Gilles Peterson is known as one of the most influential radio and club DJs in the world. As a teenager, he started his own pirate radio station in his backyard. The young boy who was playing records on the airwaves independently, now has one of the most popular radio shows on Radio 6 Music, which is broadcast from UK’s largest radio station BBC. While continuing to dig up gems from the past, in 2016, he launched the online radio platform, Worldwide FM, and provides a platform for international DJs and influencers. In the 90s he was instrumental in igniting the Acid Jazz movement with the Talkin’ Loud label, and now has become a driving force in the UK Jazz movement by releasing new talent from his label Brownwwood Recordings. He has been preaching the gospel of music for over 30 years as a DJ, record label owner, festival curator/producer, and also founded the Steve Reid Foundation to support musicians. He shared many fascinating vinyl stories for this interview.
――How did you get into records?
G: I started collecting quite late, when I was fourteen. I’ve spoken to early hiphop DJs and some of them were collecting since they were six. My brother and sister had records, so my brother and sister used to have records in the house. So I started listening to their records.
The record that I was first really obsessed by was by a group called Caravan, and it was called “In the Land of Grand Pink”. It was a kind of prog-rock record that my brother liked, and I still really like this record actually, but it’s kind of an obscure band from Southern England, from Kent. I remember coming home looking forward to playing it, and looking forward to going to my brother’s room because he wouldn’t be home yet, so I could listen to his record.
――Was it hip for your older brother and sister to have turntables and vinyl?
G: It was a pretty normal thing. Most people had records because it made up who you were very much. In England particularly, identity is quite an important part of who you are as a growing human, as you grow into adulthood. Identity and belonging to something…I think it’s a bit different to maybe how the French are somehow. Because I had a French background as well, it was a bit confusing for us, but we were a combination of like a French traditional family, but living in kind of an English environment. On one hand my mum would be listening to French radio, listening to chanson and French music and that whole thing. Whereas some English families, their parents would be listening to BBC Radio 4, but we weren’t listening to any of that. My brother would be listening to John Peel at nighttime. And so it was really this combination of a kind of Englishness and Frenchness.
――Growing up around all these records at home, when did you start buying records on your own?
G: The nearest town to me was a town called Sutton in South London, near Croydon, which is where Dubstep was invented. There was a High Street, and there was a record shop, Our Price Records which opened up in Sutton. My brother once took me to Sutton, and we went into the Our Price. He started going through all the racks, and then I started
going through the racks as well. And then he looked to me and said “Why are you doing that? You don’t know anything.” And I was like it’s true, but I wanted to be cool, but I couldn’t. So he shamed me, so from that moment onwards, I wanted to know what was in those shelves. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I became kind of you know…before then I was a collector person. In school I used to collect marbles, or I’d collect football cards, I had a good electric train set. When I was at school, because my mom and dad were French, I used to always get my clothes from France. So I used to get all the adidas stuff, and that was stuff that wasn’t in England. So I used to be the adidas boy. So I used to have the Gazelles and all those shoes before people had them. I was always into collecting and getting stuff that you couldn’t get in London or in the streets. So when I found records it was cool because I could collect, and find exotic stuff that wasn’t
made in England.
So first of all I started collecting records, and this was the time when punk and post-punk were happening. I remember buying things like Blondie, I remember buying Electric Light Orchestra, I remember buying Madness “One Step Beyond”. I used to get a magazine every two weeks called “Smash Hits”. “Smash Hits” was like a pop magazine, I think it still exists. They’d always have reviews, and I’d do lists of everything. Around 13, 14 I basically became a soul boy. I dropped all the pop stuff, and went straight for the jazz, funk, and disco.
For me it’s nostalgic, so when I was in my early teens, they used to bring in imports from Japan. They cost loads, like 20 pounds, or 15 pounds for an import from Japan. Some of the imports from Japan were really good jazz funk. Like Hiroshi Fukumura, Terumasa Hino, Shigeharu Mukai, all these people. It was a bit like having an acetate, to have the Japanese imports and versions of these tracks. People would be like “what the hell is that?” and it made you unique, it kind of gave you an edge. In the old days, and still now to a certain degree, it’s about having music that other people don’t have. The Japanese things
was about having an arsenal. “Wow Gilles Peterson, he’s got a lot of great tracks”, part of that would have been the Japanese stuff.
Raised in South London by French/Swiss parents, radio jock, club DJ, and compiler Gilles Peterson grew up speaking French at home and English everywhere else. At 18, Petersonbegan DJing around London, ultimately spinning at the now-famous Dingwalls club in Camden. His sets covered the spectrum of urban music, from jazz to funk to soul and back to hip-hop. Out of this, Peterson co-founded the Acid Jazz label with some colleagues.