Pioneering DJ sets sights on Hollywood

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BOSTON -- Paul Oakenfold is famous as a DJ, but this week the pioneer of "trance" dance music assumed the unusual role of playing with a 75-piece orchestra for well-heeled, champagne-sipping classical music lovers.

By playing in one of America's oldest symphony halls with the Boston Pops, he is remixing the conventional image of a DJ -- a job that has itself morphed from obscure nightclubs to celebrity status as DJs tour the globe like rock stars, put their spin on popular music and produce original work.

In an interview with Reuters, the 43-year-old Briton said his Pops performance reflected the evolution of DJs and dovetails with his work scoring music for Hollywood films such as "The Matrix Reloaded" and "Collateral."

"I'm comfortable with an orchestra because of working in film. I'm just trying to attempt more and more," said Oakenfold, who moved from Britain to Hollywood five years ago.

"From these couple of shows we are already in talks maybe to tour something around the world and hook into local orchestras," he said. "It's a challenge for me and something that I would enjoy doing."

But playing with the Boston Pops in such an intimate setting caused him some anxiety.

"I'm so used to people dancing right here in front," he said from the stage of Boston's Symphony Hall, surrounded by CD players, a turntable, synthesizer and mixer.

"They are just going to be sitting there looking up at me, so I'm a bit worried," he said before performing.

Oakenfold, one of the most influential figures in global club culture of the past 15 years, is known for remixing songs by Madonna and U2. His audience has developed beyond nightclubs into stadiums filled with thousands -- at fees as high as $50,000 a gig.

The Boston performance, touted as a world premiere by the Boston Pops, was ambitious.

Oakenfold mixed samples and pre-recorded drum tracks, "scratched" on a turntable by nudging a vinyl record back and forth against the stylus, and played a synthesizer as the orchestra performed and a drummer kept pace with an electronic drum kit and another synthesizer.

The piece, part of a nearly two-hour "EdgeFest" concert by the Pops, was written by Los Angeles composer Felix Brenner and drew loud applause.

As Oakenfold played, some of the electronically produced parts were barely audible over the orchestra, creating moody atmospherics, although one section featured thundering electric bass drums that clearly startled the audience.

"You're talking about human versus the machine," said Brenner, describing the addition of a DJ to the orchestra as a live "symphonic remix."

"We're pushing that envelope. I approached a lot of different people to do this but most were scared of the idea. But Paul said 'That sounds cool.' So we got together with it."

Oakenfold's two-day Pops performance comes as classical music is gaining popularity.

Thanks to "crossover" acts such as Josh Groban, classical was the fastest-growing musical genre in 2006, with album sales up 22.5%. Meanwhile, many popular genres fell, including rap which dropped 20.7%, and R&B, which was down 18.4%, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Oakenfold, who last year toured with Madonna and remixed Justin Timberlake's single "My Love," said the music that made him famous -- house and trance -- will never be as mainstream as hip hop and other music popularized by the likes of MTV.

"You just don't have the artists and the videos, radios are not playing it," he said.

The Boston Pops, famous for light classical music, is in the third year of its "Pops on the Edge" series that has also featured singer-songwriter Aimee Mann and soulful Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket as it seeks a broader audience.
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