PETE TONG & THE HERITAGE ORCHESTRA Are performing Ibiza Classics on Friday 2nd August 2019 at Newmarket Nights, Newmarket Racecourses. The Enquirer caught up with Pete for a chat…
When you first started out did you ever envision that you’d be performing these classic DJ songs at arenas, festivals, and massive outdoor events around the world?
Not really, no. It started off as an invitation to curate, to perform at the Proms, it was a great honor. I jumped at it but I had no idea what I was jumping into, I never worked with an orchestra like that before but we had a big span to prepare it. We did The Royal Albert
Hall which was filmed amazingly by the BBC, fortunately the show went viral, creating an incredible roused opinion all over the world as well for us to go out and do it again. People were asking, “Will you be doing it again? Why weren’t we there? Why didn’t we know about it?”
It took quite a long time from; I think it was the summer of 2015, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of Radio 1 going to Ibiza. It took me 6 months to work out how we were going to do it again, and we eventually announced the show for December 16th at The O2, the show would only work if it was really really big and we didn’t know what level of demand there was, it was a really expensive show to do. When I announced it in the March of ’16, I went up to Manchester on breakfast television and announced it and by the time I got back to London we sold out the entire O2. There was this mad scramble to try and get another arena. We managed to get Manchester and Birmingham, with London it’s 3 days in a row and we sold them all out and it was an amazing reaction to the shows and that started the ball rolling really and we made the album as well and that went to Number 1. I think it all had momentum from that first period of 18 months which led us to where we are today. The shows have evolved and taken on a whole new life of its own. Back to the original point, it wasn’t the plan but I mean it’s obviously a master skill and one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in my career.
You continue to do so much radio and you’re recognized as one of the most influential radio personalities in the UK still today. Do you feel like radio is competing with streaming sites like Spotify, is it still relevant do you think? I know you’re using Spotify a lot, you’ve got your essential selection radio playlist on Spotify. What do you think of all that in terms of your space?
I’ve been doing radio my whole life, I was always a club DJ at heart, but I found a way of expressing myself on the radio that I really enjoy. When I was a kid my first experiences of underground music really came by listening to the radio and radio always resonated with me and was something I wanted to do. I never wanted to do it as a full time job, I always wanted to do it, especially going on and doing my show, I didn’t wanna be on like the breakfast show 5 days a week or something like that. But I love radio, it has a huge influence on me. I mean, the biggest change from when I started was from today over the span of 40 odd years, would be the way you have to compete with people is distraction. There have been many, many distractions along the way, given more competition to radio. When I started, Radio 1 was really the one dominant radio station because it was national and there wasn’t anything like it. And then, way before streaming came out, millions more radio stations in the UK came and it was the first thing we had to deal with, and then eventually people bringing their own music into cars and listening to their music on mp3 players and digital streaming and then today with Spotify. I think to be honest they compliment each other, I think radio is still really unique because it’s personable, it’s a relationship with a presenter, it’s storytelling, it’s a completely different thing. Radio continues to have to try and be brilliant and engaging I think as long as it does that, it will always have an audience. Streaming something, using Spotify or Apple or Deezer or whatever, it’s more the equivalent now of us just listening to own music. It’s two different things but the landscape changed quickly so to keep people’s personal attention, radio has something to say, and I think it still wins. Podcasts proved that as well, and like that as well are huge, it’s effectively another form of radio.
I think a lot of radio shows, curation is key, being told what you should listen to and you don’t have a choice in that. It’s nice having a curator such as yourself to introduce you to new sounds. Are there any DJs or Artists out there you’re currently loving at the moment that you recommend?
I think that the big story in the last couple of years is really the revived, the renewed kind of a whole new wave of female DJs. I think the likes of Peggy Gou, Charlotte Winter, Amelie Lens, are really turning heads. Along with people like The Blur. I think the girls are pretty strong at the moment. The Adana twins are making some amazing music. It’s a very good year for music actually, particularly with the Ibiza anthems.
You’ll be headlining Newmarket Racecourses on 2nd August – how would you describe the show?
I just think it’s a very unique different way of presenting, as a DJ I was never a DJ that went on and played a lot of old records, I’ve always been quite forward-thinking as a DJ. Obviously we all play the occasional classic tune but I’ve never been one of those that specialized in going backwards. This is literally the first time in my career where I’ve really invested in doing that and done that, and I think doing it with an orchestra is a really unique and energizing way of doing it, I’m also not DJing now I’m actually playing a long with the orchestra. I think it’s an intense 90 minutes of energy and obviously all familiar music that’s just so legendary. The way we put it together is pretty split, we have the orchestra mixing tunes together without stopping, but again they’re playing everything live, so it’s a pretty unique and energetic and euphoric experience, so be prepared!
The tracks you play, is it the same set list for each show, or do you mix it up?
Every show is different, I’ve got a big repertoire now, every year we add tracks and by going in and recording the albums we’re writing tracks, so every show gets a little tweak, every one is unique. Our guests change as well, but the track listing will probably change by one or two tracks.
You said about guests there, are you bringing guests out for Newmarket, will there be any surprises in store for these shows?
It’s not quite like we do in the arena shows, because that’s kind of a more interpolation of production, Becky Hill is back on the road with us for this. Becky’s doing it with us, there’s always a chance of a last minute person that wants to jump up and perform with us, so we’ll see.
How does the big tour production (arena) compare to the one-off live shows like the Newmarket show?
There’s kinda two tiers of the show, there’s one that’s like a festival production it’s more like 55 to 60 musicians on stage and with all our lighting and lasers and special effects and stuff like that. Then the way the arena stage is – down in Newmarket we walk on to a stage that everyone else is using and we have to adapt the stage to our requirements. It’s like a festival, we’re not bringing our own, we can’t change someone else’s stage, whereas in the arena we travel with a stage that’s custom made for n Pete Tong Interview the show, and we also bring all the screens and visuals and the story telling, which we can only do at arena level shows, we can’t really do that a race course. In the summer it’s not even dark, and then the fact that we
have the extra space allows us to invest more in the show and hence possible guests etc. The main difference is the screens really, and the fact that every year we create a different production and we travel with that stage and do it in 8, 9, 10 cities. That’s the difference.
You’ve done some racecourse shows before haven’t you?
Yeah, I have as a DJ at times. Last year with The Classical we did castles as our theme, but we haven’t actually performed with the orchestra at a racecourse, I’ve done plenty of DJ sets at the end of big meetings and stuff like that.
Are you like a racing fan? Do you ever put a bet on while you’re there?
My dad was a bookie! I grew up around bookmakers, so at a very young age, I knew about the Darby and the Gold Cup, and the Grand National. I’ll bet on the Grand National if I’m tuned in and I did actually backed the winner this year. They wouldn’t let me have my money since I was overseas, I never got my winnings. *laughs*
You’ve got such a massive discography now, what inspires you to keep on working, and what keeps you motivated for these live shows?
Well I mean, they’re amazing so that keeps me motivated. Everything in my career is started with DJ’ing, working turntables in front of a crowd, and everything else I’ve ever done, be it the radio, running labels, working behind the scenes and agencies, working with the orchestra, everything stems from this DJ’ing ‘course, so I think I’m always looking to get into new scenes and challenge myself and do things I’ve never done before and that probably creates most of the forward momentum.
You’ve mentioned a few things you’ve done in your career so far, what would you say is the highlight of your career so far?
Every day is a highlight really that I’m still involved in the way that I am. I just think having the career is the biggest blessing. Having the consistency over that length of time, I can always say, “oh that show was great” or ” that show was great”, but I’ve been around long enough where I can say that it’s a blessing to be able to make music and actually make a living off of it and enjoying it has been the biggest blessing, and I’ve been able to put in the hours and that kind of dedication and I can’t replace that. That’s my kind of legacy, is the length of time on the front line, really. Clearly, in the last couple of years, Ibiza Classics is an obvious highlight because I’ve never done anything like that before, but I think the durability of the career in general, I’ve been blessed with that.
You’ve got your club night, “It’s all gone Pete Tong”. What do you think of that phrase? It’s such a recognizable motto and phrase now, do you still find it bizarre to be the identity behind what is such an iconic term?
Not really now, it started as a joke with a bunch of friends and people teasing me, but it turned into this whole other thing so I’m used to it now. It took me a long time to decide to do parties under that name though, and I went and actually did it and it worked really well I was like ‘I don’t know why I waited so long’.
You’ve got such a busy year ahead of you, have you been working on any new material?
Well, this Classics album, it will be the third album with new material on it, now we’re actually going to introduce a few originals. I’m always doing, when time allows which is difficult, I’m always trying to pop out the odd club record. I’ve got another collaboration with John Monkman, just had a record out a few months ago with Emanuel Satie, and I’m always looking to put out 2 or 3 of those a year as well. The main focus for me creatively making music is to get this third album done, which is just about finished, and will include 3 or 4 original tracks.
Will that be out this year?
Can we expect those new tracks to be played at Newmarket?
No. Under wraps! There will be tracks from the new album in the show, new versions. The original tracks won’t be brought into the show yet.