Monday, 10 November 2008

Pete Tong Interview

He's been A&R man at London records for over twenty years, has hosted Radio 1's Essential Selection since 1991 and his name is even used as colloquial rhyming slang. Meet the man who has been instrumental in a generation of music, Pete Tong.

Not every DJ has their name used as colloquial rhyming slang. When did you first hear your name used in that context?

It came out of the rave days from a fan base around at the time, run by a mad bunch of enthusiastic clubbers and music makers. But I always say it was down to one guy in particular called Gary Hayesman. I ended up doing a record with D-Mob called We Call It Acieed, a loony, loony record which Gary did the vocals for. He was a real 'apples and pears' kind of guy, even though he wasn't a cockney, he was from Slough. All that group were from Slough, Staines and Windsor and were absolute hardcore! One of them was Andy Weatherall who went onto become a legendary producer, but it was probably down to Gary that the saying 'It's All Gone Pete Tong' came about.

Tell us more about the film, It's All Gone Pete Tong, due for UK release on 29th May 2005.

The producers of it are the same, or one and a half of the same team who did the film Human Traffic, which I did the music for a few years ago. They always wanted to do a follow up but never got round to it due to loads of problems. Eventually they came back to me and said they had decided not to do a follow up to Human Traffic, but a next in the series that would be in the spirit of Human Traffic and about DJ's.

About two years ago they asked if I minded them using the name. I said that I couldn't really complain because at that stage there wasn't a director or a script. I didn't want to dive into it and really work on it from day one and then end up not liking it and be stuck with the name, so I waited and waited, until a point when I was comfortable with it, which was the summer of 2003 when they actually started to film it in Ibiza.

So I became more involved then, but I wasn't soundtrack supervisor because they were a company already making movies so they had one of those. What I did was work with director Mike Dowse on a number of cuts and the soundtrack, because although I have made a pretty major contribution to it, I wouldn't put myself down as the guy that did the score or the soundtrack.

I've ended up with three cuts of my own and I introduced Mike to Schwab who did the opening track of the movie which I think is really powerful so there is collaboration.

Have you always been into music?

When I was born, my dad was a feverish record collector and well into music and my mum says that I was very aware of any music on TV and radio, and was always banging drums or strumming the air-guitar.

At school I tried to learn a conventional instrument but I never really had the concentration, staying power or discipline to stick with it. I ended up a 15-year-old with a drum kit, playing in a small bad rock band. Then one day I saw a DJ and I just went crazy about it, really immersing myself in it. Then as a teenager, I started running discos in village halls which I would DJ at.

I started from very humble beginnings, literally playing for anyone's party, wedding or barmitza - you name it! In those days, unless you were a mobile DJ wearing a bow-tie, going round in a transit van, everyone thought it was a hobby. Even I thought it was hobby. No one ever dreamed you could make a living being a DJ at that time.

The biggest DJs influencing me, people like Chris Hill and Greg Edwards, they all had others jobs, so I followed suit and got myself into a magazine, writing about music. It wasn't until 2001 that I DJ'd full time, and that's probably one of the reasons I'm still doing it, because it never became boring to me.

Tell us more about your job at Blues & Soul magazine.

Blues & Soul gave me a good grounding because it was a real hands-on-deck magazine, so even though I was a writer, I also booked some of the advertising. I was thrown into the deep end of the reggae world but it was a great time and a changing time for the club scene.

It was quite a worthy, serious publication when I started, but I was one of the first people to introduce a DJ club chart, and write about the club scene as a social scene. I actually stole what Paula Yates was doing at the time in The Mirror, you know a kind of gossipy, what's happening type of column. Before that it was; here's an interview with Marvin Gaye, here's an interview with Diana Ross. It was quite po-faced, but it was a good fun time.

You were instrumental in creating Ffrr Records in 1998, a label within a label at London Records, which hit the charts immediately with Salt 'n' Pepa's Push It. You and Ffrr Records went on to sign names like Orbital, The Brand New Heavies, Utah Saints, The Cookie Crew, Goldie, Asian Dub Foundation, Armin Van Helden and many others. In many ways Ffrr Records shaped a whole generation of music.

I was there to assist, rather than shape - that's a daunting word! It was probably part judgement, part luck, and partly good timing.

When I started the Ffrr label in '87 there really wasn't that much competition. There were only a couple of other labels I would be competing with for any record or band that I wanted to sign. Then before we knew it, we found ourselves in the middle of acid house, the rave scene and the whole explosion of dance music in the early 90's and that kind of ties in with me being taken from Capital Radio to Radio 1.

I arrived at Radio 1 when there was no club culture as such or dance culture awareness, and I was able to exploit that really, really quickly. Can you imagine arriving on the national stage in 1991 when no one else had really been writing about what had been going on all over the country for the last 3 or 4 years? I was doing it on Capital Radio but that was just London based, so Radio 1 and the Essential Selection was just good timing.

Any advice for aspiring DJs?

Don't wait for someone to knock at your door and invite you to do it - you've got to be driven, single minded and as entrepreneurial as possible.

We are in the entertainment business first and foremost and I think that gets lost sometimes. It's a virtuoso, not a sport! It's not about being the fastness or the quickest. I think young people get a bit daunted and think they have to be the most amazing technical mixer, or have the rarest or newest records. All of those things have a bearing but really, the best DJs in the world are the ones who know how to rock a room, and that isn't necessarily about being the best mixer or having records no one else has got. It's a melting pot which makes the best DJs in the world.

What is it that makes Ibiza so special?

Ibiza is just a Mecca for music-loving party people, and is one of the most inspiring places to DJ. I've travelled around the world and get to go to some amazing places, but I still see Ibiza and Pacha on a Friday night, as the best residency in the world.

Its become much more of a weekend place than maybe it used to be with more direct flights from the UK making it easier and easier to get to. So now you get people coming in and out a number of times in the season, whereas back in the day, you would wait and wait for your summer holiday. You'd do your one week, go crazy and come home.

It's also very international. If you DJ in South America, South East Asia, Russia or America or wherever, there's the different crowds, different parties in amazing cities and at amazing clubs, but nowhere gets the mix of people, cultures or languages that you get in Ibiza.

I think people feel more and more that it's the place to be. Not necessarily for the whole season; you get ebb and flows throughout the 24 week summer, but I think early August is becoming just as magical as St Tropez or destinations like that. The opening in June and the closing in September is as fantastical as any of those hot spots and holiday destinations around the world; the atmosphere is just great!

Which countries would you like to DJ in that you haven't?

There's still a couple of places around the world I'd like to play, such as India and China. It's opening up very quickly and I'd like to be able to say I have truly played everywhere.

Best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

Don't worry too much. I am one of these people who constantly thinks, you never do enough, or you should be doing something different, or it wasn't worthy enough. The older I get I realise it's such a waste of your energy, and the more relaxed I am, the more good things happen.

Find out where Pete is playing by visiting his website

Rachael Hannan: Interview 2005

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