Pete Tong & Reboot’s new compilation ‘Future Sounds’ is released today. To mark the occasion our friend Greg Sawyer managed to catch up with him for a chat. For more than 20 years, Pete Tong has championed underground dance music both on the airwaves and off them. Without question one of the most influential figures in the industry, he has recently launched a new radio show, Evolution on I Heart Radio in the US and in the last few years has been devoting more time to producing his own records alongside studio partner Paul Rogers.
Possibly one of the busiest men we’ve ever tried to speak to, Pete nevertheless found time to get on his ‘soap box’ about the technical art of DJing and give us his vote for the best dance record ever, with plenty more besides.
You’re spending a lot more time making records now than you did at the start of your career. Nowadays you can’t really make it big now without making records, so are you trying to reinvent yourself through what you’re doing now?
Yes and no. I mean, I was just too busy before. That was a kind of excuse as well I suppose but I really was. When I started DJing it was, like you say, probably more about running a club and being a good DJ and finding the right music. And you probably had to be a bit more of an entrepreneur back in the day. I mean, when I started the only way of advancing yourself was through radio, and I loved it and that was why I got into it. But the idea of making music was so difficult because you had to get a record deal – the process of doing it was so hard.
Once I got into the record business I was fortunate enough to be able to interact with all sorts of people over the years. I mean I made a record with Chris Thomas for fuck’s sake! He was the engineer on ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and also produced the Sex Pistols. So I got a huge amount of experience, travelled all over America backwards and forwards all of the time. But it never came to me to make music.
Through the 2000s I started teaching myself Logic and being a bit of a geek; it was a curiosity and an artistic thing of just wanting to get in there and do it. It was slow at the start. I’ve had my studio now for 4 years which I’ve always wanted. Before, it was just a problem finding the time.
So does that mean that you are less busy now than you were?
No, I’m still a little bit too busy. But we’re making beats every day. I’m always on planes making beats and then coming back and giving them to Paul [Rogers] and evolving them. And we are doing quite a lot. And then suddenly a film score comes along…
And that takes a few months of your life…
Something like the score for Harry Brown does. Then the music making goes on the back burner a little bit because the mind-set to do score is quite different from doing beats and it fucks you up a bit to do both. I love making music and I want to do more. I kind of shocked myself with ‘Dawn’. I mean it took so long, but I thought, fuck me; I should do it more often. It literally started with me on my own on the piano and then it evolved from there. And I always said I wanted to get a singer. I know it sounds weird me saying that; you probably think “he could get anyone he wants”, but it doesn’t work like that – or maybe it does but I never ask. The first person I asked said yes. And then we had to wait about four months to get him in here – Cedrick – so it worked out.
And there were a few different incarnations of the record before you considered it properly finished…
Yeah it started out as an instrumental and then, like most things, I just kept playing it and I kept hearing a tune over it myself and I kind of befriended Cedrick from Azari & III and as soon as I played it to him he loved it. It took a while to get it done as he actually wanted to come in and work on it together. I’ve also just done a track with Meggy.
And that’s on the new compilation, right?
Yeah the early version of it.
So in terms of the remixes for ‘Dawn’, how did you come to decide on Blondish and Jaymo & Andy George?
We decided to make it a family affair at the end of the day. It’s funny, I spend my whole time immersed in it all and every day with something else to do, so personally when it came to that decision, I didn’t actually do that much about it. I suppose if they had come back and it wasn’t very good then I would have asked someone else to do it but I don’t think anyone turned us down. And they all came out brilliantly. I don’t think Andy & Jaymo have ever done a mix like that before. And that was probably at the start, my favourite, but then the Hot Since 82 has since become the biggest version. That’s the one I hear everywhere now. It’s an odd feeling to hear your own music out and about.
With all the focus on making records that there is – especially for new breaking artists – do you think there’s a danger of the more technical art of DJing being slightly lost? Because there a lot of people now who make a big record and then are asked to DJ and then can’t actually play at all…
Yeah. You’ve put me on my soap box now. I’m passionate about the art of DJing and I do definitely think that that’s the case, but I suppose hopefully it will sort itself out. I think that in the techno world what you just said doesn’t necessarily apply. A lot of people who make music in the techno world do not necessarily go onto DJ and there are more people who are more happy to sit in the studio. But on the EDM, sort of more commercial side, big room tunes, you’re seeing a lot of that happening. Because the records blow up so big and a lot of the characters are so young and then they’re off on the circuit straight away.
I think the art of DJing is first and foremost to be the curator – picking the songs and playing them in the right order. And I still hold true to that. It’s like it’s a given that you’re supposed to be able to mix but I think there are still people coming through who are really brilliant DJs. I mean Eats Everything is a brilliant DJ and could literally DJ with anybody’s records. He’s technically gifted and has also got great taste and he’s just a natural – he has a great feel for what you need to do to rock a room. Maya Jane Coles is a really good DJ. She can select a bunch of music and if you didn’t know who she was you might thing she made it all. In fact it’s all made by other people but it sounds like her. Deetron’s like that too. Picks amazing records and has amazing taste. There’s a lot of good DJs coming through who are technically gifted and great curators I think. But you know definitely, yeah, it’s an issue.
With the focus switching very much towards live performance as a revenue stream for artists and labels, do you think that there’s a danger they are going to price out people who want to go to these events. Ibiza for example gets more and more insanely expensive with every year that passes…
I think the market will find its own level. I’ve always thought that. Yeah that exists but then DC10’s packed out all of the time and so is Sankey’s, which has a cheaper policy. So something is going to sort itself out there. And that old thing about “we have to put prices up because DJs are charging more” is just bollocks. Basically the DJ puts up his prices because he is filling the club. And if he always fills the club then it kind of works – people can always stop coming or if the DJ can’t fill the club, then he can’t get the money. I do think that those things iron themselves out eventually.
In terms of Ibiza this year, everyone always comes back at the end of an Ibiza season saying it was the biggest and best ever. Do you think that that’s the case for you?
I don’t think it was the best. We had a great season and we enjoyed it and I’m glad I did it. But no, I wouldn’t say that. I think under the surface it was quite a tough season with the Spanish economy. I think we were all surprised about how that took the carpet out from under everybody. So I think you had to be reasonably smart this summer. Obviously there were success stories. I mean Ibiza is so kind of honest. Just when you think something is guaranteed, it’s not necessarily guaranteed. That’s why I always love going there. It’s like going to the world championships, or the European championships, or the World Cup. It’s to be in there, battling it out against the best. You’ve got to work it out about how to make it work. It’s not easy.
So your new Future Sounds compilation is out this week. Are you happy with how it’s turned out?
Yeah definitely, I’m always happy. Well, I picked them, so I can’t blame anyone else! It just reflects the way I’m evolving, slowly. I was trying to reflect where I feel the future lies. I think music with a bit more consciousness and a bit more soul and obviously the tempo’s come down a bit. There’s still a lot of vocals and the ability to rock a dance floor but like it’s almost a negative, a complete reverse polarity from the Swedish House Mafia kind of style. It’s just evolution and trying to look at the future.
It finishes with ‘Benediction’ which is probably one of the most hyped records in the last few months, and probably the first deep house record has been in the UK charts for quite a few years…
Well this is the exciting thing about England. You can see it in ‘Benediction’ and some of Art Department and Maceo Plex’s stuff. You know you’re onto something when 16 and 17 year olds are going as nutty for it as 30 and 40 year olds – that’s when you know you’ve got something dangerous. And that’s what this compilation is about. Take Finnebassen for example; one of the only times he came to Ibiza and I saw him play – there were loads of girls, it was young and they were going crazy for him – and if you listen to the kind of music he makes – it’s quite subtle and its quite deep, so I think the climate is changing and its being led by the UK; that’s what’s exciting about it.
Jamie Jones recently went on Facebook to kind of defend himself against accusations of ‘selling-out’. Why do you think that he thought it was necessary to do that?
Well when he was number 1 on Resident Advisor there were people saying that he’d crossed the line. He’s experiencing what Digweed and Sasha used to have. When you’re seen as a figurehead of a movement then the train spotters, the haters, always seem so loud. It was a letter to Mixmag in 1985 and now they have the world because they’ve got Twitter and can make so much noise. But still ultimately it’s that opinion from the man in the pub. Jamie’s a passionate guy and loves his music – he hasn’t changed in what he’s doing.
Surely it must be a good thing for the scene in general to have someone who is so highly regarded in the underground scene as well as having chart success as well?
Yeah and I’ve heard a lot of the album and its incredible. It’s going to be one of the most important albums of next year. They could be like Massive Attack and we should cherish them.
Finally, as Mixmag are getting on the poll action with their ‘Best Dance Track Ever’, what is it?
I don’t know what it is, but I was almost prompted for the first time in my life to write a letter to Mixmag the other day because I did cast my eye over the poll and I was quite outraged that in the shortlist ‘French Kiss’ wasn’t on there. I just couldn’t understand how you can possibly do a list of 30/40 records and ‘French Kiss’ wasn’t there because I think it still does resonate in techno and in underground house– it was such a seminal record. I certainly think that in my career with the A&R hat on, it was the most potent thing we ever signed. It was a radical record then and it’s still quite is a radical record now.
You should definitely try and get it on there…
I thought about it today riding my bike. Shall I bother? Nah.
Pete Tong & Reboot Future Sounds is out now
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Interview By: Greg Sawyer