Gilles Peterson: the best underground music in the South of France

The DJ hosts a music festival each July in Sète, in the South of France, and wishes he’d bought a place there when he first discovered it

The half-French BBC Radio 6 Music DJ, producer and label head has been involved with the UK’s underground club scene since the mid-1980s. Having begun his career at a UK pirate radio station, Peterson pioneered the acid jazz movement in London – a synthesis of soul music, funk and disco – launching the record label that named the genre. 

Boats on the royal canal in Sete

We met him at Milan Fashion Week, where he was DJing in a garden at the presentation of Corneliani’s spring/summer 2024 collection. We chatted about Sète, a fishing town nestled on the French Mediterranean coast. Known as “the Little Venice of Languedoc”, with its canal and bridges, Sète is where Peterson’s Worldwide Festival takes place every year in the first week of July in the spectacular Théâtre de la Mer, which is at the top of the 17th-century Fort Saint-Pierre.

I was in Montpellier DJing, and I was surprised there was a great music scene and youth culture – it’s a college town. It was just very hectic, especially around the start of drum and bass. Being half French myself, and being a curator of concerts and festivals, I was looking for little places that had a sparkle where I could fuse the local crowd with my people from the UK.

My promoter suggested Sète, a fishing town on a peninsula just 20km from Montpellier. I went there 18 years ago and fell in love with it. I saw all these amazing places – such as the Théâtre de la Mer, an open-air amphitheatre overlooking the Mediterranean, and the lighthouse – where we could put the venues, do the gigs and the parties. 

It feels like being on a little island; it’s as close as you can get on the mainland to Corsica. The town is famous for its thriving fishing industry, with most tuna in Europe coming through there. Before setting up the festival, I spent a lot of time around the port hanging out with the local fishermen (and the mayor!) to get closer to the community.

The culinary scene is outstanding. It has the most amazing market where you can get your sea urchin in October off the spoon and have a little glass of white wine. And there are great little gem restaurants; one of my favourites is called Paris Méditerranée. Tucked away from the crowded canal, it’s a quiet little spot in the Quartier Arabe serving the freshest catch of the day.

I really do wish that I’d bought a little place in Sète when I first found it. These days it’s been discovered by the Parisians, so I expect it is a bit pricey.

Worldwide Festival Sète, 4-9 July 2023; worldwidefestival.com. Paris Méditerranée, 47 Rue Pierre Semard, 34200 Sète, France

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