It is nearly impossible to picture the dance music landscape without the finely tuned ear, and of course, the iconic voice of the legendary Pete Tong. After over 1900 broadcasts, the DJ kicks off his 20th anniversary celebration on BBC Radio 1 on Friday (at 3 p.m. ET), rolling out the Top 20 tracks of the past two decades, as voted on by his listeners.
After DJ’ing at various smaller stations in his early years, Tong burst onto BBC Radio 1 in 1991 with his weekly “Essential Mix” broadcast — which has since become the Holy Grail of dance music aficionados across the globe. Tong admits, however, that it was a touch of luck that put him in the chair as one of the most influential names in dance music.
“It was a little bit of being in the right place at the right time,” Tong told MTV News recently while in Miami, where he again hosted his massive pool party at the Surfcomber.
Unlike corporate American radio, British DJs have more freedom to play what they see fit; they are the eyes and ears of the culture burgeoning around them, and are tasked with bringing the next big sound out in to the open. This in turn gives underground talent a chance to flourish and be exposed to the dance music audience that has grown massive since its beginnings in the late 1980s.
“They didn’t have anyone to speak to the biggest youth culture movement since punk rock,” he explained. “I landed on my feet at Radio 1 in ’91, with a big audience ready to go, and we were off and running.”
Now, to be featured on Pete Tong’s weekly radio show, broadcast/streamed to millions around the world, is truly an anointment of success. You don’t go anywhere without Pete’s blessing, and his influence has even helped usher in a new age of dance music here in the States. But he’s also ready to credit others with the genre’s recent growth.
“You’ve got to celebrate the acknowledgement and success and all of the doors that have been opened by someone like David Guetta; it just makes the whole scene bigger,” Tong said. “But like any scene, not everybody in it is going to like the same thing. And for the extreme right wing, there’s always going to be a left-wing reaction. What I think is most positive is for all the excitement and headlines that have been generated by David Guetta’s collaborations with the likes of will.i.am.
“I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen America flirt with dance music before, back in the days when the Prodigy had broken out and it was straight on to Lollapalooza,” Tong observed. “Everyone was getting really, really excited, [but] the thing about that is everyone got excited on a festival level, and it never really leaked down into the roots of society, whereas it definitely has more of a hold now.”
Tong said one difference now is that pop and hip-hop artists are incorporating dance music in their work.
“[M]ost VIP rooms were playing hip-hop across the country a few years ago, and now everyone wants to book electronic acts and dance music acts,” he said. “I can only commend people like David [Guetta] for knocking that brick wall down, and everyone runs in behind him, and it will be like the tower of Babel: Everyone’s going to be speaking a different language, which can only be a good thing!”
Tong will embrace this movement when he releases a trio of new mix albums over the next several months. First up is a Future Underground mix with Riva Starr, due out April 11. Then he’ll release a summer mix to complement his new Friday night “All Gone Pete Tong” residency at Pacha Ibiza, after which he’s dropping his first ever studio Essential Mix, slated for August 8. In the meantime, we’ll hear his new single, “Dawn” (working title), an epic piano anthem he teased while in Miami last month.