Winter Music Conference

Pete Tong's Pool Party at the Surfcomber Hotel March 25

Few individuals have had as lasting an impact on electronic dance music as legendary British DJ Pete Tong. An early proponent of house, he has been one of the most highly regarded tastemakers in the world for a quarter-century.

This month, Tong comes to town for his annual Surfcomber pool party with a special reason to celebrate: 20 years at BBC Radio 1, helming dance music's most influential radio show. And it wouldn't be a Pete Tong party if he didn't come equipped with a star-studded lineup. So you can expect deck support from superstars such as Richie Hawtin, Luciano, Joris Voorn, Sharam, James Zabiela, Riva Starr, and others.

Recently, we caught up with the eminent Mr. Tong to talk two decades in the game.

New Times: Running the biggest dance music radio show in the world has to be the coolest job. What's the best thing about it? The worst?

Pete Tong: It's still a privilege and magical to be able to play so much amazing new music and help so many new and established artists along the way. It's also great to work in the music industry and to be in tune with so many people in the UK and around the world all at the same time. What makes me very happy is when an act that I have been into right from the start progresses and breaks. The downside is finding the time to do justice and listen to the almost limitless amount of amazing new music that's out there.

You're celebrating 20 years at BBC Radio 1 this year. Looking back, what impact do you think your show, Essential Mix, has had on the international scene?

When you are able to do something the way you want to and be consistent over a long period of time, you kind of accidentally become a barometer of what's good.

Can you name a few artists whose careers were jump-started by being featured on the show?

I'm going to sound big-headed if I start claiming I have a magic wand or can turn water into wine by playing a record on the radio. The way I see it is that I can recognize good music and I can help speed up the process of what's inevitable. So I'm really happy if I can help acts along the way.

What have been some of your hosting highlights?

December 31, 1999, will always probably be the biggest moment or at least the most memorable: We broadcast from Liverpool Docks and then into an extended Essential Mix, which took us from one millennium to another. That was superspecial for me.

With so many hot new artists emerging all the time, what criteria do you use to select guest artists?

In terms of the Essential Selection radio show, there is often a tipping point when you've been keeping an eye on an up-and-coming act and suddenly it just feels right to feature them. They suddenly tick enough boxes, and they just feel ready. It's not much more scientific than that, to be honest. In terms of the Essential Mix, it can be quite niche, so I can put on music styles right across the electronic scene.

And in general, what are the key ingredients you look for in music as a DJ?

Firstly, something that I can remember. That probably sounds overly simplistic. But if you listen to 1,000 records, the ones you remember are usually the best ones. I also always look for soul — even the most minimal techno record can have soul to it. Originality is also very important. You can be influenced by all kinds of music and still have originality. That's key!

Where do you see EDM headed in the next decade?

We are in a new era now. Technology is always moving, developing, and changing in exciting ways. It never stays still. There are new technologies being launched every week. Some DJs are still playing vinyl and CDs, whereas others (including me) are really quick to move to different technologies. DJ culture has definitely changed too. DJs are headlining festivals now, and there's more and more investment being put into turning a DJ set into something more spectacular. From a wider view, we have gone through a couple of years where dance and urban have fused and come together. It feels like that's peaked, so it will be interesting to see what comes through next. Was pop music's fascination with electronica a passing fad? Or is it here to stay?

You're leading the fourth International Music Summit this year in Ibiza. What do you think an event like this brings to the island? Can you ever see an event like this coming to America?

I think it's given Ibiza another dimension. It's helped enhance the island's reputation as more than just a party island and given people more to think about in terms of music. And I like to think that everyone involved in IMS has given back to the island, as we owe it a lot. In terms of America, we'd love to come. We nearly came over to Miami this year, and we are just looking for the right opportunity. I think the USA is crying out for a new electronic music business event, so watch this space.

What are your favorite things about Miami in March?

The flyers on the sidewalk, the sunshine, and the look on people's faces at Space on Sunday morning!

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Sean Levisman