The Essential DJ

Pete Tong shares a piece of his Wonderland at Encore Beach Club

His is one of the most recognized names in the world of music and one of few radio DJs still worshipped. For more than 30 years Pete Tong has lived and breathed electronic music and presented the world with new works through his radio shows BBC Radio 1 and Essential Mix. The legend returns on July 24 to Vegas for a summer residency at Encore Beach Club, where he plans to expose partiers to a more European flavor similar to his It’s All Gone Pete Tong parties at Pacha in Ibiza, Spain.

You recently celebrated 20 years with BBC Radio. What have been some of the best moments?

Well, it’s been a long time; I’ve done a lot of things. Probably going to 20 years, that was probably the proudest moment, and just looking back and realizing that we made it. I never thought that we’d make five [years]. That was kind of ambitious. I’ve been really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to hold that slot down, and it’s a station that’s kind of legendary and listened to all over the world now. I’m just proud of that. I’ve been lucky I’ve been in the right place at the right time. I’ve seen a lot change. I’ve been in the scene since the beginning and I’ve lived through the millennium.

Being in the thick of the industry for more than three decades, was there ever a point where you felt like electronic music plateaued?

Not really. I suppose that I’ll always see something interesting. If I wasn’t in it minute-by-minute, day-by-day, I probably could have been thinking like that in 2000/1999. For the first time in 10 years, it definitely stopped getting bigger in the U.K., it wasn’t the thing that everyone wanted anymore. But that was because the U.K. had been the center of the universe for 10 years. While it was dying in the U.K. it was starting to grow in other places in the world. So my head started to switch to other places and then it gave me new things to think about. So England and the U.K. had a pretty rough time around 2000 for a few years and then started to build back up, maybe 2003/2004. But there’s always innovation in the music, you’ve just got to look deep enough.

You’ve built this empire for yourself, and have helped make BBC Radio what it is. To what do you attribute all of your success?

I’ve always been inquisitive and always try to find out what’s new and what’s next. Sometimes it’s a very annoying habit, so my wife tells me. You obviously gotta be enthusiastic about what you do and be pretty genuine about what you do. You could be doing it for 20 years and be treating it just like a job. It’s more than that. Music’s been my life since I’ve been a kid, and I just find myself lucky every day that I can make a living doing something that I love. It’s pretty simple. The station’s evolved and had such an impact, and every year we’re looking for new things and that’s what’s kept me interested and probably kept me relevant to the audience. That’s why we got to 20 years. But really, I attribute it to passion.

You’re nickname is “Lord of Dance.” If you were to organize a council in Dance Music Heaven, what other artists would sit on it?

Off the top of my head … I’m going to offend someone! How about I just be really honest, off the top of my head, tell you the people that have really meant a lot to me, so much to me or that I’ve been really influenced by:

Larry Levan. He might be up there already, being a celebrity DJ, the host of and the star of the whole thing back at Paradise Garage back in the day.

Frankie Knuckles and Robert Owens. They were the Chicago influence in my life and me as a DJ, a fan and just when I was running the label. [They had] just a profound impact on what Chicago had on everything as well; it was the birth of house music, obviously.

Chemical Brothers, for being the first super, superstar—well, being one of them, there were a bunch, The Prodigy and whatnot—just keeping it real for so long; the way they came up into the scene right at the start and added other dimensions to dance and the electronic music evolution. The fact that they were a band onstage doing all this stuff even though they were DJs and did DJ, they really, really kind of narrowed it down like a band. They had visuals; they had a profound impact on everything you see today from Daft Punk to Deadmau5 to Guetta. Everyone’s been influenced at some point by the Chemical Brothers.

Goldie is a special person to me. He never really became the music superstar we all hoped he would become, but I think his contribution of the Timeless album, what it meant to me personally, he kind of defined the drum and bass scene for that period of time. It was the kind of record that, still to this day, it would have been like Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. People still go back to that record now, and it’s truly a remarkable, remarkable album. It truly is quite timeless. That thing has never been touched.

Luciano. Coming back up to date as a DJ whose just changing things. I’m mesmerized every time I see him play. He kind of plays music from another planet, and plays it in a way that no one else plays it. And as many times as I’ve seen him, the music he plays, just the way he plays it is truly magical and there’s no DJ I would rather go and see than him right now. When I see him, though, I run back home and say, “I’ve gotta get that album. I’ve gotta do this, I’ve gotta do that.”