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Gilles Peterson is paying it forward

For decades, Gilles Peterson has been a relentless pioneer of contemporary, underground music. Throughout his 30 years in the game, he’s handpicked some of the sleekest talents, and cradled them through to gain wider acclaim — his musical spirit is comparable to none.

As well as bringing unique talents to light, he’s also brought jazz to the fore – a fusion that’s changed club culture completely. 

Peterson elaborates that the bridge between jazz and club culture doesn’t linearly mean that jazz is being played in clubs. It’s more an attitude, a warmth, an openness.

“Jazz is a weird word, because it means so many different things to different people. The way I look at it is more of an approach to how you put your music together,” Peterson explains.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean DJs are playing jazz, but they’re playing and approaching their music selection in a more open way, and that’s where it is really interesting at the moment.”

Peterson’s annual Worldwide Festival is a dedication to this fluidity, and it’s a prime representation of the elegance that’s coming with it.

“There’s a certain type of audience at Worldwide that really understand the etiquette of club culture,” he shares. “They’ve gone clubbing, they get the club thing, they’re a bit a decadent, but they really want their moment of peace and loveliness and sharing, and all of that stuff.”

From a young age, Peterson recognised the need to broadcast underground talents to wider audiences. His 16-year-old-self was known to record pirate radio in his shed, and then blast it across the hills of South London. Now, he owns a radio channel, award show, festival, countless music labels and more. 

Having been in the game for so long, Peterson is fortunate enough to be able to watch these movements unfurl.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, DJs like myself would either be playing in very specialist underground parties, or we would be playing in the backroom of bigger mainstream events. I think what difference there is now, is that the guys playing in the back, are playing in the front,” Peterson says.

With more underground musicians coming to the front, the DJ decks are spinning all types of influence. Behavioural changes have been recognised amongst the crowds and people are treating each other differently.

“I hope I’ve been a part of refining something a bit special, and similarly when I travel around the UK and around the world, I’m really getting a sense that there’s a sophistication and quality of etiquette that’s come to club culture. It’s kind of like going to a good restaurant or a good concert, people know how to treat and how to act in a way that provides an all-round nice experience, I feel.” 

With a man that’s accomplished so much and stays true to humility, Gilles talks about appreciating all he’s achieved so far.

“I’m grateful. All that I’m bothered about is enjoying the moment. Life is short, and my only problem is that I’m always looking forward. I’ve never actually really sat back and appreciated.”  

Gilles Peterson will perform at ACMI for Melbourne Music Week on Wednesday November 21 alongside the likes of Swooping Duck and Mandarin Dreams All Stars. Tickets via the Melbourne Music Week website.