Radio 1's dance guru talks with AfterDark
Pete Tong is making one of his occasional visits to Manchester playing a set at Sankeys on Friday February 19th and took the time out from his overstuffed schedule to chat with AfterDark. As Manchester residents we all know what our own city is like, and what draws us into its clubs every weekend, so it's interesting to get the point of view of a vastly experienced industry professional who has been to pretty much every nightclubbing location imaginable. "As a DJ you are really spoilt in Manchester because it has such a rich legacy in terms of clubs. I actually play regularly at two clubs in Manchester, Warehouse Project and Sankeys. I love them both for different reasons. Warehouse Project is great because it's got a special feeling because it only happens once a year in a unique space, but Sankeys, with such a great history, is a fantastic regular weekly club which generates an incredible atmosphere. Small room, low ceiling and an amazing vibe to play in so it's great to be able to do both each year."
Pete gives the impression that he'd like to play at more of the city's venues but just on this tour only nine clubs are being slotted in before he's back in South America, the US and Ibiza. "Manchester is such a very proactive city in terms of electronic music and with the new club on the site of the old Factory Records you're spoilt for choice." His gigs have taken him all across the developed world, but hat geographical frontier might still be out there that he would like to pursue to bring a live DJ set of upfront dance music to the masses? "Despite all the touring and traveling i've done over the years there are three that stand out, as a DJ and also as a tourist. I've played China but I've only really scratched the surface. I really enjoyed playing Shanghai but would like to do a more comprehensive tour. Africa doesn't really have much of a scene in terms of international DJ touring. There are opportunities in Northern Africa in places like Morocco and also South Africa but I'd like to get into the more untouched countries though as it's a place that fascinates me." It's a fascinating concept. Taking electronica to nations that we westerners perceive as third world. Exporting modern beats to countries where arguably the tribal, percussive rhythms first began.
Despite the high club DJ profile, Pete is of course best known for his Friday evening Radio 1 slot which he has held for almost two decades. Pete has also run a label (FFRR), remixed, produced, set up his own party (Wonderland) and has his own music company. What more can there be in terms of ambitions and goals that he could strive to achieve? "I've started to write and produce my own music which is something that I'm really enjoying. It's something that I've always wanted to do but it's hard to do when you are running a record company as that takes up so much time. Recently I've remixed U2, Cheryl Cole and Madonna, plus I've got an EP release due soon of my own material. Whilst I can't imagine myself being the next Lady Gaga, I'd love to make a record that really mattered to people." Pete has had to 'settle' for releasing music as a label boss that has mattered to people for many years, with the eclectic roster on FFRR proving that it's possible to please all of the people, some of the time. He's also branched into into the movie business just last year. "I also got my first taste of scoring a movie. It was Harry Brown, the British movie starring Michael Caine. I'm looking forward to doing more of that this year!" Those that missed this punchy drama's cinema release will be able to catch it on dvd when it's released on March 22nd.
As a man with a clear rep for breaking new tracks and artists, in fact it's something that the dance community relies on him for, you'd expect him to have tips for who will be making an impact and shaping the future of dance. "There are too many to mention but now you've asked me, I think Joris Voorn is only going to go from strength to strength and there is a new wave of Dutch producers that are making some really interesting music. DJ Mad Skillz, 2000 and One, Bart Skils, Anton Pieete and also Afrojack. I'm also into the new rising stars of the German scene (such as) Nick Curley and Reboot." So what about the homegrown talent. There's never an shortage of Brits wanting to reinvent the dance music wheel. "From the UK I've heard a preview of the Japanese Popstars album and I think they are going to have a very interesting year. Tim Green is also hot right now and Delphic are evolving in a way that means they could shape up to be a major band."
This massive responsibility of being the dance guru at the Beeb would weigh heavy on the shoulders of any man. You'd expect it to have a finite time span, to have become stale or too tiring, but Pete's enthusiasm and dedication has given it a remarkable longevity. "I love working at Radio 1. I'm not sure I'm worthy of this but I have been labelled by some as the John Peel of dance. I'd be honoured if I could live up to anything like his standing. My 9pm slot has allowed me to be more pure about the music I play and even closer to my live sets. It feels as vital now as it did back when I started." Naturally, advances in technology mean that he is reaching a wider audience than ever before. "Radio is evolving in a new direction with a massive shift in reach, easier access at home and internationally and a huge boost in content through online. I'm loving contributing to that. We have some great new ideas for the show when it comes live from Ibiza this summer."
The dizzying array of dance music genres and sub-genres has left the public with a great deal to choose from and with new styles evolving out of what's gone before every year, we no doubt have something due to happen soon. What might be the next dance music sub-genre to break through and capture the collective imagination? "There is a feeling at the moment that there is a willingness for pure house music to make a comeback in a modern setting. The bastard child of housemusic?!" Pete may well have an interesting point. Pure house music has bubbled under as an underground sound at Manchester clubs such as Development and Community, both events that make irregular appearances at various venues. In recent months the city has seen the likes of Marshall Jefferson and Roger Sanchez play and even Funkademia has been ocasionally dropping soulful house classics in the back room at Mint Lounge. We might be about to see a return to the roots, a reinjection of black music into our dance culture and a shift away from the more European styles that we have been embracing. "British urban music including dubstep and drum 'n' bass is also very interesting right now. Also with acts like Switch and Major Lazer making waves perhaps that cross-polination of genres is going to continue to be the story going forward."
Whatever the story might be going forward, we're sure that Pete Tong will be right there, at the tip of the spear, breaking the musical frontiers and discovering today what millions will be listening to tomorrow.
Words: Justin Richards
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