ARTICLE NATASHA STAGG, (EDM)ILY
Paul Oakenfold is one of the most widely appreciated DJs in the world, with a music-making history so dense and influential, it’s difficult to compile digitally. Although he’s a self-described trance DJ first and a producer second, he’s known, too, for fusing unexpected genres. His steady work of breaking barriers in beat matching is partially what’s kept his name so prominent for decades. At 50, Oakenfold is still making records no one has tried yet, hand-picking who we’ll all be listening to next, and touring, after taking a long break to write music for films. It’s hard to contemplate all the work he’s done in terms of numbers, because even the long lists of chart-topping tracks he’s written and produced don’t come close to describing the nights he’s made for hundreds of millions of people worldwide throughout his party-providing career. And more baffling is the time span: When he started DJing in the late 1970s, no public record of club-goers’ happiness was kept as per today with social media. The live sets weren’t up online later, they were played with records, a combination of songs only available that night for one lucky crowd.
A new heavyweight in the trance scene, Danny Howard knows the ups and downs of the current status quo. Now, shows and mixes are held up to scrutiny immediately after going live, which means it’s every DJ’s ego for itself. Up against the entire world and hundreds of thousands of wannabe DJs, its saying a lot to simply make a name for one’s self, much less a viable career here. And at 26 (about half Oakenfold’s age), Howard’s making more than goal.
Oakenfold and Howard released their first collaboration, “Ready For Love,” last November, melding their two distinct yet versatile sounds. The two tell us they are worlds apart in many ways, but see eye to eye when it comes to purity of form. Both describe DJing as part fulfilling a crowd’s expectations, and part teaching that crowd something new. While Oakenfold helped to establish Ibiza as an electronic music breeding ground, Howard was recently awarded a residency at Pacha Ibiza by the BBC, something he considers a dream come true, the city being a “spiritual home for dance music” to Brits. The stars have aligned for the master and the student, as both are making leaps this year in their already impressive careers, with many an interconnecting pivot point to follow their successful single. Another sign from above that all is falling into place? Howard’s first NYC show is with Oakenfold at Pacha, New York, a welcome name for the Ibiza school of dance grad. V caught up with Howard and Oakenfold that very evening to talk new sounds, current trends, and Oakenfold’s involvement in the bling ring scandal that inspired a film.
You’re playing at Pacha tonight. Have you been there?
DANNY HOWARD I’ve been to Pacha in Ibiza because I did a residency there… The VIP section is actually bigger than the dance floor.
They price the tickets really funny there. For “VIP girls” it’s $35 but “VIP regular” was $100.
DH They do that a lot in Asian countries. There’s so much political correctness in the U.K., you could never give a gender sale.
What do you have planned for 2014?
DH Productions, productions, productions. Getting a lot of tracks ready for summer. I’ve got a track out now on the Billboard. Paul’s on it. And then another track called Spinnin’ coming out at the end of February. It’s gonna be good. [To Paul Oakenfold] You have a lot going on!
PAUL OAKENFOLD It doesn’t seem like a lot because of all the planning we did in 2013. The first part of the year will be two records. One is mainstream; it’s my third artist album. That’s collaborations with singer-songwriters. The first part is a record based on classic tracks that I played back in the day. I basically covered them. They’re not remixes. So, those two records. And getting back to playing a lot more shows. I’m enjoying DJing. I left it for a while. I’m spending more time writing music for movies in L.A. and doing my residency in Vegas every Saturday for three years at The Palms. It was like being a resident on the radio. We went up when no one was playing electronic music there, so I was glad to finish it because it gave me an opportunity to travel.
Doesn’t Pauly D have a residency there?
DH What do you think of Pauly D?
His music? It’s like remixes of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”
DH He doesn’t play “Cotton-Eyed Joe” does he?
PO What’s “Cotton-Eyed Joe?”
It’s… bad. What do you mean by “cover” trance tracks?
PO Let me put it another way. You know how in the pop world where Justin Timberlake will do a Frank Sinatra song? He would take that song and then you cover the original work, re-do all of the production and you put your spin on it. Whether it’s changing a couple of lyrics, or seeing it as a rock version when it was originally reggae. In our world, very few people do that. We tend to remix. We’ll take a classic record and for the life of that record there will be remixes alongside the original. Then every three or four years someone will do a remix of a remix of a remix. What you do by remixing is keeping the original parts that you like and you add your own production to it. I didn’t do that. I started the record from scratch. Replayed the lead lines in terms of one of the tracks. I brought in a small orchestra and added a vocal to it. It’s a lot of fucking work actually.
Can you tell us some of the tracks you’re doing?
PO The idea was to make it a surprise really.
DH “Cotton Eyed-Joe!”
PO It’s leaked! I’m turning “Cotton-Eyed Joe” into a trance record. That’s exclusive.
You can’t tell us just one?
PO Do you know “Adagio for Strings”?
DH You’ll know it when you hear it.
PO The other record is very similar to the last two albums. It’s collaborations on songs with rhythms that work in the clubs. What’s changed now is with the last two records—that did really well—I was left-to-center. Now, because electronic music has become so popular worldwide, we’re now mainstream, so the record will be seen as a more mainstream record, but I haven’t actually changed the formula...We’re now in a more commercial world.
Who were some of the people that you worked with on the album?
PO Azealia Banks is on the record, ZZ Ward, L.P., Allen Stone. I’m looking for the next generation that I think are really good and cutting edge.
You’re doing a tour, too?
PO That’s probably the second part because we were only doing it up until Christmas. But because of the reaction we’re going to venture out into Europe with it. The album comes first week of April and that’s when we finish.
Don't you ever get tired of touring? How long have you been doing it?
PO Yeah. I don't get tired of DJing. I don’t get tired of going to great cities and learning and looking around and having fun, but do I get tired of getting on airplanes? Of course. Whether it’s an airplane or a subway or a bus you all have to get to work one way or another.
Might as well be a plane.
PO I don't know if it might as well be a plane because there’s enough people at the fucking airport driving you mad as there is in the subway getting on a train during rush hour. It’s the same thing.
What’s the next direction for dance music?
PO I think there’s an upswing in trance, just from listening to the promoters. There’s a lot more interest. In Europe we were always the main force and then came EDM and understandably, it doesn’t really bother me, but trance was there and house was coming along as the new thing. I think its good in some shape or form because all of the music was starting to sound the same and I was getting bored shitless listening to trance. I needed to step away because it didn’t inspire me and I don't want to be doing anything that I don't feel passion for. That’s why I started writing music for film because I found it much more challenging. Now I feel like there’s an upswing of producers in trance that are bringing something new to the table. New sounds, new tempos. It’s finding itself in a good place. I don't think it’s going to dominate what’s going on in the next six months. I think you’ll still be sticking with the big EDM sound.
Who else should we look out for?
DH Oliver Heldens. He’s a Dutch guy. He’s 17 years old. He used to do bootlegs and remixes. He’s also got a track named “Gecko” that I’m really digging. I think he’ll be one to watch in 2014.
DH He’s 17. And Martin Garrix is 17 as well. They’re on the same label—the label I’m signed to as well, but I’m 26 now. I’m so jealous.
For your DJ sets in America, do you have to change anything?
DH I’ve only played a few shows here. It’s definitely more commercial.
Where has been you’re favorite place to play?
DH Ibiza to me was really special because that’s where I played after winning the BBC competition. Being from the UK, it’s like the spiritual home of dance music. I know that’s kind of cheesy to say. Clichéd. But it really is. Ironically, my residency was at Pacha, which is where I play tonight [in New York City]. Dubai was pretty cool. I played a show to 15,000 people on a beach. It was me, Steve Angello and The Killers. It was so random.
That must be so weird, though, playing for crowds of mixed scenes. I’m sure some people don’t prefer it.
DH I think what they do is—The Killers go on early and they do a late ticket for the dance fans, so you get the mixture. And the people who don’t want to hear dance music probably leave. Then the people who bought the late ticket fill up the venue. That’s how it works.
So, the people putting together these shows just look at names.
DH Dubai is all about that. It’s all about association in Dubai. They have the biggest lineups. They have areas sponsored by different brands. Its great to play to that amount of people, but you can tell that the people there are not educated. People are just there because it’s a cool event.
Paul, do you change your set in the states? Some DJs say they have to cut songs in half.
PO It’s the EDM crowd you’re talking about. There’s two ways to look at that. Part of DJing is education. You can go and play all of the big hits and get this and that. Thats why they make their songs shorter, because it’s not about the intro or outro its about getting to the drop. A lot of DJs I see play 60 songs in one hour because they just play snippets. You’ll find probably that the people you’re talking about aren’t DJs, they’re producers first, who then become DJs. When you know how to tell a story through music, you know to let music breathe. You have to allow the music to tell you the story. You won’t have that big moment. Instead, you’re going to build to a crescendo and let everything out. That’s the original style of DJing. Now, it’s getting to the moment as quickly as you can. It’s usually the producers that become DJs that do that. Tonight, I’m going to play a song that’s four minutes with no drums. It has this incredible moment from Lisa Gerrard—you know Dead Can Dance? Her early works—that I’ve mashed up and turned into a trance record. So we will go into this moment where you’re lost in her vocals.
What’s the craziest show you’ve ever done?
PO I suppose it would have to be playing on The Great Wall of China or The Hollywood Bowl when I headlined it. Mostly because they’re so out of this world. They’re places that you’d never expect to have dance parties.
DH So, how do you adapt to playing before like, Madonna or U2?
PO You go into it by breaking down the crowd. With U2, they’re a rock crowd. No one’s really there for me and I had to figure out how to keep them entertained for an hour without them throwing things at me. Let me take some of the classic songs that the rock and roll crowd know, and I’ll do a mash-up of something they know with house music. And it worked. I did the same with Madonna, but with pop. With Madonna I can get away with it because Madonna is more pop and dance. Its great—mashups and remixes of rock records. I’ve got some great Killers remixes.
We have to ask you about this party you played for Alexis Neiers because we watched Pretty Wild.
PO This is a good story. [To Danny Howard] Have you heard of The Bling Ring? So the bling ring were these girls and this guy who robbed celebrities houses while they were in other cities. They attempted to hit my house, but got the wrong one. They hit the neighbors’ house. This is how it started. What happened was my friend, a producer of this program, he said, “There’s a 16-year-old girl who's your biggest fan. Could you play her birthday party?” And I had a record coming out and it was a big program, so I did it. Good promotion, I thought. I’m there for a couple of minutes before I realize it was the sister of one of the girls that tried to rob my house. So when I got told that, I said, “Hey, you fucking tried to rob my house!” and I had the police there, and she burst out crying. I felt terribly because I made this young girl cry.
Why would they invite you?
PO Well, there’re three girls. Two of them that did it, and one of them that didn’t. The one that was 16 didn’t do it.
DH Surely these sisters knew you were coming.
PO Who knows. I didn't see the movie.
So you didn’t play the birthday party?
PO Yes I did! The 16-year-old didn’t try to rob my house.
DH Then why would these girls rob these houses?
They were only robbing people who they loved.
PO Great… I’m a big fan of yours so I’m going to come rob your house. I should feel really lucky!
images courtesy of pacha new york