Saturday, March 11, 2006

some bloke called pete tong

For millions of radio listeners in the UK and millions more around the world tuning in via the internet, the weekend officially starts at 18:00GMT Friday when Pete Tong hits the airwaves on BBC Radio 1. I’ve been listening to the on-demand webcasts most weeks for the past 5 years: ten years fewer than he has been hosting the Essential Selection. In doing so Pete Tong has become the world’s most influential DJ.

Tong, then a part-time DJ, began his professional career in 1979 as a music journalist, but his eye for spotting the next big thing earned him a job in A&R for London Records. While keeping up with his DJ hobby, his career advanced at London; first when he was tapped to head A&R and then when he founded the influential FFRF Records. But, his big break came in 1991 when he secured the Friday night spot on BBC Radio 1.

The music he played then was likely Chicago house and early techno with a little rare groove mixed in, but Tong’s ability to stay ahead of shifts in dance music, blend styles and spot quality has kept him at the top of his profession. He plays gigs weekly around the world at the most fashionable clubs and he maintains a popular summer residency at Pacha in Ibiza, but his real genius is the weekly Essential Selection.

There are dance DJs with better technical skills (James Zabiela and Sasha come to mind) and DJs that might be more famous internationally (Tiesto and Oakenfold perhaps), but no one programs new music better or has Tong's power to break artists. In the world of progressive, house and electro, a play by Pete Tong means everything. And, a pick as the essential new tune guarantees UK chart success.

The format of the 3-hour show is somewhat diverse. Occasionally there are soon-to-be hits from alternative and hip-hop alongside dance tracks, there are a few interviews with Pete’s DJ friends, and it always ends with a 30-minute mix. But, he plays the most up-front (English term for new) tunes on the air. Most everything is weeks to months away from an official release or even promotional distribution, a result that can be frustrating when I hear a song I have to have.

I could try to describe his show more or list his current favorite tracks, but the best way to appreciate Pete Tong is to listen to his music, especially the first 90 mintes of yesterday's amazing Essential Selection. If you like club music (or if you have an open mind) give it a try. And, when you have finished with the Essential Selection check out Pete's new Tongcast (a 30-minute podcast released this Thursday). Better yet, sample tonight’s just-completed live DJ set from Lush in Northern Ireland. A live Essential Mix is rare and Tongy was in top form. But hurry, the on-demand audio is only available for 7 days before being replaced by the new week's shows.

Listen again to the 3/10 Essential Selection on BBC Radio 1 and view the tracklist

Listen again to the 3/12 Essential Mix live from Lush. Pete plays the second hour
Tongcast 7 from iTunes