Pete Tong: “If you want to be making a living making music, then I think it’s inevitable to be open to the possibility that you are going to be working with brands”
Slightly more than a month ago Pete Tong was awarded an MBE. He was more than worth it for his long-term work on supporting music culture and personal creativity. A radio and club DJ, promoter, A&R manager, community facilitator and the one that keeps dance music up and running… You don’t know where to start when you have only 5 minutes to speak with a personality like that!
Pete will be back in Ibiza this summer, busy as usual. One of his tasks will be the mentoring of young DJs in the burn Residency contest. That’s exactly why I got the chance to interview him. And to make sure nothing ever has gone Pete Tong for him. And most probably won’t.
You’ve been running the International Music Summit in Ibiza since 2008. What I recall from my visit there in 2009 is that it was a very intense networking event. How is the convention doing and why is it important for you?
It’s doing really well. We are in the advanced planning mode for the sixth summit – it’s already on sale but we haven’t announced the lineup.
Back in 2008 it seemed reasonable to have a conference like that in Ibiza in the start of the season to kind of almost set the agenda for the summer. That was our mission. It’s something we are passionate about. I’d like to think it makes a difference. It’s distinctive and a little bit different to the other conferences out there, like ADE, which is great as well.
We launched it in America a couple of years ago, in Coachella. We did a first proper event in Hollywood last April. And again we’re back on the 16th this month doing the second in Hollywood, also being the third one in America. We call it IMS Engange. One day event in America, 3 day event in Ibiza.
Radio show, DJ gigs, conferences and many more things on your agenda – does the business side sometimes put a shade on the pleasant side of your life? Do you ever feel you don’t want to go play that gig but you have to?
It’s a constant balancing act. You have to be able to switch off sometimes. You can go a bit crazy when the schedule is full on. At the end of the day I’m doing something that I like so I can’t complain too loudly. I count myself lucky. It’s good sometimes to disappear for a day and turn your phone off.
In terms of gigs… I tend to do gigs I want to do. I don’t often find myself doing gigs for a reason other than I want to do it. I’ve come far enough in life to be in that privileged position. I can choose what I want to do. Some gigs are big, some gigs are small, some gigs are more commercial, some gigs are more underground. But it’s always my choice. I’m not being force to go anywhere to do anything. It’s probably more important to be able to disappear for a day. Making music with all these distractions is the hardest thing. Probably the biggest challenge of all.
Best music advice you’ve received in your life.
Whether you’re running a label and signing an artist or whether you’re making music yourself, you have to please yourself first, to do something that you truly believe and really moves you. Because if it doesn’t move you, you can be damn sure it won’t move anyone else. Every time in life I try to do something to crack the system or make something that I think the system wants, it usually backfires. The minute it doesn’t work everyone looks back at you and you go “Well I didn’t like it either!”. Hahaha… You can’t really say that, can you? Of course it’s tough when you’re starting out. But if you look at people that have become really successful, they haven’t usually become successful because they are doing something they don’t believe in. It doesn’t matter whether you like the music or not. Everyone has an opinion about everyone else’s music. Most of the people that are doing well making music and actually connect to other people, they are making music that they like. That’s probably the best lesson.
Prieš porą metų Tong minėjo 20-ies metų BBC Radio 1 sukaktį. Čia gal dar seniau?
Prieš porą metų Tong minėjo 20-ies metų BBC Radio 1 sukaktį. Čia gal dar seniau?
Do you think the future of electronic music – or maybe music in general – is inseparable from branding?
From a business standpoint, if you want to be monetized, if you want to be making a living making music, then I think it’s inevitable to be open to the possibility that you are going to be working with brands. The whole economy and the whole business model of the way it all works on so many different levels is changing. The old systems don’t necessarily work anymore. We are looking at new systems. I haven’t seen the speech yet but a number of people have told me that Lady Gaga made an excellent presentation at SXSW where she got up and basically just said “Shut up everybody, if I didn’t work with Doritos, I wouldn’t be here!”. It sounds ridiculous but what she meant was that if we want her to do all the stuff, have all those amazing shows and invest all this money then we shouldn’t worry too much about the branding. That’s the reality now. Before, the record company paid for everything, now it doesn’t anymore. Because record companies don’t make as much money as they used to. That’s what she was trying to say.
Burn have heavily invested in mentoring of young talent from the world of electronic music, and it’s them that’s doing it, not Universal Music. That’s the world as it is today.
Lady Gaga and Doritos kind of inspired my question!
Oh, here you go!
Are your kids interested in what you’re doing? Are they trying to follow your steps?
Yeah, they are! Two of them are already involved. I didn’t push them there or call anybody to get them jobs… Haha. My son is doing pretty well now in terms of music production. He went to university and got a degree in music technology. Now he’s served apprenticeships and worked in studios and he’s starting to stand on his feet. He’s getting loved by a couple of blogs that have really pushed his cause. He’s getting tracks signed by labels and he’s just remixed Diplo. Some things are happening for him! He does DJ but he doesn’t really want to. He’s getting asked to DJ – for example, he just had a gig in Paris with Cyril Hahn. He gets really nervous about it and he does call me about it. It’s funny because he has resisted it and he really doesn’t think he’s a DJ. He definitely thinks he’s a music maker.
My daughter is working for a label management company that’s attached to Sony. She’s doing really, really well. Again, she never saw herself as being a DJ but she DJs a lot. She also runs a club in London called The Juice Box. So both of them are doing what they love and they’re great at it!
OK, last question as we’re running short of time… How did you come up with the phrase “The Weekend Has Landed” that so many Essential Mixes – and weekends all around the world – have started with?
The thirst thing I remember from when I got attracted to the radio as a kid is that I liked the DJs that were a little bit more eccentric and would come up with all these phrases. Back when I was a kid there was an American DJ on Radio 1 called Emperor Rosko. He played funk and soul, kind of blue-eyed soul, and he probably influenced my musical taste. He always spoke in riddles. It would sound like a real cliché now, but back in whenever it was in the 70s it seemed like a whole new world.
There was this station called Radio Luxembourg that we all used to listen to as kids. Tony Prince, the founder of Mixmag’s predecessor DMC, worked there as a DJ. He used to speak like that as well. And then I, still quite young, started going to America and I would just sit in hotels in New York, turn on the radio and and record DJs like Frankie Crocker on WBLS…
… It was all these sayings and phrases that also had a heavy influence on me.
That actual line, I believe, to be honest, actually came from working on the film “Human Traffic”. Getting involved with the cast and the script of that film… An actor called John Simm actually says that line in the film. I guess they were influenced by me. The director and the writer was called Justin Kerrigan, a Welsh film student. When I finally met him he said “I grew up listening to you on the radio, you did a massive influence on my life and this script was really inspired by you!”. So he wrote that script inspired by me but the line came from him! That’s a long answer to a short question… See the movie!
I have – many times, but I always thought the line came to the script from your shows, not vice versa.
Glad we sorted it out! Haha.
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