Superstar DJ and remixer extraordinaire, Paul Oakenfold reveals that, among other things, his dad’s skiffle band proved more than influential on his formative years…
I always remember that the first kind of music I heard as a young boy was through my father, him being a musician. At the time we were living in Highbury, North London, near Arsenal’s old football ground. My dad was in a skiffle band, which was a British offshoot of rock ’n’ roll, so a lot of his fellow musicians would come round the house. During that period, my mum and dad could only afford to go out once a week, it was always a Saturday night when you’d take your girl out and dress up, and in the background they’d be playing Beatles and Elvis. I never really understood why I knew a lot of the words to Beatles’ songs until I got older and then I realised it was because I was hearing them constantly in the background. I guess aged five I didn’t really know what it was, but I was singing along anyway.
Is there one record that’s stayed with me more than any other? I only like my records [laughs]. Actually, I’d have to say a record that’s been a big part of my life – and strangely enough the lyrical content is still relevant today even through the record is many, many years old – is Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’. I really love the tone of his voice. I just love soul music. I’m a big fan of Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, The Isley Brothers. During the period when I first started getting into music, that was the music. It was a big moment for me. It was all about going to a record store and buying imports. ‘What’s Going On’, that’d be the album. And also Bob Marley, ‘Exodus’, that’s another. I’m a bit demoralised with music now, especially electronic music. I can’t find great stuff any more. There’s so much out there that’s just average.
When I first started out DJing, the person who inspired me and that I looked up to was a DJ called Trevor Fung. He just had great musical taste, and a lot of knowledge. He was a good looking guy and dressed well. At that time, at least in theory, no one took any notice of the DJ, but Trevor brought something to the table that attracted a lot of attention. He had a good understanding of how to put records together, how to tell a story on the dancefloor. He knew how to get people dancing and keep them there. Back in those days it was nothing like it is now. You’d stand around the dancefloor waiting for someone to go on it, and then the girls would all be standing in a circle with their handbags, with the guys just hovering around. But Trevor had a way of changing all that. He was very passionate about music.
I moved to New York for two years in the early 80s. It was a great time, a really important part of my life. I was living on 169th Street, in what was known as Puerto Rican Harlem. I was with my buddy who had family there and we were sleeping on the floor the whole time. There’s a lot of things that went on during that period that really shaped the way I am today. It brought a strong work ethic, never having to rely on anyone else and an understanding that only I can make things happen.
It’s the first time I’d ever lived alone, let alone lived abroad. I had no family around me and you definitely get those moments of doubt, “What am I doing here? What’s going on?”, it really shapes your character and gives you a lot of strength. I kept thinking, “I’m here for a reason”. You just have to get on with it through good and bad times. We got robbed, and couldn’t go to the police station because we were illegals. That was a big blow because we lost all the money that we’d made. It was tough. I think I realised it was time to move back after we got robbed for the second time! [Laughs] I was like, “I’m out of here!”. To be honest, it had run its course anyway. I felt like I’d achieved what I’d wanted to achieve. I learnt a lot, I had plenty to say, and I felt that I could go back [to London] and get myself a job in the record industry.