Favorite Things: DJ and Music Explorer Gilles Peterson
Gilles Peterson: Photo via BBC Publicity Website
(The Juice: what I'm seeing/hearing/reading by way of inspiration)
Gilles Peterson is not the best DJ in the world, but only because there is no such thing. Titles like this are empty, meaningless. Even if there were such a thing, we’d possibly need to clarify our terms to make some kind of accurate determination. What are we talking about here - best radio DJ? Best club DJ? Best cruise-ship DJ? Well, as it happens, Gilles Peterson is both a radio DJ and a club DJ. So not much in the way of clarity there. But if the title of ''World's Best DJ' did exist, my money would be on Gilles Peterson claiming it.
Down the years I’ve been able to see/hear Peterson in clubs only on a couple of occasions, but fortunately he broadcasts a weekly show on BBC Radio 6 every Saturday afternoon at 3:00 pm London time. I frequently listen to the show live (at 9:00 am here in Austin, TX), but thanks to the fantastic BBC Sounds player, I can listen to the most recent shows any time I want. The depth and breadth of the music he plays is remarkable – hip-hop, jazz, broken beats, nu-soul, drum’n’bass, acid jazz (a genre he helped bring to public attention in the late 80’s, and a tag he hates), Brazilian samba, Afro-beat, and on across the electronic music spectrum.
A prominent voice in global dance music culture for over thirty years, Gilles’s influence has been inestimable. Recently he featured a show devoted primarily to music from Japan, and as someone who could name but a couple of Japanese artists, the show was a revelation to me. But then, I’ve learned so much about Cuban music, Brazilian music, through his shows, through his carefully curated collections (he’s been the driving force behind at least three vital record labels, most recently Bronswood), that ‘revelation’ doesn’t necessarily equate with surprise here.
The subtitle for his BBC show is ‘Connecting the musical dots,’ which in its way, is a masterpiece of understatement, and also, entirely accurate. He’s not the only person in radio providing information on the sometimes unheralded, or at least, lesser-known players performing on a given record (though I defy anyone to tell me of another DJ whose knowledge ranges so far, so deep across the music landscape). With some DJ’s it comes across as an annoying contrivance, trainspotting broadcast large. With Peterson you get the sense that first and foremost he wants these musicians to receive their due, that he’s on their side; but also, you come to recognize that he is the great astrophysicist of contemporary music, mapping the stars and charting the musical galaxy, showing us how it all connects.
The most recent show (8/27/22) features interviews with jazz artists Kahil El’zabar and Isaiah Collier, as well as a tribute to trumpeter Jamie Branch (who died last week at age 39) from musician Alabaster Deplume that is stunning in its eloquence. You can find this, and all upcoming shows, via the links below.
BBC Sounds is available via app, or here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds