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Career Remix

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Between trips to Ibiza, Oakenfold introduced the so-called Balearic sound to his fellow Brits at portentously monikered London club nights such as Future, Spectrum and Land of Oz. These happenings became magnets for hipsters from a wide variety of backgrounds, largely because of Oakenfold's eclecticism. "In England at the time, you'd have a rock club and a rap club and a pop club. But I had this idea of playing the best of all kinds of music; I thought, 'Let's mix it all together.' And when I did, I started seeing people who'd usually never come to dance clubs. Members of bands started coming down and hanging out, because there was nothing like it."

Such meetings resulted in opportunities aplenty for Oakenfold. Along with Steve Osborne, he produced a pair of platters for Manchester's Happy Mondays, the 1989 Madchester Rave Up EP and Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches, a 1990 full-length that mated rock and dance in so fresh a manner that it's still being imitated more than a decade later. He also formed his own label, immodestly dubbed Perfecto, and became a remixer for the famous -- working with acts big (New Order, Massive Attack) and bigger (Madonna, U2). With a client list like that, it's no wonder that Oakenfold has aroused envy among his peers, some of whom think he dilutes the dance genre by energetically selling its secrets to the highest bidder.

"There's always jealousy, I'm afraid to say -- but it always seems to be that way," Oakenfold maintains. "I mean, the great thing about dance music, in my opinion, is that if you find something really good, you can share it. You don't want to keep it private and not tell anyone. And I've always felt dance is a great form of music. It gives off good energy. Everyone, whether you work in a bank or whatever you do, can enjoy it. You work hard all week, and on the weekends, you want to let your hair down and have a good time -- and dance music lets you share that feeling with everyone. Purists don't want that, but I do."

This populist perspective is shared by other DJs who've broken through to the mainstream: Moby, Fat Boy Slim, the Chemical Brothers. Yet these artists scored with the masses via original material, whereas Oakenfold was known primarily for his associations with others. Perfecto Presents Another World, a salvo from 2000, exemplifies his approach. The two-disc package is a house- and trance-lover's dream, filled to bursting with canny, big-beat interpretations of everything from "Rachel's Song," a Vangelis composition from the Ridley Scott cult fave Blade Runner, to, of all things, Led Zeppelin's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You." But for all its appeal to dance junkies, Another World had little crossover potential.

To step into the spotlight, then, Oakenfold needed to come up with his own stuff. He took tentative steps in this direction thanks to a pair of high-profile Hollywood flicks; he worked with Danny Elfman on the Planet of the Apes soundtrack and assembled all the background and incidental music for Swordfish, an abysmal John Travolta-Halle Berry thriller. Bunkka, though, is his coming-out party -- and appropriately enough, it's crowded with guests.

Some of those singing on the album, like Asher D, who contributes random phrases to the propulsive/derivative "Ready Steady Go," and Tiff Lacey, whose winsome crooning graces the quietly percolating "Hypnotised," are only household names in their own households. But most of the other vocalists on hand are marquee talent. The U2-like "Time of Your Life" showcases once-and-future Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell; "Get 'Em Up," a heavily atmospheric hip-hop nod, is delivered by Ice Cube; the silky-flirty "Motion" places Grant Lee Phillips, of the rootsy combo Grant Lee Buffalo, in an unfamiliar setting; "The Harder They Come" pairs Nelly Furtado and Tricky; and "Nixon's Spirit" frames a spoken-word piece by none other than Hunter S. Thompson, the Woody Creek, Colorado-based author best known for penning Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Rounding up such collaborators proved simple for Oakenfold, who's extremely well-traveled and has a Rolodex as golden as any in the business. "I was fortunate to get Nelly Furtado, because I worked with her before she became a star," he says. "I met Shifty Shellshock in a nightclub; I was playing a show in Seattle, and so was he, and he came to my show afterward and hung out. I called Perry Farrell, who I'm a big fan of, and Cube, who I love because of N.W.A. and my roots in hip-hop. And Hunter -- who's not a fan of Hunter's?"

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts