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Dance music visionary on turntable technology

By Paul Oakenfold for CNN

Paul Oakenfold
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(CNN) -- For me it all started with two turntables and a mixer. That's what DJing is all about.

I always loved music and, like a lot of people, I was in a terrible band and it didn't happen. Then I saw what Grandmaster Flash was doing with turntables and it really excited me. I just followed my heart.

In the last couple of years a lot of DJs have been forced into using CD players, because record companies are producing less acetate and promotional records, and just burning CDs instead. With the latest players you can do a lot of the tricks that you can do with vinyl. That makes things easier, but you're losing the art of DJing to a certain extent.

It's what you do with the equipment that matters. We can all play the same records, but what makes you stand out from the pack is what you do with them and the order you play them in.

I'm still happiest with two turntables and a box of records. You're pulling records out, trying to match the key, the structure, looking for the breaks. With a CD player you can put the CD in, press play and lock it in time, and it does it all for you.

The most important thing is the crowd and I don't think they want someone up there DJing on a laptop. It's impersonal. With vinyl, people can see what the DJ's doing. Can you imagine Grandmaster Flash on a laptop? The art form has gone.

I don't download music because the quality isn't good enough to play in a club. There's no bottom end on it. It's the difference between going to the cinema and watching a DVD. There are certain movies you have to see on the big screen, to see the full picture and get lost in it. For me it's the same with music.

I'd much rather go to a record store than download music. I like to browse, to look at the sleeve and find out who's the hot new producer. It keeps you fresh and keeps you ahead of the game.

Computers have made it easier for anyone to make a record but that's also brought the quality down. It's great that technology has made music more accessible but the biggest artists will still use traditional studio equipment because you get much better quality. The people I admire -- Liam Howlett of Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and Orbital -- they are all artists primarily. The technology is secondary.

The record for me that brings it all together is "Papua New Guinea" by Future Sound of London. It's got a great sample, it's got the electronic bass and it's a huge club record. Those are the three elements. It's still being re-sampled, re-mixed and re-played. I just bought a bootleg that samples it.

When you're making a record or doing a remix you've got to come with a vibe or a direction before you start with the technology. If I go into a studio to do a remix I'll listen to a record 10 or 15 times to decide where the vibe's coming from.

You can't program creativity. The hit I had with "Starry Eyed Surprise" came from a sample I picked up from watching "Midnight Cowboy." You can sit there and be a tech-head, but at the end of the day the records are no good.

-- Paul Oakenfold is one of the world's leading DJs and remixers.

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