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Oakenfold Skips a Beat

Paul Oakenfold is the world's leading club DJ, sweeping audiences from London's trendy gay clubs to Ibiza's hot spots. His fine sense for pop chart potential has made him one of the most requested remix producers. The spinmeister most recently turned Madonna's melodramatic "What It Feels Like For A Girl" into a whirling, sonic club anthem with its climactic rises and edgy dance groove.

After creating music under various names, including his spellbinding remix classic "Tranceport" in 1998, Oakenfold finally felt comfortable enough to put out his own record (or perhaps he was simply feeling peer pressure after Moby turned his DJ fame into pop artist stardom). The result is "Bunkka," an album with original songs that represent the Brit's musical taste and vision.

Released on Madonna's Maverick label, "Bunkka" is a bizarre blend of trance, rap, and contemporary pop that painfully reminds people that Oakenfold might have been better off sticking at the producer's sound controls.

London-born Oakenfold started mixing when he was 16 years old and he had his first experimental gigs at Covent Garden's popular basement bars in the late '70s. Soon after that, he moved to New York where he familiarized himself with the emerging disco scene, which developed his passion for soulful house music.

Oakenfold is known mostly for his adoption of the Balearic DJ genre, which combines house, soul, Italian disco and alternative music. He imported this sun-ripened style from Ibiza, entertaining crowds at his weekly spins at Heaven, Specrum and other London clubs in the late '80s.

"Bunkka" is quite a departure from his previous remix albums since its features the artist's own creations. By his own admission, Oakenfold is no singer.

To create this record, he gathered a genre-jumping mix of vocalists ranging from Jane's Addiction's Perry Ferrell and Shifty Shellshock of Los Angeles rock-rap band Crazy Town to rapper Ice Cube, Tricky and Canada's teen hipster Nelly Furtado. The record also gives way to three young and upcoming vocalists, Carla Werner, Tiff Lacey and Emiliana Torrini.

The album starts out with "Ready Steady Go," a high-velocity breakbeat tune with plenty of brass to last. "Southern Sun" with Carla Werner's vocals is a synth-draped pop song, drenched in Oakenfold's signature trance vibes. "Hypnotized" and "Motion" feature a fusion of triphop textures with haunting female vocals. It's a formula that used to be a hip trip, but its abundance has made it trivial and tedious.

Oakenfold further drifts off his steady course by including hardcore rap and hip-hop elements on the loud "Get Em Up" (featuring gangsta rapper Ice Cube) and the album's finale "The Harder They Come." The latter is a failing duet between Nelly Furtado and Tricky, which drowns in a dissonant, overwhelming sample-based production.

The rhymes of rap-rocker Shifty Shellshock on the fun-filled "Starry Eyed Surprise" are a welcome exception with its laid-back, hip hop beats.

Aside from one or two potential hits, most songs on "Bunkka" are buried under Oakenfold's intense studio wizardry. The multiple layers of overproduced sampling, wild breakbeat jolting, and mishmash of intense raps and uninspiring female chants do not live up to the hype that was created in anticipation of this record. Oakenfold never used to skip a beat, but he might have missed a few on this album.

February 10, 2003 in Music Reviews | Permalink

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