Find Us

'An Omakase festival' - How Gilles Peterson perfectly curates Worldwide Festival in Sète

Gilles Peterson performs at Worldwide
Gilles Peterson performs at Worldwide Copyright Pierre Noca
Copyright Pierre Noca
By Jonny Walfisz
Published on
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

This year's Worldwide Festival took place on a backdrop of the UK and French elections. In such a divided time, organiser Gilles Peterson talks to Euronews Culture about music's unifying qualities.


As the sun sets over the Mediterranean, the seaside amphitheatre stage at Worldwide Festival in Sète, France is drenched in pastel pinks during virtuoso saxophonist Isaiah Collier’s performance of his album ‘Parallel Universe’.

You can’t curate the sky but it’s the perfect visual accompaniment to one of the best curated line-ups around, and that’s all thanks to festival organiser, the renowned DJ and label owner Gilles Peterson.

For many Brits, Peterson is best known for his BBC radio show where he introduces regular listeners to an astonishingly diverse catalogue of musicians from around the world and across almost every genre. Since his early days as a pirate radio DJ in the 90s, Peterson has championed new artists and entire genres, from soul legend Amy Winehouse to drum&bass act Roni Size & Reprazent to acid jazz.

Over a week in July, music lovers flock to southern France to witness Peterson’s eclectic taste in the flesh. Euronews Culture was on the scene, getting to the picturesque seaside commune from Montpellier easily thanks to a 30-minute train, booked via Omio.

It’s not the only festival he runs, there’s also the popular We Out Here in Dorset, on England's southwest coast for example. But where We Out Here is a more typical festival with multiple stages allowing punters to curate their own experience, Worldwide’s singular programme makes it feel more like a week of music Peterson has curated personally for himself.

“Worldwide is very much an omakase festival,” Peterson tells me, referring to the Japanese phrase for “I’ll leave it to you” used in tasting menus. “You take what’s given to you,” he jokes. In this year’s omakase menu, Peterson serves up an incredible variety of nights.

The amphitheatre at Worldwide
The amphitheatre at WorldwidePierre Noca

Wednesday night’s fare is a Latin-inspired selection with a mind-blowing set by London-based afrobeat group Kokoroko. On Thursday, Collier performs for a jazzier night alongside Jimetta Rose & the Voices of Creation’s soulful set before DJs Suncut and Peterson himself keep everyone dancing into the early hours. Friday then takes another swerve with three sets dedicated to the astonishing percussionist Valentina Magaletti, who performs with V/Z, Moins, and Holy Tongue before interpretive dancers take over the stage for a set from Lefto’s new album.

“The dream is when you’ve got young DJs like IZCO playing alongside elders like Jimetta. Where they’re able to share the same space,” Peterson says.

If any of those names mean nothing to you, it’s worth keeping note. Peterson has a knack for programming the next big stars. Little Simz played there 12 years ago. He’s had Michael Kiwanuka play in his early years as well as artists like Anderson .Paak, Kamasi Washington, James Blake, Thundercat, and Khruangbin.

The year Khruangbin were scheduled, they got a last minute call from Glastonbury to play a televised slot at the festival’s huge West Holts stage. It was a massive opportunity but it clashed with Worldwide. They turned Glastonbury down. That’s the draw of Peterson’s passionate brand.

“I’m really grateful for that,” he says. It worked out for everyone as Khruangbin got invited back to Glastonbury the next year and have since gone from strength to strength on the international stage.

Gilles Peterson doing what he does best
Gilles Peterson doing what he does bestBenjamin Teo

For Peterson, it’s important to get in on an act in their early days. In part due to his fanatical obsession with learning about music – he speaks to me having just left a record store looking for albums by artists like Gong and Françoise Hardy – but it’s also because he’s fighting against an increasingly commercialised festival industry that has big names snapped up in exclusive contracts. “I’ve always been in the backroom of the mainstream, always a sort of fighter against the takeover of music by the commercial sector,” he says. Although he does admit he’d love to get Thom Yorke to perform at next year’s event with his band The Smile.

This is the 18th edition of the festival, and while it has grown from a two-day event to a weeklong one, the scale of the festival has stuck to the capacity of its fantastic amphitheatre setting. You can see why, it’s one of the more unique spots to soak up the festival’s wide array of artists. After the bands finish their sets, a DJ stall takes over in the stands and everyone rushes to the stage to dance through the night.

When Worldwide first came to Sète, the small fishing city was hardly a music Mecca. Two decades on, it now has a club, an audiobar, record shops and local DJs. It’s in no small part due to the festival’s work to keep the city included. While the festival sells out quickly to an international crowd, day events with DJ sets at the beach are free for anyone to attend.

“I really appreciate that over the years, I’ve been able to build a crowd that gets it, but also build the respect within the town,” Peterson says. “You have to have a relationship with the fishermen, the local businesses, the town hall.”

Jimetta Rose & the Voices of Creation
Jimetta Rose & the Voices of CreationJonny Walfisz

It’s a passion project for Peterson at the end of the day. He explains that while it usually breaks even – this year might be harder as one evening was cancelled due to rain – Worldwide isn’t driven by profit margins. “It's really the love and the response I get from the people who go and the artists that make me want to keep doing it every year.”

The community that Peterson has built is remarkable. His diverse taste attracts a delightfully charming diverse crowd – the one unifying factor often being a religious fervour for the DJ’s taste. It’s especially notable in a week defined by two decisive elections in divided political landscapes. During Peterson’s set on Thursday, he heralds in the new centre-left Labour government to the UK, and as the festival closes on Sunday, news of the National Rally’s defeat in the second round of the French elections creates a joyous buzz in the air.

“There was this amazing extra layer of excitement and vibe and energy because of that,” the French-Swiss DJ who calls the UK his home, says. He’s careful in our chat not to get too political owing to his connection with the BBC – the British broadcaster requires its staff to stay somewhat politically neutral – but he does explain how his approach to music has always favoured plurality and openness.

Gilles Peterson
Gilles PetersonBenjamin Teo

Peterson’s musical journey began with organisations like the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) which ran music events with bands like The Clash, and he has seen how music has influenced political matters like South African Apartheid. Music has always been political to Peterson. “If it wasn’t in the narrative, I think there’d be far fewer interesting things within the music.”


“I’m all about arts, culture, support and equality. And that’s what my dance floors are about. It’s about having people feeling like they can feel comfortable in that environment from wherever they come from,” Peterson says.

It’s true. In a heavily divided time, Worldwide’s careful curations makes one of those rarefied spaces where the music ebbs away any disharmony, leaving only the joy of the moment. Bring on the 19th edition.

Share this articleComments

You might also like