Instantly recognised as the world-respected, ‘world music’ championing disc jockey, it is axiomatic that Gilles Peterson possesses a sort of musical omniscience, rendering him a consistent source for an overwhelming plethora of musical genres. He turns 50 in a few months, these years of mass music consumption/collecting + experience now manifesting themselves in top notch outputs such as his own festival, his own (latest) label, and even his own radio station on the most recent GTA (an extension of his staple, BBC 6music slot.)
Gilles’ story is reasonably well known – starting off broadcasting pirate radio from his garden shed, going on to play London clubs, running a few labels, releasing renowned compilations, dabbling in production – all ultimately leading to the heavyweight musical status that warrants the above semi-panegyric intro.
We got in touch with Gilles for a quick chat to learn a bit more about the various stages in his culturally rich life/career & the musical influences he’s had. Though limited by email correspondence, it was an opportunity to help add some specific musical colour to a younger generation’s image of Gilles, via some brief responses and some hyperlinks.
You started life living in London, the son of a French mother and a Swiss father. Whereabouts in London were you growing up and how was it growing up there?
I grew up in Sutton and loved it! There was a new library just built that had a brilliant record selection featuring the likes of Mark Murphy/John Coltrane/Wayne Shorter etc. I still have quite a few that I never returned…
In what ways did the area you grew up in and your European heritage affect the music you first started listening to?
I’m not too sure to be honest. Going to France a lot when young was interesting as you could get much more ‘wild music’ in the shops, and all the Adidas sportswear that wasn’t around in the UK yet. So I was listening to George Duke records and Brazilian stuff when I was 12 and 13 that I wouldn’t have heard in the UK so easily.
Looking back on the past 25 years, having seen so much and heard so much great new and emerging music, are there any particular music movements that you can say were the most exciting to be part of, or be around as they developed?
I loved Drum And Bass – I used to go to all the clubs, even if I was playing out a lot as well. It was a phenomenal movement that worked rude and raw or melodic and jazzy… and it still rocks in 2014. In my opinion the best British export since Punk!
And is there a specific period or even year in a certain place that you wish you could have been around for and part of?
New York, 1969 – the heavy jazz period!
What about a period/genre that you believe has perhaps had less attention paid to it despite being in your opinion well worth listening to?
Broken Beat still sounds good. The US loved it, check Timbaland etc, another genre that we invented and they developed into their own thing. I also think that IG Culture and Dego are both heavyweights that will both be respected even more as time goes on.
Shifting the focus to you Gilles… Do you feel that there has ever been a point over these past few decades where you were particularly proud of what you were doing and really felt like you were nailing it?
I just think you develop a confidence the longer you do this – for me running my festival has been special as its a sort of culmination of all the years I’ve been doing this and hopefully retains the spirit of what I’m about within club culture and the music scene in general. I love doing it every year and can’t wait for it to come around each time!
Leading on from that, is there a mix album of yours that you are especially happy with and would perhaps recommend listening to above others? Why does it stand out for you?
It’s difficult to answer that one! I think the Worldwide Comps I did for Talkin Loud still sound OK and are a good start for people to discover more about my history and understand my musical tastes better. (In particular Programme 1 CD 2!)However the one everyone always goes back to is my Incredible Sound Of album – I still drop that Pharaoh Sanders into Scuba mix!
Moving on to briefly talk about your influences… What were your early influences when you were starting out? Is there a specific song that you would cite as playing a major part on your younger self?
Brit Funk all the way for me – Hi Tension/British Hustle, what a tune. I felt so part of a scene then. I wasn’t a punk but a ‘soul boy’, one of only 3 in my school!
Jumping to the present, is there a song that reflects your latest influences?
I love what an artist such as James Blake has managed to do – also groups like Mount Kimbie and singers like Sampha. It’s all very British and wouldn’t have ever got there without the club culture that’s been running since pre 88. To me songs like Retrograde or Made To Stray are and will be classics.
Of course music has been heavily affected by shifts in music technology and the rise of the ‘digital age’ etc. Has the way in which you consume music changed?
It’s all good! I’m still buying vinyl and transferring cassettes while downloading wavs. As long as I have all the music that I want to listen to at my fingertips, I’m in my element!
Does the word eclectic annoy you?
A little bit but then again I hated the term Acid Jazz!
Lastly, as an avid Gunner, do you think Arsenal have got the mettle to finish the season strongly and win the league?
Nope! It looks like a fight for 4th again…
If you had to dedicate a mix album to any Arsenal player past or present, who would it be?
Ian Wright Wright Wright – London through and through. He even used to come to my dance every now and then!
Gilles and Havana Club recently asked fans to remix a track for the chance to win a trip to Havana, one of the world’s music capitals. to produce and record original music with a selection of Cuba’s finest musicians, all under the expert guidance of Gilles himself. Check out the finalist’s mixes for Havana Club Cultura Mix here, and some more info here.
Tune in to Gilles’ 6music show on Saturdays, 3-6pm.