Redbrick Meets: Gilles Peterson | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Redbrick Meets: Gilles Peterson

Hannah Brierley sits down with legendary DJ and radio host, Gilles Peterson, to discuss everything from festivals to politics and its effect on the music industry

Gilles Peterson has been in the industry for a long time, and he is set to stay. His extensive and eclectic knowledge of such a wide range of musical genres keeps him just as relevant today as he was back in the 80s. His BBC Radio 6 show has an ever-increasing number of listeners and he continues to search for and support fresh new artists from around the world. I caught up with this radio legend ahead of his show at the Rainbow Venues in Birmingham in a few weeks, to discuss festivals, politics, records and music recommendations.

Redbrick: In a previous interview you described the new music scene as ‘category-less’, which I thought was a really interesting description and something that could be applied to your own, eclectic sets. You have the ability to ‘join the dots’ as it were between styles, from jazz to drum and bass to reggae. What kind of sounds can we expect from your set in Birmingham next month?

GP: Well, I’m not sure yet. You see what I do is I build sets from scratch for a year. I start off in January and can’t stand listening to any of the stuff I played the year before. So I build a set that I’m happy with, which normally takes about two months, and then I start gigging and suddenly overnight I get bored of it and start another set. I’m kind of on my fifth set of the year this year and I’m feeling good about it. It peaked recently at Dimensions, I enjoyed that. So I’m trying to hold onto that but also keep adding to it. 

'I build a new set every time I get bored of the last, so gigging never stays the same'

I was lucky enough to go to Dimensions and definitely agree with you there, such a brilliant festival. As great as Birmingham is, throughout your career you’ve had the chance to jet set all over the world. Do you have a favourite place to play? Or a country or city that has particularly enticed you with its energy? Don’t worry, we won’t be offended if you don’t say Birmingham!

Oh no, I’ve had some great times in Birmingham, weirdly enough. I’ve been going there for quite a while, I mean there used to be some really great nights at the Custard Factory, they were always really good, fifteen years ago or something. Birmingham's always been a solid place because there’s always been good people inside that city who have championed the scene even when the scene wasn’t so strong. There were always people like Adam Regan and his pub the Hare and Hounds, places that were strong for it. But if you’re asking me where is the place that I enjoy the most, of course every DJ who’s been to Tokyo or even just Japan is going to say there, because there’s a certain appreciation for club culture. As a DJ you feel like a bit of a star and you feel you’re really appreciated so it’s a really good place for the ego!

But Paris has kind of come back in the past few years, it was living in the past a little bit, with the food and the music, even though it’s got a really buoyant world music scene, much more interesting than anywhere in the UK. But the club scene for the past five years has been really good too. I do a residency at a place called La Bellevilloise, and that is just the best thing I do! The crowd is really great, we get people from all over Europe. Paris is just buzzing, there’s some really great music being made there at the moment. 

'Birmingham's always had good people who championed the music scene even when it wasn't so strong here, like Adam Regan and his pub, the Hare and Hounds'

I’ll have to go check that out some time, sounds incredible. So, travelling has obviously enriched your musical knowledge, but recently there’s been an increase in hostility towards multiculturalism in the UK and across the pond. Do you think this has or will have an effect on new artists trying to break through, or does music transcend those borders?

It transcends it! Look at the Mercury Prize winner this week [Sampha]. All that I’m excited about at the moment is the anger about these issues, I think it's a really good thing because out of that can only come good music and great artists. We just need people to believe in, and we're not getting that from politicians so we need artists and musicians to inspire us. Even though Brexit is a mess and London is nearly impossible to live in without having to pay a lot of money or rob people, this country will always have the ability to reinvent and change itself. So even though on one level there’s a lot to be depressed about globally, on another level there’s this new subversive energy that’s beginning to have an effect, an effect on creating change and we’re going to see that hopefully develop over the next few years.

I hope you’re right. You mentioned festivals before and have been included on some really impressive line-ups this year; what’s been the stand out festival moment for you this summer?

Well, I mentioned this on the radio recently, there were three festivals that really stood out to me this year. There was Dimensions, which I enjoy because they always have a really cool line-up. The weather was a bit of a let down this year, but I was only there on the Sunday I wandered around and listened to a lot of DJs and really enjoyed it. The crowd is also great.

The other festival I really enjoyed was one in Belgium called Horst festival. That was just really beautiful; beautiful grounds, an educated crowd in terms of music, great choice of DJs and a great sound system, which is the most important thing. Then, in Stockport there was Moovin Festival. That was a few weeks ago and I did that with Mr Scruff, but there were also bands like 808 state, so a real Manchester vibe. It was like the old school Hacienda lot meeting up with the new Warehouse Project lot. 

'Music transcends borders, and so even though there's a lot to be depressed about globally and politically, there's this new submersive energy that's beginning to have an effect'

I’m actually from Manchester so that sounds like the ideal clubbing mix! During your career you’ve managed to identify the potential in artists who were relatively unknown when you played their tracks but eventually became huge, A Tribe Called Quest for example, or even Amy Winehouse. Are there any innovative artists who really excite you at the moment?

I’ve just signed an artist called Skinny Pelembe to my label so I’m very interested in them. I mean,
there’s loads at the moment! I think Moses Sumney is going to be massive, he’s a folk singer from L.A. There’s a new rapper that I really like called #world peace, and this girl called Ellen O. There's such tough competition at the moment, but they’re just saying something that hasn’t been said before, whether that’s through production or just in their own way. They’ve found a way to be unique in a world that’s had so much of the same already.

It seems to me that DJing has become a popular aspirational career choice for lots of my
generation. Music, clubs and festivals are a place of escape and enjoyment for a lot of young people, so to be able to turn that into a career is obviously attractive. You’ve described your younger self as being a 'bit too keen' when you were first trying to get involved in the industry, but would you recommend the same persistence to young DJs and artists trying to break into the industry?

The thing is, right now everyone’s a DJ, you can’t walk down the street without bumping into one. But, I don’t know, I feel like music is something you should do as a hobby for as long as you can, rather than commit to it professionally, because unless you’re really deeply passionate about it you’re probably not going to make it, you know? So my son is just mad into it at the moment, he’ll come into my studio to make mixtapes. He’s still studying and everything, he’s just enjoying it as a hobby. Maybe it's just difficult for him to think about having a normal job when it seems like I’m having such a good time. But I’d just suggest to new DJs to build you, build your identity. You need to go through so much disaster to be able to come out the other end. You know, nothing’s that easy. 

'Right now, everyone's a DJ, but if you're deeply passionate and committed to doing it professionally, I'd suggest to new DJs to build a unique identity'

Whilst I’ve got the chance to pick the brains of someone with such an impressive knowledge of music I’d like to ask – what would your top three house party tracks be? So I can add them to my playlist!

For a house party, well…I would put in a few good disco records. I’d put in the Dimitri remix of 'Thinking of You' by Sister Sledge. Then I’d put in a track like, god it’s so hard, what’s that Luther Vandross track? The one I’m always playing? 'You’re The Sweetest One', I love that. Then for a bit of rudeness, a bit of dirtiness, I just love this track by Waajeed, it’s called 'Better Late Than Never', it’s new but it’s such a good one.



Gilles Peterson will be headlining the Rainbow Warehouse alongside Motor City Drum Ensemble, Jeremy Underground and Palms Trax on the 14th of October. Tickets are on third release - grab them from here before they all sell out.



22nd September 2017 at 9:00 am

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