The UK’s godfather of house is playing Dubai this week. James Wilkinson has everything you need to know
It’s been a long climb to the top. Right now Pete is a globally recognised DJ, producer and radio presenter, with his BBC Radio 1 show Pete Tong: the Official Start to the Weekend (formerly The Essential Selection) having run for 19 years, not to mention his gig appearances all over the world. But his first gig, at the age of 15, was at a friend’s wedding, and when he left school he packed his decks into a van and worked as a travelling disco. Thankfully his ambition took him away from that, first to music journalism – we told you he started at the bottom – and then to A&R work for London Records. Later he switched to radio DJing, which helped him to build his name in a time before superstar DJs even existed.
He’s extremely supportive of young producers. Tong encourages up-and-comers to pass on CDs and USBs, but believes that self-promotion is a better route to success. As he told Wired magazine: ‘There’s no better way I know to build a reputation as a DJ than to do your own thing. Do something different, start your own night, get your own crowd. If you are getting 50 people to a bar on a Tuesday, people will check you out. Once you have a crowd, you have a scene – it’s human nature.’ He says the remixing helps. ‘You don’t always have to wait to be asked. If you feel you have a great idea for a tune, have a go… Remixing in general is a great way to get your name out there.’
A sizeable chunk of ’80s pop is his fault. As head of A&R at London Records, Tong scouted and developed new talent – using the term loosely – including Bee Gees-covering girl band Bananarama. He also signed pioneering female hip hop trio Salt-n-Pepa, who released 1987’s ‘Push It’. He thinks clubbers could save the whole music industry.
As he told Laptop Rockers website: ‘The dance and electronic labels have adapted well to the new financial reality, and [Pete’s label] FFRR has some success stories to celebrate in David Guetta and Deadmau5, both [distributing through] EMI – a label that was in more trouble than the other majors. Could dance music turn this giant around?’
Though he’s best known as a DJ, Tong has contributed to several movies (although in some cases he may wish he hadn’t). His musical knowledge and skills have been put to varying use in, inevitably, a gaggle of films about club culture. These including the excellent comedy/dramas 24-Hour Party People and Human Traffic, and the slightly less believable Beyond the Rave, an online-released flick about a soldier who has to save his girlfriend from raver vampires before he’s sent back to Iraq. Tong also played a raver in the film, which was not well received (sample discussion title from www.imdb.com’s message boards: ‘This film is fried s***’). He also worked on Event Horizon, Shopping and The Beach, and composed music for Michael Caine’s recent old-man-versus-thugs flick Harry Brown. He’s even appeared as himself in several films, including – unsurprisingly – dismal comedy It’s All Gone Pete Tong.