Interview: Gilles Peterson

WRITER
mari* Kimura

――What was the first record you played on the radio as a DJ?
G: When I had my first pirate radio station, I can’t remember what the first record I played. When I went to the big pirate, Radio Invicta, I was sixteen, seventeen, the intro to my show, was Earth, Wind & Fire “Brazilian Rhyme”. That was my opening tune. I haven’t got a recording, but I bet there is a person who has a recording of the show, because Radio Invicta was the first black music pirate in London. Even though I don’t have any recordings, I’m sure someone would have a recording of that. The first record I played on K-Jazz, was “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy, with Branford Marsalis on saxophone. I thought “Yeah, it’s jazz, but it’s Public Enemy”.

――Then you had your own shows on Kiss FM, BBC Radio One, and currently you have a weekly show on BBC Radio 6 Music. In 2016, you started the internet radio station orldwide FM, but do you remember the first records you played for these shows?
G: Aah I don’t know!

――Now people can choose to listen to music on CD’s or data, but why do you continue to collect records?
G:  I’d say the period between 2005 and 2010, I probably didn’t buy as much vinyl as before. I still buy records, but it’s interesting actually, because about 15 years ago, there was a period where Brownswood Records, my label, some of the early records didn’t come
out on vinyl. There was a period where even me, I wasn’t buying vinyl much. When dubstep became big, and that whole period where labels like Hyperdub and Digital Mystikz were popular, I have a bit of regret that I didn’t collect all that stuff on vinyl. I got some of it, but there was a period around 10 years ago for 2 or 3 years where I wasn’t buying as much vinyl because record stores were closing, people weren’t doing vinyl, and I just stopped playing it. And then it became really cool again, then I just got caught up on that. Subliminally, you’re also supporting the project. I’ll buy records, even if I can have them sent to me. I’ll get them free, but usually I’ll go and buy the records. I feel like it’s my responsibility, and it’s my way of supporting the culture, the movement, the DJ scene, the music scene.

――What aspect of vinyl do you like?
G: For me it’s the collector side in me. So I like the fact that I can visually see where it fits in the life line of a project. That’s really important for me. I like the physical nature of it, I like the artwork, I like the fact that you can see the sleeve notes. I never got into reading books on the computer. People read tablet books, but I’ve never done that. I need the book, I need the physical. It’s the sense that I’ve listened to it, and that I’ve read it. For me, that’s
what you get from a record.

――Most DJs play digital files these days, but you bring vinyl to most of your gigs and play vinyl. Why do you do that?
G: Bringing vinyl is useful. The other thing I like about vinyl is that when you bring vinyl as a DJ, you are limited to what you’ve got in the vinyl. And sometimes if you have a USB key or if you have a case of lots of CDs like back in the old days, you have so much choice that you end up playing the easy option. You know what I mean? Whereas if you have records, you literally bring what you’re going to play. So when you’re thinking about what you’re going to play before you go out, you’re thinking “I’m going to bring these records”. When you’re in a situation where you’re going to play, that’s what you have to play with. And if you don’t have the big hit, well that’s the way it is, you’re going to have to find another way. I think it makes me more creative as a DJ, actually to have records.
Anybody can be a DJ these days. Literally you just put your tracks in a computer, and it will mix it for you. So there’s no mistakes, but the fun of it’s gone. I think that when you play vinyl, you have to work it. You have to work the decks, you have to use the vari-speeds, and by working it with vinyl, you do interesting things. Interesting things happen. If it’s too easy digitally, then everything becomes really basic. So that’s why I still love playing vinyl. I’m not very good at anything. I’m rubbish at playing. But playing records is something I became good at after 25 years. For years I was no good at mixing, but I slowly learned to how to become, not a master, but skillful of a level.
But these days I also carry a USB. Because sometimes you’re not always sure how good the equipment is going to be. Especially for festivals. If you turn up with records at a festival, then you can find yourself in hot water, because they haven’t set it up right. When you try to be too specific and too analog for your big festival sets, you only got 90 minutes, so if something goes wrong you’re going to mess it up. So that’s learning from my experience. If I can play the odd record I love it, in any environment. Right now these days unless I’m playing somewhere where it’s 100% vinyl, I reckon I play 30 to 50 percent
vinyl. It makes me DJ differently as well. And I love to play old records.

Go to Part3 of Gilles Peterson's Interview!

Gilles Peterson

Gilles Peterson
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.

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