In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been in ADI-mania mode since we met her at Berlin’s Funkhaus studio during the week of our TMTS program. Since then we’ve featured her in our magazine, premiered her stunning video for the track “Chinatown” and hosted a handful of performances by the Israeli songwriter, including three appearances at our spring festivals in Warsaw, Bratislava, and Prague. We met up with the Jerusalem native in Warsaw for a polite chat about her current hometown, Tel Aviv, which is the subject of the city feature in the latest issue of Electronic Beats Magazine. However, the exchange quickly spiralled into an interesting conversation about what’s going on in Israel, how it feels to have grown up in the conflicted country and her hopes for change.
Hi Adi, nice to see you in Warsaw. When did you get into town?
ADI: I came yesterday from Tel Aviv to Berlin and then here.
Was it a long journey?
Tel Aviv pretty close, but everything is so different that it feels like it’s on the other side of the world. Israeli culture is really different because we’re exposed to many different cultures, so the mainstream in Israel is really distinct, and most of the music has lots of ethnic elements. In the last few years we were exposed to Europe’s underground electronic music scene, and in Tel Aviv we have a lot of amazing music going on, but the rest of the country is really different, musically and culturally in general.
Have you absorbed an equal amount of the European underground influence and the Arabic influences? Your music sounds more in tune with what’s going on in Western countries.
When I started producing my music about two years ago, I had a lot of Arabic and ethnic influences in my music, which was kind of weird because I’m not sure how much I was really exposed to that growing up. Today I feel like I’m much more affected by music from the US and the UK, or Europe at large. I’m not focusing on what’s going on in Israel, and I don’t feel like I’m “representing Israel.” It’s my home and I love it, but that’s it.
If you went to a techno party in Israel, would you hear the same music that you’d hear around here?
Yeah. We have lots of cool gigs from abroad, and things that are super hyped in Europe come to Israel as well. It’s just that there’s less of that sort of music, because of the whole political situation, which affects everything. People are less interested in coming to Israel.
How often have you come to Europe? You’ve been around quite a bit since you came to Berlin for TMTS, but what about before that?
I used to be in the UK a lot and played quite a few shows there. I get to come to Europe at least six times a year.
Do you find international audiences receive your music differently?
I was scared of going to the US for the first time because I was really used to playing in Europe, but it was a lot easier in the US. I think Europeans are a bit harder to impress and to get them to actually move. I felt like Americans just wanted to have fun and drink and enjoy the gig. I was born in Jerusalem, and I always compare the difference between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to the difference between Europe and the US. People in Jerusalem can be judgmental and they won’t get out of their comfort zone and let go. Once I moved to Tel Aviv, everything was chilled, easygoing and relaxed.
What do you think accounts for that cultural difference between cities in Israel?
Jerusalem is a really complex city. We have Arabs, Jews, lots of really religious people and people that are not. It’s very intense, and you can feel that when you walk down the street. You have to have armor there, whereas in Tel Aviv people are lot more open-minded and relaxed. There’s a beach, and it’s a different vibe.
What inspired you to move to Tel Aviv?
I studied music production and sound in Tel Aviv while I was still living in Jerusalem. A lot of people move to Tel Aviv, especially artists. It’s the center of Israeli culture, so you kind of have to be there.
So you started producing two years ago, but you were doing music production in school before that, which means you had an interest in having a career in music, right?
I started making music when I was really young. I started singing when I was six, and I had a few bands and I had a proper band for about four years.
What kind of band?
It was kind of electronic rock, post-rock. Ugh. I don’t like it now, but I think the fact that we combined electronic music in what we did made me want to do it myself and to be able to express myself using the computer. I felt like I was trying to tell the other people in the band, “Let’s try to do this,” but you can’t really express what you want to achieve without actually trying to make the specific sound you want to create and have in your mind. It’s really hard to communicate a sound; it’s not a visual thing where I can sketch something. It would be a lot easier and fun just to be able to do it myself.
Is there a local Israeli scene that becomes insular, so you might be famous in Israel but not elsewhere?
There is. Hebrew music is a big scene. You can be really successful, but it’s in Hebrew and that limits your audience. There are a few “cool” musicians who sing in Hebrew, but even though they’ll tell you they fly around the world to perform, it’s just in Jewish communities; it’s not like they’re playing huge festivals. But there are also artists like Asaf Avidan, who grew up in the same neighborhood as I did. I remember him as a part of the music scene that I grew up in, and then he blew up and now he plays all over Europe. Like me, he doesn’t feel like an “Israeli artist”; he’s just an artist who was born in Israel. It’s funny that I say that, yet I just talked about Israel for half an hour.
Well…get used to it. Most interviews you’ll do, especially as people get to know you, will probably have to do with Israel—and maybe you’ll embrace that. Sometimes the frustration with artists is that they have the platform to address difficult topics and acknowledge people who don’t get enough representation in the mainstream. It’s like, “Listen to what I’m saying because everyone listens to you and no one listens to me.” So you’re probably going to get asked about Israel all the time, and maybe it’s your chance to listen and to speak.
Most people don’t understand what’s going on in Israel; me neither. I’ve gotten into all the political issues, but unfortunately the dramas feel distant when you live in Tel Aviv. It’s a cool and fun city. It was weird during the war last year, but most of the time it’s just a fun city to hang out in, so you don’t feel like a part of the fighting. Then when you watch the news, it’s like “Really? This is happening here? Am I not aware of where I’m from and where I live?”
We have an election in a few weeks in Israel, and although I was never into politics, during the past couple of months I started to feel like we have to do something. The fact that I have some followers in Israel makes me feel like I have to use that and express what I feel and that we have to change something. It’s not like I have a grand plan for Israel. It’s just that I feel what’s going on right now is wrong and we have to take advantage of the fact that artists have the power to effect things and do something. I hope it will help.
It’s interesting to hear an Israeli person talk about this. Are you saying that what’s going on there on Israel’s behalf is wrong? I’m curious because over the past year or two I’ve noticed a shift in liberal attitudes toward Israel. I grew up in a blue state where being anti-Israel was not acceptable. Then there was a sea change, and now it seems like liberals are categorically anti-Israel.
I just think it’s a lot more complex than being pro or anti Israel. We’ve done some serious mistakes and they’ve done some serious mistakes: that’s life. It’s not that we’re wrong and they’re right or the other way around. It’s so much deeper than that. I feel like people don’t want to grapple with the complexities, that we have to make a change and so do they. We have to go towards each other. Still, I feel like I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to say that I have an expert insight into this.
You said a lot of your following is from outside Israel. Does your nationality impede you in any way? For instance, are other countries unreceptive to you because you represent to them a country they don’t support?
During the war we had in Israel last year, I got a few comments on Facebook, like “You Israelis…” I was like, “Ugh, seriously? Why?” I don’t feel like it has anything to do with me on a personal level. But I can totally understand that, on the other hand. I feel like you have to see both sides. I can totally get that Palestinians feel like they’re under attack, and that we feel the same. I don’t judge. I get it. Maybe I shouldn’t talk that much about being from Israel.
We can move on. Oh—[To the booking agent, who has approached.] Are we out of time? OK, we’ll stop.
I thought you were coming over here to tell me not to talk about Israel.
Electronic music production in Poland may be on the rise thanks to producers like the RSS B0YS, but for about 100 years the country has been steeped in jazz. Under Soviet rule in the 1940s, bans on cultural production meant the burgeoning jazz scene ducked underground, and jazz didn’t make its way out of the catacombs until after Stalin’s death nearly a decade later. Behind the Iron Curtain, jazz clubs and festivals began to blossom and foreign musicians found their way in via radio waves, and the scene became more robust and stable over the subsequent decades.
A few hours before our latest EB Festival in Warsaw, we sat down with BBC Radio 6 selector Gilles Peterson and German DJ/producer Motor City Drum Ensemble, two dedicated record collectors known for both their deep affinity for, and knowledge of, jazz. With the Palace of Culture and Science just across the road, the pair speculated about the rise of free jazz as a reaction to repressive political climates in Eastern Europe, the deterioration of politics in club culture, and how “kids today” are tapping into avant-garde jazz legacies via Flying Lotus and the Brainfeeder tribe.
Motor City Drum Ensemble: I think the last time we saw each other was at Southport Airport.
Gilles Peterson: It’s funny; I bump into so many DJs at airports. It’s kind of the meeting point. Now we’re meeting in Warsaw, where there’s a long history of jazz. All pioneers in the music scene are jazz heads, like Carl Cox or any of those guys who have lasted.
MCDE: It’s the tree, the roots. We all go back to jazz.
GP: My brother studied in Switzerland when I was 15 or 16, and I used to go visit him. I’d hitchhike from Lausanne to the Montreaux Jazz Festival. I remember seeing [Polish jazz musician] Michał Urbaniak and [Polish jazz vocalist] Urszula Dudziak there, which were probably my first experiences of Russian-influenced jazz. They were my first two Polish stars. One of the records I’ve got here is a record by Urszula Dudziak, and there’s a track called “Papaya” on it that’s a disco jazz jam; it’s wicked. And all the Michał Urbaniak stuff are very fucked up, basically, and very techno.
MCDE: For me, growing up in Southern rural Germany, I was exposed to a lot of American jazz and German jazz, but I couldn’t really find this kind of stuff. Because I put out my first record when I was 16, I got to travel to Croatia. I went to a record store there and they had records that I’d never seen before, and they were all on the same label. I was like “What the fuck is this label?” It seemed like totally free jazz and it opened up a whole new cosmos for me. I found tons of fusion jazz from former Soviet countries.
GP: Whether you go to Norway or Finland or France or anywhere, they all have little inner jazz places. They all have their scene, and I find that the further east you go, the more avant-garde it gets, the freer it gets.
MCDE: I think the Eastern European musicians became freer because they were restricted, and there was no possibility for them to be political in their lyrics, so they had to have some kind of way to put out their anger without saying real words.
GP: I think that’s a very good theory. I’m going to use that. Yet, I think that music in general has become much less political. It’s become much less cool to be political. The peak of political music for me was punk, which was a subversive reaction to Thatcherism in the UK. If you were a band you had to have a political point of view, but nowadays people avoid it. It’s gotten more existential, especially with dance music. What’s political about going to Berghain? Everyone’s just kind of been taking ecstasy and it’s neutralized everyone’s energy somehow. That’s the danger of dance music: It’s all a bit too self…
GP: Yeah. And I think a lot of the political jazz happened before the 1970s. I’ve been doing a lot of work recently with a guy called Charles Tolliver, who had a label called Strata-East, which was closely associated with people like Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets and was very much about representing black culture and giving it a platform. I also liked the whole Jazzanova thing.
MCDE: I’ve got a funny story about them. When I first went to Warsaw, I went to a record store with a checklist of stuff I wanted to buy. I asked for some of it and the clerk said, “Sorry, we’re out because week ago some guy from Berlin bought a whole stack. They go by the name of Jazzanova.”
GP: For me, Jazzanova was very interesting as a concept and as an ideology. They were very important, not just in terms of how they approach their business, but also in how they provided a basis for German electronic music to come through. I don’t think they get enough credit for that. You’ve got Dixon and Âme and all these people, they all kind of got the boost from Jazzanova.
MCDE: I feel that the whole intellectualism in music has been a bit watered down. With a lot of the records we’ve discussed so far, you really have to listen to the whole side to get what they’re actually about. Free jazz is about listening to a 20-minute piece with two particular minutes that really speak to you. Kids today don’t have patience anymore; they have mobiles and constantly do ten things at once, and this way we keep them from actually finding what music’s truly about, or what they’re about. Maybe that’s why political messages are so few and far between in music these days.
Photos by Jannik Schaefer.
GP: As a broadcaster, I think radio a really beautiful platform to subliminally put messages out there in terms of your vision and political perspective. However, I got into a lot of trouble with politics and music; I got fired from a radio station called Jazz FM during the first Gulf War because I told everyone to go to the peace march. I brought politics and music together, but it was really dangerous for me. I don’t know how you can educate people through DJing, because when people go to clubs, they want to have a good time, to party, to fuck someone, to get high or just dance. It’s a selfish thing. As a DJ, the moment you go in there like, “I want to educate,” you’re fucked. You have to be much more subtle than that.
MCDE: I have to agree with you, but in the last couple of years, you can sense that a new generation is sick of being spoon-fed the same boring music. These days, I get the biggest peaks playing super obscure records. Young people want to hear something new and discover things they can’t find on the Internet that everyone has on their iPhone.
GP: Yeah, the youth is tired of being sold bullshit for money. Ibiza is a good example; I don’t go there anymore. Maybe that’s why an incredible musician like Flying Lotus has become so popular. He was working with Austin Peralta, who was a proper jazz musician. He has Kamasi Washington on Brainfeeder, which is a powerful label and part of a powerful scene. My kids are 16, and they love Flying Lotus. Yesterday morning they were listening to Thundercat. That’s powerful because those guys are the natural link to free jazz, to George Duke and to fusion and all of that.
MCDE: I agree about Flying Lotus, and I was also really happy to see D’Angelo make a comeback. I regained my trust in good music. That has been the biggest eye-opener for me this year: to see that something like this is possible in mainstream music. The thing is that contemporary jazz doesn’t get recognized very much. You play some contemporary stuff on your radio show, but if we’re comparing sales from a beautifully crafted gatefold of modern jazz record to your average 12” of house, it’s crazy. Nobody buys modern jazz, even though it might be incredible.
Interview and photography by Matthias Klein and Jannik Schaefer.
On Friday, the EB team hit Warsaw to kick off our spring festival season. Our 2015 visit to the Polish capital included two concerts, the first of which took place at the Palladium with TMTS star Adi Ulmansky, Norwegian indie pop group Highasakite, and Joseph Mount’s globetrotting band of merry musicmakers, Metronomy. After that, we headed over to the Basen nightclub, which is built in a former YMCA swimming pool, to work up a sweat to DJ sets by BBC host and ABC columnist Gilles Peterson and house champion Motor City Drum Ensemble.
You’ll get the full story of what went down at EB’s Warsaw festival in the following weeks and months as we reveal live concert footage of all the performances and publish exclusive backstage interviews with this year’s stars, but you can get an idea of the vibe from the photo gallery we’ve compiled below.
Hours before the festivities began, we teamed up with the LeafAudio crew to teach a lucky bunch of people how to build their own mini-synth.
When the sun went down, it was time to head over to the Palladium, which is located in the metropolitan heart of central Warsaw.
Excited festivalgoers started to line up outside the Palladium at 2 P.M. on the day of the festival, a full 6 hours before doors opened.
As the crowd entered, a local DJ duo known as Wah Wah warmed up the atrium with tasteful underground selections. Early attendees sipped drinks and purchased silk-screened shirts that were handmade at the venue to the seductive sounds of top-knotch beatmakers like Shinichi Atobe.
Wah Wah took a break as Israeli up-and-comer Adi Ulmansky took the stage, alone and fearless.
She wound through several cuts from her forthcoming EP, including “Snow,” “Blood On Your Hands,” “Voices,” and “Was It You?” Ulmansky is a tactile performer who programmed her beats live with a laptop, keyboard, and Akai MPD26, which meant that her sound effects were occasionally the slightest bit off time. For us, that was the most endearing part of her appearance, because it proved that she wasn’t letting the technology do the work for her.
Once Adi closed out with “Was It You,” Highasakite took the stage.
The headlining band, Metronomy, stormed onstage in front of a completely packed crowd.
Blount and his cohorts had the audience jumping and cheering, so they were in the perfect mindset to dogpile the Basen nightclub once the band bid the crowd adieu.
Basen’s opening acts Diffriend and Oxford Drama took charge of the audio while the crowd filtered in.
Once the club had just about reached capacity, Gilles Peterson assumed control of the decks alongside his trusty MC Earl Zinger. His set was predictably eclectic and worldly, and included “Cuba Electornica,” a track from the album that Peterson worked on with the UK dubstep don, Mala In Cuba. The sound system couldn’t quite handle all that bass.
Motor City Drum Ensemble closed out the night with an absolutely ecstatic set of soulful jams. Around 5:30 in the morning, he started to close out his set by taking 12″s out of his bag and brandishing them in front of the dance floor to signal that this would be the last track of the night. But each time he played a “final” record, the people cheered for more.
Stay tuned for EB.TV live videos of this year’s performances, exclusive interviews, and, of course, three more shows. The next EB Festival is this Friday, March 6, in Bratislava.
We’re getting ready to head to Warsaw for the EB Festival this weekend by scoping out the city’s ten best hangouts and giving away more free tickets to the shows.
During Electronic Beats’ last festival season, we investigated the various cities we visit by enlisting locals to connect us with some of the best spots in town. So far, we’ve profiled the underground scenes in Leipzig, Budapest, and Zagreb, and since we’re kicking off this festival season in Warsaw on Friday, it’s high time we turned our attentions to the Polish capital’s cultural gems. We’re also teaming up with the genius mechanics at Leaf Audio for a synth-building workshop that same day. To help us prepare, Varsovian man-about-town Juliusz Barwik reeled off his top ten places to hang out in the city, from high-end clubs and whiskey bars to the renovated Communist Party headquarters.
Oh, and by the way, we’ve got another five pairs of tickets to give away. If you want to snag one, here’s what you have to do: publish a Tweet or public Facebook post with the hashtag #ElectronicBeats, and put a link to the Tweet/post in the comments below by February 25 at 16:oo Berlin time.
Plan B is a must-see bar on Zbawiciela Square, which is the most “happening” of all the city’s squares. One of its major selling points is that it’s got the best view of the Rainbow, a controversial art project that has become the target of protests by religious and nationalists groups. The clientele is pretty diverse and ranges from the students at a nearby high school, freelancers, artists, hipsters, and random celebrities, all of whom feel at ease here thanks to the bar’s unique atmosphere, which it owes to its laid-back shabby décor and very affordable prices.
The club is located in the heart of the city, vis-à-vis The Palace of Culture and Science. The building once housed a childrens’ hospital, but the wards were converted into artists’ studios, co-working spaces, and a music venue with a pretty creepy vibe. The club consists of two dance floors and a massive bar, and it’s one of Warsaw’s few spaces devoted to quality electronic music bookings.
“Basen” means “swimming pool” in Polish, so it’s no surprise that this club is built in one. The building itself has a lot of history; its modernist design was constructed in the interwar period and belonged to the Polish branch of the YMCA. It’s also one of the only buildings to survive the destruction of Warsaw during World War II, and it was the only swimming pool available to young Varsovians in its aftermath. Nowadays, it hosts the best concerts in town, including Electronic Beats’ showcase with Gilles Peterson and Motor City Drum Ensemble.
Any savvy tourist in Warsaw MUST go to the Palace of Culture and Science. Its foyer houses Cafe Kulturalna and Bar.Studio, both of which partner with local theaters and share similar characteristics. In addition to a strong emphasis on music, like the best Polish bands and a smorgasbord of representatives from the international indie scene, they also have high ambitions for the city’s cultural scene at large. In the afternoons, the spaces hold debates, and in the evening you might catch a unique opportunity to imagine that you’re a Soveit-era dignitary, drinking vodka in the majestic Palace.
CUDA NA KIJU/ZAMIESZANIE
The Communist Party Headquarters in another must-see on the tour of post-Communist Warsaw. The members of the Central Committee ruled the country from this building, which is still shrouded in an aura of mystery. Ironically, it’s now the headquarters for the Warsaw Stock Exchange, and lately it’s become a pilgrimage site for beer- and cocktail-lovers, as its watering hole Cuda Na Kiju was the first multi-tap bar in Warsaw. An ambitious young bartender took multi-tapping to a new level with its sister bar, Zamieszanie, which serves their cocktails directly from the tap. They frequently update their menu and seasonal flavors and boast a delightfully casual atmosphere.
AIOLI inspired by MINI
The original Aioli restaurant enjoyed such huge success on Świętokrzyska Street that the proprietors opened a second location in the heart of the city. The new spot was “inspired by” and established in cooperation with MINI cars, and their visions collaborated in the form of an industrial yet warm interior, simple yet surprising dishes, and a metropolitan atmosphere. It’s the perfect place for a late breakfast, a lunch with friends, or even a pre-party, as they hire DJs to play there every evening. Basically, the place is teeming with life and wouldn’t look out of place in Southern Europe.
This bar is situated in the Rydz Śmigły Park, which itself is situated in Powiśle, Warsaw’s hippest district. The structure, a gem of modernist architecture from the 70s, was meticulously renovated a couple of years ago. It’s all about whiskey here, and guests can choose from over 100 varieties. On weekdays, it’s a quiet place to pass some time over sophisticated drinks. On weekends, the bar regularly hosts live music, most of which is related to electro and contemporary soul.
If you find yourself in Powiśle, you should definitely visit Na Lato. On weekdays it’s a classy and calm restaurant, but when the weekend rolls around, it turns into a dance-until-sunrise sort of club. Much like the neighboring bar Syreni Śpiew, the venue is packed with beautiful women, handsome men, designer clothes, champagne, and whiskey.
Kita Koguta is the best bet for a vibe-y place to start an evening with some delicious cocktails. The creative and personable staff will help you pick your poison, and then prepare one of the most innovative cocktails in Warsaw. On weekends they have a DJ playing, which adds an extra serving of vibes.
This new and enigmatic venue appeared on the Warsaw map several weeks ago. We’re still watching as it evolves, but so far it seems rather remarkable. It’s a classy café/restaurant during the day, and at night it morphs into a proper nightclub with some great bookings. The lovely Kredytowa Street building has plans to install a wine cellar and a barbershop in its walls, and it’s likely that they have more in store. “Miłość” means love in Polish, and it seems to fit.
To purchase tickets to the Electronic Beats Festival in Warsaw, click here.
Read Gilles Peterson’s ABC column before it’s published in the forthcoming issue of Electronic Beats Magazine for a chance to win tickets to his performance at the EB Festival in Warsaw.
BBC Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson filled out the latest ABC column for the next issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, which drops next month. We’re publishing it a little early to give you guys the chance to snag a pair of tickets to the first EB Festival of 2015, which takes place next Friday, February 27 in Warsaw. This one’s a two-parter; one of the shows stars Metronomy and takes place at the Palladium, and the other’s an after hours dance/jazz blowout at Basen with Peterson and Motor City Drum Ensemble. To enter the ticket giveaway contest, comment below with your favorite tune from Gilles’ label Talkin’ Loud and make sure to enter your email in the form so we can hit you back. Our esteemed judges will determine which entrant chose the best tracks and pick the winners. The contest ends this coming Monday, February 23 at 17:00 Berlin time.
A as in Abarbanel, Tsvia:
If you’re talking about sound quality, the best nightclub in the world is probably the Block in Tel Aviv. One of my favorite moments last year happened during a set I played there when I dropped a 7-inch by an artist named Tsvia Abarbanel. The record is an amazing hybrid of traditional Yemenite singing and Western jazz funk. It was recorded in 1970 but never had a proper release, so it was rare as hen’s teeth. Lucky for us, an Israeli re-release label called Fortuna pressed a reissue. I like to mix the intro into a track by Acid Arab called “Samira.” It’s a special combination.
B as in Body clock: I’m lucky in the sense that I’m a master of the power nap. I can quite happily do twenty minutes here or there. As my wife tells me, I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, and it’s been a saving grace in my career. It’s an art.
C as in Censorship: In 1990 I lost my show on Jazz FM for speaking out against the first Gulf War. I think I learnt my lesson, so now I just stick to the music. Funnily enough, I was the first media victim of that war in Britain; there were articles in the paper and everything. It actually helped my career because it added a certain subversive aspect to my character. Now that I’m on the BBC I have to be very careful about what I say.
D as in Dingwalls: Dingwalls was home to one of my most renowned and enjoyable residencies. I was there at a mad, exciting period before acid house and acid jazz exploded. I’d had quite a lot of residencies before Dingwalls but it was the club that shaped my musical ethos. Putting on live music, mixing genres together—that’s something that came to its climax at that club. A lot of people think of it as a jazz club, but it wasn’t really. We’d play hip-hop, house, soul, and disco. It was also a club where a lot of the DJs who’d been playing the night before would come after their sets, so it became the after party spot for a lot of people. It incorporated a lot of different aspects of the London scene.
E as in Electric Ballroom:
Electric Ballroom was another London club but it was strictly about heavy jazz and Afro-Cuban music. I’d play upstairs on a Friday. Downstairs there was Paul Anderson’s party holding about a thousand people, but 50 or 60 dancers would end up battling upstairs on my floor. The music I’d have to play in that environment was hardcore, fast, furious, Afro-Cuban fusion, and these dancers would battle at high intensity for five hours at a time.
F as in Fusion:
Fusion music in its purist sense comes from the ’70s—it’s those records that are electric but jazzy, and a little bit improvised. “Liberated Fantasies” by George Duke or “Shiftless Shuffle” by Herbie Hancock. That’s jazz fusion. It was such a big part of what made these clubs so intense for dancing.
G as in Gang Starr:
Guru rest in peace. I was so sad when he died. Younger MCs like Joey Bada$$ and Kendrick Lamar are finding the Q-Tips, the Phifes, and the Gurus, which is great to hear. Actually, Guru and Premier used to come to Dingwalls; I’ve got a picture of them there. I used to help out Premier, and I still do. One year he was in London and he had to do a remix for the Dream Warriors. He was like, “Oh my god, I haven’t got any samples,” so he came and borrowed records from me. He took Black Byrd by Donald Byrd and made a track out of it. “Jazz Thing” was such an important tune for Gang Starr. It has that whole Spike Lee New York vibe going on.
H as in Hardcore Continuum: For me, English dance music goes back to sound systems. It’s sound systems that made England special in terms of the culture and music it created—it’s what set us apart from other countries in Europe. The Jamaicans brought that sound system culture which became a big part of the heritage for people living in London and Birmingham. That’s obviously had a big effect on the evolution of dance music in the UK. It unites everything from happy hardcore, to jungle, to garage, to grime—so I do agree somewhat with the idea of the Hardcore Continuum. This British musical heritage and evolution is one of the reasons I find it hard to leave London as a base, because for me, everything comes through here. London is still constantly fostering growth in the music. If I was living in Berlin, it’s all very techno and very narrow. In England we’ve got hybrids of different aspects. It’s another sort of fusion.
I as in Ibiza:
The depressing thing about Ibiza is that a lot of people see it as the nirvana. It’s like Las Vegas, commercial nonsense. Everything I despise about capitalism is there in Ibiza. However, I still feel that it’s important to go if Carl Cox asks me to play at Space. I think back to when I was fourteen and one of the few people in the back room of the club where you’d hear the DJ play something freaky, a cool track you wouldn’t have heard if you were in the more mainstream room. So in that sense you can’t close Ibiza down, but if I had the option I’d rather not go.
J as in Jersey club music: Whether it’s Baltimore club, footwork or any of those types of hybrids, I always get really excited about it. Everyone throws terms at this stuff, but I don’t know the difference between deep house and hard house. I’ve lost it. I just play music now. I probably play Jersey club, it sounds like the kind of thing I’d spin.
K as in Kuduro: Kuduro is a genre that’s a lot easier for me to understand because I’ve been quite tuned in to it. My trips to Portugal showed me a lot of that broken sound. It can be a little bit dancehall, or like broken beat with a tropical twist. It’s very big for me, stuff like Buraka Som Sistema. The other thing I enjoy about what I do is that I end up playing on a lot of different circuits and many different scenes. So one day I’m off to Lisbon and suddenly I get a big dose of kuduro. It’s great that it gives producers and DJs something to focus on and a way create their own history. It’s a positive thing.
L as in London club crisis: In a way, London is the best place in the world to go clubbing. Yet it’s the only place in the world that doesn’t have a good club at the moment. London is about pop-ups and one-offs. People who are into music are a bit sick of the commercialism of clubbing. They don’t want to spend thirty pounds to go see a DJ. The other reason I find Ibiza awful is because you spend a hundred quid in five seconds. It’s not fair. A club like Output in New York, or the Block in Tel Aviv, or Air in Tokyo doesn’t exist in London.
M as in Mala:
I think Mala represents everything that’s great about London. His sound system, his ethos, and what he’s given to music as a producer could only have happened in London, though he’s living in Antwerp now. It was a great experience to work together in Cuba on his album, and now he’s got a new LP of recordings he’s made in Peru coming out soon.
N as in Northern Soul: Northern Soul is very much part of my culture. It takes me back to those younger days when I was looking for something secret and special to do with my friends, something that other people didn’t know about. We’d find these little rooms blasting Art Blakey records and full of eccentric people coming up with these bonkers dance moves. There was a lot of range in the music, but sometimes that led to the DJing being more about rarity than quality. On the whole though, I thank god for these odd little scenes because they unearth nuggets of great music.
O as in Ocarina:
The ocarina is a properly ancient instrument that I haven’t come across so much, but I’ve seen a lot of thumb piano recently, which is of a similar vintage. It’s been in the hands of Stanley Cowell, the pianist and co-founder of the fiercely independent jazz imprint Strata-East. I’ve seen him on the thumb piano quite a bit because we’re putting on a night of Strata-East music at the Barbican in London.
P as in Pirate Radio:
I got my start and made a name for myself on pirate radio. At the age of seventeen, I had my own little radio station called South London Broadcasting. It was a two hour broadcast—one hour from me and the other by my next door neighbour. We’d record it on cassette, then my dad would drive us to Epsom Downs in South London. We’d connect the cassette player to a transmitter, plug in an aerial, and power it all with the car battery. Then we’d go listen to see if anyone phoned us on the local phone box. We’d get one or two phone calls and be buzzing off it for weeks. One day this other station gave me a call. It was Invicta, the first pirate black music station in London. They got busted and had their transmitter confiscated, but they heard there was some young boy in South London with a replacement. I was that boy. So when they asked if they could borrow it, I said yes—on the condition that they give me a radio show.
Q as in Quo Vadis?: Where am I going? I’m continually looking for new places and going outernational. There’s talk of making a record in Indonesia. I’m going back to Cuba. I’ve been asked to perform my Brazilian record Sonzeira: Brasil Bam Bam Bam at Rock in Rio, which is just insane. There’s so many things happening, so many different places to make records.
R as in Retirement: I’m enjoying this too much to stop, and I don’t know when a DJ stops DJing. I always thought that I didn’t want to be that old bloke playing records, but here I am. There are plenty of older guys who still inspire me. I had Francois Kevorkian sitting in the booth with me when I last played in New York. He’s like the professor, and he’s still teaching.
S as in Spiritual Jazz:
Contrary to popular belief, there’s loads of modern spiritual jazz. There’s an album coming out by an artist called Kamasi Washington who signed to Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder. It’s spiritual jazz all the way. I consider Flying Lotus part of the spiritual lineage. I remember going to see him a few years ago when he was playing with a drummer and Dorian Concept on keyboards, and it was like going to see an Albert Ayler concert in 1968. Spiritual jazz is very much alive.
T as in Talkin’ Loud: Working on that label was a learning experience. I had to get to grips with how the global music industry machine works. We made some records that I’m very proud of from artists like M.J. Cole, Roni Size, Carl Craig, and The Roots—we had an amazing period there. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time because I was zipping through it at such speed that it was hard to take stock. In the end I had to get out because it was too intense.
U as in Universal language: I buy into the cliché that “music is a universal language.” As Albert Ayler said, “Music is the healing force of the universe.” I totally accept and believe that. Music is something that gives us all hope. There aren’t enough people in the world who listen to music. You don’t need therapy when you’ve got a record collection.
V as in Vertical integration in the music economy: In the old days, each link in the music supply chain was relatively autonomous and separate. Now anyone can be a producer, label, and distributor. Once upon a time, the majors and their distribution partners controlled everything, but now it’s wide open. In terms of art and creativity, it’s very exciting.
W as in Worldwide Festival: It’s the best thing I do. Over the years it’s become a meeting point for all my friends and everyone I meet around the world. Plus, we’ve got a gorgeous location in the South of France. I was tired of going to festivals where there was always something missing. I wanted to create a festival that provides a well produced, great experience, whether it’s a live band performing or a DJ spinning. You can’t put on a festival like that overnight. It’s the culmination of my thirty years in the music industry.
X as in X-Ray Spex and late seventies punk:
I liked X-Ray Spex, but in 1977 you were either into jazz funk or punk music. I loved punk and the clothes, but I was a soul boy. I remember one day coming back from an all-dayer on a bank holiday. I walked out of the party with my mate who was wearing a pair of pegged trousers from a shop called Jones on the Kings Road. A punk from our school saw him walking out and beat him up. I did a runner. Whatever tribe you were from, it was a passion. You had to be careful, you had to defend yourself, you were part of a gang, and I loved that. Whether you were a mod, a soul boy, a casual, a ted, or a punk, you had to make that decision. I don’t think there’s enough of that these days in music.
Y as in Young Fathers: I was quite impressed when they won the Mercury Prize last year. I was there, actually. I didn’t think they were going to win it. My money was on Kate Tempest.
Z as in Zouk: This is a traditional carnival style from Guadeloupe and Martinique that was supplemented with synths and modern technology in the eighties. I have a residency at La Bellevilloise in Paris where I play loads of these sounds from Guadeloupe and Martinique. I’ve been playing a lot of stuff from the Reunion Islands, too. There’s so many great little variations in the styles coming out of the Caribbean, and people go mental for them.
This article will appear in the Spring 2015 issue of Electronic Magazine, which comes out in March. Gilles Peterson will DJ at the Electronic Beats Festival in Warsaw on February 27. You can buy tickets to the event here.