For nearly 20 years, BBC Radio 1's "Essential Mix" has maintained its status as the world's preeminent radio show dedicated to dance music and DJ culture. The weekly Saturday night broadcast, which has featured nearly every notable electronic DJ or producer of the past two decades, is celebrated not only for its wide-ranging and uninterrupted musical selections, but also for the show's effusive host, Pete Tong. A legend in his own right, with a sprawling resume extending beyond the "Essential Mix" to several world tours, a weekly residency in Ibiza at Pacha, and an extensive discography, Tong has become one of the most recognizable names in dance music.
This week, he launches his new U.S. radio show "All Gone Pete Tong" on digital service iHeartRadio's dance station Evolution, where he aims to bring the best of the underground to the commercial-heavy radio waves of the U.S. We recently spoke with this renaissance man of EDM about his new radio show, what he thinks of DJ lists, and his favorite movie soundtrack this year. His All Gone Pete Tong North American tour stops Friday at Ruby Skye, with support from Audrey Napoleon and Alain Octavo.
This week marks the beginning of your new online U.S. radio show. What pushed you to finally start a radio show here?
When Clear Channel launched the iHeart platform, I was quite intrigued by it. I think now is a really good moment in time in just the way technology has evolved and people have gotten used to handheld computers. The network in America has gotten much faster, and people are very now comfortable in streaming music now with Spotify and Pandora. I think the ability to do something that makes an impact on a national level is there with the service from iHeart, which is why I want to do it now.
Is there a void in U.S. radio you think you're fulfilling with the show?
I don't know about void. There are a lot of people doing radio shows. I've always been told by letters, e-mail, or people coming up to me at gigs my whole career saying they wish my show was available in America. There's probably not another Pete Tong, but there's plenty of dance music on the radio. I'd like to think I could provide something a bit different. I think in general, electronic music on the radio is one extreme or the other. It's either very commercial or very niche. So maybe it's an opportunity for someone like me to mix it up a little bit more and make it entertaining.
Where will you be broadcasting from?
It's still built in the U.K. at the moment. I can't be everywhere at once, but I do come to America quite regularly. I've got my studio set up there and my producers there. It's a complete unique radio show, and not to be confused with BBC 1. It's a complete new format I'm launching, because it's the first time I've gone every day of the week. It's national, and America is so big, it doesn't really matter where I do it from. I'm not doing traffic reports.
With EDM considered mainstream music now, and people having access to outlets like SoundCloud, do you think anything can be considered underground anymore?
Oh certainly. The vast majority of what people are hearing in America is really the commercial end of it; the pop end of it. I think the underground scene has a lot more.
Why do you think the commercial end is so dominant?
It's become a lot more popular because the masses in America hold onto it. It's just natural that what spreads the furthest is the most popular and tends to be the most commercial. It's not a bad thing; it's brought a lot of people into the scene. For the last 20 years, when certain people looked like they were crossing over more than others, whether it was Paul Oakenfold or Tiesto, it was still considered to be not the normal thing. Now the crossover is so huge, with David Guetta and Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia. It's just brought in such a large audience. It's interactive with the mainstream in the same way hip-hop was for years. I think that's the reason. It's today's pop music, basically. It's generated a lot of ticket sales, new clubs opening, and business in places like Las Vegas. It's big business. But counted for that is always the other side, which is the underground.
But I do think what is interesting is that it hasn't happened in America before. Now we got so many more people interested. There's a whole new young generation coming in that doesn't know the history of house music, techno, or anything. They got into it when they were 13 or 14 at their first Electric Daisy Carnival or the newest David Guetta record. But the question is will any of those people stick to electronic music or graduate to something else? I don't know the answer to that, but I suspect of a percentage of the people that are into club and electronic music will actually seek out something else.
Do you think it's going backwards, in the sense that they go out to see these artists and think maybe they should go back and read up and listen to the history of these genres?
I don't think there are any rules. I don't think anyone should do anything really. That's where I would sound like an old school guy, stuck in the sand saying it's not as good as it used to be, or you should respect what's come before. As much as I am part of that, I think it's irrelevant, because you've got to just respect evolution, and every new generation that comes through with their own lives and own influences. I'm more intrigued as to whether you can turn that crowd onto something else, rather than saying to that crowd you should understand the history of house music. I remember when the rave scene really blew up in England in '87 and '88 and house music first exploded, everything that went before in dance music was suddenly wiped out. To think there weren't clubs before '87 or '88 or DJs or people dancing to electronic music, soul music, call it what you will, whatever the dance culture was before ... of course it existed, but nobody cared. It was such a big moment in time. It was like ground zero. I think that's what's kind of happening in America now.
Lately Rolling Stone and DJ Mag have been coming out with these top DJ lists. Do you think that means anything in terms of talent or is it just a popularity contest?
I get asked that all the time, but really, I don't know. It's a fun thing. I think for the people that are number one, it's the first time they've ever been on those charts. They should make the most of it, and if it changes your life or gets you more bookings, then good for you. But the audience is so sophisticated now and well-connected that it doesn't really matter. Yes, you got the Guettas and Tiestos that are in there all the time, but there's an awful lot of DJs that are huge that sell just as many tickets and run amazing parties like Luciano that aren't in there at all. There probably was a time a long time when I worried if I was in it or I wasn't, but now I've learned to relax a bit. If you win an award, it's like, oh, fine, great. If you don't win awards, your career isn't over. If you think like that, it will be. All those people that aren't in the charts don't worry too much about it. If you're number one, enjoy it while it lasts because someone else will be number one next year.
Next: When Tong needs a break from music.