The International Music Summit (IMS) is a 3-day electronic dance music (EDM) conference that takes place in Ibiza. Spearheaded by the influential Pete Tong, IMS made it’s debut in Asia-Pacific on December 11th (Wednesday). IMS Asia-Pacific which took place at W Singapore – Sentosa Cove, featured speakers and global acts such as Steve Angello, Richie Hawtin, NERVO, and Damian Lazarus.
Although more commonly known as the main man at BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix and Essential Selection, Pete Tong is also a globe-trotting DJ, a producer as well as a label owner. Pete, who has even been handed an MBE by the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, has held a commanding presence over the industry for more than 2 decades.
As IMS continues to pave the way in the electronic dance music industry, we sat down with Pete Tong, the driving force behind IMS for a quick chat.
Hey Pete, how’s it going? Tell us about your gig at Attica last night.
Hey! Good, thanks. How are you? Yeah, you never know what to expect when you do a midweek show around the conference. I kinda wasn’t really concentrating before the gig was arranged, I knew it was an IMS party but I kinda forgot that it was with Mark. But when I realised it was with him, I knew it was going to be fine. It was good, as good as it could have been, really.
Considering that ZoukOut is happening tomorrow, how important would you say production is going to be as people move on from wanting a dance music festival to wanting a dance music experience – from the artistes to just getting lost in the music, the whole package?
I think production as a subject is like an arm’s race now between the festivals. There’s competition between festivals to out produce each other. Like in America, you’ve got a battle going on between all sorts of festivals. Like TomorrowWorld really excel in production, because their festival blew up because of its production, not so much the acts but the production. And then you have the other extreme which is EDC. It all started out with the same principles − which is, it’s about the party and not so much the DJs. So, I mean, that rolls on. As we grow, technology provides more different tricks. The interesting thing about the electronic scene or EDM scene is that we’re now playing at the highest level. There was a time, if you roll back 10 years, if you went on the road with U2, you would have seen stuff that nobody else had, stuff that they could do that nobody else could do. But now, if you go out with U2 or Coldplay, and you probably won’t see that many new tricks that you couldn’t see at an EDM show. So, I know a lot of cutting edge lighting companies that are trying out stuff with DJs first and with that going on, it’s interesting because what you’re seeing now is a lot more festivals taking charge to create different types of environments to deliver different types of music. Festivals that are doing that are really starting to get benefit for it. It’s about building a greater room to deliver different types of music with a brilliant production value that would give people a whole new experience.
And how has the EDM explosion in the United States change what you do?
Well, it made me move there. It became such big business and having spent a whole career being around dance music and all its many different shapes and forms, I just felt that in my stage of my career, I wanted to be in the centre of that storm to see what we could do with it. It was like, we’ll never have more people’s attention than we’ve had in the last couple of years. Now is the time to talk to everybody and that’s why I wanted to be there so I moved to LA, which I think has become some sort of a creative capital for America – a bit like the old Hollywood system. I think we’ve had our era of all these amazing technologies and platforms have been built, it’s all settled down so now, they’re looking at what to put on these platforms. So, content sure enough is king again and I think LA feels like the one of the centrepieces of it.
So, I work behind the scenes with the William Morris agency and I started the electronic division, which is a specific division inside William Morris to represent electronic artistes. I also started working with Clear Channel, which is the biggest owner of radio stations in America. I started a station on iHeart called Evolution, which has been going on for 18 months and the for last year, we’ve got a platform of 2 hours a week on Top 40 radio on basically a 100 stations in America, which has actually never happened before.
I do it in conjunction with Beatport so we’ve got a 2-hour window on Top 40 radio. Radio is still very powerful in America in the terms of getting the message across. It’s something I’ve spent my life trying to do. The weird thing is, it’s quite old fashioned what we’re doing, it’s not something that couldn’t have happened 20 or 30 years ago but finally, because of the popularity of EDM, it enabled it to happen. Radio 1, we’ve tried to syndicate shows for 20 years to get that kinda impact but we never got close so it has been quite rewarding to do that.
We hear you daughter is playing a set tonight. How much of an influence do you play in her life, musically?
Yes (laughs). Well, the weird thing is I’ve never really sat down with her and said “You’ve gotta go into this business” and she never sat down and asked me about it. I think it’s been great the way my kids have evolved because they’re all involved in music. It’s funny with her because she never wanted to be a DJ, she never wanted to be in the industry. She found herself have a natural affinity with it, I suppose you could say, “it’s in the blood”. She used to go through my record collection and was always a good selector − she got history, I didn’t make her get it, she just wanted to look back all the time.
Unfortunately, I got a divorce from her mom so I left that house. She was in her early teens and a lot of my record collection got left in the house so she would go through it all the time. When she spent time with me, she played a lot of hip hop and soul music from back in the day, so she had a good grounding. Funny enough, she did a little bit of modelling and her agency wanted this other girl, Yasmin Le Bon’s daughter to DJ a party and Amber didn’t know how to DJ so she got Becky to do it with her.
It was a big success and then they got asked a lot to go out together, that became very popular. From there, Becky got asked to start doing it by herself. She then got into a really good art school in London, she did one term and she hated it so she dropped out, which I wasn’t very pleased with to be honest. Anyway, she picked up the phone, made a few calls and got an internship with a management company. She’s worked with him for 3 years but the first day she went to work, this guy had his finger in lots of different places and one thing he had was this festival which went bankrupt so on her first week of the job, she had people shouting at her over the phone. So yeah, she had a huge drama at the start but she stuck with this guy for 3 years and gained management and promotion experience.
She has started her own company and she started a night in London called the Juice Box and this place has become the place where a lot of record and management companies go to when they want to launch new acts. She’s just seemed to found her own way and never really asked me to help her which is great because she’s done it all on her own. I’m very proud.
That’s really lovely. Going back to IMS, what made you choose Singapore?
Many reasons. We were getting asked a lot in the last couples of years to come this way. Australia was probably the most logical place to go and we tried to do it there but it kinda fell apart. Then we started thinking about where else we wanted it to be. Tokyo, Japan would have been a sexy city to get everyone to go. We also thought about Korea because it’s huge and we’ve got a lot of friends there but we didn’t think that it was organised enough.
Then it comes back to Lincoln, our friend who’ve known for so long. When we launched in America, we picked the time when we knew people were going to be around because if you want good people, we’re going to need the budget for it. So we looked at ZoukOut at the obvious target because there were going to be a lot of talent in the area.
Personally, Ben and I didn’t really a need another conference to run in December, it put me off quite a bit honestly but it did seem like a good time and Lincoln and ZoukOut was a big influence.
Last one, any chance IMS will be back here next year?
Oh definitely. I mean, once we start, you can’t get rid of us (laughs).
Thanks so much Pete!
It was truly amazing and such an honour to have been able to sit and chat with the legendary Pete Tong. Shoutout to our friends at IMS for making this interview happen!