Celebrating its 10th anniversary later this week, Gilles Peterson reminisces about the Worldwide Awards: giving Flying Lotus his first paycheck, being snubbed by Gil Scott-Heron, and why it's important to have sushi chefs as fans.
On January 17th, Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards will be celebrating their 10th edition at London's Koko with a typically enormous line-up. It includes Fatima, Dorian Concept, Lone, and Taylor McFerrin, and, running until 3am, always features a strong roster of DJs across the course of the night.
Starting life in Shoreditch’s Cargo, the event swiftly ballooned into the more expansive surroundings of Koko to accommodate the genre-spanning inclusivity which has long been associated with Peterson’s radio show. And as the name suggests, it’s also an opportunity for Peterson to give recognition to the artists and labels whose names might not often find their way onto the nomination slips for more established award ceremonies.
With the best part of the event’s 10 years held at the North London venue, bundling together that many artists from across the musical spectrum into its close confines was always going to produce some interesting stories. We asked Peterson to provide us with 10 of the defining moments from a decade of the awards.
Gilles Peterson: "What was great about James was that we put him on a time when he hadn’t crossed over yet. He hadn’t yet released his first album, so it was just off the back of CMYK. And so it was a bit shocking for people, as they weren’t expecting a singer and slow music.
"What’s brilliant about putting on acts like this before they’ve broken is that audiences might not be that receptive, but months later they’ll be going ballistic. I remember with James that it was particularly noisy when he was on, as he was doing these ballads.
"I have maximum respect for him, because he got through it. Getting through those moments is what helps them become a significant artist in the long run. A few months later he was picking up awards and going on to do best set I’ve ever seen at the Worldwide Festival."
Gilles Peterson: "This was a legendary performance, because it was a first for someone who was, and still is, an amazing hip hop artist. He brought his mum all the way from New Orleans so that she could hear it, and made sure she had a prime spot, which was a lovely moment.
"Hip hop’s an interesting area of music, as it’s one that doesn’t generally translate very well outside of its own community. It’s always difficult to pull hip hop out of the hip hop island, because the fans are so fanatical. So if you put on a rapper and the crowd doesn’t know every lyric off by heart then it suddenly creates a different atmosphere. It’s always been a challenge to do hip hop, but sometimes it works brilliantly."
Gilles Peterson: "The connection with Thom Yorke goes back to when Radiohead used to send me stuff - I was like, 'Fucking hell, why are they sending me stuff?' I remember it was even personally addressed to me. They were saying that they liked my show so I ended up doing a couple of radio shows with him. I’m always into surprising people who work outside of a comfort zone. Whether it’s someone like Stromae, or a pop artist, I like that because I like confusing people. And I think he saw it the same way.
"So he just turned up at the awards that year, which was why it was really cool. He was on the balcony watching the show, so we got him backstage and he presented Flying Lotus with the best album award for ‘Cosmogramma’. And that brought him together with FlyLo - who I gave his first ever paycheck! I licensed Tea Leaf Dancers on an early 'Brownsood Bubblers' compilation. I remember handing him an envelope on a back street in Dalston."
Gilles Peterson: "He just turned up from LA, in his sandals and shorts, on one of the coldest nights of the year. He went for it, it was great. He was playing his own beats onstage, in a way that was really relaxed and a long way away from your idea of a clichéd hip hop MC. The whole thing was in a sort of subversive, Stones Throw style. He nailed it."
"The connection with Thom Yorke goes back to when Radiohead used to send me stuff - I was like, 'Fucking hell, why are they sending me stuff?' I remember it was even personally addressed to me." - Gilles Peterson
Gilles Peterson: "The awards are always a cross between emerging people and the artists who provide the source material that contextualises it. Having the the spirit of someone like Sun Ra, who a lot of young people there might not know, adds a musical background to the likes of someone like James Blake who people might have come to see.
"Not only that, but Jerry Dammers and the Pyramids have always brought a lot of entertainment and theatre into their recreation of Sun Ra’s music, which I think is something that’s great to bring to the awards. This year we’ve got Marshall Allen and the Heliocentrics, so you can be pretty sure that that side of the music will be represented again."
Gilles Peterson: "It’s always been good to get the DJs in, and I remember him [Karizma] playing this track before it had been released and everybody just flipping out. It was an important track. The DJ thing’s really important, it’s just about balancing it right. We had Laurent Garnier play, we’ve had Moodymann, Theo Parrish, loads of great DJs. They’ve all done it."
Gilles Peterson: "What’s great about the awards is that it allows you to get people from all different sides of music together. Having Steve Reid performing on the night with Kieran Hebden, and then hanging out backstage with Benga and Bonobo, it just feels like that’s the full spectrum.
"That year we had literally the best sushi chef in London - he has a restaurant in High Street Kensington that’s seriously expensive, and it’s some of the best sushi you will find in London. This guy, he’s a fan, and he basically turned up at 3am with enough sushi - sushi of the highest level - to feed 30 or 40 people."
Gilles Peterson: "We thought we’d do a one record per DJ thing at the end of the night. We’d had Fat Freddy’s Drop and Soil & Pimp Sessions, everybody was really tired and it was the last hour of the night. It was Earl Zinger trying to MC over about 20 DJs who were all turning up and playing one record each on one turntable. A bit like Jah Shaka, doing a one deck-type thing.
"It was really good until all the DJs started playing eight-minute house records that weren’t that good. You could sort of see the night fading away. Not everything works at the Worldwide Awards and that was one thing we didn’t repeat afterwards."
"That year we had literally the best sushi chef in London - he has a restaurant in High Street Kensington that’s seriously expensive, and it’s some of the best sushi you will find in London. This guy, he’s a fan, and he basically turned up at 3am with enough sushi - sushi of the highest level - to feed 30 or 40 people." - Gilles Peterson
Gilles Peterson: "That was the year we did it in The Garage on Holloway Road, which looks horrible from the outside but is actually quite a good room. I remember it was a crappy little changing room, and we had The Dap Kings, the best funk band in the world, along with The Menahan Street Band and Lee Fields all squashed into this tiny changing room.
"That was an amazing year, with the Floating Points Ensemble, SBTRKT, Bonobo, Fink, Andreya Triana, Robert Glasper. Amazing year, that year. And that was the highlight of one of the best lineups we’ve had. The quality of musicianship and the funk from that group was just amazing."
Gilles Peterson: "I had an award for Gil Scott-Heron, and I wanted to give him the award in New York and film it, because I knew he wouldn’t be able to pick it up in London. I’d done a gig there the night before and suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be delivering this award. I had his phone number and it was a bit hard as he lived in a place where there was only one phone between lots of different people.
"Eventually he finally got to the phone and I went to explain, 'Hello, my name’s Gilles Peterson and I’ve got an award for you that I want to give you,' and started explaining to him what it was. And when he realised that it wasn’t that big a thing, he just put the phone down on me. That was a funny moment: Gil Scott-Heron hanging up on me because the award wasn’t big enough."