Gilles Peterson: ‘This period is going to be one of nostalgia’

The founder of eclectic radio station Worldwide FM on experimental subgenres, looking back and music as therapy

“This is every record collector’s wet dream,” says Gilles Peterson. The DJ and broadcaster is speaking over the phone from his east London hub, where he is surrounded by his collection of more than 50,000 pieces of vinyl. “This lockdown has been the first time in my life that I’ve put the brakes on and haven’t got a gig for at least six months,” he says. “It means I finally have the time to properly go through this collection I’ve built up over the past 40 years. I’m very grateful that I’ve got this place where I can be creative; I need it for my mental health.”

Peterson has built his reputation over the past four decades as a label head and DJ championing jazz and global music, perhaps best known for his weekly Saturday afternoon show on BBC 6 Music, which has been a staple of its programming since 2012. In 2016, Peterson expanded his operation and opened his own online radio station, Worldwide FM, which has seen its listenership more than double in the month since lockdown began.

“Worldwide is a place of research,” he says. “It’s a place for what I call the ‘back room community’ – those DJs and curators who are always in the back room of a club, experimenting. Worldwide is a place where I can learn from them and they can shine a light on different subgenres. And with what’s going on at the moment, people are looking more for these kinds of curation and experimentation.” As part of this quest to highlight the best of lesser-known music, Peterson has launched a new series of weekly shows, The 20, where he picks 20 records from his collection that define genres from Brit funk to disco and Brazilian jazz.

“I’m just really excited to get listening for these shows,” he says, “and to explore how these pieces of music fit in with each other and into the wider context of the time.” In fact, Peterson sees the lockdown as the perfect time for looking back. “This period is going to be one of nostalgia,” he says. “This is the window of time where we can look back on what we’ve done in life and what we’ve loved, and I hope these radio shows can be part of that nostalgic reflection.”

It is, of course, still a time fraught with anxiety, especially for the music industry. “So many musicians and DJs only make money by playing live, so we’re shellshocked by everything shutting down,” he says. “Who knows who will survive? I’m just trying to protect the people that work for me, and I really hope that the public come out of this hungry for culture and hungry for art.” Now, though, he hopes that his records will provide comfort: “Music is a form of therapy, and hopefully we can provide that in such difficult times as these.”

Gilles Peterson presents The 20 on Worldwide FM, Thursday 30 April, 9am, to 7 May

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