Pete Tong talks the power of a live dance voyage and the biz behind the beats
More commonly heard between the hours of nine and twelve on the BBC Radio One airwaves, a familiar voice takes to the line in rare and unscripted form.
As well spoken and straight to the point as one would expect from a man always in demand and seldom short of industry intel, business is the subject set to dominate today’s phone call with the MBE whose second wind has made more contributions to dance music culture than the vast majority of his global peers. In anticipation of his All Gone To Sea party cruise concept, Pete Tong dialled in with us to chat not only about the power of the live dance voyage, but the bigger picture of his two decade grasp on the heartstrings of modern dance music.
His year started with a bang at BPM, soared into Miami with little sign of respite, took an unprecedented peak amid the American and Ibizan legs of IMS, only to peak into one of his busiest summers to date. If electronic dance music is racing towards a permanent fixture in the globe’s business acumen, Pete Tong has been holding the baton for longer than most in the ever-growing industry.
Past his stand as the BBC’s chief dance commander and the voice every artist wants to hear sealing approval for their latest material, time has told that you can always count on Pete Tong to deliver a consolidated state of the union for dance music’s global lifeblood. Even at the midway point of 2014 and with a clear cut agenda for talking about his latest live venture, that eagle-eyed vision for its pulse is exactly why Tong’s 20-year reign still has industry folk queuing round the block to follow suit.
“We’re in a year of consolidation and evolution. The so-called ‘EDM’ business is at the top table now. If you look at the sheer value and size of the business, we aren’t the new kids anymore. The potential for investment and progress is bringing a lot of new people into our world. I think now the focus is on managing the process for so much new money and attention. Dealing with the size and the issue of longevity is a big part of this journey, not to mention a lot of people wondering if it will tolerate the sounds now popular among it all. It’s an exciting time and that’s exactly why I moved to the US, to be a part of it at its epicenter.”
For Pete, the cruise business is a tourist-centric embodiment of where club culture’s social values found their feet. Where the footing of mainstream and underground talent flocking to Pete’s professional capacity makes line-ups with Calvin Harris, Steve Angello, Joris Voorn and Scuba alike all the more realistic. Over the phone, hiis words strike an intention of reclaiming something now lost on the modern market, something that the festival circuit simply cannot deliver. “In my day it was holiday camps like Soul Weekender and Bugged Out where you would all group together for four days and party as a solid unit. I see a lot of synergy in that experience and what a cruise offers. It brings a new dynamic to the evolution of dance music as an experience.”
Evolution has of course been crucial to the forward movements of Tong. Having championed a 20-year streak on the BBC airwaves and ascended from MBE stature to multi-national radio presence, the addition of a North American show offers an opportunity to gain scale with music people really care about. As he recalls the hours spent taping radio shows during his earliest trips to New York, there is a sense that Tong has more to prove than ever through his second high profile radio stint. “Back then the whole thing sounded so futuristic. Nowadays US radio is a frustrating medium. The programming has a tendency to be very safe and after a while of being in the country you realize how limited the playlists really are.”
When probed about how this has driven his own programming values in the US, Tong chuckles to himself, evidently familiar with the cynical prospect of American intervention involving cash-driven compromise. He quotes the emergence of Duke Dumont and Disclosure as promising indicators of the nation’s airwaves opening up to European alternatives, making his own personal mission one of navigating into an accessible market whilst gaining scale for the music that the masses care about. The plates are shifting, but the surface has never been more exciting.
“It’s a challenge, but an exciting one at that,” he suggests.
Past the BBC airwaves, the leaps and bounds of his Evolution show and secretive plans for expansion onto the Vegas market, the plates are not set to stop spinning for the original British dance ambassador. The White Isle, recorded projects, compilations and the addition of his All Gone To See concept drop alongside a battle for sanity, day-to-day-life and forward movements for the sake of an undying passion electronic music as a business.
“I often wonder how Steve Jobs did so much,” laughs Pete in reflection of his own altercations with time that are only to be tested to the max on the road ahead. “I remember Diddy turning to me at IMS one day and saying ‘We all have the same 24-hours in the day Pete, it’s what you do with those hours that counts.’ I think he hit the nail on the head there.”