'He was a level above genius': Hot Chip, Azealia Banks, Peaches and more pick their favourite Prince moments

Musicians, authors and DJs discuss all the unforgettable moments, musical inspiration, career guidance and lifelong joy provided to them by Prince

Azealia Banks

Azealia Banks … ‘The real, true individuals are dying out’
Azealia Banks … ‘The real, true individuals are dying out.’ Photograph: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

“The death of Prince was a real bad day for individuals in our culture. The real, true individuals are dying out. There aren’t many of us left. Prince is from a time when music was real and not so manufactured. Even when he did pop stuff he had a way of doing it with style. I grew up listening to his music – my mum would play him and Chaka Khan all the time. In fact, one of my favourite songs is I Feel for You, which I only recently found out was a Prince song. I’m kind of sad I never got to work with him – I think the two of us could have made some really amazing music together. I loved his androgynous, alien aura. He was a role model for all the weird black kids across the world, a true visionary, and a special, special human being. But he’s left behind a great road map, and in that way he’s going to live forever. My favourite Prince song is I Wanna Be Your Lover. It’s so sweet and real. Just about feeling that maybe you’re not good enough to be with the person you want to be with, but you want to be with them anyway.”

Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip

Alexis Taylor … ‘I remember Prince’s expression of joy’
Alexis Taylor … ‘I remember Prince’s expression of joy.’ Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage

“The thing that comes to mind when I recall amazing Prince moments is a memory of one tiny second when I saw his playful smile flash across his face at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2014. My wife and I had queued up for five hours, drunk champagne and cans of Stella and eaten Hula Hoops with newly made friends in the queue. We finally got into the venue to see what was to become my favourite of the 11 Prince shows I saw over the years. The tickets were printed at £70 but everyone was only charged a tenner on the door. He played a thrilling two-hour set showcasing overlooked gems and B-sides, as well as an extended drum-machine-and-voice section of Sign o’ the Times classics. I smiled and cried a lot at that gig – but it was Prince’s expression of joy that I remember the most.”


Peaches … ‘Prince was the greatest living performer’
Peaches … ‘Prince was the greatest living performer.’ Photograph: Action Press / Rex Features

“I still have a VHS version of the Purple Rain live tour, and there are just so many weird, amazing parts, like when he’s talking to God on a bed. Even though he’s taking himself so seriously, he’s always playing incredible pranks. I always say Purple Rain is the album I wish I wrote. It’s perfectly crafted. I love the use of Linn drums, which definitely shaped my idea of what drums should sound like. Every track on the album is different, but it all fits together. There are also really sexy lines, like the way he gets away with talking about sex in Little Red Corvette, comparing a woman to a limousine. There’s also Darling Nikki, a track which is apparently the reason Michael Jackson wrote Dirty Diana. I remember having that song on a Walkman and putting it in my dad’s ear while he was jogging, and he just laughed and said: ‘Oh my God! What is this?’ Prince was the greatest living performer. He took James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and every female diva, put them all together and made it his own. Not only was he the best at dancing in heels, but he also did the best guitar solos, he could sing the highest notes, he had the best choreography and always looked good, and he wrote the best lyrics. Even funny, weird lines, like that one in Kiss: ‘Act your age, not your shoe size.’ All of it.”

Erol Alkan, DJ and producer

Erol Alkan … ‘He tried to be peerless.’
Erol Alkan … ‘He tried to be peerless.’ Photograph: Ellis Scott

“I first heard and saw Prince on Top of the Pops. They were showing the video for When Doves Cry, so I was introduced to him both visually and musically at the same time, and that was really powerful. Not only was it an eye-opener that he was quite effeminate and crawling on the floor with dry ice, but it was an ear-opener, too. It has such a strange rhythmic presence, so staccato, and the number of ideas and melodies in there is quite incredible. He came across as a superhero. I became obsessed. Prince is one of the few artists who consistently made records so full in melody and rhythm – and so full of life. When you’re DJing and you play a record of his, it’s too difficult to follow; you need to have something that won’t reduce the energy and interest. He designed his records in that way and tried to be peerless. Throughout his career, he made so many different types of club music: life-affirming dancefloor records, but also things that were dark. Erotic City comes to mind. He was able to present his true charisma in his music. There was a very true human connection, which is a major part of his success. One story that comes to mind is when he was recording If I Was Your Girlfriend. His engineer was recording his vocals, and he was singing so quietly she had to turn the mic up high to capture it. Then, at the moment he goes “Please!”, he sung it so hard the recording distorted. She thought: ‘Oh my God, that’s me sacked.’ But when he listened back to it, he completely loved it. That’s a story that really affects me, because it was a mistake, to a degree, but it captures what he wanted to say. Even his mistakes were incredible – that’s one level above genius.”

Rob da Bank, DJ and founder of Bestival

Rob da Bank … ‘I’d buy every Smash Hits with him in.’
Rob da Bank … ‘I’d buy every Smash Hits with him in.’ Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer

“For a long period in my teens Prince was No 1, and I’ve been an avid collector since. From the age of 14 I’d buy every Smash Hits with him in, and his face was all over my bedroom. The whole ceiling was covered in posters of him, like the LoveSexy one with all the rude symbols. My mum and dad were probably worried about where exactly I was going with my life. As well as the amazing storytelling and imagery in his songs, he was a sexy MF – as he later sang himself. The whole package was so brave. It was a fantasy, living vicariously through his songs. My dad brought me up on pretty traditional stuff like the Mamas and the Papas, and then suddenly there’s this crazy guy from Minneapolis who made this incredible, exotic sound. He nodded to James Brown and Santana and Hendrix, but he never ripped people off. And musically he was always leagues ahead – he could do either a really beautiful emotive slow piano burner like Sometimes It Snows in April, and on the other he could go into some mad rap number. Me and my friend Tayo have done an all-Prince DJ event called Purple Rave since 2000 at Glastonbury and Bestival. You get guys with purple hair who air guitar along and know every lyric. But the dream for Bestival was always to have Prince play live, because he was the complete package. He could sing, dance, rap, do slow jams, do fast tracks, play every conceivable instrument, put it on record, and was great live. Stevie Wonder, Nile Rodgers, Elton John all pale in comparison, because he could just command a room, whether it was 80,000 at the Superbowl or these little smoky clubs where he’d play piano to 20 lucky people. If I wasn’t so cut up about him dying, I’d feel envious of his sheer raw talent.”

Corinne Bailey Rae

Corinne Bailey Rae … ‘I had lots of encouragement from him.’
Corinne Bailey Rae … ‘I had lots of encouragement from him.’ Photograph: David Fisher / Rex Features

“I was a big Prince fan, but more than that, I had lots of encouragement from him. I saw this real kindness in him. He came to my first ever show in America in 2006, and he was really positive and complimentary and encouraging about the music. He invited me to his 02 Arena shows [in 2007]. He’d do the whole show, and always, always do an aftershow. The aftershow would be a genuine jam – he didn’t know what songs he was going to do, he’d just run to the wings and call out songs. He’d do something where he’d play a few bars of a song and if he didn’t get the reaction he wanted he’d stop and be like, ‘Oh, you guys aren’t ready for that one.’ And it wasn’t a theatrical device, it was a real desire to please the audience. I think people sometimes misunderstood his jams. He wasn’t in them for himself, he was being really generous.

“I spent some time with him in Abu Dhabi, where we both did shows. He invited us back to his hotel, and we were there for hours. He said, ‘Do you want to come and watch the show?’ and I said, ‘What do you mean, are you doing it all again?’ And he said, ‘No, we’re going to watch it back.’ He’d just been onstage for two hours and now he was going to watch it all the way through on a big screen back at the hotel. He played it all back to the band, and he’d go round and really gently whisper in the drummer’s ear or the bassist’s ear – giving them pointers about what they should and shouldn’t do. He knew that Michael Jackson studied himself, and that’s what he did. He wanted to perfect what he did. He had incredible discipline.

“He was so kind to me, my band and my family. When he played in Leeds a year or so ago I brought my mum to meet him. She’s a teacher, and he just started talking loads about teaching and the education system. He was just a super-generous person. A really sweet guy, who’d always put you first. He’d always say: ‘Can I get you anything?’ That was his thing. He’d be on stage, then he’d come off and be in the wings, then whisper: ‘Can I get you anything?’ It was very disarming. He was a playful, cheeky guy, but also really kind and positive. Just a few weeks ago he tweeted about my new song, Stop Where You Are. He always said, ‘I keep an eye on what you’re doing.’ It was lovely to have someone like him looking out for you.”

Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay
Lemn Sissay … counting the minutes of loss. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

“I chose Nothing Compares 2 U by Prince as one of my Desert Island Discs because through his voice the song explores the spectrum of loss at the end of a relationship. It’s pure soul music. Sinead O’Connor’s version is less nuanced. I can’t imagine two more complex characters: Sinead fell out of favour with him in the artistic transaction but if it were not for Sinead and that video I wouldn’t have discovered that Prince wrote and performed it originally. The beauty in that track, the heart-wrenching clarity of it, the economy of words, the loss inside the vocal and the pure undiluted heart screaming soul of Nothing Compares 2 U is his. He didn’t take his love away: it’s in his work for generations who haven’t yet been born. Some artists are space cadets from the future. And they seem to tell us: this is where we’re headed. “It’s been seven hours and 15 days since you took your love away,” is a beautiful first line. The source for great lyrics lyrics is available to us all, but visible to few. He’s literally counting the minutes of his loss. Now we count the minutes since the loss of him.

Tom Fleming of Wild Beasts

Tom Fleming … ‘I Would Die 4 U’ is flawless.
Tom Fleming … ‘I Would Die 4 U’ is flawless. Photograph: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

“We always used to put I Would Die 4 U on right before we went out on stage. It’s only two minutes or so long but it’s absolutely flawless. It’s really economical, with the title declaration right upfront. Mix-wise, everything’s in the wrong place and everything happens at once, and there are sounds dropping in and out – the bass is in a really high register, that huge synth pad is right in your face, and it’s huge and really bright … it’s not how records are meant to sound. But it works! It’s a bit like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, with everything very carefully placed, only in the wrong order! Lyrically, it’s perfect. It’s androgynous and really sexual but it’s not about: ‘I’m going to conquer you.’ It’s not boy-meets-girl; it’s more complex than that. If I Was Your Girlfriend is another one like that. That’s the one where he assumes both male and female roles at once. And he backs it up musically with this blur of sound. It’s not about macho power; quite the opposite. In a way, that’s a companion piece to I Would Die 4 U, and my other favourite Prince song. Let’s not forget the playing as well, and the production. It’s perfect, a perfect song.”


Tiga … ‘Why would you slow down for the sake of everyone else?’
Tiga … ‘Why would you slow down for the sake of everyone else?’ Photograph: Femme de $arkozy

“Prince’s death has hit me in a much worse way than David Bowie’s. I saw him in concert three weeks ago, in Montreal – a sold-out small show; him and a piano – and it was the greatest concert I’ve ever seen in my life. I went home as energised and recharged and full of excitement as you are when you’re 12 years old. He was laughing and seemed so happy and so on-point. The best jokes, the best smiles, the best everything. It was incredibly intimate and beautiful. He also went back to a lot of his hits. He wasn’t being difficult, or making us sit through the cruise-ship funk or New Power Generation stuff. It was amazing. It was only when I started making music myself that I began to appreciate the absolute magic and mastery of weaving a career like he did, how rare and special a thing that is. Bowie and Prince were such guiding lights in the way they lived their lives. There aren’t that many like that, who can be so themselves and so successful and adventurous and smart and funny. I don’t think it’s overstated at all, the extent to which Prince is being hailed as a genius and incalculably influential. He was like a force of nature. You can’t overrate Prince. He could be incredibly sexual and still very funny, or he could be super-deep and there would be a key word that shows you his intelligence or humour, or how he could play with the masculine and feminine. Was he weird or innocent or a pervert? It’s not just eclecticism, it’s things that are really difficult to get together. In the end, I think he, like Bowie, was just ridiculously smart and talented, and if you’re that good – and Prince knew he was that good – you’re just off in your own world. You’re on your own tangent, you’re not meant to follow anyone else’s rules. Why would you slow down for the sake of everyone else with their little droplets of talent, when you’re like an ocean?”

Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers

Kayus Bankole … ‘You shouldn’t feel restricted or shackled to a specific sound.’
‘You shouldn’t feel shackled to a specific sound’ … Kayus Bankole Photograph: Robin Little/Redferns via Getty Images

“When I heard the news I was like, who do we have left? James Brown, Michael Jackson, Bowie and now Prince are all gone. All we’ve got left now is Kanye. There’s a lot to admire about Prince. The fact that he played all his instruments, the mystique, his performances, his vocals – he’s all-encompassing. Then there was the range of styles on his records. He didn’t conform. He was completely liberated in his creativity, and wasn’t tied down to any specific style. He was ever-changing, which was something we have always picked up on with Young Fathers. The world is your oyster. You shouldn’t feel restricted or shackled to a specific sound. That James Brown show [at the Beverly Center in 1983] where Michael Jackson and Prince both join him on stage is phenomenal. I heard Michael was a super-prankster who did everything possible to put people in positions that make them feel uncomfortable and laugh about it. So he coerced James into bringing Prince up that night, but once he got on stage he killed it, man. He definitely outshone Michael. You got goosebumps and butterflies watching him.”


Interviews by Paul Lester and Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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