A brief chat with Pete Tong

December 6, 2013
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English DJ Pete Tong has been a global ambassador for electronic music since the whole thing started in the ’80s. For years, Tong was exposing thousands of people to the best new electronic music on Radio 1, while also touring the world.
He lives in LA now; perhaps he crossed the Atlantic to escape the fact that, in England, “It’s all gone Pete Tong” is cockney rhyming slang for “It’s all gone wrong.” Probably now. He has a new mix tape, The Pete Tong Collection, out now, and he has a radio show over here called Evolution. He’s DJing at Elektricity on Saturday night. We grabbed him for a quick chat about all of that.

How’s the current tour going?
Really good. It is a tour, but it’s as much because I’m now based in America so I can utilize the time between the Rising after the Ibiza season until the end of the year to touch base with all the major cities. It’s wrapped up like a tour, but it’s not a tour in the sense that I’m away from home like I would have been if I was based in England.

How long have you lived in LA?
Since September. I was very familiar with LA but I’d never made the leap to base myself here, so it’s a long-term ambition that I’ve finally got around to doing. LA has become the creative capital to a certain world. A lot of the music industry is angled out of there, obviously the movie business, the writers, producers and DJs. I’m working on some projects in the film world, and with the agency WME. They’re all LA-centric, so it’s the right place for me to be. Plus, the weather’s good.

How did you go about selecting tracks for The Pete Tong Collection, billed as “The biggest house classics of all time?”
It’s difficult. Ask a DJ to name his favorite records and his head always explodes because he’s got this infinite choice-library. Then you try to sum up something as significant as the history of dance music or house music. There were a few criteria of what we wanted to achieve with the album and, in conjunction with Sony, it was very much geared to something that could potentially appeal to the mass market that they could take on TV, yet I could sit comfortably with as an artist and DJ, and purveyor of the scene for my whole career. I wanted it to appeal as much to generations that have lived through the history of this music now that vinyl’s gone and CDs are starting to break or scratch and everyone’s dealing with their collections online. A lot of people that have bought the album probably have those tunes but might have lost them. Here they are, all available in one place. There’s a duty to an audience that were on the dance floor and have been affected by that journey since the late ’80s. It’s been a part of their life story, and they can grab it as a sort of memento. Equally, I wanted it to be appealing to the new audience that is just coming into this world after hearing a record on the radio. There are 3 CDs and 60-ish tracks, and you can’t put everything on there but it came out well and it’s doing really well. It’s been locked in the top 10 for the last four weeks since we came out.

Do you enjoy coming to Detroit? This place has quite the electronic history…
I think over the years it’s been one of the mainstays of the whole electronic scene. Despite the explosion that’s happening now in America, Detroit was there from the beginning so playing places like Detroit and Chicago is always a fantastic experience. The crowd’s changed – it’s not all the same people from the late ‘80s. But it has that huge responsibility, it’s part of the story. It’s all connected with the old school from back in the day.

What can we expect from this show?
A lot of fun. A lot of great music. I think it’s important to come back to a place like Detroit at least once to remind people what you do and what you sound like. My sets are pretty occupied by new music. It’s about grabbing people and taking them on a journey, and hopefully sending them out inspired in a way that they’ll take something that will make it a special night. I’m gaining a new audience in America thanks to what I’m doing with Evolution, the radio station. We go out five days a week. There’s a lot of new fans even though I’ve been around forever. Clear Channel have been so supportive. They’re the biggest owner of terrestrial radio stations in America and they wanted to do something different, something bold. It’s going from strength-to-strength. You can break a record on Evolution now.

Pete Tong is at Elektricity with Chuck Flask and Keith Kemp on Saturday, December 7; 15 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac; 248-599-2212.

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