As one of the first British DJs to grasp the possibilities of house and techno in the late 80s, Paul Oakenfold became a crucial figure in rave culture. His production work on Happy Mondays’ 1990 Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches helped create a dialogue between rave and rock; his mid-90s stint opening for U2 introduced trad-rock audiences worldwide to uncut dance music; and his 1998 mix CD, Tranceport, helped usher in arena trance as the biggest club music of the past half decade. But Oakenfold’s work also exemplifies some of dance music’s most gaseous tendencies. On watery mix discs like 1999’s Global Underground 002: New York and 2000’s Perfecto Presents Another World, the appeal of his wispy divas and chintzy celestial synths fades as fast as a sugar high, and don’t get me started on Another World’s frequent use of medievalist poseurs Dead Can Dance. Oakenfold’s first “artist album,” Bunkka (Kinetic), released this summer, is an improvement, a drastic streamlining of his style: heavy breakbeats replace the trance thump he’s famous for, and the songs are short and punchy rather than drawn out and melodramatic. Unfortunately, he’s still got a fatal weakness for ethereal female vocals–new singers Carla Werner, Tiff Lacey, and Emiliana Torrini prove just as irrelevant as DCD’s Lisa Gerrard. And the more talented guest stars–Ice Cube phoning in a rap on “Get ‘Em Up,” Tricky duetting uncomfortably with Nelly Furtado on “The Harder They Come” (not the Jimmy Cliff classic)–sound tired and out of place. Oakenfold will play with a live band (as Oakenfold) and also DJ. Aphrodite, Hernan Cattaneo, and John Curley & Chris Walsh open. Saturday, December 7, 8 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anton Corbijn.