Book Excerpt: Gilles Peterson’s Lockdown FM: Broadcasting in a Pandemic

A look inside the British broadcaster's new book, featuring contributions from Kieran Hebden (Four Tet), Louie Vega, and more.

In January 2020, I was in the basement at (Le) Poisson Rouge for Winter Jazzfest. Gilles Peterson was on stage hosting the UK jazz showcase presented by BBC Music Introducing and the PRS Foundation. Little did we know that over the next three months, our world would come to a standstill. The Brownswood basement where Peterson broadcasts his Worldwide FM show, however, would not stay quiet. Lockdown FM became a diary of sorts of 2020, from the few live shows to kick off the year, to a nearly abandoned BBC building, and all the scenes in-between. Is there a better metaphor for 2020 than a DJ behind the glass of a far-away broadcast booth?
—Keenan Kush, Talkhouse Director of Operations

Lockdown FM documents a window of time when our world closed down. The impact of the pandemic touched each and every one of us. For Gilles Peterson, DJ, broadcaster and restless soul, it led him to retreat to his “basement” bubble and his archive of vinyl. From the end of March to the end of June, he delivered 80 shows, working six days a week, spontaneously responding to the news of those we had lost and celebrating the lives and resilience of others within our global community. The wave of BLM protests following the murder of George Floyd heralded the demise of that first lockdown, and in the shadow of those protests we hatched a scheme to produce a book. While I brought to the table my editing and production skills from Straight No Chaser magazine, our D&AD award winning art director Hugh Miller consistently revealed himself to be a master of visual strategies and typography. GP, of course, was there to hone the vision… the concept, add shape and context to what started out as a stack of playlists and a timeline of instagram posts. Together we crafted a diary, a timeline and an enticing narrative — verbal and visual — that reflected the gravity of the time. We enlisted other DJs, musicians, and broadcasters to contribute their stories and embraced the photography of Dobie, who lifted us out of the basement and onto the deserted streets of the city.

What began as a relatively modest venture expanded like one of those late Coltrane saxophone solos, peaking as BLM clashed with the height of summer. Deadlines came and deadlines went. 2020 drew to a close. What we had on the iMac screen in front of us was unique: a 600 page hardback book. No publisher would have given us license to do what we’d done. The spirit of improvisation combined with a huge respect for the diverse combination of elements on the page meant only one thing — we had to get it right! As it goes, we had enlisted quite a team to pull it off and when that first book arrived, fresh from the printers, we had to laugh. We’d manifested a small miracle and — give thanks and praises — it felt like we’d gotten it right!

— Paul Bradshaw, Editor, Lockdown FM

lockdown page one lockdown page two lockdown page three lockdown page four

Excerpted from Lockdown FM: Broadcasting in a Pandemic by Gilles Peterson. Copyright © 2021 by Mistral Productions Ltd. Published by Worldwide FM. Used with permission.

(Photo Credit: Taped Lockdown bench, by Dobie)

Gilles Peterson launched his own pirate radio station and played his first DJ set aged 15. He’s been DJ’ing and broadcasting ever since.

Journalist/publisher Paul Bradshaw began writing about music in the mid ’70s. In the summer of 1988 he, Neil Spencer and Kathryn Willgress launched “designer fanzine” Straight No Chaser. Rooted in the jazz-dance club scene the magazine traveled worldwide uniting a community of like minded souls. Under the art direction of Swifty the zine continued to evolve visually while the growing roster of young writers, photographers and illustrators negotiated the rapid evolution of club culture. After two decades of independent publishing, illuminating the music of the African diaspora, the magazine of ‘Interplanetary Sounds: Ancient To Future’ had to call it a day – an early victim of the internet. Over the next decade Bradshaw continued to write while curating exhibitions and live performances. In 2018, he picked up where they had left off with #SNC98 and re-launched Straight No Chaser. In 2019, he published #SNC100 Vol.1 feat. interviews with nu-skool artists alongside classics from the Chaser archive. As the pandemic kicked in #SNC100 Vol.2 was put on hold. During Lockdown Bradshaw retreated into the Daoist practices of the Ba Men Da Xuan school.

(Photo of Gilles Peterson by Rob Jones.)