"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Monday, February 16, 2009,12:39 AM
Gilles Peterson Interview Part 1
From Emmerald

What started as a simple and inexpensive CD purchase ($7.99 at a used CD shop), literally changed my whole outlook on DJing and music. I’d just started learning how to mix records when I purchased “The Incredible Sound of Gilles Peterson”. Like all DJ larvae, I was trying to make sense of my records and trying to determine how best to convey the collection of sounds I’d amassed. Since I started relatively late in the game, my collection reflected my broad taste in music as it had developed over the years. It wasn’t a large collection (still isn’t), but I had everything from Sixousie and the Banshees to John Coltrane to The Bar-Kays, to 4 Hero, and I had no clue if any of that would ever make sense together, until I heard Gilles Peterson.
A master of what he terms “joining the dots”, Gilles’ weekly radio show “Worldwide” on BBC Radio 1, and his various compilation CDs (“Incredible Sound of Gilles Peterson“, “Worldwide Programme” 1, 2, and 3, and his 2 “Trust the DJ” comps) have paved the road for those of us searching for the strand of harmony that connects various, sometimes incongruous, genres of music. Every Wednesday, for two hours, Gilles takes his listeners on journeys through jazz, funk, hip-hop, and dance, through the old and dusty, the new and never-to-be-released, classics and classics-to-be. For his faithful listeners, Gilles sets not trends, but standards, conveying and inspiring above all else, a pure love and appreciation of music. Gilles taught me that music has a life all its own, and the best way to determine how to put songs together, is not only to listen, but to watch and feel how and where each tune grows. The dots come together naturally; you’re just there to draw the line.

Emmerald: You must receive a ton of music a day. How do you decide what gets played and what doesn’t get played?

Gilles Peterson: Well I tend to look at labels that I know first of all. And my radio show goes through a production company, so I have a producer--

Emm: Is that Karen?

Gilles: Yes, that’s Karen. A lot of music gets sent to her and the real rubbish, she’ll clear out. So before it gets to me most of the rubbish is gone. But if ever I find out that Karen’s not given me a record that I like that she thought was rubbish, it’s always bad for her, (laughs) so it hasn’t happened for a while. I’ve only got two hours on the radio and it’s quite an influential radio show. There are a lot of bands and artists and producers coming through who want exposure. So I feel I have a responsibility to those people that I listen to their music. And that means that I play a lot more new music than I used to.

I try not to listen to too much music on the day of a show, so I tend to hit my music on Mondays and Tuesdays. Otherwise I could end up listening to music all day on a Wednesday. I do three different shows. I do the one on the BBC; I do a syndicated show which goes out to lots of different stations around the world, and I do a show which is for things like British Airways. I keep really busy with the shows and other things. For example, coming here in Miami this week, I’ve had to record two Radio 1’s, two syndicated shows, and a British Airways show all like in three days, which is a lot you know. So, anyway, to cut a long story short, I usually try to pace it with my music. I clear my music out regularly as well. I used to keep everything, and then I realized I can’t do it. I just can’t live with all this stuff. I’m so badly organized as an individual anyway that if I had too much music there it would just kill me, so I do clear out my music often. I mean obviously the stuff that I’ve played and I like, I’ll keep, but all the other stuff that’s half and half, I just clear out. Every now and again I realize I’ve made a big mistake and I’ve let something go that I’ve heard some DJ playing somewhere in a club. Then I’m like oh my God, I used to have that album and I got rid of it. That kind of thing happens but that’s the way it goes.

Emm: How long have you and Karen worked together?

Gilles: Well I had a guy called Benji B who used to work with me. He came to me when I was working on Kiss FM. He was like fifteen then and he was still at school. And he said he wanted to work on my show and so I started got him into Kiss, and we just became really good friends. He came all the way through until I did Radio 1. Now he’s become a DJ and a broadcaster himself, and so last year we had to basically let him go so he could do his own thing. When I started off at Radio 1 he brought in Karen as an assistant producer for himself so she’s been there for a bit of a while. She’s given the show a really nice twist. She's my little angel.

Emm: How does your syndicated show differ from your Worldwide show?

Gilles: I do the syndicated show at my house. And there’s less talking, more music.

Emm: Is the music the same?

Gilles: Sometimes. I kind of amalgamate them a bit, but it depends. Sometimes I’ll do a completely different show for both of them.

Emm: Do you plan out what you’re going to play on your shows?

Gilles: Not really. I mean I have some idea of what I want to play. But there are definitely times when I bring records to play, but I don’t end up playing them, you know.

Emm: You're doing a new night in Paris?

Gilles: Yes, I’m doing a night at the Rex Club in Paris. The thing about the Rex is that it’s a techno club. It’s the club where Laurent Garnier made his name. It’s a rave club, quote unquote. So it has a reputation for being quite young and ravey, but it has the best sound system in Paris by miles. Last year they asked me to come and DJ for the fifteenth anniversary of Rex. I think it was their fifteenth or twentieth year. I played there with Laurent Garnier, and they had all these other different DJs; it was a really good set of people. I’m half French so I’ve always been going to Paris, but I’ve never really had a good time there because there's always something wrong with the sound, or the people are just not into it or whatever. But in the last year it’s really changed in Paris, so I’m really happy to get on the train and go there on Thursdays and pop it out. It’s really massive; it’s great fun and a there’s great sound system at the Rex, so I’m really enjoying it there.

It’s funny, Paris has got a few musicians, good DJs, but they’ve never really had a club scene, no club culture. Like England’s done really well with this music and taking American music and kind of repackaging it a little bit and creating a club culture. And in America, the club culture scene was obviously really important in Detroit and Chicago, but it was quite gay a lot of it. A lot of the house music was very gay so you had to really want to go and get that music. A lot of people would not play in those sort of places. Whereas in England, club culture is very essential to carry on with everything. I think club culture has been really important to spread a really good circuit around the world. Japan and Germany have taken the club culture thing, and they repackaged it really well for themselves. And you’ve got the music festival down here and all that stuff.

So yes, so that’s Paris. It’s good in France. I’ve already been on the radio in France actually. They’re into jazz there as well. They’re quite intellectual, the French. They like to talk about the music. They’re the kind of guys--if I’m DJing immediately after I’ve finished they all discuss it, you know what I mean. They’ll always have a meeting. They enjoy the breakdown of the thing more than they do the thing itself. Some people go to see film, go to the cinema, they kind of enjoy talking about it more than actually seeing the film, that’s what the French are like.

Emm: So have you see any kind of drop off in the London club culture? There seems to be a drop off in dance music in general. The music isn’t selling that well, and some artists seem to be having a hard time with it.

Gilles: Not really for me, because I’ve got the radio, you know. And I’m lucky that I can always travel, so I’m not overexposing myself in one place. If you play every week in the city, you're not special to that city. Your people just take you for granted and it’s like whatever. I can always travel, so I can always be fresh wherever I am, and luckily the scene is very international. And, I mean I still do my residency in London now, I play there when I can if I’m in town.

Emm: Is that Bar Rhumba?

Gilles: Bar Rhumba, yes. London isn’t about being hot or selling out Fabric or whatever, London to me is just where I love to go out. On a Monday I’m in my town, London people come and see me. We get a couple of hundred people. I always have the best time in there and I have my fans and my people who work in there, and I can let off and have a good time. But I don’t think about it like if I’m going to play then, I’ll just do once every three months in London, then I’m going to be a real big pull. I don’t look at London like that; do you know what I mean?

Emm: Yes, yes.

Gilles: But I think club culture has definitely been hit. There are all sides of the scene that seem to go through these things. I’m really pleased that the dance thing has gone anyway, I mean has gone down, because it was rubbish a lot of it. And a lot of the people involved in it were rubbish as well. I didn’t really want to be associated with those sorts of people in what I was doing, because it was just cold and corporate and everything. So I’m kind of please that everyone's come out of that, and then the people who are really into the shit survive. It’s the men and the boys thing. I’ve been DJing for twenty years now and I’ve been through so many ups and downs and in the end you just keep going. If you’re hit listed, if people like you at the moment it’s great but if they don’t, then I don’t care either. That’s how I approach it, and I’m still enjoying it and making it.

Emm: Cool, that’s good. Twenty years?

Gilles: More actually, it’s twenty-five, yes, I’m forty this year.

Emm: How did you initially get into radio?

Gilles: I started my own pirate station. I got some transmitters and stuff. In those days pirate stations didn’t go on for twenty-four hours. They’d go on for like four or five hours on a Sunday. There was one station called Radio Invicta, which was the first black music pirate in London back in the day, and they lost their equipment. Their gear got taken by the home office, by the police, and they were like, oh my God, we haven’t got a transmitter. And they’d heard there was this young boy that had a transmitter. The guy who built their transmitter put them on this annoying little bloke who lived in south London (laughs). So they the called me and they said can we use your gear. And I said, well as long as you give me a show.

Emm: Right, sure.

Gilles: I was seventeen by then and I started working for Radio Invicta, and that was really cool, because that was where the best DJs were and they were playing good shit. It was like just all soul so it was quite urban. It was very much to the London audience rather than the suburbs. In England you’ve got two scenes. You’ve got the kind of urban scene, and then you’ve got the suburbs. And so if you look at like the DJs who are here in Miami, people like Pete Tong or Judge Jules, they’re very suburban, you see what I mean? And these stations were very much more urban, so they were blacker in a way, but it appealed to a more mixed crowd. So for me being on that station, it was really cool. From that point onwards, I started working at little clubs. My mum didn’t know I was DJing, so I’d have to lie. I’d tell her that I was just going out. I used to work in a gay club actually, on a Sunday. And I’m not gay, but I mean basically I’d go there because they kind of liked the look of me. I used to do nine to one on a Sunday and they wanted gay music. They wanted a kind of gay disco, and I played more boogie kind of stuff like Prelude, D Train and Unlimited Touch, things like that. I started getting a bit of a black crowd coming into the club, and the gays started complaining because it wasn’t a strictly gay thing anymore, so I got barred from that. That was my first sort of travesty. And then I started working in clubs all over the place. I had to earn my money, you know, because I didn’t have a job and I’d fucked up my exams. My studies had gone out the window. I was really into football. I was a sports boy when I was little. I played quite seriously, football, and rugby amazingly.

Emm: Which is your favourite football team?

Gilles: I’m an Arsenal fan. Yeah, so I was doing a lot of sport but then suddenly I just got into music and that really took me away. I never really thought of it as being a career thing, as a child. My mum and dad left England when I was seventeen. My dad is French, so they moved over there, but I stayed, and I just made it on my own. I made a living, so I’m happy about that.

Emm: How do you compare the experience of being a radio DJ versus playing out? Are there aspects of one that you like better than the other?

Gilles: Well, I’ve got a family and I’ve got kids and so I need to do a little bit less DJing and clubbing, but I love it. That’s the thing; it gives me a lot of energy which I hope I bring onto the radio. I think that’s what gives my radio show that edge in a way. I’m listening to music from a club and radio perspective. So I can hear how certain records work. If I’m listening to them at home, I’m like that’s alright. But if I’m playing in a club, certain records just take a whole different light. So in that respect I think the show’s been a quite good line between the club and the home with the headphones kind of thing. And actually I get more money doing gigs. That’s my main source of income. You don’t really make a lot of money on radio, in England anyway. I don’t know but it’s probably the same here.

Emm: I’m sure it’s the same here, yes.

Gilles: The money side is good, but the real the truth is I love DJing. I still love going out and meeting people, and it’s when I’m in clubs that I hear the other DJs playing and that keeps me in the scene. Part of what I do is upfront and I’ve got to be upfront. You’ve got to be on it. Maybe there will be a time when I’ll just stop and find a new role. I mean, I want to do a jazz show, really, that’s what I’d like.

Emm: Yes, I’m sure you do.

Gilles: I get into trouble if I play too much jazz on Radio 1.

Emm: Really?

Gilles: Well I don’t really get into trouble; they don’t dare say anything to me. They’re very cool with me actually. But I hear “if you play too much of that jazz, you don’t get a better show”, (laughs) and I want a better show so it’s a fine line. So I think, again, the whole thing about what I do, you know, if I can play “Impressions” by John Coltrane next to new tunes. That’s what it’s about for me. The show I loved recently was-- I don’t know if you heard the Roy Ayres show? That was a great show.

Emm: Yes, definitely. That was one of the best shows I’ve heard, honestly.

Gilles: If you can just spend time with people and let them talk. I mean the thing is with these legends you’ve just got to set it up right. You can’t just go up to them at the end of the gig and say can we do an interview. That’s really one of the most fantastic things about this job, the fact that you can listen to these people talking. They’ve got so much to say. I want to get more with them because there’s not that many of them left and they’re going to fade.

Emm: Right.

Gilles: I wish I had interviewed Miles Davis, and big people like that. I interviewed Q-Tip last week though, and that was good. It was over the phone. I really want to meet him.

Emm: You’ve never met him?

Gilles: No, no. I mean, I know a lot of those people but I’ve never met him. I don’t think Q-Tip likes Europe. He’s a New Yorker. He’s very New York. Whereas people like Madlib or Jazzy Jeff, those guys, they see what the UK has and what it can do for them.

Emm: Right.

Gilles: Q-Tip’s just a home boy from Brooklyn or whatever, but yes, he’s my hero actually.

Emm: Yeah?

Gilles: Yes, I think he’s my hero. Because when he put out that first album, that freaked me out.

Emm: The one that got shelved?

Gilles: No, the very first, the first…

Emm: The first Tribe album?

Gilles: Yeah, you know with “Push It Along” and all that stuff, that was just amazing. It blew De la Soul apart, which, I mean I like De la Soul, so that was just like spot on. That was spot on because it was hip-hop and it was a bit dark. I like it that way. You need that record in every record collection. And then he went off and did “Low End Theory”, and he got Ron Carter to play bass and I was like you’ve got it going more than anyone. And now he's just done this film, he’s acting and he’s good. The thing is, I didn’t realize that his house burnt down, you know?

Emm: I heard that, yes.

Gilles: With all his records.

Emm: Yeah, that’s crazy, very unfortunate. Actually, speaking of record collections, tell me about yours.

Gilles: Well my record collection took my life over and I had to leave my house. I truly had to leave my house.

Emm: (laughs) I believe you.

Gilles: So I had a house in Finsbury Park, which is near Arsenal in north London, a flat, a four bed roomed flat actually. And I had my wife and we had the kids there. And then by the time the baby was one, the records had--there wasn’t any room for any adults or children. So either we had to move out and buy a big house for everything or—then,I thought actually no. What I’ll do is I’ll buy a house down the road. So I live down the road now and my records are in the house. I’ve got like, I’ve got six bedrooms worth of records. Big rooms, big rooms. I’ve got a lot of records. I’ve got some good records though. And that’s very important as long as you’ve got quality, that’s very key.

Emm: Right. Quality is number one, right. There’s a lot of music out there and a lot of crap.

Gilles: Yes. I’ve spent a lot of money on records, a lot. I mean I’m really bad. I mean I’ll spend all my fee. I’ll do a gig and it will go that way. I’ve done that all my life. If I’d have saved all that money…

Emm: What does your wife say about that? I mean clearly she deals with it but…

Gilles: There are no records in our new house, so it’s fine. We don’t have a record player in our house. We’ve got a CD and that’s it. And I think it’s important also to have my other space. We have a really lovely house, a lovely family and I’m very much in love, and my wife kind of accepts my job. Not really in January, February or March though.

Emm: Yeah?

Gilles: Because I go to Australia in January, it really fucks her up. Because it’s cold she’s got to take the kids to school.

Gilles: So that’s not a good one. And coming here for the week I had to work on that one pretty much. But we get on, it’s all OK. She understands. I was already fully into it when she met me.

Emm: Oh, yeah, so she knows it’s an occupational hazard. You have to know that.
Gilles: Yes. It’s not easy though.

Emm: Absolutely, it’s not.

Gilles: So who do you think is going to win the elections this year? Is Bush going to win again?

Emm: I would say so, barring something really crazy. I mean, he’s so powerful, and is still pretty popular.

Gilles: And he’s quite good in a way. I mean I hate to say it. I’m not a Bushite whatever, but I just saw him doing a few speeches when he came to England and he's got better at that.

Emm: Talking? (laughs)

Gilles: Better, yes, he’s got better at that. He’s got a bit better standing in England.

Emm: Yeah, it seems like he has. You know I love to watch Question Time. I always wonder how Bush would fare if Congress could just fire off questions at him like that.

Gilles: Do you get that here?

Emm: Not the show “Question Time”, but the parliamentary questions. They show it on C-span.

Gilles: Oh, oh yes. The parliamentary question time, where they’ve got the cameras in the House of Commons.

Emm: Right. I love that.

Gilles: It’s pretty controlled though, I think.

Emm: I bet. I wonder if Blair gets the questions ahead of time, do you know?

Gilles: I don’t know, I’m sure he does. Nothing really surprises him.

Emm: I liked Blair a lot when he was--- I guess it was when Clinton was in office, and they were boys. I really liked Clinton too, though. I was really surprised Blair bought into Bush and this war thing the way he did.

Gilles: Yeah, he had to. I couldn’t believe how he sold his soul on that one. He came across as very admirable. He had a lot of humility as Prime Ministers, people in power go. He came across as very honest, and he just basically, he was told you’ve got to go with us. And he had to lie through his teeth to go. Actually, last year, when we were here, the day that I did my show from here, he was on the seven o’clock news, which is midnight England, and when I started, I could hear the news bulletin saying how America, all the allies had just started bombing Iraq. It was such a downer. And so it just felt really strange being here actually.

Emm: Yeah, I remember that. Such and unfortunate day. So what’s next for you? You’re here in Miami this week and then. . .

Gilles: Well I’m doing a show in New York on Thursday.

Emm: That’s cool. You don’t play over here in the states that often.

Gilles: No, I don’t really. I really want to play in New Orleans too, man.


posted by R J Noriega
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