Pete Tong: Soundtrack of my life

The Radio 1 DJ and dance-music pioneer on the sounds that shaped his life in music

Pete Tong is a DJ whose championing of cutting-edge dance music has seen him become one of Radio 1's most influential and enduring broadcasting personalities. He grew up in Kent in the 60s, dabbling briefly in rock before finding his calling as a DJ. After leaving school he landed a job at Blues & Soul magazine, then moved on to work for London Records as an A&R man, where he signed acts like Run-DMC and founded his own dance imprint, FFRR. His radio career took off in the late 80s, and after a stint at Capital FM he was poached by Radio 1 in 1991, where his Essential Selection show cemented his reputation. He has produced countless compilations and plays club nights across the globe. In Ibiza, he was resident at Pacha from 2003 to 2007, and runs the Wonderland club night at Eden.


"In the Summertime", Mungo Jerry (1970)

My dad wasn't musical and neither was my mum, but he was passionate about vinyl. The gramophone had pride of place in our house. My first real experience of records was looking through his collection. This is the song I associate with him – it would be on when my parents had drinks parties round ours. It was the soundtrack to one of my summers. It was quite a modern, futuristic record for its time, in terms of its production and rhythm. It definitely had a lot of funk. At the time, I didn't really know why I liked that record, but it stands out in my memory, and when I look back on it now, there are an awful lot of things Mungo Jerry were drawing on that later became a massive influence in my life: black music, funk, jazz. "In the Summertime" could almost be the kind of record Prince would go on to make 15 years later.


"Ride a White Swan", T.Rex (1970)

From the age of 10, I became quite obsessed with music. I started to harass my parents to buy records. At school, my books would be full of lists and charts. In those teenage angst years, it was T.Rex ahead of anything. They were my pin-up band. "Ride a White Swan" was a single that my dad had and I just fell in love with it. I couldn't believe how cool it was. At that age, I didn't know it was a drugs song, but it just seemed so cool. A white man playing blues and soul, that was what Marc Bolan was, and although I didn't really articulate it, that's what I was attracted to. I remember getting The Slider, the first album I ever bought, then going backwards, because I was so impatient they wouldn't release any more.


"Walk This Way", Run-DMC (1986)

Signing Run-DMC to London Records changed my life. It got me close to the group – Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin – and I was totally in the thick of it. From that album came "Walk This Way", their collaboration with Aerosmith, those dinosaurs of rock, and with that it felt I'd arrived as an A&R person. Run-DMC's success blew open the doors of the commercial world to the power of rap. It defined a whole new era. Rap wasn't underground street music any more, it was serious, serious pop music, it was the mainstream. Just after that, I started my own label within London Records, called FFRR, and my first signing was Salt 'N' Pepa, who released "Push It". It was like, bang, bang, two groundbreaking, scene-defining records.


"Promised Land", Joe Smooth (1989)

As an A&R man for London Records in the 80s, going backwards and forwards to and from New York, people were starting to tip me off about house music, passing me records that came from Chicago. Amazing times, pioneering times. But we didn't really understand the gravity of what was about to happen, it was just about getting on the hottest music of the day. Slowly but surely, these records started filtering in, based on a four-to-the-floor rhythm, like disco was back in the 70s, but with really raw production, influenced by Paradise Garage in New York and electronic music from Germany. That all went into the melting pot and out came house music. "Promised Land" was the coming together of all these different things in a perfect way. It was a soul record, a song of hope, a call to arms. It was like the Pied Piper's song, the start of a new era. Everybody got goosebumps listening to that record. It was soulful, and it inspired people, it was euphoric without maxing out – it was all done in quite an understated way. When you play it, it's actually quite slow. But it gives you this warm feeling. Like legal ecstasy.


"Cucurrucucú Paloma", Caetano Veloso (2002)

South American music was always strong with me, early samba records and stuff like that. When I was DJing in the 70s, I was also playing the kind of records people associate with Gilles Peterson. Then I ended up marrying Carolina, a Brazilian girl. Brazil is like my second home now. I got to meet Caetano Veloso, the godfather of South American music, and he's the most incredible, spiritual man. He sang "Cucurrucucú Paloma" for the soundtrack to Talk to Her, the Pedro Almodóvar film. That film touched me and it was an incredible honour, years later, going to his concerts, going out with him and meeting him. Carolina and I used this song at our wedding – it was our first dance. It's almost like a child's fairytale or a nursery rhyme; innocent and beautiful. It's very romantic.

On 8 April, BBC Radio 1 hosts a special all-night celebration of Pete Tong's 20 years at the station, starting at 7pm

Listen to this playlist on Spotify


Gemma Kappala-Ramsamy

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