Gilles Peterson is the Pied Piper for cutting edge music from all over the globe. He’s a DJ on BBC Radio 6, a record producer and collector, and owns several record labels including Acid Jazz, Talkin Loud and Brownswood. If there’s any noteworthy sound with a touch of funk, soul, jazz or synths, Gilles is all over it.
We caught up with the superstar DJ as he excitedly gears up for his very own music festival Worldwide which kicks off in Sete this July.
Q: What was you initial goal when you started Worldwide back in 2006?
A: I’d been on the DJ circuit for a while now and played at most festivals from Glastonbury to Coachella. Where some were great for DJ line-ups and others were great for live performances, few managed to get the two working well together. Back in the days of Dingwalls in Camden or the Wag Club – I’ve always thought the live music element was important and always tried to incorporate live music into my nights. I wanted to do a festival that would incorporate both cultures.
Q: Do you think you’ve achieved that?
A: Definitely! I’ve played at loads of the Croatian festivals and a lot of them are just British people abroad which may be a good laugh, but I wanted people at Worldwide to get something out of the festival other than just getting drunk. I wanted it to be about discovery. What’s brilliant about the festival is we have this cultural exchange – you get about 30 per cent Brits, 40 per cent French and then loads of people from all over the world which makes it really unique.
Q: Tell us a little more about the venues
A: We have three. The Beach – which is free and a good laugh for the daytime. Monday to Wednesday the Théatre de la Mer is open which is the most unbelievable outdoors venue. It’s on a theatre stage and only holds 1,700 people. Then there’s The Lighthouse which is open until 4am which holds 5,000 people.
Où est Wally?
Q: Worldwide is going from strength to strength despite not seeming to sell out or lose credibility. What’s the secret?
A: We have’t got any big sponsors and we don’t over hype it. We have an amazing site and we don’t have the pressures of having to sell 40,000 tickets so don’t need to settle for any nasty middle-of-the-road headliners. The image is so good because the festival is so genuine. We also have artists that really want to play here.
Four Tet called me and asked if they could perform and I had to say – to be honest I can’t really afford you now! People who would have been out of our scale financially still want to play. Carl Cox, who would normally take up most of our budget, DJed on The Beach for us because he just wanted to. We do a lot of swaps – I’ll play for them and they play for us. It’s got that kind of spirit which I think people can feel.
Q: How involved are you in the festival? Is it like a day in the office or do you go along with the festival vibes?
A: Last year I was involved in almost everything! It’s just so much fun – it’s like my own personal party. People must have been weirded out because I was just always about! It’s so brilliant. I don’t have anything to do with how well the speakers work and so on but in terms of programming the festival I do that practically on my own.
Not a welly in sight
Q: Who’s delivered the most memorable performance yet?
A: The one that people talk about the most is James Blake. That was like a ‘Pink Floyd at the Roundhouse in 1968’ moment – it was really exceptional. Even James was blown away and was saying that he didn’t think he could come back from it.
Q: What’s the one thing you should bring to Worldwide?
A: An open mind and an open spirit. One of the things about festivals is people can be very closed-minded about what they want from it. My whole thing is to just be open and to trust me! Some festivals focus on everything being so hyped and you just end up running out of energy. It’s important just enjoy the musical dynamics and bring some positive energy.
Q: Which performances are you most looking forward to seeing this year?
A: Unique things that can happen at festivals and there’s some great collaborations I’m looking forward to. There’s an incredible Armenian pianist called Tigran Hamasyan who’s like one of the top five jazz pianist in the world who’s working with some UK producers signed to Hyper Dub called LV which will be amazing. The other sees two generations of Brazilians meeting-up: there’s Marcos Valle the singer from Rio with Lucas Santtana who’s like a modern-day electronica version of Marcos. I think that will be really special.
Q: Have any acts been really tricky to secure for the line-up?
A: The one that I was really pleased to get, and was tough because she’s completely exploded now, is Laura Mvula. I really wanted to get her in The Theatre because I knew that she’d love it and she would give the festival a great edge. Plus I really wanted to champion her. I love championing great new artists – we tried to get Michael Kiwanuka and he was desperate to come but we’ve not managed it… yet.
Q: Who, dead or alive, would be on your fantasy line-up?
A: All the Jazz greats! Donny Hathaway, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Billie Holliday… they’d be amazing and they’d love it! But they’re there in spirit!
Q: As festivals become more accommodating to electronic, hip-hop and soul music, is it harder to secure acts?
A: We can’t compete with the other festivals but we just know that we’ve got that kudos. People like Mount Kimbie and Four Tet were they’re desperate to play for us. The only group we tried to get this year that failed was Disclosure. A year ago they were a lot cheaper to book and this year their prices have rocketed. They may want to play for me but when you’ve got agents and managers to pay and festivals with big sponsors paying high rates then you’ve got to go with who pays. We’ve got a limited budget, and a limited crowd but acts still feel like it’s one they want to go to.
Q: Gilles – Hang on, so this is for Virgin Media… can you sort me out with some wifi?
A: VM – You’d be surprised how many people ask that…
Worldwide takes place in Sete – South Of France every July.
For info visit: www.worldwidefestival.com