Pete Tong: the `god of dance music' who moves records in mysterious ways
Monday 24 May 1999
He beat 49 other contenders including the Ministry of Sound owner James Palumbo and star DJs Paul Oakenfold and Sean "Puffy" Coombs. Muzik's editor, Ben Turner, said at the time: "This list is not about money, it is about who wields the most power - being voice for a generation."
Another dance magazine recently commented, "Dance music is bigger than ever, Pete Tong is bigger than God."
For what he calls his "day job" Tong has run the Ffrr dance record label, a subsidiary of London90 Records, since 1988. He signed and promoted the All Saints for London90 Records and played tracks by them on his Radio 1 show. With Ffrr he promotes top dance music acts including Armand Van Helden, Pete Heller, Goldie, Lucid and Deetah. Tong is a radio and live DJ, runs a record company, is an A&R man, makes his own records, is a newspaper columnist and owns a radio production company.
An analysis of the first 17weeks of his programmes this year show that Tong played an average of nearly four of hiscompany's records on each show. For 83 weeks over the last two years he played 243 tracks from Ffrr and London90 Records - three records a week.
A spokesperson for the BBC said: "Ffrr/London is widely recognised as an important dance label and therefore it is not inappropriate for Pete Tong to play some records from that label on his programme." The spokesperson added that Ffrr/ London90 Records has about a 10 per cent share of the dance music market and that if Pete Tong played three records a week it would be only 7.5 per cent of the records he played of the show.
But further analysis by The Independent of other DJs' radio playlists revealed that they seem to play far fewer Ffrr records than Tong. Even Judge Jules, who stands in for Tong, only plays the odd track and that is usually a chart-topper such as Armand Van Helden.
Neither is there another comparable radio DJ with such extensive commercial interests as Tong. Power in the dance industry is concentrated in a small number of hands. Eddie Gordon, Tong's manager, agent and co-director used to head A&R at Polygram's Manifesto Record label. He now runs the Neo label. Tong has frequently played both Manifesto and Neo records on his show. Tong's Radio 1 stablemate and heir apparent, Judge Jules remains a consultant to Manifesto.
Tong, 38, has been on the music scene for many years. He started as a DJ in 1976 and spent a period as features editor of Blues and Soul magazine. He looked after the career of the 1980s girl group Bananarama. But his own career did not really take off until the rave scene started in 1987. London Records asked Tong to set up its dance music subsidiary Ffrr label in 1988.
He was and has been one of the most ardent supporters of dance music and has been pivotal in its growth from a low-cost underground movement to a highly profitable industry.
Tong is now said to be worth at least pounds 2m and his income as a director of London90 Records alone is at least pounds 200,000 a year. He charges at least pounds 3,000 per gig. Married with three children, he has just moved, selling his previous home in Wimbledon for pounds 1m.
The BBC's tolerance stems from its need to attract major figures from the dance culture. "Radio 1 commission an un-matched line-up of the best specialist music presenters, many of them are key figures in their respective genres. This includes Pete Tong. The reason that Radio 1 commissions these specialist DJs is that they expertly reflect a certain music genre and inevitably, because of their creative role in the genre, this will include with our permission, some of their own work."
Tong moved from Capital Radio to Radio 1 in 1991. Since then, his Essential Selection programme has been broadcast on Friday nights. He is credited with helping to save the beleaguered station after Chris Evans's acrimonious departure in 1994. He helped the then station chiefs Matthew Bannister and Andy Parfitt to recruit other talented club DJs like Tim Westwood and Judge Jules which gave the station street credibility.
Quoted in Simon Garfield's book on Radio 1, The Nation's Favourite, Tong says: "I was somehow very important to them. We would go to hotels and talk for hours, and in brief they were basically asking `What should we do?'
"I said `You should have a mix show, you should have Westwood on, you should have a jungle show.' They came back and said, `We want all those things.' I said I'd give them all the phone numbers, but they said, `No we want you to do it. You get the shows in for us, as much money as you need.'"
"Bootie Call". The single by the all-girl band was released on London Records, whose Ffrr subsidiary is run by Tong. First played in June 1998 it received three plays on his Essential Selection and shot to number one after its official release two months later.
"Big Love". The London DJ and producer's track was released on Essential Records. It was first played in November 1998 and received 12 plays on Tong's Essential Selection. The single reached number 12 in the charts after its official release earlier this month.
Armand Van Helden
"You Don't Know Me", The New York DJ's single was released on the Ffrr label. It was first played in October 1998 and received eight plays on Tong's Essential Selection show. The single reached number one in the charts after its release in January of this year.
"I Can't Help Myself". The band, fronted by Scottish singer Clare Canty, released this single on Ffrr. It was first played in September 1997 and got 10 plays on Essential Selection before its release in July 1998. A month later it was number seven in the charts.
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