Gilles Peterson: “My Kids Discovered Me Through Grand Theft Auto!”

British broadcaster, DJ, and record label owner Gilles Peterson talks to Beatport about what it’s like to be a part of the Grand Theft Auto world, having delivered a third Worldwide FM mix for the most recent Cayo Perico Heist update.

15 min
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Mar 4, 2021
Ben Jolley

Speaking to Ben Jolley on the day Gilles Peterson receives his first real-life DJ booking of 2021, Gilles is understandably optimistic about the potential of festivals returning this summer. He adds that during the most recent lockdown he started playing GTA for the first time, and was amazed when he stepped inside the in-game club The Music Locker and saw Moodymann behind the decks.

Check out Gilles Peterson’s recent Grand Theft Auto Online DJ Set + livestream on Beatport.
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How has the last year been for you? Was it tough having to be at home and not able to play shows?

It wasn’t too bad because I was with my family all year and I could literally walk across the park every day and go to my studio. Obviously, with Worldwide FM being on air and just on the rise, having been around for four years, it had a bit of a community to it and that helped to step it up a lot. I was doing a daily radio show and also the four-hour shows on 6Music. It was an amazing period of radio for me.

I’ve also written a book about radio called “Lockdown FM: Broadcasting in a Pandemic.” It basically focuses on the 80 shows that I did during the first lockdown and all the people that passed away, as well as the issue of cultural appropriation and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s 600 pages and hardback, so it’s like an academic book.

You’ve done several streams during lockdown, including the recent one for Beatport via Twitch. How have you found doing those?

They’ve been weird. Before the Beatport one, I did a live broadcast for a Tokyo club I play at called Contact. I had a monitor with the dancefloor, because 200 people were allowed in the club, and they had me on a big screen. I kind of had a dancefloor but I was in my own room.

But with the Beatport set, I could see it was coming and debated, ‘Should I prepare something?’, because I had the time, the decks, and could have put a few things together. I said to myself, ‘It’ll be easy for you to flow it, it’s only an hour and a half’. But then, on the day, it was like, ‘Shit, the guy’s coming with the cameras and everything…’

I was happy with it, but I see me and live streams as a bit like being a professional footballer. It’s like I’ve literally been thrown into the cup final, I’ve got to play the full match and extra time, and I’ve had no pre-season training. When there’s nobody around, you can’t play off the people either.

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How would you describe your style of DJing and what impact does it have on the way you approach live streams?

The way I DJ, I don’t prepare a set that I’ll play out for the next three months. I don’t DJ like it’s a show that I’m going to repeat, as perhaps a band would. I think more DJs do that these days because it’s safe and super effective. But I slightly resent that… I’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work for me because I feel like, no no no, I’ve got to turn left at this moment, I can’t just keep going. It’s the ultimate fucking-with-the-crowd type of thing.

I’m always on the verge of DJ suicide, which is why I think the anxiety can catch up with you sometimes. Because when you approach your DJing like that, it just means that 20 percent of your gigs are going to be quite formatic. But the others will be really amazing, and you’ve got to just take that.

The art of DJing is interesting, too. What even is it these days? I think the key is to do something that is true to you, and that’s another reason why I don’t like to overly organise things, because I feel like I’m overthinking it too much.

As a DJ, what are you trying to achieve through a live stream?

It’s about how you find new audiences, because you’ll always be within your little niche; that’s easy, they know me and I can play to them. So doing a Beatport mix was important because obviously there’s going to be a lot of people there.

I could have just played Gilles classics, but then you’re not actually achieving anything. And that’s not really what I’m into. I’m into what I played in the mix, which is a lot of off-key electronic music and stuff with worldly influences [and] abstract jazzy moments. I think if I did another mix next week it would be completely different.

You’ve been a part of the Grand Theft Auto world for several years now, with Worldwide FM being one of the in-game stations. Would you say that it’s opened you up to a new fanbase?

I think because dance music and culture are really different in different parts of the world, something like me in Europe is probably more normal and people are more used to a different approach to DJing. Whereas in America, which is a lot more EDM, techno or hip hop focused, everything’s much more in a box.

So with DJs like me, people are confused. And I see it. They’re like, ‘What the fuck is this guy? He’s really weird.’ They don’t get it. But then others really do and are like, ‘Man, this is the future. This guy is going from this to this, oh my gawd!’

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How do you think your Worldwide FM station fits into the GTA world?

I think it’s brave of a game that is so important and popular – it’s the equivalent of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ in games terms. And I see the importance of it to people. I just get excited by the fact that I always throw a few spun-out tunes in there, which gives me the pleasure that ‘Wow, I managed to pull that in’.

When I play it, I feel like drum & bass sounds really good on there, but then also the slower soul-jam things that I initially thought could be quite irritating. On the first one I put in Hackman and future-bass Joy Orbison style stuff, and they all sounded really good.

It’s about making sure you can find new platforms and new audiences to introduce music through. In the first one, I think I included Donald Byrd’s “Loving You,” a classic boogie disco track, and people were going balmy. They’d never heard that kind of music before, they didn’t know it existed.

With the most recent mix, for The Cayo Perico Heist update, I think I did at least 20 versions, mainly because I had more time due to lockdown. In the end, I was really pleased with it and one of the magical but sad moments, in retrospect, is that the tracklist included the last MF Doom recording, which was a track with BADBADNOTGOOD. There were a few exclusives on there, including a Madlib track, which made it a bit more special because it’s not just licensing tracks.

What’s your personal experience of GTA?

I’d seen it and know what it means to people but, up until this lockdown, I’d never played the game. I’d never sat down and committed myself to it but I thought it was so amazing to see the music and all the tracks come up and I think they did a great job. I’m delighted to have been asked to return; I think it’s only Flying Lotus and me who were asked to come back. So I think one of the guys at Rockstar must really like me. I think, if they did a poll, I don’t think I’d be at the top.

Also, my kids are in their 20s and all of their mates discovered me through GTA, not through pirate radio or festivals or 6Music. When I was on GTA, my kids were both, for the first time — I’m not saying they were proud of me — but they felt that I was alright, as long as I didn’t go on about it.

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Have you visited the in-game club The Music Locker and what did you think of it?

I went and checked out Moodymann’s set and thought the whole thing was great. These Rockstar guys are incredible, they’ve got more people working there than Pixar, I’m sure. The animation is ridiculous. I’ve got to say, I’ve worked in the music industry, radio and media all my life and so, to be able to work with the creatives and ideas people who are working within this tranche of music and culture is an amazing experience. To see how they approach their subject and see how refined it is, too.

Also, around the time of the After Hours update, the Rockstar guys told me they were doing a club. And I said, ‘If you develop the idea, can you make a secret little backroom that I can DJ in?’. Because whenever you go to a club there’s always a secret backroom, a sneaky one behind the bar. I told them if they ever built that little room, I want to do it!

Why do you think music is such an important part of the GTA series?

The fact that they are really in-tuned to having someone like me, that already takes a certain… It’s very easy, if America is your main market, to give people what, fundamentally, the algorithms are telling you what to give them. I respect heavily that they’ve stuck their neck out to get people like me, Flying Lotus, and others who are not part of the A-list, top 100 DJs. None of us are anywhere near those sorts of lists, but they’ve gone for us as creators and understand that we can bring a certain creative dimension that is working really with the game.

I think a lot of that is down to the fact that the guys who set up Rockstar Games, Sam and a few of the others, they’re all ex-clubbers. I know they came to the clubs I was playing in the ‘90s, wherever it was. And, here in the U.K., our relationship with music and DJ culture is quite deep. It’s a really important part of growing up and identity. And I think that people who’ve gone on to become successful, that they need to remember that outsider attitude, that’s why they developed creatively themselves.

So I feel like it’s really important to Rockstar — not only on a visual or storytelling level — that the music is also asking questions and creating some sort of new relationship with people’s heads. I imagine there’s kids stoned playing the game and there they are hearing Sauce & Dogs for the first time in their headphones. This absolutely bonkers music and it’s like, ‘Great, fucking hell, we’re taking them there!’

Learn more about how Grand Theft Auto is changing how we discover music here.

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