When all is said and done, whichever role Gilles is performing – DJ, broadcaster, producer, compiler, label boss or plain old record collector – the music is always the bottom line.
Starting off life as a club DJ, Gilles continues to spin regularly around the world. This year alone has seen him in Rio, Martinique, Tokyo, Havana and most parts of Europe as well as East London of course. As for the radio, his new 3-hour Saturday afternoon show on BBC Radio 6 Music has seen him take his unique musical mix to a new and growing audience of music lovers whilst the syndicated Worldwide radio show continues to spread his musical gospel… well, worldwide. From Sun-Ra to James Blake to Theo Parrish to Flying Lotus – if it swings in the right places, it’s in.
From Acid Jazz to Talkin’ Loud and now Brownswood Recordings, Gilles’s work as an A&R, as a producer; as a remixer and, of course, as the curator of compilations only seems to intensify. His longstanding love affair with Cuba and its musical subcultures has manifested itself in five albums under the auspices of the “Havana Cultura” project. The latest of these excursions – ‘Mala in Cuba’ – released in September 2012, sent tremors (literally!) through the electronic underground.
Gilles’ broadcasting roots lie with the burgeoning pirate radio movement in South London during the early 1980s. Inspired by the exciting blend of music broadcast on pirate stations such as Radio Invicta, he set up his own – Civic Radio – and went on to present on a string of pirate stations during it’s golden era – Invicta, KJAZZ, Solar Radio and on Horizon, before landing at BBC London with his show Mad On Jazz and a box of soul, jazz, Latin and boogie records.
Upon leaving BBC London in 1986, Gilles took up a new residency at Dingwalls in Camden, which ran for 5 years. Coinciding with the rise of acid house in UK clubland, the popularity of Sunday Afternoon at Dingwalls grew and grew, establishing itself as a legendary session.
This was just one amongst many other significant clubs that Gilles was associated with. Special Branch, Electric Ballroom, Wag Club, Babylon at Heaven, Fez, Talking Loud at the Fridge and not forgetting That’s How It Is at Bar Rumba and his long association with Plastic People. Gilles now curates a number of extraordinary live music events in the UK and internationally including the Worldwide Festival in the south of France, now in its 7th year.
Gilles’ forays into the world of A&R began with Street Sounds, with whom he complied the Jazz Juice series. He then complied the first collection for Blue Note aimed at the new DJ culture and went on to set up his own BGP records and Hardback Recordings. It was 1986 when he co-founded the Acid Jazz imprint – releasing records by the likes of A Man called Adam, Galliano and Brand New Heavies. Then in 1989 Gilles was offered the opportunity by Phonogram to create an imprint label born out of Britains flourishing club culture: Talkin’ Loud. It was with Talkin’ loud that he really cemented his relationship with the new and the old, with innovation and heritage, releasing note worthy material by Omar, Incognito, Galliano and The Young Disciples. Talkin’ Loud became synonymous with Gilles’ own broad taste in music and with no less than 5 Mercury Music Prize nominations under his belt (4hero, Courtney Pine, Young Disciples, MJ Cole and Roni Size Reprazent – the winner in 1997). His reputation was assured.
As a compiler, Gilles has put together over 100 compilation releases making him the undoubted world record holder! He always maintained that he wanted to score as many releases as his early hero Art Blakey… He still has a few more to go!
Having launched Jazz FM as one of the stations founders in 1990, Gilles found himself in hot water after he publicly condemned the first Gulf War on air and was subsequently sacked. Having kicked off his first show for them by playing ‘Fight the Power’ by Public Enemy, it was probably no surprise to them that they were in for an interesting ride.
However Kiss FM opened the doors for an 8-year residency where he built the foundations of his enduringly popular Worldwide radio show. The Worldwide name having been given to him by Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson of the Roots (who’s debut EP had just come out on Talkin’ Loud). Taking Worldwide to BBC Radio 1 in 1998, he has enjoyed 14 years broadcasting the “Worldwide” sound to receptive ears. April 2012 saw a natural progression for Gilles Peterson the broadcaster, swapping his late night BBC Radio 1 slot for a peak time Saturday afternoon session on BBC Radio 6 Music (3pm-6pm). His new 3 hour long Saturday afternoon show on BBC 6Music has seen him take his unique musical mix to a new and growing audience of music lovers and its no surprise that his show regular features in the Top 3 of the most listened to shows at the BBC.
The formula for Gilles’ radio shows is a simple one: the finest new music he can lay his hands on… and that’s it. His shows are a marker for everything that is great about underground music from Brooklyn to Benin and beyond. In addition to his BBC 6 Music show, Gilles records a separate weekly Worldwide programme that is syndicated to 8 stations across the globe including France’s Radio Nova, VRT StuBru-Belgium, Arrow FM in the Netherlands, CRO Wave- Czech Republic, FM4 in Austria, Radio X and WDR Funkhaus Europa – Germany.
Every year, the musical heroes of the global underground are brought together and honoured at the Worldwide Awards – an annual celebration of the best music from the show that year held in London and hosted by Gilles.
Today, Peterson is at the forefront of his own independent label – Brownswood Recordings – which launched in 2006 as an outlet for his favourite new discoveries. Early successes included Ben Westbeech, Jose James (now signed to Blue Note) and last year’s Mercury Music Prize nominee Ghostpoet but his favourite remains the debut album by solo pianist Elan Mehler.
2009 saw the birth of a new collaborative project with Havana Club under the moniker “Havana Cultura”. Travelling to Cuba in 2009, Gilles teamed up with the award-winning Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca to find the very best up and coming musical talent in Havana.
These sounds were documented on ‘Havana Cultura: New Cuba Sound’ – the biggest collection of contemporary Cuban musicians in a single musical initiative since the highly acclaimed Buena Vista Social Club project in 1997. Continuing his longstanding love affair with Cuba and its musical melting pot, Gilles returned to Havana in 2011 alongside co-producers Vince Vella; Simbad (Gilles’ production partner in his remixing endeavours); and bass pioneer Mala (Digital Mystikz), to orchestrate and record new studio sound clashes with a fresh crop of Cuban talent.
Continuing on a production tip, Gilles recently produced two tracks for Roberto Fonseca’s new album ‘Yo’ and co-produced cuts with RedLight and Switch. He has also spent more time these last couple of years remixing artists such as Raphael Gualazzi, The Bees and Fatoumata Diawara. Gilles continues to develop his studio sound with his in house partner Simbad.
Starting off life as a club DJ, Gilles continues to spin passionately around the world. From Kazakhstan to Hackney, Istanbul, New York, Beijing and beyond… he has always seen himself first and foremost as a selector of discs for the Dance.
GILLES PETERSON FOR BOILER ROOM