October 9, 2003

Paul Oakenfold: Is the Doctor in the House?

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Problem #1: I have attention deficit disorder. Problem #2: Techno songs average about 7 or 8 minutes. Solution: Paul Oakenfold, hold the sugar.

While everyone has a personal preference in music, it’s impossible to deny the pulsating sensation of techno. Maybe you’re not a fan of dance clubs, maybe you’re not even much of a dancer. But effective techno has a flow to it that sucks you into its realm and keeps you there. Paul Oakenfold is the master of this school, as seen in his new album Great Wall, a double-disc remixing standout artists like Madonna, Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, and Bjork. Along with these marquee artists who Oakenfold puts a spin on (no pun intended) are acts low on fame but high on talent.

Alfred Hitchcock once said he liked to play the audience like a piano. Oakenfold, the man known as “the world’s greatest DJ,” has a similar style. While other songs in the genre dive right into their hook, Oakenfold waits. He banks on his expected catch and creates a buildup unique to even techno, a music form that can easily lose itself in the perennially calculated world of heavy drums, echoing vocals, and rhythmic backbeats. Oakey’s “Unkle Remix” of Ian Brown’s “Fear” stands alone. The track slides in and out of the repeated chorus “You’ve got the fear/ Forget everything you remember,” with a building concoction of violins, jungle drums, back up vocals, and yes, wind. Characteristic of dance-directed albums, the songs flow into each other, never truly ending. “Fear” is the first song of the second album, and you can feel its spirit and melancholy drive in the soul of the next few songs. His “Junkie XL Remix” of Infusion’s “Legacy” hits a sweet tooth groove later in the second disc. Each disc flows well within itself, leaving the listener in a post-euphoric daze as they realize an hour sped by without having taken acid. Both discs find Oakenfold in top form. But in comparison to the second disc, the first half is not nearly as creative or entrancing.

Oakey’s one original track, “Hypnotised,” achieves a microcosm of the second part’s excellence. Beautiful female vocals, unpredictable background music, and a climactic buildup all morph into a song that makes me want to turn on my black light and have a personal rave in the confines of my room. In my opinion (and per the generic structure of most dance albums), the closing track is extremely important. If Rob Gordon from High Fidelity were here, I’d have him explain this, but for now, just trust me. “Motorcycle” is not only the nineteenth and last song of the album, but also quite possibly the best. The track is definitive Paul Oakenfold. Slow-build up, repetitively addictive vocals, and eclectic instruments all combine into the bang at the end of Great Wall. Listening to this album, you can just picture Oakenfold swaying from side to side with one hand on his earphones, spinning his discs, working his magic, doing his thang. The last image in the album cover is of at least 10,000 people raving to Oakey’s music, drowning in the purple lights of the concert’s hosting stadium. Unfortunately, most of his shows are in Europe, so for now just have fun climbing the Great Wall.

Archived article by Dan Cohen