Pete Tong: Master of the Airwaves
It’s an established fact that Pete Tong is one of the most influential DJs ever.
For Brits, he’s been the undisputed voice of the weekend since 1991—his Essential Selection program on BBC’s Radio 1 remains among the most iconic shows in the history of dance music.
And for American listeners, he’s fast become the go-to authority on what’s hot on this side of the pond as well. In 2012, he joined Clear Channel with a nightly program on iHeartRadio’s “Evolution” EDM format platform—he eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he currently resides. Also, he continues to play branded “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” parties across the U.S.
So far, 2014 has been a big year for Tong. For his services to broadcasting and music, he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) this past New Years by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. Later in May, his International Music Summit in Ibiza completed its seventh incarnation—we caught up with him soon after.
DJ Times: You’ve been part of the U.K.’s iconic Radio 1 for over 20 years. How does programming to the U.S. market differ?
Tong: In the U.K., from an old-school perspective, my show on the Friday-night time slot was the start of the weekend—it was people coming home from work, getting ready to go out. Then the big revolution came—the BBC iPlayer—so people could listen out of the time slot. That had a particularly strong effect on the more specialist shows myself and Annie Mac had—I think we were both second only to the Top 40. I built that into my thinking: I still bought into the “time slot.”
DJ Times: And for the U.S. show?
Tong: For the first time in my life, I’m on daily and it’s a different thing. Not every show here is live anymore and, for actual listenability, the pre-recorded shows are often better—they’re slicker, they repeat better, and we’re learning about that all the time as people’s listening habits change. I’m on five days a week on the iHeart platform, and five days a week locally in Miami, Boston, and I’m also on 150 stations a week with a kind of Top 40 Trojan horse—teasing people to come over to the stuff we’re playing on our other platforms. I’m almost creating a radio station within a radio station.
DJ Times: With streaming and social media—the instant access to specific tunes as a part of the culture—do you think that’s affected attitudes to music in general?
Tong: Interesting observation. I think the side effect of giving people much more choice is you do get this effect where people don’t tolerate what they don’t want. But then how quickly will they do that for before they get bored by their own intolerance? I think about this all the time. What I do at the start of my show might kill off the people that would wanna listen to what’s coming up at the end. But I’ve managed somehow to contain that successfully enough. I wouldn’t say completely so, but successfully enough to walk the tightrope of getting away with it!
DJ Times: These days, electronic music is dominating the charts. Has the concept of “underground” become outdated?
Tong: Underground is a funny thing—it still revolves in my head as being about the hottest party in town. It’s not the busiest, it’s not the best-known, but the hottest party in town was always the party that no one else knew about. It was about doing something not everyone else was doing, because that’s what made it interesting. Underground can be a hugely creative place—something like Panorama Bar Berlin, which has its own ecosystem, for example. I also think that the underground gets more accessible at different times of year. In Ibiza, Marco Carola at Amnesia and Richie Hawtin at Enter are doing the same kind of numbers during peak-season as Avicii, so it’s hard to tell.
DJ Times: There’s been an uptick in techno tourism in recent years, too. How have you seen Ibiza change in recent years?
Tong: Ibiza’s more competitive than it’s ever been. It’s gone through more change in the last five years than it has in the last 15. There are new clubs opening up—daytime clubbing’s back on the agenda. It doesn’t matter what the naysayers say—whatever Ibiza used to be like is irrelevant now. There’s a new order in Ibiza. I think to an extent there was a lot of slack previously. You had people getting away with things because they didn’t have to change—technology, decor, just one way of doing things. Competition from within Ibiza and around the rest of the world means Ibiza can’t operate on those rules anymore. Now, for the first time ever, you’ve got some DJs that don’t visit Ibiza ever because there’s so much for them in America or elsewhere. That’s not a judgment call saying it’s a bad thing; it’s just a fact, and Ibiza has to deal with that, too.
DJ Times: Is it harder or easier nowadays for DJ/artists to establish themselves?
Tong: It’s easier to get music up on a blog, up onto YouTube, up into circulation—whether that means people are going to notice it or that you’re relevant is a different thing. I think it’s inspiring for people starting out, seeing other people getting in the game so quickly. But I think a lot of the old rules apply—getting into the right slots and playing the right way on the right night to get noticed by the right people.