Private Playlist: Pete Tong is comfortable with musical melancholy

Pete Tong. Photo credit: Derrick Santini.

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments. With a career reaching back to the late 1970s, Pete Tong is recognized as one of the most influential radio personalities in the UK. Tong was a key figure in England’s dance music resurgence in the 1990s, co-founding the long-running Essential Selection series on BBC Radio 1 at the start of the decade. Tong also founded the dance music label ffrr, which helped launch the careers of countless artists including Orbital, Asian Dub Foundation, Goldie, and Luke Vibert.

Like everyone, the last few months since mid-March have been entirely new territory for me. And I think initially it felt like a mission. It was like, "Let's all do this, let's follow the rules, let's stay locked up." Now I'm more depressed that this thing isn't going away very soon, and worse, it's actually coming back before it's even gone away. So I think the last couple weeks have been even a bit more challenging. But I've always been a big bike rider, which I find very therapeutic. And Los Angeles around where I live is a great area to ride. So I've been getting out almost every day, and that definitely keeps me sane: just being out in nature, up on Mulholland or in Griffith Park or something like that.


I think KCRW was probably the first station in the world to champion SAULT. Their third album dropped recently, and it's called “UNTITLED (Black Is).” It's definitely one of those albums where you listen to it from start to finish, and you think, "Well, they don't really make them like that anymore." It's a stream of consciousness from producer Dean “Inflo” Wynton Josiah.


NEZ comes from Chicago, so conscious house music was always in his roots. A lot of his musical heroes reference back to the ancestors of house and techno, but his music is a hybrid of hip-hop and house. There's been a lot of discussion about whether Black musicians get enough recognition in the dance world, the electronic world, and the house and techno worlds. And from my point of view, it's like, "Bring it on." Because I don't think there's been enough people, particularly from America, leaning in to house and messing with the genre.


I'm obsessed with Bakar. I think he's got it in him to make a really special record that will move the needle. I can't stop listening to "Hell N Back."


Paul Woolford is a DJ/producer from Leeds in England. He's a bit of a studio genius. Three or four years ago, this track is something that could never have happened with the Paul Woolford I grew up with, because he was such a staunch underground guy. But now he's teamed up with Diplo, and they've come together around this song, which features Kareen Lomax from Atlanta. It has its reference points back in the heyday of late '80s, garage-influenced, vocal Chicago house.


Like everybody, with what's going on in the world, I guess I tend to focus on the melancholic. My own radio show is predominantly about the dancefloor. And I've often thought, when people can't dance or go to a club, has it changed my programming a little bit? But I've always loved the melancholic, that's my thing, so I'm in a very comfortable place here. Melancholic happiness is where we're going with Jayda G. I do think this is a super-clever record, because it has loads of references to the past, but it could have only been made in 2020.


As a final tune, here's a song of hope. I've been playing this out as a DJ for the best part of a year. Kaz James was half of the Bodyrockers back in the day, and they had a monstrous hit, "I Like the Way You Move." With this record, he's teamed up with Ali Love. Ali was part of Hot Natured, who were signed to my old label, ffrr, so it's great to have him back with a new record on my new label.

Check out KCRW’s other Private Playlists:

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TOKiMONSTA is rediscovering her love for the guitar
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on finding solace in Gil Scott-Heron
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Madame Gandhi on Fela, feminism, and the bravery of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell
Alice Bag is doing the live music withdrawal dance
M. Ward is listening to music by his influences’ influencers
San Cha believes we can create, no matter our circumstances
Bob Mould seeks artful inspiration from Janelle Monáe, Elliott Smith, and the Byrds
La Santa Cecilia's La Marisoul finds hope for the future in music