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Interview: Gilles Peterson

30 April 14 interview: Bridie Squires

Gilles Peterson is more than just a DJ, he’s a national institution. A record collector extraordinaire, a BBC radio host for almost two decades and a hero to crate diggers worldwide. We gave him a ring ahead of his Mimm gig...

Do you feel a loyalty to the songs you listened to growing up?
I suppose I do, in a way. I’m still playing some of the artists that I was listening to on pirate radio when I was fourteen. I don’t feel like I’ve had to stay true to that sound, but I’ll always go back to it with a sense of nostalgia and pride. Weirdly enough, the first mix album I did was in 1984, Jazz Juice, and I could still get away with playing them today. In fact, they would go down really well...

You started out on pirate radio in the eighties. What was the transition like to mainstream radio?
It was really frightening. I used to think pirate radio would be more frightening, considering you were potentially going to get busted any minute. I was about nineteen when I got offered a job at the BBC - Radio London - the station’s general manager was this raging alcoholic and I used to be on in the middle of the night. The station would be totally deserted apart from this one office where the light would be on, and he’d just be drinking. He was nuts, he would literally crawl around the corridors. He didn’t last very long, after that it became a lot easier.

Have there been any sounds coming from Nottingham that have influenced you when you’ve visited?
There are some DJs in Nottingham that were really quite important back in the day. Rock City was a place we’d come for all dayers. Nottingham, Manchester, and Birmingham were the places we’d come to as Southerners. My sister used to go to university in Nottingham too, so I used to visit and I’d go record shopping quite a lot when I was really young.

We hear you’re working with Ady Suleiman at the moment, what was it about him that stood out to you?
He’s signed a deal with Sony, so I’m going to be working on some music with him and producing his first EP. I think he’s amazing, he’s a 360 degree artist with great lyrics, brilliant stage presence. He makes me cry, he makes me smile, he’s one of those artists. There’s a lot of great artists around but I brought him over to my festival in France last summer and he absolutely blew the place apart and no one knew his music, so that’s a good sign.

What other upcoming artists are ones to watch?
God, there’s so much music around. There’s a guy from Manchester who I quite like called Werkha, he’s just signed to Tru Thoughts. I really like Nadine Shah who I saw performing at the 6 Music festival. She’s got a really great band, I didn’t realise it was her even though I’d been playing her records. There’s a singer I really like called Rosie Lowe, who I’ve been listening to a lot recently. I’m looking forward to Sampha’s album, who was the singer on the SBTRKT album a few years ago... So yeah, there’s loads of stuff going on.

What do you think to CDJs?
To be honest with you, I use any format. I’ve recently been using USB keys, so I get a lot of music on there, but I put those through the CDJ machines. I feel quite comfortable with them. I like playing with turntables, original style, but I need to have the right mixer for that, and it’s a whole different technique.With CDJs you can do quite a few tricks and have a lot of fun with it.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve witnessed at a party?
I see all kinds of stuff. A lot of it’s far too X-rated for publication. I’m actually writing a book at the moment, DJ Confidential, which is gonna have an awful lot of that stuff in it.

How does the atmosphere of a sunny festival differ to a nightclub?
Festivals are amazing, especially the ones in May and June because everyone’s just come out of winter. But I do like a good sweaty club session in December because that’s the essence of what I’ve always done as a DJ, coming from club culture. Being in Glasgow on a really cold Friday night in December playing mad records to mad Scots, that’s as much fun as playing to a bunch of happy people on a beach.

To what extent do you plan your sets?
I’m probably the least organised DJ you will ever speak to. I’m the guy who literally one minute before he goes on in front of 2,000 people at a festival, still doesn’t know what he’s going to open his set with.

What are the main challenges in your career?
Staying sober.

What do you think makes a strong transition from one song to the next?
That’s all about a feel. It’s changed for me, I used to like a nice smooth transition, these days I like a gap. So, I’ve gone back to basics. I’m back to one deck. Give me one deck and a mic and I’ll be fine.

How much vinyl do you own?
I’ve got about 50,000 records. Most of my records aren’t actually in my house, but my most prized ones are kept close to me.

Do you sleep with them under your pillow?
Always.

Gilles Peterson is performing at the Irish Centre as part of Mimm's third birthday on Sunday 4 May. £15 in advance.

Gilles Peterson website

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