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Artist Profiles :: Pete Tong

Pete Tong‘Pete Tong got the power’ says the jingle, but it’s no joke. If you had to name the most powerful individual in the UK dance music scene, then Pete Tong would be top of the list. More than any other, Pete’s weekly Essential Selection show on Radio 1 is THE show for breaking new dance records. His production company is now involved in every single dance music show on the station. As A&R director at Ffrr he has has been reponsible for many of the biggest dance records of the thirteen-odd years. To Pete Tong, DJing at the country’s most prestigious clubs is little more than a sideline.

Born in Dartford, Kent, Pete Tong developed a taste for soul and jazz-funk from an early age. At the age of fifteen he landed his first DJing job at a wedding. He soon began to display signs of his business sense by promoting bands in the local town hall and became integrated into the so-called Kent Soul Mafia, playing all over the county. On leaving school, he set himself up as a fully-fledged mobile DJ for hire with a Transit van and a sound system.

In 1979 Pete began to contribute to Blues & Soul magazine, becoming features editor within a year. He also began to make his first forays into radio, appearing on BBC Radio Medway and Radio London before Peter Powell brought him in to present a weekly 15-minute magazine-style slot on his Radio 1 show.

In 1983, Pete was brought in at the inception of London Records as A&R manager where he looked after pop acts like Bananarama. His radio career continued and he got his own soul show on Kent’s Radio Invicta station in 1984, which lasted for three years. Dave Pearce then hired him to present a specialist show on Radio London’s Nite FM alternative service, but the station folded soon after and Pete, like Dave, moved to Capital Radio to present a weekly show.

In 1988, with acid house and dance music culture exploding around him, Pete set up a new dance subsidiary for London Records named FFRR (Full Frequency Range Recordings). His first release was the Chicago house classic, Baby Wants To Ride by Jamie Principle and FFRR would go on to release many of the most influential house records of the day, such as Lil Louis’ French Kiss, JM Silk’s Music Is The Key, Frankie Knuckles’ Tears, Sterling Void’s It’s Alright and Joe Smooth’s Promised Land as well as signing hip-hop acts like Salt’n’Pepa and Simon Harris. Pete’s been at FFRR ever since and has overseen the signing of such influential and successful acts as Orbital, Brand New Heavies, Degrees Of Motion and Goldie to name but a few. Yet he’s always kept a foot in the pop world; it was he who A&Red Shakespeare Sister’s number one smash, Stay, and he was involved with signing All Saints to London.

In 1991, Pete moved from Capital to Radio 1 to take over the Friday night dance show from Jeff Young. He’s presented the Essential Selection ever since and has seen it become the most influential dance music show on the airwaves. A single play on the Essential Selection can boost a record’s sales by thousands and a plug for a club night can bring hundreds of extra punters through the door. The show has been dominated by various strains of house since its inception, but always features other styles of dance too, as it’s Tong’s stated aim to walk the fine line between the mainstream and the underground.

When then Radio 1 controller Matthew Bannister resolved to bring the station up to date in the mid-nineties, he approached Pete Tong for help. Pete’s knowledge of the dance scene steered Bannister towards signing up the likes of Tim Westwood, Danny Rampling and Judge Jules, and nowadays Pete’s production company is responsible for the station’s entire specialist dance music output. The hugely successful Essential Selection compilation albums on London, which now run to several releases a year, all sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

Pete Tong’s TV career began when he fronted Clublife 98, a documentary based around the Muzik magazine awards broadcast by the BBC and he was in-house DJ on Ian Wright’s TV chat show. He’s turned down offers to present Radio 1’s Breakfast and Top 40 shows as well as Top Of The Pops, but plans are afoot for more TV work all the same. He’s even flirted with film, as musical director of Human Traffic and The Beach.

Despite his success – and probably because of it - Pete’s drawn his fair share of criticism over the years. His radio show has regularly been denounced as too commercial and Pete himself has been attacked for allegedly playing too many of his own releases. Moreover, his production company’s stranglehold on Radio 1’s dance music programming has caused disquiet in some sections of the dance music scene. For his part, Pete simply shrugs off the criticism.

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Essential Selection
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