sat 24/03/2018

Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards 2014, Koko | reviews, news & interviews

Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards 2014, Koko

Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards 2014, Koko

A sprawling jazz-soul-electronic-rap show exemplifies the DJ's world

Gilles Peterson and Omar: mutual fandomAll photos: Tom D Morgan

In a world where everyone is expected to be a “brand”, Gilles Peterson sets some very interesting precedents. Probably best known as a radio DJ – currently on BBC 6 Music, plus his globally syndicated Worldwide show – he also remains as in demand to play in clubs as at any time in his 25-year career, he runs the Brownswood label, and has his own Worldwide Festival, currently with winter and summer editions in different locations in France plus four years running in Singapore and one in Shanghai. And somehow his individual personality remains at the heart of all of this.

His annual award show is a microcosm of his world. Sprawling across seven hours, with dozens of acts and DJs playing short sets across a dizzying range of sounds, it's kind of daunting – perhaps even more so in 2014 where the names featured are a little less high-profile than the last couple of years. But there's something about this world that breeds loyalty: unlike almost all other music awards ceremonies it feels like an actual show, and throughout the night, with people milling up, down and around the vertiginous balconies of Koko, the music is still their focus.

Gilles Peterson at KokoWhat exactly Peterson stands for has always been theoretically nebulous, a zone bounded roughly speaking by jazz, soul, hip hop, global music and contemporary club sounds – but in practice, as when you see the acts he puts on stage, it makes more sense. The dots, to use one of his favourite phrases, are joined. Thus it is that acoustic soul singer Andrew Ashong, Finnish cosmic-electronic jazz auteur Jimi Tenor, grime-funk wunderkind Swindle, the rootsy country-blues of Valerie June and the Austrian techno-wonk of Cid Rim all made absolute sense together on stage.

There were ups and downs. June, a startling figure in cowboy boots and piled-up dreadlocks, was mindblowing at first standing alone with just a banjo and singing blues that seemed to be beamed to us from 80 years ago. Her voice has an alien edge, its penetrating tone and acrobatic ornamentation suggesting Vietnamese folk as much as it does O Brother Where Art Thou – yet over the course of several songs with a rhythm section behind her, her songs started to feel more conventional, and frankly a bit “artisanal coffee shop”. The grooves and her voice remained amazing, but whether her songwriting backs them up was questionable.

The Internet, a neo-soul / jazz funk troupe led by Syd Tha Kyd of the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective, were more disappointing still – and again, it was because of lack of songwriting. Maybe it's some kind of atonement for OFWGKTA's off-the-wall sounds and punky shock tactics, but despite some kooky stage outfits the whole thing was deeply conventional, and all about musicianship over all else, with personality and hooks sadly sidelined. The sound was Seventies Stevie Wonder, but the songcraft most certainly was not.

Swindle at KokoJust how much better jazz-funk can be was demonstrated late into the evening by Swindle (pictured left). The Croydon producer / instrumentalist has been mentored by Brownswood signing Mala, so it's unsurprising he's come into Peterson's orbit. He performed behind multiple keyboards with a brass section and a brief guest spot from UK soul legend Omar, yet managed to radiate personality and joy in his craft. The musicianship was again exceptional, but this time the hooks – crazed funk squiggles as well as vast dubstep/grime basslines – came first. The history of performing primarily electronic music for a live band is chequered to say the least but Swindle did it with bravura and a cheeky glint in his eye.

Jimi Tenor's performance too showed the world how it should be done. Performing solo with a table full of boxes which, from where I was sitting, looked a bit like futuristic versions of toasters and Roberts radios, he coaxed out meandering rhythms that blurred together tablas, gurgling analogue synthesisers and miasmic tones, over which he sang and jammed on flute and a battered (is there any other kind?) Fender Rhodes. The spirits of Sun Ra, Don Cherry and Pharaoh Sanders loomed large, but this was both utterly modern and entirely individual.

It wasn't industry backslapping, but individuals sharing one another's musical passions

Jonwayne (pictured below right), a portly, white rapper who looks somewhere between Hell's Angel and maverick computer programmer, also showed how the past can be reworked with individuality. Triggering his own beats as he rapped, he owned the stage, and crucially never felt worthy in his reworking of Nineties “golden era” rap tropes. His virtuosic wordplay, his bumpy beats, his sly subversion of rap's egotism were always about building something of his own rather than being beholden to the past, and while his pacing sometimes flagged, he always brought it back, and completley owned the stage.

Jonwayne at KokoPerhaps even more than the acts, though, it was the awards section itself that showed what Peterson is about. A film montage featuring key figures in his world who had died in 2013 was not mawkish but showed how he and his circle bring the past into the present – with names like gangsta rapper Tim Dog, house producer/singer Romanthony and Brazilian singer Emilio Santiago appearing alongside Bobby Bland, Ray Manzarek, Richie Havens and Cedric “Im” Brooks. And the presentation of the awards showed Peterson as music lover par excellence – extemporising about each track among the nominees, even dancing to them on stage as Belgian DJ LeFtO mixed up clips, it became eminently clear that he was a fan of the people he was rewarding.

Likewise the musicians on stage were clearly fans of his. From Omar (getting Lifetime Achievement award) to young rave/electronica star Lone (Single of the Year for the astounding “Airglow Fires”) through the representative of Label of the Year Young Turks, each paid clearly heartfelt tribute to Peterson's radio show and his influence. The fact that the audience watched closely, applauded, and enjoyed all of this was tribute to the fact that this wasn't industry backslapping, but was about individuals sharing one another's musical passions. And this is why Gilles Peterson remains an example to many: among all the brand extension and multi-layered industry involvement, he remains an individual first, with sometimes quirky, sometimes mainstream but deeply held tastes and beliefs that drive everything he does.

It's a zone bounded roughly speaking by jazz, soul, hip hop, global music and contemporary club sounds


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Excellent and perceptive overview of the Worldwide awards. The awards always deliver an incisive snapshot of the eclectic musical world that Gilles Peterson thrives in and provides an explosion of creative musical making that destroys borders, unites generations and make a bleak January bearable. As our reviewer says it's a family affair. It's built on Gilles' passion but it reflects the peoples votes and that combined musical knowledge, commitment and enthusiasm ensures the session consistently sells out. While you're never going love it all there are always some killin' moments like banjo totin' Valerie June rocking 'Rolling & Tumbling' and Jonwayne owning the stage in his sandals... and while Swindle was, for me, a little 'jazz not jazz' 014... his energy, ambition and skills ensures there's a lot more to come. The Awards always give a nod of respect to the past but it's always about the future. As it should be!

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