10 Questions with ... Pete Tong
March 24, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
1) How do you make the move from London to L.A.?
It was a long-held ambition to come live in America at some point of my career. There were a few instances in the past where it nearly happened... back in the days of London Records of being very active in A&R, with running FFRR Records. Probably late '80s and '90s, when London Records U.S. started there was an idea I was going to move here. But I found myself getting on to [BBC] Radio 1, getting married and having kids all within the same year, so that kind of stopped that. Life passes by quite quickly and it's taken a while for another opportunity to come up. We're sitting here talking in the offices of WME [William Morris Endeavor]; I've been working behind the scenes with this company for quite a while so that was one of the big reasons to move and then I really started to establish myself with iHeartMedia, which was the other reason.
2) In 2012, iHeartMedia decided to launch Evolution Radio and you were extremely instrumental in being the voice of the channel, how did that come about?
Well, it was an odd set of coincidences to be true. I was involved in running a festival in Ibiza, called Ibiza 1, 2, 3. It was a really, really ambitious project where they were trying to fuse Rock and Electronic Dance in the same festival. And through working the background of that festival, I got introduced to Bob Pittman. He was holidaying in Ibiza and his kids were coming on to the island to party and enjoying the clubs. So they said, "You know, Dad, this is what you should be doing ... what you're doing right now isn't very good. You should do it better. Ibiza should be part of the story."
So I got introduced to Bob, and after this lunch, very, very quickly I was put on the phone with the Premiere team in New York. We just started talking and it kind of went from there. Then I got introduced to Tom Poleman, and they decided quite quickly to remix, change-up, re-launch the electronic offering on the new iHeart platform and launch a station of which I would be the centerpiece. That's how it happened. It was quite ambitious, making it up as we went along. The original plan was to start the format online and then take it on terrestrial stations; we did that in Boston and Miami. But the plan changed after that, where we thought it was probably better to scale it much faster by taking an hour on the Top 40 stations, and subsequently over the last year, that has become two hours, and now we're on over 100 Top 40 stations on the weekend before midnight! And obviously, 24/7 my own on the Evolution channel, and now they have given me my own loop cuz I was showing them what we do in the U.K. @ the BBC with the iPlayer. So we tried to mirror it. I want it to be on-demand basically.
3) You do the hour Essential Mix on iHeartMedia; do you also do the Beatport show on iHeartMedia as well?
No, I do the two-hour Evolution Beatport show with Pete Tong. We don't do the Essential mix, that's on [BBC] Radio 1.
4) Is the Essential Mix heard anywhere here in the States?
The lines get a bit blurred now in the modern world of streaming its coming on so fast. The shows I do with the BBC everyone seems to hear in America, but it's technically streaming ... don't know why. I do two shows for Radio 1, which is my The Pete Tong show that's three hours long, and then followed by Essential Mix, which is two hours. We are still looking at ways of bringing the Essential Mix back over here so more people can hear it.
5) I heard somewhere that it is Paul Oakenfold that gave you: It's All Gone Pete Tong?
No, not strictly. He was around; we were working with Boy Zone. It was the staff at this magazine their humor was kind of spikey and they were always trying to wind me up and tease me and they came up with that phrase back in the Rave days of the late '80s, and it stuck.
6) Are you holding the All Gone Pete Tong Pool Party in Miami during Miami Music Week?
Yeah, we kind of inherited it. Traditionally going way back that was the Radio 1 party, and we'd come to Miami and we'd always broadcast from there. Eventually, money involved and politics of the BBC it justified coming every year. They eventually stopped it about five to six years ago, and I kind of stepped up and took over. For years everyone just assumed it was still the Radio 1 Party. Now, it's all fully gone into All-Gone Pete Tong party, which happily we're going to have some Evolution presence there this year as well.
7) Any highlights, any big DJs who you can talk about participating?
Yeah, we just added one surprise guest, which I can't tell you, or I'd have to kill you. [Cary chuckles] The clue is it's one person from Europe and he's going to be playing back to back with someone else. We just announced Deep Dish, kind of legendary acts. We've got a strong relationship with the Miami market. Sharam and Ali are really good friends of mine and so they just recently announced. Thomas Jack, Hot Since '82, Duke Dumont ... so there are some exciting people there!
8) Being one of the biggest voices for Dance music in this world, how do you make a determination to spotlight a new song?
It's kind of hasn't changed that much. It comes down to personal taste. I still listen to an awful lot of music. I feel connected with an amazing network around me as well, so stuff is always getting pushed to me. I'm equally always looking to see what everyone else is into. I guess that is one of the joys of the modern world we live in is through social media; you can track stuff and kind of get research a lot better. I still have to like it in the purest way.
For me, being on the radio was just simply a way of expressing myself and bringing awareness to this great music to more people. That really hasn't changed from me being a kid in my bedroom listening to radio shows that were influencing me. I was lucky enough when I was at school I got into Radio 1. I got to hang out there and I go to guest on someone's show and play two or three records that I thought were hot and up & coming, more from my journalist background, and I got to see the inner workings of a radio station. It wasn't until I walked in there that I found out that the guy on the Breakfast show didn't pick his own music, so I made that very early decision that I only wanted to be the DJ who picked their own music. If that meant I had to be a specialist on only once a week instead of five days a week, then that was fine by me.
9) You started out at a magazine called Blues & Soul, and then Radio 1 doing Mixes?
Yeah! Yeah! You know I started DJing a long, long time ago. In the '70s no one ever thought becoming a DJ would be a career unless you were on the radio, or else you end up doing weddings and bar mitzvahs. So it was kind of a humble trade. It was a hobby. It wasn't considered to be a proper job. It was always going to be a second job. So I had to kind of get a proper job. My parents wanted me to be in design or architecture. I choose music. My passion was music. That was what I was consumed by. And I went to work at a magazine thinking I could be a writer. I found out when I went to work the first day that I was expected to sell advertising and that the writing was the bonus. So I went running around London selling ads -- and then actually writing for nothing. [laughs] But it was good; it got me into Radio 1, weirdly, because the column I wrote in this magazine became quite influential, then the radio station called me to go on as a guest on the show. Early days like, early '80s, I was going up there as a kid with just a bunch of records I was writing about. In theory, I thought I was sort of full of myself and thought, look at me, I'm amazing, and they're going to give me my own show! And they sort of patted me on the head, and said, no you have to go away and get some experience.
I went into Pirate radio, which is the illegal radio in London. And then I found my way onto a commercial station called Evictor. I was there for a few years and I got back into London. I went on to BBC Radio London. Eventually my big, big break was getting on to Capitol Radio, which was in 1997, which coincides with the start of the Rave scene, or House music as we know it today. I was coming onto was what effectively, other than Radio 1, the biggest local station in the country 'cuz it was London ... that was a massive platform and I was obviously going on playing House music in the beginning, and a bit Hip-Hop back then.
10) I heard that in 1986, when you were at London, Cory Robbins mentioned to me that you signed Run DMC to London Records.
Yeah! Yeah! That was probably my biggest break as an A&R man. It was a little before that, like 85. But London wasn't really a major label and it wasn't really an indie. We were somewhere in between. We weren't given Bruce Springsteen from America to put out. We had to go out and find our own music, so I learned at a very early age going to New York, they sent me there once a month it was an amazing job. I used to go around to all the other little labels, independent labels, and Profile was considered one of the cutting-edge labels of the day because they had one foot in the Hip-Hop world and one in the Electro world of the early days of Paradise Garage sound. So I got to know those guys, Cory and Steve, and ended up signing "Raising Hell." We tried to sign the first album; we missed out. Ended up signing the second album when we basically got the world outside of the U.S. to handle. It was an amazing experience cuz it got me writing with Russell Simmons in the early days of Def Jam, and Patrick Moxey not long after that. It was great just being a part of that world. I remember bringing Run DMC to London, taking them to an Indian restaurant when they were superstars here in the States and unknown there. It was an amazing, amazing learning curve for me.
What would you say is the biggest Dance record you've ever signed?
Well, I tend to go for tracks that probably wouldn't necessarily be the biggest selling. When Run DMC came out in London there was a real change over in the mid-'80s, where we had this purist view that London could be this one label, a bit like Island Records was, that could have Bob Marley on it also U2. We thought on London we could be a label that can have the Fine Young Cannibals and Run DMC. We started to lose out in the U.K.; there became a new trend to start these satellite labels so our competition became labels like 4th & Broadway. Then this independent label called Rhythm Kings started, which changed everything. We were losing out to some of those labels, so we decided ... they gave me the option to launch my own label off the back of London, called FFRR, which was just a little symbol for the sound quality of the famous ol' London logo. So when I started FFRR, the first record I signed was Salt N Pepa's "Push It," which again, not really House music but that's probably one of the biggest records I ever signed. And then for House music, I think "French Kiss" being involved with Lil' Louis (& The World), in terms of the influence he had and still has to this day, those two albums we did with him are pretty special.
The FFRR label recently re-launched through Warner Bros. any music coming that you're excited about?
Yeah, they're amazing. The first band I signed was Hot Natured a couple of years ago. Last year when we merged with Parlophone in the U.K. They changed up the staff and the whole approach to the label so I would say the label really, really took off last year in the U.K. And the big successes were Blonde, The Magician, Oliver and then we signed this band that everyone wanted last year called Echosmith, but we haven't started to put their music out yet ... just about to now. So we've had an incredible start. All those records are active here. We're trying to break the Blonde record "I Loved You More" featuring Melissa Steel, which is actually doing amazingly in Europe. It's kind of ahead of the curve blending R & B melodies vocals with House. We've had a good reception in America. We still haven't broken it through big time. But I feel consistently bringing about quality music. FFRR roots were always in Black music. We look like a gang together when you see the Oliver Heldens, Blonde and The Disciples ... another band I've done pretty well with ... they all look like they're part of the same flava. I think that's the way I want to stick to it.
You started an event called the International Music Summit; do you do it in Ibiza and in the States?
This was, again, coming to N.Y. when I was first starting out, I got to go to the New Music Seminar, which, back in the day was hugely influential on me. Got to meet some amazing people, you know, Tom Silverman, Mark Josephson, that crew that ran it back in the day. If you remember back in those days, it was like Hip-Hop bands, Paradise Garage, Danceteria kind of cultural mixed up come together. We never had anything like that in Europe. I worked closely with the late, great Tony Wilson. He did Inner City in the U.K. with his wife, which was pretty hot.
Ibiza kind of contributes so much to the whole progression of Electronic music over the last 20 years. The rest of the world still looks at it as the place people go and get screwed up ... you know, party, it's amazing but it's not a really serious place. We wanted to put the island in a different light and give something back that would kind of change people's perception. Then the government and the consulate of Ibiza became supportive so we started this event seven years ago. It starts at the beginning of the season, the opening weekend in May, and it's grown to be a really important event. And the other is like the two bookends of the season with the ADE, the Amsterdam Dance Event, which has been going on now like 15-16 years and that's at the start of the season. It proved so popular that people kept asking us to bring it to America. So three years ago we did a pop-up at Coachella at the Ace Hotel, that was like one evening which went really well, and then that enabled us to get into L.A. for real, and two years ago we went into the W Hotel, who is our partner in America, in Hollywood. This will be our third year this year. We did a slightly different format; its usually three to four days, but this is a one-day event because it's in between the weekends of Coachella and everyone's really busy. So one day is like six or seven, kind of what we feel are very inspiring moderators and meeting figures from the world of Electronic with leading figures from other industries that we think everybody would be interested in. In the past we had like Kevin Lindstrom [co-founder/CEO] from Instragram, Diplo and Skrillex, so it's good to have mixes. We have some good things lined up for this year.
If people want to hear Pete Tong in 2015, are you on tour? Are there places people can see you?
America is where I live now so the focus has come back to America. I just did a cross festival this weekend, which is a new festival they’re launching,CRSSD Festival. Goldenvoice are involved in it down in San Diego ,which is more like underground leading for about 15,000 people. I have a residency here at Sound, a residency in Miami at Story. Quite regularly up in Toronto, Canada, and I’ll be doing TomorrowWorld and various other festivals.