Pete Herbert

The ultimate facilitator: Q&A with Pete Herbert

Pete Herbert has been a dedicated statesman for all things electronic music since the 1990’s. He came to the fore during the heyday of House and Acid in the UK, starting out as a pusher and consumer of the music. Working in record stores like Daddy Kool from a young age, music and Djing was an early pursuit. 

Eventually he established his own record store in the form of Atlas records, along with some friends on London’s infamous vinyl alley, where people like Andrew Weatherall would frequent and haunt the record store’s well-stocked shelves. Pete and the crew would curate an esoteric assemblage of electronic music treasures informed by the sounds of the underground at the time.

Moonlighting as a DJ, Pete Herbert cut his teeth in some of the world’s most legendary booths at the same time. Fabric, Ministry Of Sound, 333, The Blue Note and Sancho Panza at Notting Hill Carnival, were some of the legendary spots he called home. It was a time when the DJ was still a facilitator and you were only ever as good as your record collection. He eventually moved on from the record store  to a full-time career from the DJ booth by the beginning of the new millennium.

He’s a well-traveled patron of the artform, with residencies in some of the farthest flung corners of the world. For a little over a decade Pete has spent the winter months based in Bali as the music director for Potato Head Beach Club. From Bali as his base, he’s played all over south-east Asia, expanding on the exotic sounds of his early balearic pursuits both as a DJ and an artist. 

As an artist, Pete Herbert’s discography is formidable, well into three digits with original material and remixes for some esteemed colleagues, like Optimo and Röyksopp dotting his extensive efforts. When he’s not making music, he’s proliferating it; from his early days, working record stores in London, to establishing record labels. From Maxi Discs to his latest, Music for Swimming Pools – a sunset mix series turned label – these labels build and perpetuate the sound he’s cultivated as a DJ and artist with those initial balearic sounds remaining a key influence in his interpretations of House music. 

He’s enjoyed an extensive and prominent career, and with a visit to Jaeger looming, we shot him a few questions over email, to learn more about those early years in London’s vinyl alley, his music, origins and his work as a true facilitator.  

Pete Herbert lands at Jaeger this Friday

Hello Pete and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. I imagine you had quite a varied musical experience growing up, having lived in Trinidad as a kid and experiencing the London music scene in the eighties. How do you think it affected your tastes as a DJ early on?

Hello Jaeger and firstly thanks for inviting me to your fine establishment, I can’t wait!

Yes I would say my older sisters musical taste and growing up in Trinidad then Eighties London suburbs very much shaped my early years of music. That would have been essentially new wave and pop primarily with some Soul thrown in as I remember, then towards the mid eighties discovering pirate radio and inner London record shops got me into much wider sounds that shaped my London teens such as rare groove/ funk and hip hop and then electronic music.

Where did you eventually find your place within that larger scene?

I began working in records shops from my late teens, and would carry on doing that until into my mid thirties pretty much full time all the way, so that became my home from home. Most days were.. work in the record shop, then go to a gig or club, then another club etc, home, up then repeat.

How did you go from being a fan, to DJing yourself?

It was often the natural  progression back then when you immersed yourself in buying and selling records to that degree. Starting with warm up slots anywhere you could get them, and practicing like hell.

I would imagine that Atlas would have been a pivotal point in your life. Were you a collector/consumer before you set up shop and what was the catalyst for you wanting to open a record shop?

A collector/consumer of course first but after working in a few shops, especially the reggae shop Daddy Kool, and being exposed to the workings of it and how not to run one, the urge to do it myself was eventually too great. Plus there was a lack of a specialist shop that sold all the stuff I was into, so I saw a gap in the market shall we say.

What kind of records were you stocking and how did they inform your tastes as a DJ and eventually the music you created?

We stocked an independant cross section of leftfield house, dub, disco, electronica, jazz, techno, collections/2nd hand, and whatever else we were into that we could get hold of. We avoided any commercial releases and mainstream stuff.

There was an interesting crowd there, I believe with people like Andrew Weatherall frequenting the place. But do you think there was anything like a sound or a scene around Atlas that perhaps stood out amongst the other record shops in the street?

We never ‘pushed’ music on our customers, we offered the selection and would recommend stuff .. but otherwise we shunned the record shop ego nonsense that was rife back then.

Leaving the record stores behind, did you find that getting away from that world had any effect on your experience as a DJ and music enthusiast?

By the time I closed the shop and then worked in a few others, the way you got music and played it had already started to change. CDJS were starting to appear in venues and WAVS and AIFFS were taking over from DATs. You could get emailed promos, burn cds etc, so If you were open to embracing new technology you could benefit from it. But what that meant was a real vacuum left by the demise of the record shops as a focal point/community for many record buyers that was never replaced in the same way. I think it affected a lot of djs and buyers at the time.

Besides residencies at places like Fabric and Ministry of Sound, you have  also been a booker for Bali’s Potato Head. How do you see the role of the club in relation to this music, and how has it changed in your opinion?

Music and its delivery are still the pivotal point to the club for me, whether the club has changed and is now an event or happening. Getting the right balance isn’t always easy though. Potato Head in Bali was an amazing venue, so the music had to live up to that.

It seems that new scenes are less-likely to be built around a club today and more likely to be built around the internet. As a DJ, a producer, record label owner, and previous record store owner what effect do you believe this has had on the music?

I think a club can offer a place for people to feel inclusion and a sense of belonging. So that you might feel you could go there regardless of knowing who’s playing/what night it is. That for me is the sign of a good club. I know if I go there I will feel welcome, the music programming is thought through and the sound is spot on, nice staff etc. That is a scene right there for me..

For some time now, you’ve been doing Music for Swimming Pools. It’s an intriguing project, can you tell us a bit more about it?

MFSP started as a radio show maybe 14 or so years ago on Ibiza radio station Sonica. I was out there a fair bit djing and guesting on it regularly and it progressed from there. It was an outlet for me to play non dancefloor sets of an emotive/electronic/balearic nature and a few years later became its own free 24/7 streaming platform.  With no jingles or chat, It plays a continual mix of that sound that can be accessed anytime and place. It’s quite low key without any advertising or fanfare and I’ve recently relaunched the label side of it, with a new EP from me due out the night I play in Jaeger. You can check the site here:

Besides being a facilitator, you’ve released something like 400 records and counting. What keeps you motivated in the studio, and how do you believe your music has changed since those first records in the mid nineties?

I guess I’m just still as obsessed with music as I was as a collector, then as a seller, then playing it and making it. I would hope my production skills have come on a bit in the last decade or so, though I’ve never had any formal training. Maybe that has been the key to being so prolific. I’m not quite the perfectionist many studio trained producers are, I’m more of a pragmatist shall we say.

Balearic is something that often gets associated with your music, based perhaps on the downtempo and eclectic nature of your music. Is there perhaps a singular objective when you create original music and what if anything continues to inform your approach?

I find inspiration for production in the music I collect and go digging for every week.  Be it an old 70’s obscure album or a brand new producer’s first release. The approach for me is usually the aim of an end product I would play out or happily listen to lying on a beach.

You have a lot of experience playing in different venues across different parts of the world. How does a place or location affect what you pack in your bag for the night and how do you think that will go when you come to Jaeger?

Luckily I have been in Jaeger before as a punter, and actually quite recently too, so I know a little bit what Jaeger is all about, and that counts for a lot. I know I will be made to feel very welcome, that the music programming is thought through and the sound is spot on, and they have nice staff. For me that’s the perfect kind of environment to play music in. See you there.