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:: Spotlight :: Gilles Peterson – In The House

By: Tim McNamara

Gilles Peterson is at home in Stoke Newington, North London, when Tim McNamara catches up with him. He has some interviews to do and is then off to the BBC to record his latest radio show, just another day for one of music’s shining stars.

But there’s another side to this musical chameleon and a side you’re likely never to see within the confines of a club. There’s Gilles Peterson the radio show host, Gilles the DJ, Gilles the respected music tastemaker; but what about Gilles the father?

‘I’ve got a couple of little ones,’ he says down the phone. ‘One of them is 10, the other is 6. The 10 year old kicks me out of bed every morning at 7:00am when it’s still dark. He forces me out at 7:00am cause he’s really into cycling and going round the park so as soon as the light starts coming through I’m going round the park on a bike and having a kick about so I’m having a forced-upon fitness regime which I’m enjoying. Then, after thinking about it a second, he adds, ‘I’m not enjoying but I know it’s good for me.’

What’s also proving quite good for Gilles Peterson is his latest mix compilation – ‘Gilles Peterson In The House’ - just released on Defected’s In The House sub-label and the latest in a long line of stellar house compilations released in the celebrated series.

Already Mixmag’s album of the month and receiving similar accolades by I-DJ Magazine, forums, internet radio and street press publications, critics are buzzing about the hugely-anticipated release, with some even rating it Defected’s ‘best release ever’, a big call for an imprint that has done as much as it has to shape the global house landscape.

Nevertheless, this latest ITH release is different. As Defected boss Simon Dunmore said in December prior to his whirlwind Australian tour, ‘We always like to throw a curve ball every now and then in the In The House series. I think it’s good to push the boundaries a little bit; we did Jazzy Jeff back in the day and that was a super cool album for us to do.’

Gilles ITH is shaping up to be even better than Jazzy Jeff’s celebrated ITH album. It’s a coup in the first place as this is, unbelievably, Gilles’ first ever House mix on CD1, while CD2 sees him dig into his extensive record collection to deliver some funk, soul, boogie and jazz from the likes of Heatwave, Willie Hutch, Earth Wind & Fire, Johnny Hammond and Weldon Irvine, among others.

CD3, meanwhile, is a bonus disc of exclusive tracks commissioned by Gilles himself. Testament to his position and influence within the global House scene, some big names have stepped up to the plate on CD3 including DJ Sneak, Switch, Karizma and Wahoo.

As Gilles says, he’s stoked with the whole project which, upon release in late January, entered the UK compilations album charts at number 24, no small feat for an independent label like Defected.

‘It’s been really great to do this record,’ Gilles says. ‘I was a bit tentative when they asked me to do one cause I checked out all the other DJs and it was a pretty high level of proper House DJs doing this series. A lot of them are foreign too, like American DJs,’ he says, referring to past ITH efforts from the likes of Dennis Ferrer, Louie Vega, Jay-J & Miguel Migs and Danny Krivit.

‘[But] I think it’s come out really well because it’s allowed me to put my house mark down. I’ve always played house music; it’s just not been exclusively House [and] it’s also been a really good excuse for me to do an old-school mix, which I think a lot of people like from me; I think they’re going to like the one I’ve done this time. So I think that’s going to tip the balance; I’m going to get the purists into my album cause there’s some really good exclusive stuff on there by people like Karizma, Carl Craig and DJ Sneak so I think I’ve got all angles covered.’

Oozing enthusiasm for the album and unashamedly impressed with Defected’s approach to the entire project, Gilles believes more fusion compilations like his ITH effort will follow in 2008. ‘I think people are more ready for these kinds of records right now,’ he says. I think a lot of people who have been brought up on a House diet are looking to move on a little bit or they want to see where the music’s come from. [And] that was the real reason I wanted to do it. I actually got asked to do this sort of a House record from a few labels; it was quite a big record for me to do.’

‘[But] at the end of the day it was an easy choice. What I like about Defected is they have the same approach that I had when I was doing Talkin’ Loud, which is basically to do underground music but also to understand the commercial side of things. So on one hand they can have some real big hits but then they’re also developing the Strictly Rhythm record label and so they’ve got the right balance and they know how to market which these days is very difficult.’

‘I’ve been really amazed about how they’ve worked on this record for me. The way the music industry is at the moment, you do these records and they just slip out and you never really know. There’s no time really spent on them so this is the first record that I really feel that there’s been proper work [done] on it since I did the INCredible Sound for Sony 10 years ago.’

‘For me it was obvious to work with Defected and it’s been brilliant to work with them because Simon Dunmore is somebody I’ve know since I was 18 or 19. We were coming from more or less the same part of London and he was a DJ at the period just before the whole acid House thing happened and we were part of the same gang in a way. We were going to the same clubs, I was playing for him; he used to do these parties in West London that I’d play at so it was kind of full circle when he asked me to come and do a record for his label. I just think it’s a good time for DJs like me really.’

At 43, it indeed appears that it’s never been better for the politely-spoken Peterson. With his BBC Radio 1 ‘Worldwide’ show going from strength to strength (‘I’m very happy at Radio 1 and I really hope they’re going to keep me’), his British Airways in-flight entertainment program exposing cattle class clowns to real music and his DJ schedule taking him, aptly, worldwide from Japan to Istanbul, Gilles is, as he explains, living the dream.

‘I always thought that by 40 I would’ve retired,’ he says. ‘The funny thing is I’ve not enjoyed it as much as I am now, ever. I’m really happy; I love playing out. I really enjoy my lifestyle. I think I’m the best I’ve ever been. That’s the weirdest thing. I think if I wasn’t feeling good about being a DJ then I would stop but I’m actually enjoying it and I think I’m at my peak almost! And then, upon quick reflection, he says, laughing, ‘I’m at my peak musically, I don’t know if I’m at my peak sexually or physically.’

Musically, though, Peterson is on the money. The same man who began Acid Jazz Records with Eddie Pillar in the late 1980s and Talkin’ Loud alongside Norman Jay a few years later today stands over his own beloved Brownswood Recordings, named after the North London street where he once lived but had to move out of after his record collection became to big.

As he explains, the motivation behind Brownswood, which has already released the critically acclaimed Brownswood Bubblers compilation albums as well as cuts by Japan’s punk jazz band Soil & Pimp Sessions and mammoth 45 piece live act The Heritage Orchestra, is simple: he’s giving back to the scene that has given him so much over the years.

‘There are some great people around that I’m really excited about working with,’ he says. ‘So I just wanted to find a place where I could create a platform for some of the artists that weren’t getting deals to get a little bit of a bounce and so to work with Ben Westbeech and most recently to be working with Jose James is really exciting. For me running Brownswood Records is not exactly the same as when I was running Acid Jazz or Talkin’ Loud; the whole market has inevitably changed a lot.

‘Selling records is like selling typewriters; it’s not a big business, which is again why I’ve been really impressed with the Defected approach. [But] Brownswood is a hobby; I’m enjoying it. It’s so nice to be in the background; I miss that. I miss that whole world when I was running at Talkin’ Loud: I could be someone who was able to push artists rather then being the person being interviewed. There’s something quite nice about that. I’ve got quite a lot of experience now and hopefully I can help artists like Ben or Jose.’

Australia, too, has been in Gilles sights for a few years now. Having toured here ‘a few times’, he admits it’s now been awhile between drinks and that the offer to tour each year is ‘always very tempting. I love Australia, I really do,’ Gilles says. ‘I really hope to come next year again.’

Any Australian tour, however, would include a trip across the Tasman, he explains. ‘Musically, and this is a strange one, but I really like going to New Zealand. I find that they really are into their music, heavily.’

And his favourite place to tour in the world?
‘I love it in Japan,’ he says forthrightly. ‘Japan’s probably my favourite place because they like me there, which helps and because they have amazing clubs there and they understand club culture. They understand the needs of a DJ, especially when you get to a certain age so sound-wise and quality-wise it’s brilliant. I’m very lucky to be able to go to all these places.’

One day soon, it appears, we’ll also be lucky to have him here. Until then, there’s Gilles Peterson In The House to fill the void, and doesn’t it do just that! It’s out now through Defected/Stomp.

Tim McNamara