Paul Oakenfold Keeps Looking to the Future Despite Being Pulled Into the Past

Paul Oakenfold
Paul Oakenfold Photo by Scott Ramsay
Legendary clubs, sold-out stadiums, the mysterious ruins of Stonehenge, and the powdery peaks of Mount Everest. These may seem unrelated, but they all share a common link: Paul Oakenfold.

Playing unconventional venues, transcending dance culture, occasional movie scoring — looking back at the English producer's four-decade career yields an exhaustive list of superlatives and awards. At his core, Oakenfold helped pioneer the trance scene — and electronic music overall — taking the genre from niche obscurity to popular dominance.

Which brings us to the current question: Why would such a decorated veteran want to play the tiny-but-mighty South Beach nightclub Treehouse?

Well, because it is a tiny, intimate club with a back-to-basics feel — well-suited for a summer set scheduled for Saturday, August 7.

"I've played everywhere in Miami: Ultra, my own shows, and, obviously, the much more commercial clubs like LIV and Story, but there is something special about Treehouse," Oakenfold tells New Times from his studio in Austin, Texas. "It's incredibly intimate, the crowds — you can literally put your hand across the decks and touch the crowd."

Playing something so unassuming brings a powerful attraction. Sure, it won't top a million views on YouTube or have a Tokyo backdrop, but it's clubbing at its purest form.

"it's a nice moment where you can come out of the booth, walk to the back, stand at the bar, and just hang out. Listen to people, talk to people. I enjoy that — I always have."

It's been 19 years since Oakenfold unleashed his debut album, Bunkka, a subliminal album filled with gritty 2000s electronic wit. As Resident Advisor noted, Bunkka encompasses Oakenfold as a well-versed artist rather than a DJ bombarding the listener with synth salvos and thumping bass. The 11-track album featured collaborations with artists like Nelly Furtado and even the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

But curb your trance nostalgia. Oakenfold intends to play all-new music he's released on his label Perfecto Records along with works from his colleagues.

"I don't want to play the same old music that I've played before," Oakenfold remarks. "People want to hear the classics, but for me, I just want to play fresh, new music and just come out all-new, exciting music instead of the older stuff."

But that doesn't mean Oakenfold can't reflect on those long-ago ravey nights in Miami. Like a hydra, every memory Oakenfold recalled trigged another — and then another.

"Those were great days. I played with the Miami Philharmonic Orchestra — what a party that was. I also wrote some music for The Bourne Identity, and I performed with CeeLo [Green]. We did an underground show where we had 20 female performers playing strings. And, of course, you have some of the Club Space shows, where they go, and go, and go, and you're DJ'ing, and DJ'ing and DJ'ing. Those terrace parties were something."

Oakenfold’s Miami appearance follows his latest single, "I'm in Love," featuring Aloe Blacc. Clocking in at just over three minutes, "I'm in Love" slaps and claws with each drop before retracting to spongy melodies and luscious vocals. "Maybe I'll be bold/Maybe I'll be strong/Maybe I'll be brave enough to say it in a song/I'm in love."

The track is an atypical ballad. Instead of professing one's love, it's asking the crush how they feel.

"That how it starts," Oakenfold explains. "People ask those questions, and it comes back to another person, and how I feel about you, and then you go to the next step — and that's the twist. It starts with just two words: kind and love. It's a great song with a twist and a fantastic vocalist whom I'm very proud to work with."

Up next is the release of Oakenfold's fourth studio album, Shine On, on October 30, featuring collaborations with Azealia Banks, Rico Love, and CeeLo Green. He is excited about the album's release but sanguine about sales in the digital age.

"The demise of record sales, the looming era of streaming, and you get to the point where you're not sure if people even want an album anymore — probably not," Oakenfold says. "It's an artistic labor of love now. I'm lucky I can release an album. I don't know how well it's going to do. The generation of today — and even yesterday — don't really want to listen to full albums, but that doesn't stop me."

Albums and singles. Coliseums and clubs. Oakenfold plans to continue his electronic homilies for some time. And with Art Basel plans and a 2022 tour with New Order and Pet Shop Boys, the future, in some ways, blurs with the past and present.

"Now that I'm back in the saddle, people want me to play this and that, and I don't know if I really want to — but I'll figure out."

Paul Oakenfold. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 7, at Treehouse, 323 23rd St., Miami Beach; 786-318-1908 Tickets cost $24.54 to $48.26 via
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Grant Albert is a writer born and raised in Miami. He likes basset hounds, techno, and rock climbing — in that order.
Contact: Grant Albert