Does Rock ‘n’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Pete Tong

Oh, this? It's NME's legendary, long-running feature Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells, in which we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: superstar DJ, Pete Tong.

1: Who coined the phrase ‘It’s all gone Pete Tong’?

“It was Boys Own fanzine, so Gary Haisman, Terry Farley, Andrew Weatherall, etc”.

CORRECT – or rather ESSENTIAL!

“It was mid-‘80s London. They were running nights at The Wag Club called The Raid. Me and Paul Oakenfold were playing for them and got to know them really well, and they always used to take the piss out of me. Terry had this fanzine and the whole idea was to send people up, so they came up with this. It was allegedly an insult but it turned into this legendary saying. (Laughs) Prince William and Kate Middleton even mentioned it to me at a Radio 1 event about 10 years ago. When it got put in the Penguin Dictionary of Black Cabbies’ Cockney Rhyming Slang and became ‘official’, it went to another level.’”

2: In the 2004 film It’s All Gone Pete Tong, what is the name of the fictional DJ you interview?

“Frankie Wilde”.

ESSENTIAL!

For a bonus half-point, what furry critter also appears?

“The Coke Badger”.

ESSENTIAL!

3: Which girlband you A&R managed reunited as a trio last year for the first time since 1988?

“I guess you’re talking about Salt-N-Pepa?”

PETE TONG! (WRONG) It’s Bananarama.

“Yes, OK, WRONG! (Laughs) It was bonkers ‘cos I joined London Records in 1983 and within a few weeks, I was driving Bananarama around in my car to regional radio stations and staying in dodgy hotels with them. We hit it off. They were living their lives to the max and they could drink! When I first joined, Jolley & Swain were doing their records but it quickly transferred over to Stock Aitken Waterman who I got on well with, so I started to influence a lot more of what they were doing. I was consulting on remixes and by the time of ‘Venus’, I was more involved in A&R. The more Stock Aitken Waterman took over, the less Siobhan [Fahey] was comfortable. Though I got on well with all of them, Siobhan became my closest buddy in the band, so when she decided to leave, I signed Shakespears Sister and concentrated on her.”

4: In 2008, a mother tried to blame you for £2,000 worth of damage to her mansion after you gave a Radio 1 shout-out to her daughter’s party. How many gatecrashers turned up?

“I have no idea other than for some reason, I’ve got a number of 165 in my head…but I can’t remember. (Laughs) 500? 155?”

PETE TONG! According to her, it was 2,000…

“2000?! Oh God, the power of Pete Tong, eh?”

For a bonus half-point, she complained that a portrait of her ancestor, Samuel Brooks, had been damaged. What did he invent?

“Oh My God…um…(Muttering to himself) come on, come on….(Gives up) I’ve no idea.”

PETE TONG! It was tarpaulin.

“Oh right! I thought The Samuel Brooks might have been a pub.”

5: Which DJ was your first kiss?

“(Groans) Vanessa Feltz”

ESSENTIAL!

“It was my first holiday romance, in Majorca, aged nine or 10. I was heartbroken after I left so my parents arranged for me to meet Vanessa at the train station in London. That’s where I got the kiss. Everyone thought she’d made it up! (Laughs) I’d forgotten it. I knew I had my first crush on a girl called Vanessa but never realised it was Vanessa Feltz until she mentioned it.”

She revealed it on Celebrity Big Brother. Have you turned down much reality TV?

“I turned down Top Of The Pops very early on in my career because I thought I was too underground and cool-for-school for it, which I regret doing because it would have been iconic. I’ve been sounded out about Strictly, but I’m not interested. Famous last words!”

6: You’re touring Ibiza Classics with a 65-piece orchestra. In Vienna’s National Vegetable Orchestra, what are the trumpets made out of?

“Um…I don’t know. Turnips?”

PETE TONG! It’s carrots.

“At least I got the right shape!”

Why are orchestras playing dance music proving so popular?

“In the ’90s, dance music took over the whole country. Even if you were into Oasis and Britpop, you were going to clubs every weekend dancing to house. But the DJs weren’t the biggest thing. It was bands like The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy who presented a theatrical experience with lights and visuals. We haven’t had that since the ’90s so when an orchestra comes along and plays these songs, it’s almost the closest we’ve got back to that moment. No carrots, though.”

7: Who did you once spend 24 hours handcuffed to?

“A Smurf”.

ESSENTIAL!

“Arranged by Vernon Kay and the Radio 1 management team, which I still think was lots of fun. When I mention it, people still go running and hiding behind filing cabinets at Radio 1 thinking I’m going to hit someone. It’s a shame it was before social media because it’d be a monster Instagram if it happened now.”

What was the most unusual moment of it?

“Going to the toilet (Laughs) – I’m not going to tell you how we did it! I’d like to know his name. Somebody’s going to come out of the woodwork one day going ‘I was the Smurf’. I have no fucking idea who it was.”

8: You’re credited with helping revive Radio 1 in 1994 after offering advice to then-controller Matthew Bannister. Name three DJs ousted during his reign.

“Gor blimey… Simon Bates, Dave Lee Travis… um, maybe Nicky Campbell come to think of it.”

ESSENTIAL!

“Just because my show was talking so effectively to the nation – nobody had really understood rave culture before then – they started seeking my advice. It seemed obvious to me – hire Tim Westwood because he was the best guy in rap and have a few more people doing what I do, like Danny Rampling and Judge Jules. They literally said yes to everything! (Laughs). I helped them find those people and the rest is history. They wanted me to go on old-fashioned and cheesy roadshows, but I convinced them to come to Ibiza and we’ve broadcasted there every year since ’95. As a reaction to that, they had to clear out the Smashie and Nicey element in order to modernise – though I’m not sure I’d take the credit, or blame, for that.”

9: You soundtracked The Beach. Which beach won the Sunday Times 2018 Beach Of The Year?

“You’re going to shock me and say Brighton now?”

PETE TONG! It’s Filey in North Yorkshire.

“OK well I was close! I was thinking it was gonna be one in Ireland, because I’ve been to some amazing ones there I never knew existed.”

What’s been your favourite film to soundtrack?

The Beach was one because we’d been chasing Danny Boyle for ages at London Records. We pitched for Trainspotting and didn’t get it, but we got A Life Less Ordinary which put us in pole position for The Beach. It starred Leonardo DiCaprio so I knew it had to have some hits, but Danny wasn’t comfortable with pop. I turned him on to Moby – and Moby himself says ‘Porcelain’ being an iconic moment in the film was what first broke the album ‘Play’. We wanted All Saints – our big London Records group – in the film but Danny hated the idea, saying ‘Fuck that! They’re a pop group. I don’t want them in my movie’. So I called up William Orbit and managed to talk Danny into it on the basis that he was the producer and we came up with the classic single ‘Pure Shores’”.

10: You were the first BBC DJ to broadcast live from Ibiza. What year did superclub Pacha open?

“Well it’s 50 years old last year but that was the brand, so that was the one in Sitges. Actually I do know what year Pacha opened in Ibiza because James Blunt wrote a song about it that I remixed, so it’s 1973.”

ESSENTIAL!

“There’s a lot of talk over recent years that Ibiza’s become too expensive – you’re going to end up with VIP areas full and no kids on the dancefloor. There’s too many techno nights. It’ll take a couple of years to get the entertainment offerings in sync with the audience coming to the islands and get the prices right so that 17/18/19 year olds going for the first time can afford it. It probably got a bit arrogant and now – with competition from Croatia and America – it’s really got to fight for people’s attention.”

The verdict: 6.5/10

“I can honestly say I’ve never been asked some of those questions in my entire life!”