Paul Oakenfold: Bunkka

Paul Oakenfold

Music purists, however heartfelt their intentions are, can be annoying. These “fair-weather” fans tend to get upset when their favorite artists want to branch out and try something new or different. They did it with the Beatles, with Prince, and with Dave Matthews. These are the same people (or types of people) that are calling Bunkka, Paul Oakenfold’s first album of all original material, his “sellout” disc. They feel that Oakey, as the fans refer to him, should only remix and DJ.

Known as “the DJ, remixer and producer responsible for breaking house music in Britain”, Oakenfold has been in the business well for over twenty years. He started DJ-ing at the age of 16 with fellow DJ Trevor Fung, spinning soul and rare-groove tunes at a basement bar in England’s Covenant Garden. He also spent a good amount of the late ’70s in New York City, working for Arista records and whiling away countless evenings at the Paradise Garage, his musical diversity being molded and shaped by DJ Larry Levan.

Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Oakenfold returned to England in the early ’80s and worked as a club promoter, a DJ, and as the British agent for Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys. In 1987, Oakenfold and Fung were introduced to the exploding club scene on the vacation island of Ibiza. So impressed with Ibiza’s mix of house, soul, Italian disco, and alternative music (later dubbed Balearic), he imported the style to good old mother England. From there, his resumé just exploded. He ran several club nights around Great Britain, including “Future” at the Sound Shaft and “Land of Oz” at Heaven. He, along with Steve Osborne, produced the Happy Mondays’ highly acclaimed break out LP Pills N’ Thrills N’ Bellyaches as well as Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. Then came the numerous remixes he’s done, for artists as diverse as Simply Red, Massive Attack, M People, and Snoop Doggy Dogg. We haven’t even mentioned the tours with INXS and U2, his multiple mix albums or his residency at England’s super club Cream (which ended in 1999). Oakenfold purists love this stuff, and they would be so giddy if he continued this way forever. Well, he didn’t, and now the purists have their collective glow sticks all in a bunch, which, honestly isn’t necessary. The record’s not that good.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a phenomenal album two years ago, when it was called Movement In Still Life (2000, EMD/Nettwerk) and BT released it. Now, in 2002, it just seems dated. The opening track, “Ready, Steady, Go” is okay. I fully expect to hear it in a Volkswagen or Mitsubishi commercial sometime in the very near future. But from that point on, you’ve either heard it all before (“Southern Sun”, “ZooYork”) or you really don’t want to hear it (“Nixon’s Spirit”, featuring a mumbling Hunter S. Thompson on lead vocal). Even with a somewhat above-par guest list that features Nelly Furtado, Perry Farrell, Ice Cube, and Crazy Town’s Shifty Shellshock (hey, I said “somewhat above-par”), Bunkka fails to break any new ground.

So purists, let Paul go through this phase. Once he sees that his “sellout” disc isn’t selling, he’ll go back to his old ways. Happy now?