Paul Oakenfold: Another World
The DJ and composer reveals the places that have inspired his award-winning music
Sunday 09 July 2006
My work takes me around the world and certain countries and cities have been a real source of inspiration at various times. At the moment I'm living in Amsterdam and what I love about this city is the pace of life - it's just so relaxing. There's a track named "Amsterdam" on my latest album, A Lively Mind, which was influenced by living here.
My travels have had a big impact on my music, from right back in the very early days when I was on tour with U2. I would go to the local record stores of every city we played to source local music because I wanted to play the current, big, track there, whether it was a local band or a big underground record that was a hit in that country and nowhere else. Sadly, some of the world's great record stores have closed down because of the internet. Release Records in Toronto no longer exists. But Amoeba Records in Los Angeles is still open; it's the size of a warehouse and features every kind of music imaginable. I still go there.
As I became more involved in production I started searching for ethnic sounds wherever I was touring. I wanted to use these as part of my production work and remixing. I've found South America to be the most interesting place for rhythm and percussion. North Africa, the Middle East, Egypt, Israel and Lebanon have coloured my production work. I've gone as far afield as China to find artists and singers to sign to my record company. And I've signed some fantastic musicians from Argentina, Moscow and Germany, too.
Once in Marrakech, I was wandering along the alleys that lead off the main market and I discovered this tiny lane crammed with ancient stores selling everything from household goods to jewellery. In the middle of all this was a record store run by a young guy who had an amazing collection of records, focused on Moroccan music and Middle Eastern tones and sounds. He played me the most incredible records, filled with mesmeric chants.
On Kuta beach in Goa I came across an Indian band made up of young boys and old men. They were playing local instruments such as sitars, tablas and veenas. There were no vocals but I loved the rhythmic quality of their sounds.
And hanging out in the cafés of Havana in Cuba, I found some really talented old men, a bit like the Buena Vista Social Club, playing percussion and guitars. They looked like they'd been there for years and were incredibly smartly dressed in black-and-white outfits. The beats interested me most because they don't play the normal four-four rhythm but three/four rhythm, which is far more Latin, earthy and sexy.
I took part in the Rio Carnival one year and paraded along the Sambadrome with one of the top samba schools. It was the most exhilarating and overwhelming musical experience, walking along behind 500 pounding drummers beating out samba, which makes you want to move your body.
There have been three key times and places in my career. The most important was Ibiza at the end of the Eighties. Ibiza changed and inspired youth culture back in 1988-1989 because it brought dance music to centre-stage. That was when the party scene on the island hit the front pages in England and when it became recognised as the destination of choice for everything connected to dance music. What I love about the island is that you get billionaire yacht owners rubbing shoulders with kids who've got next to nothing on the dance floor of clubs like Pacha.
The second place was one of the early Miami Music Conferences, probably in 1995. The festival - it's the major annual dance music event - had started to settle down and people realised that the best dance music DJs and producers from around the world were coming here for a week of fierce partying - and to do a huge amount of business. Miami is more relaxed than other places in the US. People tend to live outside in the streets, listening to Latin music. There's always a passing car with young guys blasting out hip-hop as a counterpoint. There is such a big fusion of sounds there.
The third place for me was London during 1992-1993. There was a boom in music at the time and there were strong influences from all over, like Italian house music, yet the scene was focused on London. That was the place to be for dance music - international DJs and music people from around the world would fly in to do business because it was where 99 per cent of the record companies were based.
Another important moment was my first visit to the Paradise Garage, a club in New York that provided the model for London's Ministry of Sound. It had a phenomenal sound system and a great dance floor. I got really immersed in the music there. It was where I first saw Grandmaster Flash - that really blew me away. Now he's on my latest album!
I got into travelling at an early age thanks to my family. My granddad was a travel rep and tour guide based in Spain, so we went there on holiday a lot when I was a kid. The first time I travelled on my own abroad was to Ibiza. I'd heard how exciting it was from friends who had worked in the bars and on the beaches handing out flyers during the summer. Now I love to travel. I like the idea of learning, touching, smelling, seeing, feeling and experiencing the basic things that people forget about unless they are discovering new places. I love the sheer fun and excitement of it. I was in Istanbul three Saturdays ago and I crossed the bridge over the Bosphorus to eat lunch in Asia. It was an awesome experience; sitting by the huge river at the Gateway to Asia.
And if you do the amount of travelling that I do, it presents a real challenge, which I like to rise to. I now fly up to four times a week when I'm working overseas. It becomes more difficult if I'm playing every night as I often don't go to bed till 6am and have to be up again at 10am to move on. If a tour takes me through different time zones I do all the obvious things to avoid jet-lag, like avoiding alcohol, and I tend not to eat on planes. I prefer to eat before I get on a flight so that I can go straight to sleep, especially on an overnight flight from the States.
I've started working more in film for the past three or four years, scoring soundtracks, so when I'm travelling I do a tremendous amount of work sampling music off the beaten track. I don't listen to pop or dance music much. I source a lot of ethnic sounds and I've been slowly building up a library. I enjoy being on planes - it is enforced time to yourself. I use the time to clear my mind, to read, watch films, sleep, write and prepare for work by listening to new music.
Buenos Aires, Moscow and Shanghai have become my favourite cities to DJ in. They are all on the brink of change. I've visited them once or twice a year over the past 10 years and it has been fascinating watching them develop. They're now an accepted part of the clubbing scene and the locals are very receptive to new music.
Shanghai is constantly changing - get there now because they are knocking everything down and rebuilding it. Go down to the Bund, on the riverside to see the old romantic Shanghai. Then look across to the other bank, futuristic Pudong, the most exciting modern cityscape I've ever seen in terms of design and architecture.
Shanghai is home to my favourite restaurant, M on the Bund. It's arguably the best restaurant in the world in terms of its amazing view looking out across the river to Pudong. And the Mediterranean Chinese fusion fare is superb.
Moscow is electric at the moment. I played to an 8,000-strong crowd last time I was there and it has become a big dance city. But it has got to be the most expensive city in the world- with some of the finest restaurants I've eaten in.
In Buenos Aires I went to a Sunday afternoon tango session at one of the oldest ballrooms, Café Ideal, where elderly people were taking to the floor. I was inspired by the dancers' passion and joy and dedication and the sultry quality of the music.
I've also played in some strange and remote places, such as Alaska and Chile and even the Great Wall of China. I'm really into pushing the envelope - I would love to play in Burma and Tibet.
Yahoo! Music celebrates the DJ Centenary this summer. Journey through DJ history at yahoo.co.uk/ djcentenary and find answers to DJ-related questions through Yahoo! Answers. 'A Lively Mind' by Paul Oakenfold is out now on Perfecto Records, price £9.99
My coolest hotel
It has to be Claridge's (020-7629 8860; claridges.co.uk). I walk in there and am always overwhelmed by the charm and history. Some might consider it stuffy, but I don't. The staff are extremely friendly and get to know you by name, which is really important: every time I take my mum there they recognise her and say hello. The service is second to none. I love the way they strive to fulfil your wishes rather than say, no, they can't do something. I love the style: the old marble baths, big showers, big beds. The decor is different in every room. I like knowing that this old hotel, nevertheless, has an open-minded attitude toward youth and young people.
My top holiday pastime
I like to do absolutely nothing when I go on holiday. The last place I visited was San Diego. I had a week off and I went to stay at the Four Seasons (001 760 603 6800; fourseasons.com) just outside the city in Aviara. I just binged on working out and watching movies every day. I'm a member of the British Academy of Film and Television in LA, so I had to watch all the films that were nominated for Oscars, because I'm on the voting panel.
My favourite resort
Cabo San Lucas in Baja California on the Mexican coast is an inspirational place. It's only a two-hour flight from Los Angeles but it still has the romance of a little town and hasn't been overdeveloped. The beaches are amazing: they stretch as far as the eye can see and the water is extremely clean. In the evenings, its wide variety of restaurants and bars serve great food. This was where Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe came to recharge and relax during the 1950s.
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