Long-standing BBC Radio 1 DJ, Pete Tong has been at the forefront of electronic dance music (EDM) for over twenty years, tirelessly championing the finest acts, tunes, producers, promoters and clubs throughout the scene. His weekly BBC Radio1 show "The Pete Tong Show" regularly attracts over 2 million listeners via a combination of live feed and global syndication. In addition to production work, remixes, music supervision and film scoring, Tong also maintains a healthy touring schedule. Beginning May 27, he hosts a summer-long weekly residency at Ibiza super club Pacha entitled, "All Gone Pete Tong." Last year, meanwhile, he partnered with Warner Music U.K. to re-launch celebrated dance imprint FFRR (Full Frequency Range Recordings).
In 2008, Tong, Ben Turner, Danny Whittle, Mark Netto and Simeon Friend founded the International Music Summit (IMS), an annual electronic music industry conference, held at Ibiza's Gran Hotel. Grammy nominated producer Diplo, Chic's Nile Rodgers and Tatiana Simonian, Twitter's head of music partnerships, are among the keynote guests at this year's edition, which runs May 23 to 25. Other speakers include French DJ Francois Kevorkian (aka Francois K), Daniel Miller, founder of U.K. independent label Mute, Paul Oakenfold, Seth Troxler, Luciano, Loco Dice, Cream founder James Barton, Defected Records' Simon Dunmore and U.K. urban star Professor Green.
Speaking exclusively to Billboard.biz, Tong discussed how IMS has grown, why the explosion of dance music in North America is set to last and how EDM patrons "can't be doing illegal s--t" if they want to attract big money sponsors and investment.
Billboard.biz: This year's marks the fifth edition of the International Music Summit. How has the event changed and developed in the past half decade?
Pete Tong: It grows in strength and stature just by being in the same place and at the same time every year. As much as you want to want to speed it along, your longevity; your history becomes your biggest asset. If you look at things like MIDEM, which seems to have been there since the beginning of time, they just become like second nature. We have to go through that journey. This is a very significant year because it is the fifth year and it's not such a sales pitch anymore. More and more people are re-booking, more people are checking us out for the first time and our reputation and status in the industry just gets stronger.
What are your targets for delegate numbers and how are sales?
We're still relatively small compared to the heady days of [former U.K. music conference] In The City or [New York's] New Music Seminar. Our original pitch was to be very high-end specialist - a summit meeting of the brightest and best people in the world of electronic music from around the world. It wasn't to be a mass market thing. But [this year] is selling well, with more pre-sales than we've ever had before. 500 is our optimum number in terms of delegates and then each year as [IMS] has developed, we've got more and more stuff going on around the edges in terms of the night time stuff and the after-hours parties.
From your experience, how does the current EDM explosion compare to previous peaks in the genre's popularity?
The biggest difference is that America has come on board and that makes this story so much bigger. The money being generated in the live circuit is far greater because the market is the world now. Whereas in the early 1990s, the U.K. was very much the center of the universe. When you look at the shows and the amount of investment going onstage, that's completely new. You look at Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, Kaskade, Avicii, David Guetta, Tiësto - the amount of money that's being invested on their stage shows is starting to get comparable to Coldplay and U2. That has changed the shape of what you will see on a mainstage now. You get to a certain point as a DJ now where if you want to move on, you have to invent a show and put some investment into it, or else you won't get booked on a mainstage.
And how does today's market compare in regards to retail?
Well, we're not selling records like we used to in the 1990s. I did Boy George compilation albums for Ministry of Sound where we were selling a million copies of a compilation with largely underground music on it. That doesn't happen anymore. But that says more about the changes in the record business.
In wider terms, how has the growth of EDM on a global scale impacted on the scene and those working in it?
Now the values created around electronic music are starting to be viewed on a par with the top end of pop music or rock. The scene has got everybody's attention now: the biggest promoters; the biggest management companies; the biggest records companies. And now you've got investment funds running around buying up assets. Suddenly we find ourselves as a community, having conversations that we've always been desperate to have, but have maybe never had the chance before.
But with that comes a certain amount of naivety and I think people have got to be very smart about how they go about dealing with all the opportunities that are before them. We all want to protect the scene. It's not just about grabbing the dollar, selling out as quickly as possible and everyone getting rich. That's an option, but by the same token we have got to utilize all these opportunities to make sure that the scene continues to develop in a healthy way. The underground needs to be taken care of as much as the overground. We need the underground scene, because without that there would not be the opportunities to develop the next David Guetta or Swedish House Mafia or Luciano.
How solid do you consider the North American EDM scene to be?
I don't think it's a passing fad. The live base is so strong now. There is a circuit there of very established, very strong events that provide real stickiness. Ultra [Music Festival] in Miami, Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, HARD Summer Festival in Los Angeles, the Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit - they have all really put roots down in the communities where they are based. So it's really solid stuff over there on the live front, and then that's obviously combined with [David] Guetta ruling Top 40 radio; Calvin Harris just stepping up to that now; Skrillex exploding on every level. Although disco was big there it's a lot more to the underground here. It's a lot more real. Hopefully it will just evolve. I think we're already beyond a passing fad.
The explosion of EDM in North America has seen the re-emergence of a lot of the controversies that surrounded dance music when it first exploded in the U.K. and Europe in the late 1980s/early 1990s, such as anti-rave legislation and the drugs issue. Are you surprised, at all?
I think it's inevitable that when you become a main attraction and headline news that there will always be an element of that. It's crazy that as big as dance music is in America, in 95% of the fifty-two states, you still can't dance after 2 am, which is another reason why the festival/one-off event business is so big over there - it provides a breakaway from that rule. So, it is inevitable that you are going to get some flak, but I do think that if these brands want to interact with the top level - if they want to attract the big money from sponsors and all these other opportunities that traditionally have only gone to the world of rock and pop stars - then they have got to have their house in order. They can't be doing illegal s--t. They have to pay their taxes.
You were one of the first to express support to Pasquale Rotella, CEO of Electric Daisy Carnival production company Insomniac Events, who was indicted on a number of charges in March.
I wish him the best. As I said at the time, innocent until proven guilty, and I hope he can get through all this.
What do you consider to be the strongest emerging markets for EDM to break next?
India is really waking up to it all and really getting their act together. I went to Sunburn Festival [held in Goa, India] last September and that's an amazing festival. They really want to join the rest of the world now and open up that market. China, as well. People have been going in and out of China for a long time, but it hasn't really caught fire yet, so that's another market that will be intriguing.
In 2011 you teamed with Warner U.K. to re-launch the FFRR label (Full Frequency Range Recordings). How is that proceeding?
We've been working on the Paper Crows record, which took a little bit longer than I wanted, but is just about finished. I didn't want to be one of these people that signed ten things. It was always going to be one or two things a year. We've been in for two or three deals in the last few months that we thought we were going to get, but didn't. But we're still looking to add to [the roster]. At the moment it's all about Paper Crows. I'm enjoying the focus. They've done an amazing record. I think they will really blow people away when they hear it. It's electronic, but it's more in the world of M83.