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Pop Music

Oakenfold (L.A. mix)

The DJ and trance music pioneer is a star in Europe, but after taking a spin in the movie biz, he found a new home.

June 25, 2006|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Filmmakers who come to Oakenfold do so for music of pulse and emotional swell -- that's because he is a brand name for his great innovation in electronic music. In the early 1990s, Oakenfold was already a noted name in British music circles for his remixes of music by U2, Snoop Dogg, the Doors and scads of other tracks he bent and broadened for dance floor consumption. But instead of being known for this studio revamp work, Oakenfold would soon be labeled the father of trance music. He had pulled the sound from the beach scene in Goa, India, blended it with British house music and sharpened the emotional sweeps of both to usher in a sound that became all the rage in the burgeoning rave scene.

Trance still informs Oakenfold's work -- his live shows are, without exception, buoyant and affirming. He doesn't go into the darker sound or ominous vibes of some other electronic acts.

"For me, the show has to build to something big and positive, and if I go off toward something dark, it takes too long to get back and it takes it away from what I want from a show and from life in general. "

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Enter trance

THE 42-year-old Oakenfold was born in London and grew up mesmerized by American music and film. School was a struggle because of dyslexia; in pop rhythms and movie fantasy, the youngster found a world far more welcoming and inspiring. A trip in the mid-1980s to the Spanish island Ibiza changed Oakenfold's life. The head-rush and sweat of the dance scene there was more than an escape for him, it was a template for a lifestyle.

Oakenfold would go on, through trance music, to become arguably the most influential figure in club culture of the last 15 years.

He is a figure in great demand, especially in Europe. He declined to discuss numbers, but promoters said that booking a DJ of Oakenfold's stature for a few hours of spinning music will cost $10,000, a pair of first-class round-trip airplane tickets and the expenses of meals, a posh hotel and car service.

Asked if the DJ life is like it seems from a distance -- a fellow shuttling between far-flung gigs with a box of vinyl and bags of cash -- he said, "No, they wire the money first. I don't go if they don't pay in advance. You learn that early on. And I use CDs now, not vinyl."

In the video for his new single, "Faster Kill Pussycat," the track featuring Murphy, Oakenfold is a glowering figure in the background, shuffling vinyl on and off a turntable as dancers writhe in a gritty nightclub. Oakenfold chuckles at that conceit.

"That was the first visual, you know; it looks good for the video," he said.

Mainstream American music audiences have been less enthused than their European counterparts about attending a live music event where the star in the spotlight is fiddling with buttons and CDs or a computer console instead of playing an instrument, singing or dancing. Europe has long been open to the tribal aesthetic of a performance by a dance-scene DJ, but some American rubes shrug and ask, "How do I know that guy is actually playing anything?"

His answer is a laugh and a nod. "It's true you don't know. And sometimes they aren't, believe me."

Oakenfold has shaggy, shoulder-length hair these days and he isn't classically handsome, but in person he comes off as a high-spirited fan of music himself. "I can't wait to hear the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album," he said. When he is home, he spends a considerable amount of time shopping at Amoeba Music on safari to find the newest beats, the overlooked sounds, the forgotten anthems, all of which might fit into one of his live concoctions.

In making his own music, surprisingly, he sits down with an acoustic guitar. The man known for shimmery walls of sound and rapid beats starts out with a simple twang. His new album actually shows the imprint of simplicity. His first original CD, "Bunkka," in 2002, was jammed at every corner with special effects and dense music.

"On that one, it's true, I tried every trick and wanted to show everything I could do," Oakenfold said. "But here, now, it's more relaxed, and I think the songs have more space. People feel things more when you give it some air in there. It can get overwhelming and a bit numbing when you do everything, all the time. It doesn't have to be perfect all the time, either. At first, you try to do everything. Then you learn."

The sound of a jazz show at the Hollywood Bowl came up and through the windows of Oakenfold's house as he gave a tour of his home and proudly showed his collection of handmade crosses and folk art from Latin American nations. He was asked if he found that living in L.A. was difficult because, as conventional opinion goes, the city is without a definable center to its distracted sprawl.

"No, no, that's just it. It's getting a center now. Here in Hollywood and in downtown you really have something special happening here, something new and different. That's what's so exciting. I think this is the place to be. I know it's where I have to be right now."

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