"As a definition, I don't really think that 'chillout' has a great deal of currency as a genre on its own now, but what it has done is to open up music even more so that many many different styles and eras of music can now be included under the 'chillout'
I've always enjoyed putting together ambient soundscapes as I believe they can serve as utilitarian, multi-purpose tools for a variety of occasions - to create a thinking space for meditation, intense listening on good speakers with the listener between the speakers or on noise-cancelling headphones, background music for work or play or even for shopping, for elevators, or (god forbid!) dinner parties.
Above all I believe they can change your heart.
The Big Chill was born on a new wave of ambient music coming through around 1993/1994, perhaps as a reaction to the uber-dominance of dance music in the few years preceding it. There was a definite sense of reaction, that people wanted something more contemplative, that there was more to life than bounding around the dancefloor like a coiled spring, as one protagonist put in succinctly (and controversially) at the time.
There's a sense that an ambient revival is needed right now in times of global chaos and previously-unimaginable political extremes, a realignment of energies, an environment suited to nuance, to silence, to thoughtfulness, to nurturing and to listening. Qualities that involve emotion and spirituality. And perhaps some of the qualities emerging from the female of the species - qualities likely to best lead us through the next phase.
Qualities that are very much at home on Campfire - a space where we can be sensitive to others, where we can be open and own our vulnerability. So much social media at the moment is filled with vitriol, with shaming, with sarcasm, with people attempting to out-cool one another. Campfire and ambient music share a purpose and function - to provide a space where we can celebrate the softcore and and be vulnerable and open, be ourselves.
This one was done post Big Chill, but continuing the vibe, in June 2009 for a website called ADream Music which doesn't seem to exist any more...
Here's the interview I did for ADream back in 2009 :
- How did you get involved in the World of Music? Which were your biggest influences?
My father was a musician - a drummer and bandleader, so there was always music around the house, so I was soaking up influences all the time from his music such as The Swingle Singers, Edmundo Ros, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman, who was the first lve act that I saw. From the age of 9 or 10 I was always interested in pop music, thanks to The Monkees, The Beatles, Manfred Mann and so on, but just after that also started checking out more 'prog' sounds from Zappa, Miles Davis, Soft Machine, and from blues to folk I guess. Immediately after university, I started working in a record shop which fuelled the flames more than a little, then joined a record distributor called Making Waves. All of this was a fantastic musical education and allowed me to explore many musical avenues that I might not otherwise. I founded the Cooking Vinyl label in 1986, with the agenda to concentrate on folk music, as I had become a big fan of English folk, from Richard Thompson and June Tabor through to The Oyster Band, Blowzabella and Martin Carthy, and had a mischievous desire to help make it cool again. At that time, there was a big resurgence of interest in all types of 'roots' music, and we were one of the labels that became included under the whole 'world music' umbrella too
- What do you think of today's Chillout Scene, not only in England, but Worldwide?
As a definition, I don't really think that 'chillout' has a great deal of currency as a genre on its own now, but what it has done is to open up music even more so that many many different styles and eras of music can now be included under the 'chillout' banner. Around the mid 90s and in the next few years, I think the 'Big Chill' effect had a degree of resonance and a soundtrack, as well as whole new range of really creative bands, from Zero 7 to Bent, Lemon Jelly to Higher Intelligence Agency, Global Communication to Another Fine Day, Spacetime Continuum to Air and there was definitely a Big Chill sound at this time, which I guess evolved into the wider 'chillout' sound. Most of the artists who most defined the era denied that they were chill out at the time, which sort of left a sense of mystique around what was definitely a scene which had an emerging global awareness. The best events were small, intimate and underground, and in many ways as well as The Big Chill being the catalyst for taking the music to a bigger audience, by doing pulling the scene together and defining it, it also enabled the mainstream album compilers to get a handle on it, and ultimately destroy it very quickly by jumping on the bandwagon and trying to make a fast buck by propelling it into the mainstream. Musically, pretty much all of these artists are not really doing much nowadays, and it has been left to the likes of Nitin Sawhney to fly that particular flag. Ironically, The Big Chill moved way beyond chill out music some time ago
- Please define the "Chillout Lifestyle". What does it mean to Pete Lawrence?:
If there isn't a chillout music scene, there's definitely a chillout lifestyle. It's all about personal definition really, what works for you. For me, that means elimination stressful situations as much as possible, being portable and self sustainable and seeking out beauty - in locations, in art, in people, in everyday situations. The chill out lifestyle for me is about questioning the mainstream, keeping it small and intimate and finding space for meditative thought processes, and reaching a calm, level state of mind that can carry you through more chaotic situations. Above all, listen to your heart, and go with your gut feeling.
- What were the initial goals when The Big Chill Festival was born? Where they met in the exact same way as you imagined them?
The initial goal was to bring our friends together in an outdoor setting, in the same way as we had been bringing them together in an indoor setting on Sundays for the previous year and a half. We wanted to create something really special, unique and original rather than following where others had already been. Having said that, there was very much an elemnt of "we do what we do and some will get it, others won't", not that we wanted to appear exclusive in any way, as The Big Chill was always open to all comers and it was important to not consciously alienate anyone from the main game. For me, there was an overriding sense of keeping things real and doing it for the right reasons, and that people would recognise an openness and honesty about what we were doing. It became all enveloping, and quite a few things were sacrificed on the way. This formula worked for me until 2002 when we made a silly mistake with projecting our ticket sales in a slightly too ambitious way, and we lost the company and had to bring in investors, who inevitably changed the whole feel of the very community based company that we'd run up that point. The Big Chill was unique in that it had such a sense of history attached to it, and so many iconic events and unusual situations, and this was what made people feel they were on a journey with and very much a part of it. Now it appears to be just a well oiled machine, but I wouldn't have missed the early years of rollercoaster ride for anything. Looking back on it, it was a considerable achievement for me and Katrina to have done what we did, to create our own utopian community around an event, a group of friends, and their friends and a lifestyle - much of it against the odds.
- 15 years later, from its beginnings to this day, the road was long. What have you learnt after so many years? What would you do differently?
I have learnt that some people are naturally suspicious or closed when confronted with something new that they don't understand.I have affirmed that you should trust your instincts when it comes to working with people, and that if it doesn't come from the heart, it doesn't ultimately count for much. And I've learned that there are many, many fantastic creative people out there who want to be a positive, active part of a community. I have learnt how easy it is to create something that changes people's lives.
- What comes next? after such success, is it a challenge to come up with bigger and better projects? How do you define success?
Success for me is something that gives you a feeling of fulfilling a goal, or knowing that you have empowered someone else to help enable them to achieve something they otherwise may not have done, so what I do next must have achieve that at very least. I have always wanted to connect people and bring out the positives and provide something that gives people a focus and optimism. I am working on an idea, which will hopefully continue this ethos, but take it in a new direction. There is definitely a return to more local, more organic, more natural, perhaps more rural values, but maybe I'm seeing it that way because I've moved out of the city! I do think that we can all learn a lot from the idea of 'the village'.
- Which artists would you love or have loved to see playing at the Big Chill, that have not already done so?
I always wanted to bring The Kings Singers to The Big Chill. And Ry Cooder would be good too.
- You have undoubtly been one of the most influential personalities to have a Show air on the BBC Radio. What do you think was the key to its success?
I had a lot of feedback from people about the radio shows, and I think they enjoyed the fact that I was trying to get away from the inane chatter that you get on a lot of radio these days. For me it was about creating a little bubble of relaxed mood radio, where people felt warm and cosy and didn't get hit with a constant barrage of meh, meh, meh from the presenter
- How do you feel about the "digital era"? When it comes to mass music consumption. Is the mp3 a friend or foe?
I like the convenience of the mp3 and the m4v. Now I generally DJ using just my laptop, which is light to carry and gives me instant access to 14, 000 tunes, as well as enabling me to integrate movies and photo slides into a set. When new technology works, it opens up many new possibilities and is the greatest agent of change that we have.
- As with many crative minds, you are a man of many talents. DJ, producer, photographer, writer... even world traveler.
What is for you the connection or common ground between all of these?
I guess it's a love of the beauty in this world and sharing what I discover with others. It has always been about that and always will be. I'm very grateful that I have been given such opportunity to do that.
- Define yourself in three words
Spontaneous, original, passionate
- This next question is a must in our Show: Name 5 of the Best [or your favorite] Chill, Ambient or Downtempo songs or albums in history:
Global Communication - 12:18
Another Fine Day - Lazy Daisy
Solar Quest - Singtree
Ackers and G - Pling
John Martyn - May You Never
- So many people today, sadly think that a song that was released 3 months ago is old, and discard it. In Adream we believe that good music never dies, no matter the time or genre, and therefore respect and try to keep it alive. What are your thoughts or personal opinions in regards to that?:
I struggle to understand that a piece of music can only be relevant for 3 months. Certainly there are compositions that capture a moment, a feeling, an era, but for me, they are equally important as works of art and not fashion accessories. Interestingly, I have recently attributed new meaning to a lot of music made years ago, not least my 'Fab Gear' project which is a collection of music from the late 60s but had a strong resonance when it was released 40 years after the summer of love. The greatest music is timeless, whether it be Bach, The Beatles or Battles.
- To create a track is like "painting" with sounds… when do you decide that your work is finished? when do you reach that moment when you know that each beat is in its right place, the tempo is perfect, the mix impeccable? Do you go over things time and time again, or it depends on the track?:
To continue the painting analogy, I have always been a broad brushstrokes person and believe that music can lose its magic if it becomes too clinic with too much obsessional attention to detail. A lot depends on the track but it is often the mistakes that become happy accidents and create the essential character of a track. I like a few ragged edges sometimes too. The Chilled By Nature album took me ten years from start to finish but that wasn't because of an obsession with detail and getting it perfect, more that I was busy with something called The Big Chill and you need to be in a very different headspace to create music, or art of a different kind.
- Please tell us briefly about the software and hardware used in your Recording Studio
It was simply a Kurtsweil and an Apple Mac, running Cubase, and then I invited some live musicians in to do specific parts.
- What would you like to say to our listeners, many of who have followed and still follow you to this day?
Hi! Have faith and drop me a line if there's anything in this interview that you want to comment on.
The Wider Sun : Jon Hopkins
Kristiansand : Leo Abrahams
Five Guitar Dub : Tom Greenwood
Copper, Beech : John Metcalf
Otherness (Windsurf's Golden Bear Dub) : Chilled By Nature
Musical Box intro : Chilled By Nature
Andante (For Frederik) : Flipside
Fifteen Below : Alucidnation
Horizon Variations : Max Richter
Gentle Threat : Gonzales
Time : Al-pha-X
Forever : Ishq and Pan Electric
Farmer's Trust : Pat Metheny Group
Hearts Apart : George Chatzis
Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime : The Cantamus Girls Choir
Things Are Gonna Get Easier : Low Motion Disco
Epiphany : Amba
Weather To Fly : Elbow
The Plantagenet W***e : Phelan Sheppard
Pavane : Anne Dudley with The BBC Concert Orchestra
The Sea And The Sky : Future Loop Foundation
Funky Pie (Reheat) : Chilled By Nature
Pling : Ackers & G
Surface Tension (where the trees meet the sky) : Penguin Cafe Orchestra
The Fire On The Mountain : Chilled By Nature
Light Through the Veins : Jon Hopkins
Pastoral : Moondog
L'apéritif Dansant : Chris Gonzales / Musique pour la course Camargaise