Paul Oakenfold, the world-renowned electronic music producer and DJ, has seen a lot of change in the industry since his career began more than 25 years ago. And perhaps the biggest shifts have come from technology — from the way music is made, to how it’s distributed, to where and how people listen to it, to how artists become known and signed to labels, to the tools DJs use in clubs to spin records.
So it was really amazing to have Oakenfold swing by the TechCrunch TV studios while he was in San Francisco this week. Watch the video above to see him talk all about the intersection of music and technology — where it’s been, and where it may be going. Here are just a few quick takeaways from our chat:
The Trance-Like Connection Of Music And Code
It seems that many people who are programmers also have a thing for electronic music. Oakenfold says that this could be because the “trance” like state that, well, trance music helps facilitate goes hand-in-hand with hacking. He explained it like this:
“I think that it has a lot to do with being in the moment, or trying to find the moment, getting into a state of trance, if I can say that. And what I mean by that is, you really need to focus, you really need to get to a place, whether you’re hacking, whether you’re writing code, or whatever you do.
And it’s the same with me in the studio or DJing. I’m trying to get into this place. And then suddenly you lock yourself in and you’re on this journey… [Programmers and DJs] totally connect in that way.”
Leaving The Laptop In The Studio
As much as Oakenfold has really embraced technology in his career — from the tools he uses to make music, to how he interacts with his fans (his Twitter handle is @pauloakenfold, by the way) — he still draws the line when it comes to putting a laptop screen between himself and the crowd at live sets. He said:
“It just used to be you and your music. I still deliberately focus on, when I am playing to the crowd, I don’t want to go the laptop route. I don’t want to have something between me and you. So, I run [memory] sticks or CDs.
I try to retain the art of what we do. The spontaneity on the live side, people can see that, rather than having a laptop. That’s fine in the recording studio, but i don’t want to go that route [on stage].
…I don’t want to be staring at the screen trying to get things sorted out. I want to connect with you. And then the barriers are down, you start to feel where I’m trying to take you, and then we’re on a musical journey together.”
Getting The Crowd To Put Down Their Phones
But while Oakenfold makes a point of not putting a screen between himself and a live crowd, it’s still increasingly common for the people at his sets to put their own screens up in front of him to record the show on video or take photos. This is not a trend that he’s especially keen on — to really experience live music, he says, it’s best for people to be totally in the moment, not recording it for posterity.
“People are just standing there with their phones filming you, and it’s like, this is not what we’re here for. …But it’s something that’s becoming, unfortunately, bigger and bigger. More and more people are doing it.”
Keeping The ‘Sparkle’ And Avoiding Burnout
What’s really clear when you meet Oakenfold is that he’s still so passionate about what he does, even though he’s been doing it for so long. I asked him how he fends off “burnout”, something that seems like it could impact professional musicians in the same way that it impacts people in tech. He had some really cool insights — balance is key, he said, and so is making sure to continue to embrace new things:
“In terms of burnout, you have people in the music industry that fall away [after] they have their moment… it’s important to embrace new technology, new media, and be a part of it. You may not like certain things but you need to be aware of it.”