It's almost impossible to imagine the changes in dance music that Pete Tong has seen since he first stepped up to the decks as a fresh faced soul boy but celebrating 20 years at Radio 1 this Friday he has reason to reflect.
From the original acid house revolution, through the eras of huge outdoor raves, dance music chart domination, and superclubbing, to the current dawn of digital, he's witnessed innumerable changes in the way we listen to, produce and distribute dance music. Yet Pete and his radio presence have remained a reassuring constant, breaking new acts, giving props to the originators and beaming first class tunes into homes up and down the country.
And if you doubt how close he is to the nation's heart, how many other broadcaster's names have entered the British lexicon?
Two decades at Radio One means that some of your listeners weren’t even born when you started. How well was dance music represented on the radio when you started and how have you kept the fire in your belly to remain so successful over that time, both as a broadcaster and as a club DJ?
“It was limited at the start but kind of appropriate given the state of the nation. When I started I replaced the retiring Jeff Young who hosted the Friday night dance show. Radio 1's coverage was pretty much the one show although they did have an occasional soul show on Sundays... but that was it. I was able to quickly align the show with the post rave/acid house movement across the UK. I made a point of reaching out to all the clubs, DJs and promoters that were making things happen on the ground and got right behind them. That made a massive difference from the outset. As Cream, Back to Basics, Ministry, Venus, Most Excellent, Renaissance, Gatecrasher, Godskitchen, Golden, Progress, Colours, Sub Club etc. started we were there to tell the stories, champion the DJs and play the music. I have always been a fan of evolution and progress and I've always been pre occupied with the next best thing, I guess the hunger has been a positive thing in terms of staying relevant.
20 years later of course the commitment to broadcast dance/electronic music is huge. On top of the 12 hour dance music marathon on Fridays there are countless other outlets and a 24 hours a day UK Urban station in 1XTRA.”
You’re running a competition to pick the best of a list of twenty tracks from the past twenty years. The inherent ridiculousness of this question aside, which tune holds the most significance for you over the last twenty years and why? Give us the top five if you’re pushed.
“Yes, that’s the question that makes DJs heads melt and they start foaming at the mouth! It’s so tough to reduce it to so few but here we go again…”
1. ‘Born Slippy/Cowgirl’ – Underworld
“I think of all that’s happened. I think of the evolution of electronic music and I think of DJ culture taking over main stage Glastonbury.”
2. ‘Finally’ - Kings of Tomorrow
“It’s still about songs and melody and emotion...and when it all comes together it moves people.”
3. ‘Around the World’ – Daft Punk
“A significant moment in time... and they ended up selling tables in the Conran shop! Give it up."
4 ‘Kinda New (Tiefschwartz Remix)’ – Spektrum
“The Germans arrived! Again.”
5. ‘Inner city life’ – Goldie
“Timeless should have won the Mercury Prize!”
The Essential Mix has also served as a launch mad for numerous DJs careers over the years. Are there any of those that stand out for their significance? Daft Punk’s debut still gives us tingles.
“I think Paul Oakenfold nailed it early on with the Goa mix. Using the film references quickly elevated the show to a whole new level. David Holmes carried that on with his mad cinematic mix that inspired his later move to Hollywood soundtracks with the Ocean's series. Daft Punk was special. Sasha's Maida Vale was a collector’s item. Âme, Flying Lotus I have so many favourites.
For me though the most important thing about the show is that we have 52 weeks a year showcasing the very best. That is the singular thing that I'm most proud of. Consistency and a deep commitment to the art of the mix show.”
With the advent of dubstep and other new forms of bass music, and Annie Mac moving into your old slot, do you feel a pressure to adopt and incorporate these newer styles or does it feel like house music, to borrow a phrase, is a universal language spoken and understood by all?
“There is certainly no outside pressure for me to do anything I don't naturally want to do. The time change was great for me as it turned out. Change is good and it shook things up which was good for the station. Musically neither Annie nor I changed radically. I would still like to think I would play the best of a wide spectrum of genres but in reality a lot of these niches are now catered for so it’s not as essential as it would have been a few years back. I can concentrate on the many different shades of house. If Annie didn't have her show I probably wouldn't have been able to expose the likes of Jamie Jones and Seth Troxler, Maya Jane Coles and Jordan Peak with quite the same level of commitment.”
Defected are releasing ‘Future Underground’, which is mixed by you and Riva Starr. How do you deal with the massive influx of music you get to dig out the gems? We assume you have trusted friends and producers helping with this. Apart from the artists of the mix, which includes our current cover star Deniz Kurtel, who are some of your tips for 2011?
“I network with a wide range of DJs/producers and industry figures on music. I read a lot , I trawl the web and I try and carve out special time to listen in depth to a select few – a lot of whom I’ve included on ‘Future Underground’. It does the music justice that way. Tip wise I say watch out for more greatness from Carola, Art Department, Seth Troxler, Jamie Jones, Pitto, Guti, Leon, Dragosh, Tale Of Us, Benoit & Sergio, (the return of) Stacey Pullen, John Made, Robert Deitz, Frivolous, Phillip Badar and Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano.”
You’re one of the few living people to have entered the popular lexicon of cockney rhyming slang - Britney Spears being the only other one we can think of. What the oddest situation you’ve heard the phrase ‘it’s all gone a bit Pete Tong’ being used?
“The Sun newspaper using it to sum up a political mess still seems really odd. It happens quite regularly! I had an old friend working in the art department for years. I think he kept squeezing it in there!”
IMS is really taking off and becoming the hot new conference for the dance industry. What’s your actual involvement and what plans do you have for it to develop over the next few years?
“I’m founding partner in the conference and I concentrate on the talent line-up and editorial content of the conference itself. The partnership works well we all have our own areas of expertise. We want the event to grow in Ibiza. We are looking at more nights at Dalt Vila and more delegates at the conference itself. We might do something in the USA soon. Watch this space.”
While on Ibiza, following last year’s poaching of Luciano, Pacha are now welcoming you back. What does that relationship mean to you and can you give a sneak preview of how it’s going to change what you’ll be doing this summer?
“I’m very excited to be going back and launching Pure Pacha presents All Gone Pete Tong. It's the right time to change things up again and the club have been very classy in the way they have conducted the whole move. I have deep roots in Ibiza and Pacha is a big part of that. I’m very fond of the family and the management and they were always very welcoming when I was away. I think it was written in the stars that I'd return! Luciano's arrival certainly changed people’s perceptions of the club musically so that is a great help in programming the night. I'm also following David & Cathy's FMIF on Thursdays so it will be quite different to that for sure... Line-ups announced soon, we have a few tricks up our sleeve.”
After twenty years, does the word retirement ever come into your head? You must have considered what you’d like to do after the DJ gigs have finished. We hear you’ve also been doing some work in music supervision and film scoring.
“I have been involved in music and DJing my whole life so it's hard to imagine one without it. I count myself very lucky to be doing something I love. Maturing gracefully would be a better way of describing the future. I'm not stopping, I'll just look to do appropriate and cool things that people can believe in me doing. There is lots to explore. Film is certainly one of them - after scoring part of ‘Harry Brown’ last year I want to do more in that area. I'm working on starting a label again soon and feel I can make an a&r contribution in terms of artist development too.”
Finally, with such a hugely influential career, what do you look back on most proudly? What one thing would you change if you could? And what are most looking forward to in your twenty-first year?
“I'm proud of being able to have been part of this incredible journey for electronic music. I'm proud every time someone writes to me and says they have been listening for x years and say how much pleasure the programmes have given them. I'm proud every time an artist says how important that first play or mix was for them.... I don't think I would change that much. It would have been nice to go travelling for a year and not have the weekly responsibility… but then I guess I wouldn't be here if I had done so you can't have it all can you?!”
A Celebration of Pete Tong airs on BBC Radio 1 on Friday 8th April from 7pm - www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/petetong
Future Underground is out next week on Defected. Pure Pacha Presents All Gone Pete Tong begins Friday 27th May at Pacha, Ibiza.