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By Lorna Soonhee Umphrey | April 19, 2017 | People
We rang DJ Pete Tong to find out what it’s like to be in the number one spot, his favorite spots to dine in LA, and what’s currently on his playlist.
Sometimes the best achievements happen when you’re thrown outside of your comfort zone. When that comes in the form of a number one spot on the UK Album Charts, then DJ Pete Tong is happy to take on the challenge. His chart-topping album, Classic House, was created as a celebration for taking his BBC Radio 1 show to Ibiza for the past twenty years and after it’s release, it went on to land the #1 spot on the UK album chart.
Here, he chats about his UK Album Chart success, the evolution of EDM, and what everyone should be listening to right now.
Your album, Classic House, hit the #1 spot on the UK Album Chart recently. How monumental was that moment for you?
PETE TONG: It’s been a real achievement and a real honor. I’ve been around music my whole life but I certainly haven’t had a number one artist album, so that was a big, big first for me. I’ve had number one compilations of mix albums but that doesn’t count for that main charts. To actually see yourself at the top of the main chart was unreal.
You’ve been in the business now for quite some time. Are you surprised at the constant rising popularity of EDM music?
PT: Well, it has its ebbs and flows. I’m definitely not surprised at the power, especially even more pertinently now where we can be so disconnected and so isolated in our own bubbles. As long as the audience still has something being inspired to go see, I think that cycle, that loop will always continue. Some would say it’s peaked now, we’re going to get going into a different era and we’ve passed that initial surge of excitement that took us from 2008 probably through to 2013. We’re in transition now. It’s going to head somewhere else in America.
Where do you think it’s going?
PT: I’ve seen a couple of cycles of it in Europe, in the UK, before and it kind of evolves. The music can’t be as fresh as it was, it’s not new in America anymore. It’s not like the big sensation it was at the beginning because it was something completely different. And now, it got very, very mainstream and some of the acts that kind of drove the market have either peaked, gone away, or broken up.
With the advances of the digital age and technology, how much has this world changed when you first began?
PT: Yeah, it takes a minute to process. It’s processing what’s happening as much as anything else and then getting your head around what it actually means. Every metric that you might have judged something by in the ‘80s disappeared, [such as] charts and albums coming out as albums. Probably the only thing that’s consistent is actually people selling tickets or physical numbers attending shows hasn't changed. You can just put a track up on SoundCloud now and if it’s hot, people find you. So, everything’s changed.
So, it makes it a little easier to get discovered?
PT: Well, now obviously the history of the Internet is so established that although everything’s changed, one thing seems quite similar, there are millions and millions of choices out there and most people only see the top of the pyramid. I’m even getting in my head from the label side, the WME side, what the number of streams even means. People will come to you and say I’ve got a million streams. That sounds good, that sounds like things must be happening, but six months, a year ago, two years ago, the meaning of that has changed. We’re dealing with all of that now. We used to know what being on the A-list at Radio 1 meant. We used to know what it meant like if you’re on a 100 or 200 Top 40 stations in America, you kind of got used to what that meant, and I think we’re still getting used to what it means to have millions of streams, millions of plays because streaming is getting so big that the bar is moving all the time.
Do you live full-time now in LA?
PT: Yeah, I mean here is home. Funny enough, I’ll say what’s fascinated me about LA from first coming here in the ‘80s, obviously you land here and you look out the plane window and it seems to go on forever. It’s very easy to get lost in LA. But the more I’ve been coming here, and certainly from a perspective of living here, I’ve kind of flipped it inside out. There’s actually a series of small villages here. If anything, it’s actually quite small, even though it’s physically big in the area that it covers. It’s quite quaint in some ways. LA has a lot of personality.
What kinds of places do you like to go out to for dinner?
PT: I’m a foodie, but I’m not a foodie to that nerdy level where I’ve got to go try that new Michelin-starred chef. If I go out, spend my time or spend my money, I want to be in a place where I enjoy sitting as much as I enjoy the food. I’ll name the obvious ones like Nobu Malibu because as much as I like Nobu, I just like sitting out there because what’s not to like there? The same with Soho House. In Hollywood and Beverly Hills, some of the really old-fashioned ones like Madeo. I’m a big fan of Nancy Silverton’s Osteria Mozza and chi SPACCA.
Can you name a handful of things off the top of your head that you’re listening to?
PT: Ugh, ask a DJ what he’s listening to (laughs). I would say the Sampha album. Rag’N’Bone Man album. Stormzy album, [he’s a] UK grimes star. The new Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons album is pretty amazing. It’s not out yet but I’ve been listening to it a lot.
You’ve co-founded WME’s electronic music department, you’ve music supervised films, you’ve gone on world tours, you’ve been awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire, so the question is—what else is left for you to conquer?
PT: Um, some really big mountains on my bike (laughs). I always feel rightly or wrongly that I’m not doing enough. I’ve always got this thing in me—just striving to never stop learning, always striving to be better. Obviously the film business is here. Just being in the heart of it, you kind of naturally want to be involved, so I think just doing better work in that area, bringing a story out—getting it made in the Pete Tong-way of just having great music involved with a great story, and doing it with bringing my knowledge and history into it. I’d love to do something like Drive but more of my world.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Derrick Santini