Paul Oakenfold: “To get into clubs, we made false IDs and told everyone we worked for NME”

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: dance don Paul Oakenfold

You produced Happy Mondays’ 1990 album ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches’ for Factory Records, who famously numbered each release. What Factory number is it?

“Ain’t got a fuckin’ clue! (Laughs) Why would I even wanna remember that?! I could have made it up and would you have known the answer?”

WRONG. It’s FAC 320.

“One-nil to you! It was a wonderful, interesting, creative, funny experience. Stressful at times because I had £100,000 to make the album with the weight of the record company on my back because I’d never produced a band like that before. We recorded in Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and made an amazing album. In terms of crazy stories, Bez reversing up a motorway was pretty dangerous.”


For a bonus half-point, what item of clothing did Shaun Ryder refuse to take off for two days in the studio when recording a cover version of the Bee Gees’ ‘Stayin’ Alive’ with you in 1999?

“(Laughs) His underwear? Thank God!”

WRONG. Apparently it was a black robber’s ski mask. He claimed if he removed it, his head would fall apart.

“He did! I remember that. ‘Stayin’ Alive’ was a different time and vibe. The Mondays were in a different place then. There were internal problems, arguing, and it just wasn’t what I’d experienced in LA when recording ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills…’, where there was this organic feel to what was going on. It’s a good track, but it wasn’t as good as what we were making in America.”


Name the two musicians that gonzo writer Hunter S Thompson mentions in the lyrics of your 2002 collaboration ‘Nixon’s Spirit’.

“(Laughs) ‘Course I can’t! I recorded ‘Nixon’s Spirit’ in a haze of glory in LA hotel Chateau Marmont, and Hunter was sitting there with a lipstick, a hat and growing in his unique voice. That was an adventure! Sean Penn was in the room; Jack Nicholson was downstairs. ‘Nixon’s Spirit’ was a lyric I got out of him about the American dream, but no, I can’t remember who the two artists were.”

WRONG. He name-checks Kurt Cobain and Keith Richards.

“Mr and Mr Rock ‘N’ Roll! During the boom in British super-club culture with Cream, Gatecrasher and Ministry, all the flyers would contain quotes from Hunter S Thompson. He’d never worked with a recording artist, so I called him and explained to him that his words resonated with young clubbers. After we’d recorded, he sent a letter to my lawyer that made her cry. Trust me, it’s some letter! (Laughs) But that was his character so you took it with a pinch of salt. I told her: ‘Look at it this way – you’ve got an iconic letter that’s him ranting and raving – which is what he does. It’s just your turn to face a character assassination’.”


You were the British promoter for the Beastie Boys. What colour wristbands did you once give journalists to create a stir at one of their early events?

“I can’t recall the colour, but to create a buzz, we gave them the wrong-coloured ones, so none of them could get in.”

CORRECT-ISH. HALF A POINT. They were yellow – but they were indeed the wrong ones.

“It was one of those things with journalists saying ‘I was there! – you weren’t, actually. You were outside! But it worked. The Beastie Boys at the time were on the tabloid front pages and they were debated in Parliament. It was a movement. The kids were snapping off and stealing the logos off Mercedes and wearing them. I toured with them, Run-DMC, who were off the charts, and LL Cool J. It was a non-stop party.

“In the north, they really didn’t understand the Beastie Boys – in Manchester and Liverpool, the crowd threw things at them because they thought they were American frat kids, whereas they were actually taking the piss and it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s like how ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)’ took the piss out of frat kids, but they became the voice for those same kids.”



In 2017, you played the “highest party on earth” by DJ-ing at Mount Everest’s base camp. How high was it?

“I think it was about 17 and half…”

CORRECT. It’s 17,600 feet – or 5,380m.

“I meant in inches! I’ve got one right?! Whoo-hoo! What do I get?”

Satisfaction! Anyway, what was the party like?

“Hard, difficult, scary. We didn’t even know if the DJ equipment would work at that height. I’d never hiked or climbed a mountain. I’d never even fuckin’ slept in a sleeping bag!  I trained for six months and stopped drinking. The higher you get, the more dangerous it is in terms of breathing and headaches. The elements are against you. It’s unbelievably hot when the sun’s blaring and when the wind’s blowing, it’s minus-16 degrees and you’re sleeping on the floor. You’re walking seven hours a day and it’s mentally tough. Left with your own thoughts, you start to look at your life and think: ‘What do I want to do with it? What legacy do I want to leave behind?’ But the sense of achievement was amazing, we raised lots for charity, and they’ll be a documentary about it coming soon.”


‘A Lively Mind’ was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronica Album in 2007. Who beat you?


CORRECT. For her album ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’. You supported her on the accompanying tour and then nabbed another Grammy nomination in 2010 for ‘Best Dance Recording’ for her single ‘Celebration’ (which you produced).

“I produced her, remixed her, did a few tours with her – and she signed me to her record label [Maverick]. Her work ethic is great and she’s incredibly talented – I did a show with her in a football stadium in Brazil to 110,000 people, and it’s not easy to walk out and have that many eyes on you every night.”


Who did you once interview while pretending to be an NME journalist?

“(Laughs) Bob Marley.”


“(Laughs) We were broke and in New York City in the early ’80s thinking: how do we get into these clubs? So we got false IDs made up and told everyone we worked for NME. It all went wrong when we met Mr. Bob Marley. My friend Ian [Paul] sat there asking him the most basic questions like: ‘What music do you make?’ surrounded by all these Yardie Jamaicans. We thought he was going to beat us up and get us kicked out of the club. It was like a five-year-old interviewing him about music.”

Your dance band Grace performed ‘Not Over Yet’ on Top of the Pops in 1995. Name any other act who performed on the same episode as you.

“Of course I can’t do that! Nah! That was a massive record, and she [frontwoman Dominique Atkins] went on to open for Michael Jackson at Wembley Stadium, which was a big moment for my label Perfecto records.”

WRONG. You could have had: Eurodance band Corona (timely), boyband Ultimate Kaos, Terence Trent D’Arby, Simple Minds or Bryan Adams.  Klaxons covered it in 2007, and you’ve remixed everyone from Britpop square-pegs Mansun to the Rolling Stones. Anyone ever surprised you by liking your stuff?

“Yeah – Michael Hutchence. He was really into my stuff and went on to do a solo album that I worked on. I’d mixed INXS’ ‘Suicide Blonde’ and he went on to do Max Q. He was very much into club music. He was exactly as you’d imagine him.  He was the rock star: he’d walk into a room and his presence would be felt. I think we’re all waiting for another rock star to capture that.”



You wrote the Big Brother UK TV theme. Who won the first ever series of Big Brother?

“(Laughs) God, these questions are ridiculous! I can’t even name one Big Brother winner.”

WRONG. It was chirpy Liverpudlian Craig Phillips.

“And what’s happened to good old Mr Phillips? Is his five minutes of fame over? Knowing how nosy Britain is as a culture, I knew the show Big Brother would do well. Did I think the theme was going to have its own life? No. It was a top five hit and Radio 1 wouldn’t play it because it was from  a Channel 4 show – we sold half a million records, and that record would have sat at Number One for a good few weeks if the BBC had ever played it. I got asked to do Celebrity Big Brother and I’m like: ‘No fuckin’ way!”

What is the graphic novel that’s published about you called?

“Oh my God! Is it ‘Planet Perfecto’?

WRONG. It’s close…

“Nah, it’s not called ‘It’s Close’.”

It’s ‘The Wonderful World of Perfecto’ – essentially your origin story.

“That was five different artists – I didn’t think some of them were that good. I don’t think they were close enough to how I looked. The last artist got closest to my likeness. But I look good with a mullet! I’m bringing it back by the way. 2020 is the Year of the Mullet. Let’s get NME behind this!”

Which 2013 Cher album did you write the lead single ‘Woman’s World’ for?

“(Laughs) I don’t know album it was on, but you’re right, it was the lead single.”

WRONG. It’s ‘Closer to Truth’.

“Again, another true, talented artist like Madonna – a strong woman who has been around for years. It was a song that I wrote and couldn’t use on my album so I gave it to me publisher – they rung me saying: ‘Cher loves it and wants to use it’.”

Anyone you’d still like you work with?

Ice Cube’s on my first album, and I’ve worked with Snoop Dogg on mixes and I even did a collaboration with Grandmaster Flash – but I’d like to work with Dre. I’d find that very interesting. I mean, I’d love to work with the obvious names as well – Adele, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran – who are great singers.”

What have you made of this summer of illegal raves?

“I think they’re wrong. Listen, I was part of the original illegal rave scene, but you’ve got to understand that now we’re all in the same boat and it’s irresponsible and reckless for someone to put on a rave. Listen, I get it: we’ve all been quarantined and I’m here in America and, like Britain, it’s a shitshow, but it’s not right to go out and put people in harm’s way and I don’t agree with it.”

The verdict: 3.5/10

“So what I am? Second to last? I’m average? Thanks a lot – I’ve never been called average before, but I suppose I’ll take that!”

 Paul Oakenfold & Luis Fonsi ‘The World Can Wait’ is out now

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