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Travel to Los Angeles


Paul Oakenfold, Our man in Los Angeles

1 October 2014

Paul Oakenfold, DJ/producer, 50

The legendary British record producer and trance DJ found his creative zeal and lifetime home in the capital of entertainment, Los Angeles

I was born in London and had lived in New York. I was always the kind of guy who needed an urban centre – I enjoyed that whole culture of being able to walk around. Like many people, I would come through Los Angeles for work: I’d arrive the day before a show and leave the day after, so I didn’t have a desire to live here. Then, Warner Brothers brought me over to score the movie Swordfish, starring John Travolta, Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman. 

I arrived only to be told the picture had been put back, so I considered going back to London, but the film studio said, “We’ve rented the house; stay, enjoy yourself, and we’ll start in a month’s time.” Suddenly, I found myself in a six-bedroom house in the Pacific Palisades with nothing to do but find the rhythm of the city – I was going to the ocean, running every morning and being part of LA: exploring, hiring a car and driving around. That’s how it started 12 years ago. 

Swordfish was the first film I’d worked on, so I wanted to do the best job possible. I set up the studio in the house, like the majority of musicians in LA, and took six weeks to write the music. The movie went well, and opened doors to other films: The Bourne Identity, Shrek 2, Collateral and The Matrix Reloaded. After Swordfish, I was asked to write music for Planet Of The Apes; Danny Elfman did the score, and there’s a scene at the end where they wanted me to take the original music and work it in with what I do. What happens is, for some movies I write all the music, and for others I just write the cues. That tends to be the process.

As much as I love it there, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to live in England; Los Angeles is my home now. A few things clicked for me about the city. One: it is definitely the capital of entertainment. Two: I needed to be here because I was getting all of these opportunities in film. And three: I enjoyed being around creative people. Seven years ago, after more than 25 years of working as a touring artist, I finally found my house. Wherever you are in the world, once you find the house you want to live in for the rest of your life, you’re lucky. 

I feel I’ve found how Los Angeles works; I enjoy the climate, and the work ethic, which, for me, is an important part of it. It’s hard work; it’s the best of the best. Being successful in your own country is when you make your move to Los Angeles – that’s the best advice I would give anyone. This is a tough, tough city. 

We all tend to look at the glamour and glory and forget the thousands and thousands of people who turn up on a Greyhound bus and leave six months later because their dreams are shattered. I’ll be honest, I came here already successful, and that was the only reason I got offered these movies. There are thousands of other composers who want to do them. 

The LA crowd is great. They understand music, and I suppose that’s because a lot of music comes through here. I’ve played a lot of good shows: ten years ago I opened the Avalon night club in Hollywood; I opened for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers at a charity event hosted by the Vanguard in Hollywood; and I’ve played at the Hollywood Bowl twice – once as the support act to Underworld, and, in 2007, I was asked to play my own show. It was a big challenge to be the first DJ to perform there – and in front of 18,000 people. It was so memorable – really nerve-wracking, but pretty awesome.

I’ve been working closely with the board of the Grammy Museum for a year or so. We’re trying to introduce electronic music to give people an understanding of what it is and what the community is about. When I played the Hollywood Bowl, I, along with the Grammy’s, took a bunch of school kids from Compton, showed them my set up and then they watched a performance rehearsal. 

It’s best to embrace change so you can move and do different things. A lot of DJs are really hardworking; that’s how hard it is to stay on top. You’ve got to be relentless – on it all the time. It’s very competitive. My job takes me away from my home as I travel most weekends DJing. I like the balance of coming home on a Sunday and not leaving the house all week. Unless it’s at one of my shows, I don’t go to bars or hang out with DJs, because I’m involved in it all the time. 

It’s nice to relax, stay home and watch movies. My routine is to get up and work, have something to eat (or not) and maybe go out for dinner. I take my family and friends to two favourite restaurants: Inaka, which is a macrobiotic restaurant on La Brea. The Church Key on Sunset is also a favourite of mine. I’m a fully qualified chef and studied French cuisine, so I’m all about healthy food and understanding the art of it.

I buy records at the greatest record shop in the world, Amoeba Music. I really hope we never lose Amoeba – it’s a landmark part of Los Angeles. I’ve been going there ever since I moved here and enjoy spending an hour or two walking around. I get involved, look at the record sleeves, and feel part of it. I buy the same stuff over and over again. I’ll buy the Massive Attack record, then the box set will come out, and I’ll buy it but won’t open it, so it’s a collector’s item. 

Then I’ll buy Volume 1, 2, 3 of The Beatles on multi-colour vinyl… I recorded most of my latest album, Trace Mission, in Los Angeles, just because it made sense to do it here. When I have ideas, I can come down and share them at certain times of the day or night. I like the process of being around it all. 

My studio is a very musical room, and there’s a lot of history I can draw on; all those records (on shelves) tell a story; there are the awards I’ve won; the events; and the films. I’m at a moment in my life where I’m really enjoying my work. It’s this very creative time where I have musicians coming in and out – I’m going to their house and recording, and they’re coming here. 

I’ve nearly finished my new album, Pop Killer – my first album featuring all original songs. It’s a wonderful feeling when you’re recording and collaborating with different artists because you get to work on a variety of ideas, and then once you’ve a created something special, you mix it. It’s that feeling you get from being surrounded by all this music [that I love]. 




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