Interview: Pete Tong
I buzzed the dance music granddaddy after touch down in London to talk about the success of his Wonderland night at Eden in Ibiza and what it's like to be back at Ministry of Sound. How was Ibiza this summer?
It's been really good: enlightening, challenging and rewarding. I've been coming out of the safety zone after being at Pacha for so long – and sitting in on Friday nights which was always the crown of their nights – and obviously going against the grain and doing something completely different. I've been engaging in so many different ways and the role I was playing was so much greater in terms of the whole organisation of Wonderland. You're working on loads of different levels with a much, much bigger team. With Pacha it was just my agent and I and a couple of close associates that I was working with on the island. With Wonderland, we were working with an extended team that would sometimes run to 65 people! It was a completely different thing.
It must have been very tiring!
No it's good – hopefully as it goes on you get more control. Once you've done something for five or six years, that's enough, and it's time to do something different. I was looking around at what I could do, to make Ibiza interesting for, so the opportunity came up [to do Wonderland at Eden] which was was a club I'd never been to before. I was going to San Antonio when nobody else did. It was almost like one of those reality TV shows where you go in and do something that everybody said couldn't be done. Why did you move in the first place? Was it just to have more control over what you were doing?
That was one thing. The other thing was to work more with the Wonderland brand. I got into a situation at Pacha where it was hard for me to use the word of my night without their names attached to it, which meant it was very hard to travel with it or do any other things with it. I started the Wonderland party in London a few years ago and it went well and it meant a lot to me. It opened up a whole new realm of possibilities in terms of what goes into making a great party. I really enjoyed it in London and then I got the chance to do it in Ibiza, so that was a big temptation. A lot of people raised their eyebrows at your move from San Antonio to Eden – do you feel you've proved them wrong now?
It depends on what I was accused of, or what we were trying to prove! I've definitely proved it could work. I've proved we could have it rammed, and have great quality people and great quality music. Eden never set out to be the Pacha of San Antonia, so if anybody said it was not like Pacha, well, it was never meant to be… It couldn't be. It was more a kind of sixth sense, knowing it was time and I had to move on. I just felt I'd got as far as I could with Pacha, it was fantastic and I think we created a fantastic story there. But I felt it had gone far enough and it was time for me to move on in the way the scene was going, to be more closely associated with something that was much more rootsier, younger and had more of an acid house spirit. More techno, really. That's the biggest reason of all for the change really. Pacha's become a very yuppy club – that's become a new element to their success I suppose – but that's not really where I was headed.
It took us 'til September [to get it going]. We had a really good September, with more and more returning punters and more and more returning faith in us from the island. It takes you three or four months to get on a roll and then I think we'll be well placed next year. We know what did work and what didn't work. Crookers were quite a challenging lot to put on in the main room, I have to say. I'm not saying they didn't work, but it was one of those sets where 50 per cent of the people absolutely fucking adored it and 50 per cent of people were scratching their heads saying "What the fuck is this?" There's no in-between, they're not a safe bet. You can put on Erick Morillo, some people like his music and some people don't like it as much but you don't get people running out the door. Put Crookers in a main room in a big Ibiza club on a big, big night and it's still quite a challenge, so they did really well, it wasn't an easy gig for them to pull off. But that's what it's all about and it's exciting to see that, there'll always be people standing at the back who just love their techno who don't want to hear that.
Do you just want to do something for everyone rather than just for people who can afford the all-seeing all-dancing VIP packages?
I don't know about everyone. I want to do a night that stands on its own as a great party. The clubs have all got a big status quo over there, they're all set in their ways and a lot of the things people aspire to are the great parties that set their own course years ago, weren't necessarily the most fashionable things at the time. But they became successful and became big, big nights, with a sense of daring and curiosity and challenge, and I like doing that. People wonder why you can't do that again. There is an element of the clubs – and I don't want this to come across in the wrong way – having a monopoly on the market, on the way things are, and therefore it's quite restrictive. You can get a lot more leniencies, take a lot more risks and get a lot more done with something that has nothing. I've said often in interviews, going to this night – and no disrespect to Judge Jules because he had a very successful night at Eden anyway and he continued to have it this year, but that was San An for San An people – but in the bigger scheme of things, going to San An as me was a bit like that first person that moves into that dodgy area in town where it's the only place property developers can make some money. You don't keep going back to Mayfair and Knightsbridge to try and open the next Harrods. You've got a better chance doing it in south London or far out in the east or west of London, where they've got nothing. You've been out doing in Ibiza now, and you're back at Ministry, so is there anything that's changed or anything you've learnt this summer that's going to have an effect on Wonderland in London?
Not dramatically. I'm PeteTong, I've been around a long time, I'm never going to be the newest kid on the block, I'm never going to be the most underground techno DJ, I'm never going to be that person again. What I can do is try and strive to create quality, quality parties. My zone, which I'm very comfortable in, is taking people to a place where they feel they're in the unknown but they're not quite as unknown as they would be if they were standing in DC-10 every week. It's not an overground night; it's not about playing the hits. It's still sending people on a musical journey, but it probably 20 metres under the surface as opposed to 100. Naming no names, but there are some DJs that I booked at Wonderland this year that I never really wanted to book at Pacha because I didn't feel they were a safe enough bet at Pacha. I've always been about that, that's what my radio show and my nights have always been about: working with the next level. Keeps you young. What new talent is exciting you right now?
This year I came away thinking again that techno was the most important music out there. It's a word that sums up an attitude as opposed to a particular style of music. It was quite satisfying seeing what they do at Cocoon, Monza and DC-10: it's still quite foreign to the rest of the world and the core of it is still very German and Spanish. It's not the music that you would have called techno 10 years ago. You've got Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano playing cut-up jazz breaks and then cut-up African rhythms, so it's very percussive and it's got a lot of soul to it. It's very funky, but is it Roger Sanchez? No, it's a million miles from Roger Sanchez, but actually, funnily enough, they're almost chanting the same song. It's weird. I wouldn't say we've gone full circle, but it's a very creative space right now. That's all I went to listen to all summer and I always come away with millions of ideas for myself in the studio and also millions of ideas about how I can play and how I can interpret what they're doing to a wider audience, because they're doing it in a very purist, kind of minimalist way, and what's been going on down there has been sexy and girl-friendly. There'll always be a DJ that will come along that won't necessarily fit in that will equally be as important. I think the Crookers young, with a street-y edge to them, and they're getting a bigger following, but they don't really fit in with the royalty set of DJs – the Sindens, the Diplos and Switchs. They were sneered at when they first came along, but they're damn entertaining. And then you've got someone like Deadmau3 who, when he first started out, was more associated with trance, but again he's a great performer, with a unique kind of sound, and there's always room for a star. What exciting techno DJs are you going to be putting on in Wonderland in the coming months? It's so competitive, so I'm not going to list them all. I don't know the answer to that yet because a lot of that crowd were snapped up by The End and Fabric as exclusive DJs. Obviously with The End shutting soon there might be a bit more availability. I've got Christian Smith on at my next party, who's not a spring chicken but he's been very consistent over a long period of time and he's had a purple patch this year in terms of coming back on song. His music's become very fashionable again. Where do you feel club culture is going in London?
I've always thought that London tends to shine when the rest of the country is not at its peak, or is a bit confused. When the whole super-club era came grinding to a halt in 2000/2001, and while the rest of the country's regional clubs - where the strengths used to be in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester – were regrouping and representing themselves, I think London just quietly got its act together and became this really eclectic, really creative space again. Over the last few years London's had an amazing run with clubs like The End, like Fabric, like Turnmills, which has gone now, and very much Ministry and its whole renaissance. It was only really their popularity in the high street, in Woolworths, with their compilations, that took the shine off their club, but under new management and new stewardship they quietly built a new reputation and that's why I went back there. It's a phenomenal space. And now you've got another one opening. Just as one door closes with The End, you've got Matter opening, which is a sensational space. People have got a question mark over whether it's too far away or not, but the people behind it know what they're doing. The O2 is a massively successful thing in its own right, so we'll see. I would imagine it's going to be a success. London now reminds me of going to New York in the '80s, when you had the New York crowd that kept it kind of edgy and cool, but it was an international base as well. It's an international playground and apart from some of the underground or East London scenes, a lot of these clubs are very international when you play there at the weekends. Maybe five years is the cycle. If you want to start comparing it to Ibiza, it's a completely different place. What's going on Ibiza now? It seems a lot of stuff is getting shut down and the atmosphere has changed somewhat…
PT: On one level there are a lot of politics involved and I was never in agreement with the after parties shutting down. They were a massively attractive part of the whole Ibiza experience and while I understood all the reasons why they wanted to do it I felt they could have left them alone at the weekends when the schools weren't running, rather than just a blanket shut down. I thought it was a big mistake and I still think it is. The rights and wrongs of DC-10... Well, no-one wants to see DC-10 shut. They keep saying it's shutting, but it's been open for six weeks and it's going to open this Monday and apparently the Monday after, so who knows what will happen next year. Ibiza will always have these scenarios going on, that's not particularly new. There have been rumours of this or that shutting down but if people break the law then there's not much you can do about it. If people are abusing their licences as they have done, ultimately they're going to get caught up. If people are running villa parties and charging money on the door then they definitely deserve a massive slap on the wrist. Within the rules, there are things that can and can't happen, but I'm always set up for a more liberal Ibiza and an Ibiza where you can dance in the daytime. You can hang onto the romance of what it was in 1988 forever and ever, but it's never going to happen again. That's reality! So you either get on with what you've got or you walk away miserably. Having said all of that, it was an amazing season. I saw some amazing parties, I saw some amazing things; whether the tourism was up one per cent, down one per cent, up 15 per cent, down 15 per cent I don't know; all I know is that there were some great parties and there was some great stuff. It's a long old session, it's quite exhausting for the people that are resident. Wonderland's been away and it's coming back so what can people expect?
You're totally tuned-up after the whole euphoria of the season, so you come back well trained. We did run a party in the summer this year, in July, so it's not like leaving from April 'til October. As much as I love Ibiza I know when it's the end and I really look forward to coming back. I'm very lucky. In the next two or three weeks I'm going to play the best cities in Europe. I'm going to play Manchester, I'm going to play Ministry, I'm going to play in Berlin, which I don't often get to do, which will be amazing, so I'm jumping for joy. I've got some great guests on at Ministry. Fred Falke is a total musician, a real modern DJ, but really entertaining and is going back-to-back with Kris Menace, who's an occasional studio partner, and then me, and then with Christian – it's been a great year for him. He's on fire and on the A-list at Cocoon; he's probably had the best year in that scene.