduit for Oakenfold's own re-mix activities but also a platform for new talent, encouraging such international DJ talents as Timo Maas and Hernán Cattáneo.
As a re-mixer, Oakenfold has an enormous number of credits, working with everyone from Arrested Development and Snoop Doggy Dogg to Madonna, for whom he re-mixed "What It Feels Like for a Girl."
It is now probable that Oakenfold is the world's number one DJ, if there was any precise way of quantifying such a claim. Certainly, Oakenfold has travelled the world - among the places he's played are Anchorage, Beijing, Bombay, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Punta del Este in Uruguay, South Korea, Macao in China; Manila in the Philippines; Johannesburg in South Africa, Egypt, and Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam.