Full House :: Interview with Gilles Peterson

Early 2008 will see the release of Gllles Peterson’s ‘in The House’ selection on Defected records and Paul Bradshaw talks to the globally renown eclectic club and radio dj about the pain, the passion and leather pegs!

Posted Toni Tambourine on Sat Jan 19, 2008

Music News
“I know it sounds like a cliché but it’s all about the passion… the key ingredient is passion. Look, we’re here, listening to Jon Lucien’s ‘Mi Vida’ and I’m loving it. I’m not over it and I simply can’t fake it!” declares a charming but animated Gilles Peterson. Imbued with a boyish swagger and an irrepressible energy Gilles is a goldmine of musical knowledge and when Geraldine Hunt’s ‘’Can’t Fake That Feeling’ fills the room it seems to vindicate his point of view. “This is a TUNE, a mighty vocal. There’s nothing better than seeing the ladies shake to this one!”

The Radio 1 DJ and boss of Brownswood Records, is in the midst of a photo shoot in a small industrial flat conversion just off the City Road and spitting distance from Hoxton Square. The disc in the hi fi is a test press of his latest compilation for Defected and it’s simply entitled ‘Gilles Peterson In The House’. Interestingly it illuminates another side of Peterson’s eclectic outlook and why his roots in soul, funk, disco and fusion have ensured him a place in the higher echelons of global DJ culture.

“I know all the dj’s… on all the scenes!” he says laughing. And he’s not joking. He has notched up millions of air miles and inevitably they all meet up as they criss cross the globe spinning records or doing whatever they do with those lap tops. Plus, his role the founder of Acid Jazz and as the head honcho of Talkin’ Loud records and his own Brownswood label has led him to work with and commission music from all the dons.

He’s good friends with Laurent Garnier – “the only DJ who can join the dots between myself, DJ Marky and Carl Cox” – and, of course with Carl Cox himself. He and Carl go way back to pre rave days and following his most recent annual guest spot with Carl at Space in Ibiza he feels that musically they definitely have a lot in common. However, he still gets those cold shivers as he recalls the first time he played at Space.

“It was ten years ago. That was the most scared I’ve ever been as a DJ. I was close to crying when I went on. There were a couple of thousand Europeans who’d been going ballistic to the hardest techno. It was extreme. Carl had peaked it playing the outer limits of dance music and I had to follow him, on the Terrace, live on Radio 1, and make it feel like it was a smooth transition! I had to drop from 136 to 116 bpms… do you know what that’s like? The people were confused to the point of horror when I played my first tune but I survived and as heavy as the experience was it provided me with yet another valuable dj lesson.

“I’ve done Space every year since then and this year Carl and I have come closer to each other, sharing artists on our play lists and appreciating each other more. I’m definitely feeling the swing and funk in his sets. Also his audience is more likely to understand me now than ten years ago.”

Gilles Peterson is an outernationalist. He lives and works in close proximity to his beloved Arsenal in North London and though his roots are as a south London soul boy, he is also a fluent French speaker with family in both France and Switzerland. However, his second home is Japan. He’s been working there since the Eighties and has been a major force in promoting and cultivating the nu-jazz scene. He has a weekly radio show on the hugely influential J Wave, one of his favourite clubs is Yellow in Tokyo, he has signed punked-out jazzers Soil &”Pimp” Sessions to his Brownswood imprint and he tours there three times a year.

“I do enjoy shopping in Japan. I buy all my suits and shirts there. I’ve got definite tastes… Viz Vim for their shoes, Undercover for shirts. I’m also feeling Cool Struttin’ in Aoyama. I loved the couple who used to make the suits for UFO.” says Peterson and adds, “I never feel comfortable shopping here, in London. I only do bookshops, the record shops… the ones that are left!... and wine shops. I like the labels on the bottles… maybe it’s the collector in me.”

Quirky. That’s how I would describe Gilles Peterson and as he describes his youth you realise why.

“On a recent drive to Manchester with my MC, Earl Zinger… he’s also one half of 2 Banks of 4… we were listening to the ‘In The House’ selection,“ say Peterson. “Zinger’s feeling was, ‘That’s your history… right there.’ And I suppose it is.

“I started with disco not quite realising I was being engulfed in future classics at an early age. ‘Jingo’ by Candido, Idris Muhammed’s ‘Could Heaven Be Like This’, Silk’s ‘Space Bass… kind of disco meets jazz. That was my soul boy days: Caister, Goldmine, Cat’s Whiskers, Bogarts. Then there was Prelude records, Sharon Redd’s ‘Can You Handle It, Strikers’ ‘Body Music’… D Train and those Francois K productions.

“As a teenager I used to play a gay club in Croydon called Doctor Crippens on Sundays. I couldn’t tell my mum. Carol Jiani’s ’Hit & Run Lover’ was big but I hated it. Back then I loved all those Cerrone and Change tracks and they still sound really good to me.. In those days it was pre computers and programmed drums, so it was down to really good live drummers, like on Taste Of Honey’s ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’ . The Mizell Brothers produced that. Earth Wind & Fire, that was my house music, that’s when I grew up musically and found myself wearing leather pegs from Jones in the Kings Road, pods from a little shop in Kingston and jazz funk t-shirts that I picked up at the weekenders.

“I used to go to the Venue in Victoria and the Rainbow in Finsbury Park and hear the cream of Brit Funk. Shakatak, Hi Tension, Cache, Touchdown, UK Players… I used to love them… Freeze. I caught Luther Vandross at the Dominion on the corner of Tottenham Court Road… it was down to him and the drummer. I played ‘Never Too Much’ last Saturday in Kings Cross at the end of the session, around 5am. People still love it.

“On the “boogie” front Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson’ is very important to me. He was doing the Electric Ballroom with George Power when I was doing the Jazz Room upstairs. The ballroom was a cross between Crackers and a more modernist electro vibe comin’ in via Whodini and Nucleus. Respect is also due to Frankie Foncett, Noel Watson and, of course Norman Jay. All those guys are important.”

So, that brings us to 1987 and the dawn of Acid House. Rare Groove ruled in London town but it was about to be eclipsed.

“It was radical!” exclaims Peterson. “ But I was sceptical. We were doing our thing. Talking Loud & Saying Something at Dingwalls was kicking off. I wasn’t convinced. Maybe it was the whole association with the drugs but when I saw Michael Knot, a member of IDJ, a brilliant jazz dancer, dancing to ‘Acid Trax’ by Phuture in a dark room at the back of a pub in Teddington I changed my mind and started including it into my sets. I went to few Boys Own parties and loved it. Also, we… Bro Marco and Rob G… had a room at Babylon, Steve Swindell’s club at Heaven. Downstairs, it was Colin Favor playing early electronic techno and next door in the Future Bar was Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold. On a Thursday night, for two years, you couldn’t avoid the craziness that was Babylon.”

Twenty years on, the tunes that Gilles Peterson has included in his Defected selection never fail to stand up to the tests of time and reflect both passion and an ability to uplift the spirit. “With compilations… I must be the world record holder!” he says shaking his head. “The record collectors must hate me… ‘Oh no! Not another Peterson compilation!

“Basically, it’s like the alphabet.’ says Gilles. ”Jazz… black music got into my soul and it gave me the foundation. I got a good education because I was immersed in the culture here… pirate radio, warehouse parties, carnival, sound system… there was always a little bit of danger. I’ve had great, long-standing clubs at the Wag, Fridge, Fez, Bar Rumba, Dingwalls… Cargo. I’ve always enjoyed my own clubs but I’m also into those events or venues where I’m going to learn. Playing with Carl, Laurent or Theo Parrish… you need to put yourself outside you comfort zone.

“I’ve had great human satisfaction from what I do. I’ve met all these amazing people and then to be able to help them is as good as being a priest or a doctor. When artists or musicians like Steve Reid or Terry Callier come to London they call me through friendship and that’s great.”

“I suppose I’m a kind of cult famous person,” he continues. ”I’m rarely recognised but there are people who admire me for what I do and that motivates me. I get the best of both worlds. It is odd at times. I was at the Roundhouse for the Verve and this guy, who I had never met before, came up to me and said, ‘Hi Gilles.’ and we shook hands and talked and he turned out to be James Purnell – the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

“I’m always surprised when that happens. But I have dj’d for millions of people. I’ve been on the radio for over 25 years. People do look at me and maybe they do recognise me but sometimes I just think, ‘What are you looking at!?”

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