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gilles peterson saved my life
not literally, but he digs great music
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)

I am apparently some sort of music addict.

My CD collection is messy, but it's in alphabetical order, if you catch my drift. I need music when I'm driving/writing/working/ washing dishes/running. But since the radio is often useless, I am constantly on an independent search for sounds that will inform the way I live. And the way I want to live. Sometime in the summer of 2006, when my short, How Shawn Parker Fell in Love, was all I could think of, I was introduced to the work of a British DJ named Gilles Peterson.

I was immediately hooked. I have a lot of songs in my Rhapsody library. How many, you ask? If I sat and listened to them all, one at a time, it would take me 84 hours. People marvel that, in this library, a recent 10-song shuffle featured artists this disparate:

Little Brother -- Good Clothes
The Pharcyde -- Groupie Therapy
Bobbi Humphrey -- San Francisco Lights
Stereolab -- The Flower Called Nowhere
Jimi Tenor & Kabu Kabu -- Sunrise
The Jimi Hendrix Experience -- 1983
OutKast -- So Fresh, So Clean
Guy -- Piece of My Love
Amy Winehouse -- Brother
Galt MacDermot -- L.A. Lustre

So it was comforting to encounter Mr. Peterson, with his laid-back, personable South London voice and his encyclopedic knowledge/obsessive appreciation of a wide range of good music. To know that his show existed made me not feel so crazy. I'm amazed at how's he's able to go between so many different genres, yet make everything he plays sound cohesive. Watch this dude.

Like the great John Peel before him, his main focus is in championing underground artists. Peterson's particular focus comes from all over Europe (and sometimes Japan & Africa) and centers in jazz, house, soul and funk.

The list of contemporary artists his show has personally acquainted me with is really long. But for starters, there's 4 Hero, Raul Midon, Nostalgia 77, The Elizabeth Shepherd Trio, Tawiah, the lovely lovely lovely Joy Denalane, The Cinematic Orchestra, Jose James, Nicole Willis, DJ Day, Benny Sings and my favorite British trio since Cream, Little Barrie:

Haven't heard of any of these people? Good. Thank me later.

He's exposed me to the work of countless older artists like Azymuth, Gary Bartz, RAMP (thanks Pharrell), Bobby Hutcherson, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto and the entire genre of bossa nova in general. (He actually did a six-part segment on Brazilian music on his website. ) In addition, his shows feature new work from current US artists I like such as Lupe Fiasco, NERD and Erykah Badu.

There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the frequency of his Giant Step and Worldwide website podcasts. I just check back frequently and they are suddenly there, like reruns of Martin or the latest issue of SLAM Magazine. He probably puts them together whenever he can in between his ludicrous touring schedule as a DJ, his weekly BBC Radio 1 show and his duties as a record label owner. Likewise, there is little rhyme or reason to the actual songs he decides to play: I have heard everyone from James Brown to Aimee Mann to the Wu-Tang Clan to Grover Washington.

But he is not a one-man army. From time to time, various guest DJs contribute "mixes": a nice little short set of their current faves. (I even have my own ready in a Rhapsody folder, just in case he ever asks. A person can dream, right?)

From time to time, he invites music luminaries to speak on their current projects and career at large. While they speak, various tracks from their career play as well as songs that inspired them. He has had illuminating interviews with Jill Scott, Larry Mizell (1/2 of a MAJOR songwriting/ production duo in the 1970s) and Pharrell Williams. Here's some of his chat w/ the Roots' ubiquitous drummer/producer, Questlove.

Some weeks his selections aren't quite what I need to get through the day. Maybe his jazz cuts are a little too melancholy or I'm not in the mood for 14-minute house cuts. But overall, he has singlehandedly introduced an original, exciting new world of music to me in unoriginal, unexciting times. For that, I will always be grateful.


Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

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daniel castro
3.18.08 @ 11:43a

I'm also an addict. I'm always in search of great, (not necessarily) new music. Just recently I discovered this awesome band from the mid-90's that put out possibly the greatest alt record of the decade after Soundgarden. The singer went on to perform solo and his work is equally enjoyable.
It's been a good time now since I started expanding my musical taste with a lot of different stuff and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm still a metalhead at heart, but having once put out a column here saying how rap was shit to really appreciating some underground hip-hop artists, I'd say my taste in music is definitely better.

My library is a solid 3+ weeks of music, by the way.

jeffrey walker
3.18.08 @ 10:00p

I feel ya. Getting a fix on new bands is like its own addiction. If I'd kept physical CDs, I'd need another house by now.

BTW, I honestly thought Little Barrie was done with loops.

andrea augustine
3.18.08 @ 10:17p

"I am apparently some sort of music addict." There are so many addictions that trap, cloud, and destroy. Music will hold you when you're alone, love you when others don't or can't or won't, and most of all will set you free. Thank you for writing this... You've actually introduced me to some new artists!

tracey kelley
3.25.08 @ 9:04p

Ah, Jas, bless you and your pure love of all sound. I'll definitely have to check this guy out.

Indie911 is also a pretty good resource.

I still love the feel of albums and CDs, and like to support my favorite local shop, ZZZ Records. I like to ask Nate, the owner, for all sorts of weird stuff. He usually tries to sell me something from the best of list.

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