Friends We Love: 120 Seconds with Gilles Peterson

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London, UK
Music pioneer Gilles Peterson of Brownswood Recordings & BBC Radio 1 shares the extent of his obsession with Arsenal Football Club and some insight into why he’s taking a break.

Check out Gilles Peterson at: myspace.com/gillespeterson
Worldwide streams exclusively in the US from the Giant Step Jukebox

Giant Step’s Resident 27: Gilles Peterson, Hercules and Love Affair, Bobbito

Photo © Erik Schneider

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Recently, I experienced one of the truly crappy things about living in New York: getting your bike stolen. My Schwinn still had that new bike smell when it was jacked on Bedford Ave. What’s different for me is that it was my first bike since I was 11 (why I never learned to ride is a long, stupid story). Most of you already know the sting of losing your first set of wheels and the accompanying playground anguish and can handle it with aplomb. Not me, however. For the first few days, I would narrow my eyes at anyone on a blue cruiser. I imagined myself pummeling the thieving hoodlum and riding off into the sunset as a row of toothy schoolkids cheered me on. But really, was I going to bound into traffic, outrun a thief with robust pedal-pumping thigh muscles and reclaim my bike without further incident? Hell and no. But after trawling Craigslist and following dead leads on free bikes, I thought, this is America; why not just steal me another bike? Now I narrowed my eyes at poorly secured racers and suitably daffy owners who have wondered off for a latte. But again, how conspicuously nutty would I look yanking on locks while the owner fetches an espresso? And if I was successful, what happens when the owner sees me pedaling off and chucks the scalding coffee square at my back and I fall off writhing in the street. Then I’m not just a failed criminal, I’m a stupid, failed criminal. And really, I can’t be a thief – I don’t even have a mask!

But on a more growned-up note, Giant Step brought Gilles Peterson to Cielo which was wicked awesome. I never realized how amazing the sound at Cielo is! Gilles warmed up with some punchy Afrobeat and sped up the BPMs with some chunky deep house – including a sassy cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain Of Fools.” But when Gilles launched into his Latin Jazz set, it really sounded like a 12-piece band was crouched beneath the turntables. It was like if you just conquered an empire and trumpeters trailed you constantly with your own saucy theme music. Plus, the man must eat music encyclopedias because in an hour he hops between Afrobeat, disco and Latin jazz, easy as pie. And Gilles Peterson sets are also awesome because he’s got some loyal diehards. I spent a couple songs chatting with a fellow who would pause the conversation to shriek at the DJ booth “Whoo!! This is what we paid our money for! DAMN!” Indeed.

I also caught Hercules and Love Affair at Irving Plaza and ain’t they the bees knees! The rainbow-friendly NY collective released their self-titled debut this year which makes my heart flutter. It’s unapologetically new wave, nu-disco, New York nightlife fun combined with the theater of ancient Greece. So, of course the show was one big ol’ shameless dance par-tay! Doors opened at 9 and they didn’t hit the stage until midnight but the voguers and 7-piece band turned it out. They played the late-night torch song, “You Belong” and “Athena” with come-hither coos. It’s like if you took the words “hot damn!” and made them into a recording group.

And in other hot damn news, the kids were hotfooting it at Bobbito’s turn at Giant Step’s Hudson Hotel DJ series last week. Bobbito dropped a range of hits from Chrisette Michele to Paul Simon to Parliament. Dancers of the Week, Brian Polite, DanSir and Dashuan got all Saturday Night Fever with it, wiping the floor clean with their synchronized moves and b-boy swagger. When you’ve soaked your starchy button-up so much that everyone can see your chest hairs through your pocket, you don’t need to mention how crazy the party was.

Giant Step’s Resident 26: Giant Step’s SummerStage and Rock The Bells

Photo of Jamie Lidell © Phillip Angert
View photos here. Archive link here.

By Mawuse Ziegbe

When you miss things, your good friends will fill you in on the highlights and assure you that no matter the pyrotechnics, special guests or bales of free money thrown in the air, you didn’t miss much. Well. If you missed Giant Step’s 2008 Summerstage show, your friends probably fed you a barrel full of fibs. The vibe was laid-back with adorable chubby-cheeked kids and their still-hip parents splayed on blankets. In between sets, Gilles Peterson spun everything from “Creator” to “California Soul.” José James was all midsummery goodness, showing off both his bold, round vocals and his brain-liquefying scatting skills. Little Jackie pumped the crowd with “The Stoop,” “LOL,” “The World Should Revolve Around Me” and probably scared the chubby-cheeked kids with rebellious directives like “put your middle fingers in the air!” But throwing up the potty-finger wasn’t the most jaw-dropping antic by far.

Jamie Lidell turned out an epic performance looking like a crazy person in a dark shirtless blazer and darker tapered pants. He began his hour-long set with syrupy soul jams like “Green Light” and “Figured Me Out,” and soon switched into talkbox scatting. Most of the band was dressed in snappy man-onesies and the sax man even blew two horns at once. After the solos, Jamie was left to his own devices and sampled his own vocals to make a beat onstage. I mean, can humans do that? Even still both Jamie and Little Jackie began their sets with, “whoa! Did you guys see Janelle Monae??”

Monae took to the stage after her android-inspired introduction and unleashed her frenzied footwork and fiery energy that perked up the crowd. She rocked “Happy Hunting/Violent Stars!” “Smile” and “Sincerely Jane” where she kicked over the mic stand (much to the chagrin of the Summerstage audio guy) and crowd surfed. She rode the crest of concertgoers with enviable abandon, as husky security guards lumbered after her and weary label people in the photo pit began punching away on Blackberrys. In a moment of cartoony chaos, a pair of shoes flew through the air. She ended with “Lettin’ Go,” a track that’s good a ratio of The Neptunes’ spacey clinks to Miami Sound Machine’s calypso funk. Just before running off and leaving a park full of slack-jawed, sweaty, newly-converted fans in her wake, she crashed the mic stand against the stage more violently than before.

After the Summerstage show I ran off to Long Island to check out the Rock The Bells tour. 7 PM I leave Central Park. 10:30 PM I arrive at Jones Beach Theater. It took subway, rail, foot and gypsy cab to finally arrive in the amphitheatre in the middle of Nas’ set. I’ve never seen him live and he was…simple. A white T-shirt and a rope of bling completed his ensemble and only a spare N-A-S lit up the screen in the background. He played a ton of songs including, “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” “One Love,” “Hate Me Now,” “Nastradamus,” and his current single “Hero.” The hip hop heads nearly exploded when he brought Jay-Z out for their two duets, “Success” and “Black Republicans.” But I personally believe that bringing out your erstwhile rival on wax to perform your mediocre collabos is not so crescent fresh. Overall, it was very…whatever.

The show closed with the legendary A Tribe Called Quest reunion I’ve been waiting on for, oh, ten years. At first Q-Tip came out alone performing “Higher,” “Let’s Ride” and other selections from his painfully jiggy solo debut that no real ATCQ fan gives a hoot about. Tip is out there shakin’ his tailfeather and I’m truly getting angry. Where is the group, the collective, the Queens trio that has never been the same since they disbanded? Making the show all about him was appalling. He didn’t come off like the Wyclef or the Lauryn – he was the Pras. Delusional, self-important and wasting the audience’s time. The show really started when finally, about 20 minutes in, Ali Shaheed descends upon the wheels of steel and Phife Dawg gallops out. And then they bring it. “Award Tour,” “Electric Relaxation,” “Find A Way,” “Bonita Applebum.” A fiery Busta Rhymes rumbles out for the posse cut of the ages, “Scenario.” Then we all, about 10,000 of us, put one finger in the air for hip hop – and for the 3-hour sojourn back to NYC.