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Worldwide FM There’s a strong element of heritage, making history relevant to the now

Our Now Playing series features some of the most interesting online radio stations in the world. We interviewed the founders of each, and asked them to select a handful of shows that really represent what they stand for. See the whole series here.  

In a quiet east London side street, a new kind of online radio station is stirring. Launched last year, Worldwide FM is “a global music radio platform” founded and curated by Gilles Peterson.

The man himself bounces into the Worldwide HQ, a former doctor’s surgery and later the base of online design magazine Dezeen. Gilles tends to bounce everywhere – if he’s not travelling the globe as one of the most in-demand DJs around, he’s preparing and producing his BBC 6 Music show, working on one of his two annual festivals, organising a yearly awards shindig and working as our creative director at WeTransfer. Or he’s here, thinking about what Worldwide FM is, and what it should be.

“It’s a work in progress, as to what its aim is,” he explains. “I thought that after six months I would have a definite idea, and we are certainly a long way down the line in terms of developing and realising what our strengths and weaknesses are.”

What he is wrestling with is the constantly competing pressures of quality and quantity.

“Do I do separate programs and put it out whenever I feel works, or do I do 12 or 18 hours a day of non-stop radio programming in an old-fashioned way, where you expect people to listen to it and be loyal to it?

“People’s listening habits aren’t really like that anymore. But if you don’t have a sense of community around a platform, it becomes a bit too much like Spotify. It’s about finding the balance between developing your community and your sound – of having some sort of personality around the music and curation and presentation – and not becoming something which feels very old-school, with a DJ asking his mate what he did last night.”

Currently the schedule is mainly run from London, with a few hours a day broadcast from Los Angeles. And while the practicalities of programming the station might be giving him some pause for thought, the philosophy which underpins Worldwide FM is very clear.

“There’s a strong element of heritage, and making history relevant to the now, musically speaking, which I don’t think many people can do. So you can make that connection between Alice Coltrane and Flying Lotus, or between Sampha and Smokey Robinson.

“The other part of it is the international element – that we can really champion the networks around the world which are all celebrating the backroom culture of music, which is where everything generally breaks out of.

“So it’s looking at all these different places around the world, in Tokyo or LA or New York or Brussels. We were in South Africa last week and that was what Worldwide is all about. We were able to go and do a gig, and then the next day we took six hours to provide a platform for all the exciting elements of the South African scene, both new and old.

“That works on two levels. On one level, people at home are getting a unique moment and getting to learn about South African music, and on the other hand it acts as a great way of buzzing that scene in that particular territory. That’s the perfect combination.”

Gilles has always been renowned for his eclectic music tastes, and his willingness and ability to make connections between different genres. On his weekly three-hour show on BBC 6 Music, one of the most downloaded music programmes across the entire BBC network, he enjoys “total freedom.”

“It confuses people who like to put things in boxes, where a hip hop show is a hip hop show, and a punk show is a punk show. They have always thought that’s how it works, but we play Sa-Ra and Sun Ra,” he laughs.

“No computer can work out the formula for that. The show is a reaction to the kind of programing which works for the majority, but is not what the loud minority want to listen to. I like to reach out to that loud minority in all that I do. Worldwide is like the director’s cut of the 6 Music show.”

That’s because with the benefits of more time and space on his new platform, Gilles can go even deeper into interviews, profiles, tributes or explorations of certain music scenes. It’s aimed at serious music lovers, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The day we interview him, he is planning a tribute show to the American composer David Axelrod.

“On 6 Music, I could maybe devote 20 or 30 minutes to David Axelrod. But on Worldwide, I am going to do four or six hours tonight with James Lavelle, who put out his last record, and then we have B+ as a special guest in our LA studio. He’s a guy who David Axelrod wrote a song about! So it’s about getting the key people to be able to really expand, rather than give it a couple of quick one-liners.”

The expansive nature of Gilles’ vision for Worldwide extends to space as well as time. Although he has a voracious appetite for uncovering what is musically interesting in countless cities around the world, the station’s home city of London still shapes what he does.

“I am always aware of not being too biased towards London because that’s easy to do,” he says. “But by travelling all over the world and seeing its influence and reach, it still has this electricity and constant reinvention that I don’t think any city can compete with.

“Its youth culture makes it a very hard city to work in if you are at the cutting edge of music or fashion, because you have always got to watch your back. I think that’s a really good thing – you can’t sleep in London. And from a radio point of view, I want that energy to come out of whatever you are listening to.

I don’t think I could do this from Paris or Berlin. Berlin is amazing for certain things, but it doesn’t have the spread we have here in London.

Gilles personifies that creative restlessness he describes in London. He’s clearly proud of Worldwide FM, but equally he’s ready to rethink and review it in the interests of going even bigger, getting even better. The key for him, comes down to trust.

“I don’t want us to be shouting about what everyone else is shouting about, desperately trying to get people who are doing PR for their latest album. I want artists to come in when they want to do something different. I want us to be a leader and I want people to trust us.”

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