Even as all the best clubs seem to be vanishing around him, Gilles Peterson has been involved in the culture long enough to stay positive. A few weeks before we met, I saw Peterson at the closing party for beloved Shoreditch club Plastic People. It was apt he was there, given that its earthy, freewheeling music policy flew the flag for the sonic revolution Peterson created in the late ’80s, when he introduced leftfield jazz and global beats to the intensity of the acid house dancefloor. It’s a revolution that shows no signs of abating, by the way: whether it be through the global popularity of his weekly show on 6Music, his Brownswood label or in the selections of disciples such as Benji B, Four Tet and Floating Points.
At 50, Peterson is still a powerhouse. ‘I thought by 40, the buzz and excitement of DJing would have gone, but it’s stronger than ever,’ he tells me, surrounded by vinyl at his studio in Finsbury Park. Instead of putting his feet up and watching ‘Wolf Hall’ on iPlayer this Sunday, for example, he’ll be playing an all 7" set above a boozer on Essex Road. Plastic People’s finale was a celebration, not a dour wake. But with so many clubs shutting, we checked in with one of the country’s faves to assess his take on London nightlife.
How did you find that final night at Plastic People?
‘I actually ended up in the room in the dark and just stood in the corner for a bit. I got slightly emotional.’
What made it such a special club?
‘It had an entire ethos. It was one of those places where passion for the club ran right through, from the door person to the bar staff to the management to the owner. They all had an ideology for the club and an idea of what club culture should be. That’s rare in England. Nowadays the attitude at the top is: "Fuck the soundsystem, how can we make money?”’
Do you think that’s especially bad in London?
‘It’s really weird because at the moment I am desperately looking for a club in London where I can really look forward to having a residency. I’ve got residencies around the world but I can’t find one in the most influential city in the world.’
What is it that’s holding back clubs in London?
‘I really don’t know. I mean, I find it amazing that politicians and people running massive companies used to go clubbing. They’ve grown up with club culture, and lots in the ’80s especially, with the whole acid house thing. So many people who used to be ravers are minted now.’
‘Hackney’s gone. There’s too many rules and regulations there now’
So we need to hope that a few rich former ravers open some new clubs?
‘Kind of, yeah. All it takes is for one of them to go: Let’s do it and open the perfect club. So yeah, I’m looking for the right rich bloke that wants to do it in London! That would be so exciting, though, if someone said: Look, I’ve got the sound and it’s something like a cross between Air in Tokyo, the Block in Tel Aviv and the Bellevilloise in Paris. Because if you open that club in London, you will have the best club in the world.’
Where’s left in London to open the perfect club now?
‘Hackney’s gone, I think. There’s too many rules and regulations there now. I think you’ve got to go into Haringey or around the Seven Sisters Road. The problem is if you get a really good space in London, if it’s in the wrong part of town, you just get taken over by footballers and then it’s a nice room but it’s just full of wankers.’
Given the rate of clubs closing, are you gloomy about London’s ability to still put on a good party?
‘I think there’s definitely a problem with clubs in the old-fashioned sense, but with pop-ups, London is still on fire, especially because Londoners seem to prefer that kind of warehouse ethos. As a DJ, musically, it’s really good at the moment. I can always go play revival gigs for people who liked what I was doing at Bar Rumba [Peterson ran a seminal night there with James Lavelle through the ’90s], but I’m not ready for that. All that “going back in time” stuff is for retirement. Right now I’m set on playing everything from some mad re-edits to some old jazz to young people who are gonna go mental!’
Finally, is it really true that you got cut off while DJing at Peter Gabriel’s wedding?
‘I don’t know if I should be saying this because Peter’s the nicest bloke ever but, yes, it was at this private beach in Sardinia. Given that it was Peter, my MC and I started with some Fela Kuti, a bit of bossanova, some Frank Sinatra, but after 15 minutes my MC said: “Gilles, you do realise that what they’re playing on the main speakers isn’t what you’re playing?” And the family of his new wife had basically unplugged me and put in their iPod with something like “That’s What I Call Wedding Hits.” I just remember Peter coming up to me being really sorry, but I was kind of relieved. I’m actually terrible at weddings.’’