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Interview: Pete Tong

Pete Tong talks Pacha, IMS, Ibiza, Vegas and his musical integrity. We continue...

How did it feel to be back at Pacha this year?

"Yeah fantastic. It’s very much like going home, it's very warm and welcoming. Quite emotional really, just being back on the first night it’s like everyone is family. Not many people have changed positions, so the bar staff are all the same and so on. To be fair, I did visit quite a lot while I was away, and Pacha were always very positive and happy to see me then, so it all sort of intensified when I came back. We got off to a really good start; well actually, we opened earlier than everyone else so we got off to a flying start! It’s been good, and it’s been really consistent. I would say after the Laurent Garnier week it moved up a gear, and then from September we really hit our stride and musically we were at a place where I wanted to go for the future. I’ve said many times in interviews I wanted to be a closer cousin to Sundays rather than Thursdays or Mondays, because that’s where I really see there being a gap. Because I mean you’ve got the island as competition, and then you’ve got the rest of Pacha as competition too! There’s so many good nights, where do we fit in? That’s something I thought long and hard about before we came back."

So you feel you want to fit in or you do fit in?

"No, I feel I fit in. What I’ve been playing the last 3 or 4 years has been great, with wonderland, and I was very comfortable to come back and want to continue doing that mission really. And you know Fridays a pretty unique night, and I think I’m pretty qualified to talk about Fridays as a whole…"

"But it’s a slightly different thing with the weekend crowd with the workers and the people that live here. It’s a slightly different mix and its definitely, well historically, a very strong night to be playing. I think one of the things I was told when I left that they never got back, was that kinda family vibe. I use it the loosest sense, it was very much a meeting place on Fridays; up in the terrace in the nooks and crannies. But when I’d gone no one really owned it. They tried a lot, and had some good things, but nobody really owned it. And I think they wanted it back… and I think they got it."

We can talk music in a minute. But, how have you actually made it work, even with you going in one direction and then the other, having such a broad variety of guests?

"Well, it’s a long season, its 19 weeks, its Pacha, it’s not DC10, and it’s Friday night, so I think across a season you can book it a little bit like you book a festival. And also, part of it was trying things out this year to find out what particular strands work; and two extremes work basically. Like Usher works, Calvin Harris works, Guy Gerber works, and Matthias Tanzmann works. So actually in the course of the season, if you’re careful with programming like at a festival, you can pull it off. And what I’ve been doing most weeks is being the glue between one thing and the other. Most weeks I’ve actually been playing at the end, but it kind of creates that workers family thing. I wouldn’t say every single week has been as good as every other week. Some things worked better than others, but big artists worked there, and its Pacha. We’ve also got more competition; when I was first there in 2003. I kind of had Friday nights to myself really, and now I’ve come back and Amnesia have a big Friday with I Want My MTV, and Space have got a big Friday with Come Together, Supermartxe started the same year I was back… Friday is the most competitive night except for Monday."

You mentioned Usher, and Seal did Friday didn’t he?

"Yeah…"

How do these extremes work and form part of the night?

"It worked really well. It’s a bit of a showbiz moment I guess. We did the Ushuaia thing and that worked particularly well. That was the first time they had someone that large on that stage. Obviously I’d never played an Usher record. And as soon as we announced it there were obviously a few people who wrote on blogs and probably your website… ‘what the fuck is he thinking!?’"

Ha, yeah…

"But its more of this, we’re trying to throw stuff out there and see what people think. I mean we’re looking for the Lady Gaga moment and it all started to make sense, because we were looking around and he was particularly keen (Usher), and he really wanted to come over with no pretentions or with a 30 strong bodyguard team. He came over open minded, came over a few days early, went everywhere, looked around, took it all in, went back to the hotel room with his music director, and changed things up a bit. So he really made an effort to adapt to the island, and that a fantastic level of affection. He’s the least pretentious person I’ve ever met in that world. And that really helps. So Ushuaia was really a bigger stage for him than Pacha was."

"Then for Seal, I think that kinda’ fit even better because of what he did at Leo before, and then came over. He really worked with me on the set of what he should do. I re-edited ‘Killer’ for him. I put beats under it for him and he helped with that so we had that connection. There was lots of nostalgia from the whole event really. The interesting thing about Seal is there were lots of people in the room that night but not a lot of Seal fans, but actually he really connected with everyone just through his performance."

Talking of Usher, in terms of Hip-Hop and R’n’B stars, MTV have done a lot also, Pacha have too… Ludacris was there one night, what do you think about that? The whole fact that 50 Cent and Snoop are playing in Ibiza and loving it.

"Well, I’m not one of these people who sit on the beach in Ibiza saying they shouldn’t be here. I think the bigger picture is that we’ve got to understand that Ibiza is becoming an entertainment hub for the world. Competing on a world wide level, so I think its inevitable that these things are going to happen. They weren’t all there, but I’m not against people trying. There are a few things I think people do, there’s a lot of experimentation going on. Ben Turner is a very good friend of mine, and I get on with the Amnesia people, but I mean putting Snoop on at 4 in the morning… maybes he’s better off at 12? People waiting around till 4 in the morning to see a pop show? I’m not so sure. I think these things are going to get worked out. You can’t stop progress."

"I think it stands up there against all these other places around the world where people can go. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. When you go back in history to ‘86 and ‘87 you had Freddie Mercury, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran… it's not like pop music didn’t actually play here before."

You talked about the Usher thing; Ushuaia and you did the Radio 1 event as well, what do you think of Ushuaia?

"Fantastic. Again, a brilliant addition to the island. Sending all the right messages. I think in terms of value for money for the people who actually come here not to work but to be on holiday and to experience everything available, I think it’s a massive plus. To be massively debated amongst all the clubs about whether or not it’s good or bad though no doubt. But again, you can’t stop progress. That’s what desperately needs to happen in somewhere like San Antonio. I think progress is good. It makes the clubs try harder. It makes other people with day-time situations like that try harder. It’s not a bad thing."

When I’ve been listening to you for the last 15 years, I’ve always found you’ve represented the sound of the time. Does that mean that if you’re playing that music, then you’re playing the popular sound at the minute too?

"No. It’s what I’m into. Its what moves me, it’s no deeper than that really. That’s why I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing with the amount of commitment I’m doing it with unless I loved it. I don’t need to do it. I do it to pay the bills to an extent. But I’ve got other jobs. So, I do it because I love it and I’m still moved by it. And people still ask me to play so… I think I like being the glue inbetween. You say in that question that I play the sound of the times, but actually I’m always trying to look for the next thing. And dance music, electronic music, whatever you want to call it, is always in a transient situation. And we’re in a particularly extreme position at the moment where the commercial end, the more popular end, is having extreme coverage and success, you know with the likes of the Swedes, Calvin Harris, Afrojack being so prominent. It burns so bright, and the funniest thing is, it becomes so big that then as a DJ you can’t even play their music. You’d almost feel like you were intruding on their act. All those people I mentioned, 70-80% of what they play is their own music. And then that creates space, its not what I would necessarily play anyway. Its like they’re doing that, and there’s everyone else…and I love the fact that Ibiza is embracing it all."

"And another thing I’ve said before, if someone came to Ibiza for the first time, and you could take them to see ‘Fuck Me I’m Famous!’, you could take them to see the Swedes and see them lining up around the club, see all the production… they might know every tune that they hear, they hear it on the radio, all the bootlegs etc. Then I can take them to Cocoon and they wont know anything. But they’ll see the same kinda’ reaction. If they were deaf and couldn’t hear the music… it’s the same. That’s what’s fascinating about Ibiza; that the two extremes exist. Now you’ve got Ushuaia in the middle of it with Luciano, who is again crafting another kind of style, dropping the vocal over the tunes particularly at the end, which gets the clientele comfortable. It’s like forging another style, which is really interesting."

One of the things is the extreme nature of the ways things are, with the Swedes doing one thing which has pushed the brand in a commercial way into the charts, like pop music to a certain degree. Has that meant that the gap between the underground has grown a little bit and you get stars rising like Jamie Jones?

"But its not by accident neither, its because they’re really good. That’s important. It’s not like there’s a vacuum so whoever comes in is bigger. Its actually because they’re really good. All the values that go into making what Jamie and Seth and all the new school people do, Laura Jones, Lazarus is good, and so on. Its not just the music, or the labels they run, it’s the fact that they’re so much a part of the fabric of the island. They were punters at DC10 for years before they were DJ’s, and I think the other most fascinating thing is Jamie and Seth, after years of DC10 having a reputation for being minimalistic and hedonistic they are playing vocals all the time, but a different type of vocal to the anthemic vocal that Morillo will have been playing years ago, or the Swedes. And that inherently has given them another power that certainly attracted me, because I think the outside potential of what they are doing is really interesting."

It is very accessible…

"Yeah, totally, very sexy, it’s very soulful. Which is more going back to my roots, that’s why I like it. Going right back to my jazz funk soulboy roots. I fell out with that lot, because I started playing rap stuff, then fell out with the rap lot because I started playing house records. There will always be a set of people who will entrenched in whatever is big, trance, etc."

You spend most of the summer in Ibiza, where have you been partying this year, were have you been that’s hot, or different?

"Cocoon and Ushuaia mainly. Partly down to the way my diary works! I’ve been to most Thursdays, and seem to get there quite often. And I’ve found that it’s a great place to hangout. Luciano is a great host, all of them, Yan and the crew, are cool. Cocoon will always be my other favourite place to go, I don’t go as much as I want to, but its cool. I haven’t been to DC10 this year, which is a shame, maybe ill go to the closing… I’ve popped into many of the other nights. I mean Nick Curly is a good mate, so his night's cool…"

I want to talk about a couple of different things, how do you look back on this years IMS and how it went, in terms of the conference and the event?

"Well, for us, it was amazing because we didn’t lose money! I think in the 4 years its matured, its evolving on all the fronts it needs to evolve on. Every year we Tweet the whole panel set up and business end of it, and I think we are continuing to improve that. We always listen to the feedback. And then the night time stuff and stuff round the edges, which is very important for the growth of it if we’re every going to realise it as a mini Sonar, it was great. We’ve finally got the go-ahead after pushing on the door for a long time, to get 2 nights at Dalt Villa, which made the whole thing… you could relax more, you could put a bit more production up there. If you think about the effort it takes to set that up… they finish setting up at 6pm, the show starts, the second the show finishes, they start breaking it down. The fact we had 2 days up there made a big difference… in terms of getting the guests up there and giving something to the island for free was great. The international tie up, presence and ability to deliver it online, the satellite link up to David Lynch was all good stuff."

Where do you want to take it? What’s the objective of how the format of it would be for the future?

"Well, its still early days in its 4th year, some of these things we’ve been competing against like Midem, which has been going for 40 years, Miami must be 20 odd years… Amsterdam dance is over 10 years. So you have to get 5,6, and 7 years in just to get established with people. We still feel like we haven’t just started, we’re still in our infancy."

But I mean its already quite established… as a unique event…

"Well, yeah, it is. But I don’t feel like we can relax. We’re all talking about now, but next years should be a little more on sale than it is already. And now it’s the headline act and we can properly get it on sale before Christmas. We’ve got the dates, we know when it’s going to be. We’re always trying to get artists, management and agents to concentrate on next summers event when we’re still in this summer, and it’s hard. So in terms of where we want to take it, we want it to be a duel for the island, like a proper extension for the season. It brings people to the island that might not necessarily come that time of year, and its revered in the same way in the same way ‘In The City’ was in the UK, ‘New Music Seminar’ was back in the day, how Amsterdam (ADE) is to a certain extent. But our model is a little bit more similar to what they do at Sonar. Which sounds kind of weird comparing us to Sonar, but I love that they always have that kind of art focus, they’re like a festival of the arts. Many people just think of Sonar as a music festival, and that’s a good way to go, it’s a good way to be perceived."

You had your 20 years of Radio 1 celebrations this year. Have you finished all the events now?

"Pretty much yeah…"

What were the highlights? You’ve done all sorts of stuff…

"The actual day was amazing. We talked about a lot of stuff, the station was so supportive of the idea, and there was a lot of brainstorming sessions that went on for about up to a year before. Well, from about spring of 2010. And the first gut reaction, the thing everyone wanted to do, was do some big event, like an outside broadcast. Almost like what I did with Cream on the docks in 1999, a mesmerising event. The more I thought about it, listening to the ideas knocking about, I said… you know what guys, what would mean more to me than anything, 20 years on the radio, I think people would feel a little cheated if I wasn’t actually there. You know, I get to travel a lot and do all these events, but I just wanted to be there in the studio. So, then we changed it all up and turned it into this event of giving me the whole 12 hours (of radio). So I think that was the biggest highlight. Being on everyone else’s show during the day, starting with Chris Moyles was a big buzz. I’ll never forget it. Obviously what happened in the night, its not that I was just sitting there for 12 hours in the studio, we did a lot. I started it in the morning, and then doing my first ever Essential Mix was a lot of fun. It was about 6 weeks we worked on that."

So that was your first? I mean, you’ve done others, live broadcasts and so on…

"Well, yeah, I did the first ever Essential Mix, and some live ones. But we had been talking about it and I’d forgotten doing some of them. With the first one I’d forgotten, and I think I did it in some ones office at a record label with literally 2 turn tables, so that’s how it started. I’ve never done a studio Essential Mix, and I don’t know why really… I think it was always someone that would do the live show. And at the beginning when it first started, we went out on tour a lot, we did all the clubs and I was on a lot, so the last thing they needed was me being on it again! Especially as I had my own show the day before. So yeah, the years go by. And it’s scary…"

I was looking at the top 20 tracks of the top last 20 years or whatever it was called. I kinda’ look back at it, and I thought there seemed to be this concentration of tracks around the late 90s and the start of millennium, I wondered if there was any reason as to why you think that is? Was it just the fact it was 10 years ago and it was a heydey for dance?

"Maybe when people are voting in 2011, even if you were 18 you would still know those tracks. Maybe it was just that moment in time. There wasn’t much from the late 80s or early 90s, which was also a hey-day for it. Maybe that’s just indicative of who was listening and voting on Radio 1 on that particular time. It was a good period… but it didn’t feel like it at the time. That was when it was all over. That was when clubs started to close down, magazines started to shut down, that’s when record labels started to ditch their dance departments. It was actually kind of a collapsing moment around 1992 to 2002, but that’s not to say the records weren’t still good, but you know…"

Last questions coming up; do you have anything else coming up in terms of productions, performance, and so on?

"After Ibiza I’m doing an American tour. I’ve been doing Vegas this year for a while, quite regularly in fact… about the last 6 weeks, and I’m doing it on Sunday."

How’s the scene there then?

"Its absolutely exploding. Its grown very rapidly in the course of the last 12 months, from the last Labor Day, beginning of September 2010 to this one, about 2 weeks ago, everyone says it’s the new Ibiza. Its not like that, its nothing like it. It’s the desert and a huge city. It’s like Ibiza in one sense in that people now go there just for the music and just for the holiday. They can go Thursday, Friday and leave Sunday, and they can party 24/7 just like they can here. Its just interesting watching it evolve, the commercial end of it has exploded. I mean Aviici is huge there, Afrojack is huge there, Cascade is huge there, Swedes are obviously big there, but they’ve always got too much of that. So I’ve been sitting there all summer thinking they’re almost getting ready for the next level which is where I’m positioning myself again. They’ve got these amazing day-time spaces like Ushuaia. So I’ve been going on Cook Beach, which is like the biggest pool space in Vegas and I think the best hotel. And again some parties we’ve done with Nic Fanciuli, some parties with Cascade… like the extremes to see what’s working. But on Labor Day I did it with Cascade and it was absolutely rammed, even more so than the year before. And I was able to play pretty much what I would play at Mambo or something like, I played Jamie Jones, I played Tourist Trap, people going insane, and then Cascade was able to go on and do his thing afterwards. I was looking at the other guy, the guy who runs all the clubs there, and he was like ‘finally!’ I mean he didn’t even really understand what we tried to do at the start, at the beginning of the season when we had Nic Fnciuli playing… it went over their heads a little bit. It’s changing rapidly though. I’ve tried to tell them, that its fantastic what Afrojack does, but they don’t need that during the day time, they don’t need to do the same, and they are all purists of Luciano, and I though he was going to go do Vagabundos parties there next year. The way he is playing, it’ll probably work there. But its an opportunity for them, its kind of what I’m about, I’m out there researching what going on."

"My partner in the William Morris agency is there, and I’ve got my record label, FFRR again, so to me it works on many different levels. We’ve just released the first record by Paper Crows, but its not like how it used to be where we released something every week, its going to be more like a boutique label, a bit more like 679. I’m just looking for artists, and I’ll be happy if I find one a year. I just want to do what I think I do best which is work with artists, develop and nurture them and help them make records. I stopped doing it for 10 years, and I have all that knowledge and experience and I want to put it back into use. I think it’s an exciting time again to be working with bands. You can make a record yourself and put it on Beatport tomorrow, but actually what’s missing is the old school, it’s a skill and an art and its hard to find, and I’m really excited. Its going through Warner Brothers, the chairman is ironically someone who used to work for me, so I hired him years ago, and now he’s hired me! Other things, I’m making music… I want to make more, it’s a massive passion, its just time. I’m just trying to get very strict with myself until Ibiza starts again to get as much music down as possible. Im meant to be doing an artist’s album, but I’m finding out what that might be at the moment. I know for sure it wont be a hits album. Music we’ve started making is quite Nicholas Jar vs Massive Attack so far, so quite dark. But its good fun."

"I’ve got an EP coming out on Toolroom, Against The Wall EP, which is a track I did back in February. For whatever reasons, its just taken a while to get it out. Matthias Tanzmann, and Tom Bens done a mix of it, so it’s a good little package."

"Then in new year I’m going to do Asia as I haven’t been for ages, so Im going to Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Thailand, Malaysia; a proper tour. Last year I took new years off."

So, keeping busy?

"Yeah… you don’t stop!"

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