Annie Mac has been a staple of Radio 1 since 2006. The successor to Zane Lowe and John Peel, the Irish DJ has been the trend-setter for dance music for a decade now, delivering her Friday night show to over a million listeners. Throughout BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Annie performed sets before artists like Stormzy, The Last Shadow Puppets, and Sigma, catering to a whole range of musical tastes. Sitting down to talk with someone so talented, so prolific and so knowledgeable is a daunting prospect to anyone, however, as soon as I step inside the press tent, Annie is warm and engaging. We chat a little before the interview as the camera is being set up, and I tell her “I hope I’ve done my fact-checking correctly” to which she responds by saying, “Listen, if you haven’t don’t worry. I’ll correct you in a nice way”, and to be honest, that put me at complete ease.
Once set up I stumble through my introductions, I bundle into my first question, ‘Please correct me if I’m wrong, but your first live performance with Radio 1 was at the Dundee Big Weekend in 2006, is that correct?”
“That sounds about correct yes, I got my job and my regular show in 2006 so that would be right, yeah.”
“So ten years later, you’re here as a staple Radio 1 legend, how does it feel to be taking that on?”
“Um, its kind of weird because I don’t feel like any of those things! I still feel like its my first year, it just feels like family, it feels comfortable now I guess, as anything does when you do it a few times. But it still feels as exciting, and as fun, as exhilarating as it ever did.” Her response is full of energy and modest for someone of her calibre.
You don’t get trees this big in London
I ask her, “how does the Exeter Big Weekend compare to others in the past?”
“It’s way better! The weather has just been obviously incredible and that does make such a difference to your normal kind of experience of a festival. I’m really, really impressed with the line up – there is always someone that I want to see. And the way it’s being run, it’s just been impeccable, the people seem really up for it, and it’s just great. It all feels much bigger as well, maybe it isn’t, but it feels really big this year. And the trees! We’ve gotta talk about the trees, I’m obsessed with the trees! You don’t get trees this big in London, put it that way. There’s a tree by the In New Music We Trust stage that’s like a sort of fairy tale tree, and I keep bringing everyone there, we had a band shot there yesterday, Me and Grimmy and Daniel P. Carter.” The In New Music We Trust Stage was host to the likes of Tame Impala, Skepta, The Last Shadow Puppets and Craig David.
In response to her excitement about the trees, I also get a bit excited and tell her that if she likes the trees she should go into Exeter, and that our campus has a botanical garden. I should’ve told her that there is one tree for each student, but my nerves got the better of me. We can hope that she’ll come to campus, right?
I move on, “I saw you warm up yesterday for Stormzy, and you got everyone really, really pumped for it. How do you tailor your sets for different festivals, different places, different people?
“Well it’s quite interesting, it’s good for me doing this because later on I’ll DJ before The Last Shadow Puppets and I’m not gonna play all of the dance music and rave hits then, which is normally what I play. It’s really good for me to get out of the box and play bands and indie and rock music, but in a DJ context. Obviously I play them on the Radio, but its different when you’re playing them to people dancing.
So, yeah it’s good, to put your research in I guess and just make sure that you’ve got the music that will feel right before every act. Stormzy was easy: you just play grime, because that’s what everyone wants to hear. Yesterday I played on the main stage before Sigma, and that was fun as well. So it’s interesting, and keeps you interested, and keeps you challenged as well to play the right stuff.”
It’s really good for me to get out of the box and play indie and rock music in a DJ context
I try to move through my questions quickly as I’m aware that we’ve only got a short about of time, so I move onto a different, slightly heavier topic. “In what seems like a fairly male dominated industry, you paved your way through to become a dominating presence. Is there was a piece of advice that you’d give to young women, and all young people trying to get into the industry, what would it be?”
Her response is pretty perfect, answering with an understated positivity that fits her whole vibe, “I guess just that gender shouldn’t be any reason for you not to do anything, you know? Especially when it comes to media, being a woman does not make you better or worse DJ. And I guess that I was lucky enough in the way that I was brought up by my parents. Like I was always a tomboy, I always chose football over Irish dancing when I was at primary school in Dublin, and always had a certain way that my parents just let me do. So it’s kind of like feeling like you are completely valid and allowed to do anything just as much as anyone else. I also always had friends who were boys, so I never felt weird around boys, or never felt weird being the only girl. I just got on with it, and I’ve never really suffered, to my face anyway, any blatant sexism, and its all been okay. And I think so much of it is about having people doing it. So for me getting into radio it was about hearing Mary Anne Hobbs on the radio and thinking ‘God I wanna do that!’ and I hope that with my being a club DJ, playing at festivals where it might only be 5 girls on the line up, less on some of the festivals I’m playing this summer, just having a woman doing it is imprint. So that if you’re a young woman in the crowd, you’re like ‘OK there are women doing this. This is something I could do’. Sometimes you just need to see someone doing it. So yeah hopefully for that reason alone it’s good that I’m able to do it.”
BEING A WOMAN DOES NOT MAKE YOU BETTER OR WORSE DJ
Again I move the conversation forward to try to get in as much as I can in such a small space of time, “Artists like Disclosure and Clean Bandit, they have become huge after you’ve shouted them out and introduced them on Radio, so who’s next for you? Who do you think is next to become really big?”
Here is where she reveals her knowledge, clearly having such a clear grasp on what’s going on in the industry and listing artists who no doubt are cool, but I’ve never heard of. “Um, it’s weird in dance music, about three or four years ago there was this wave of people like Duke Dumont, Disclosure, Rudimental, real kind of ‘acts with faces’, proper big, marketable acts, and now dance music feels like its gone a bit more faceless. There’s not as many pop stars as such coming out of dance music. It’s all kind of one off records coming from people in their bedrooms, and you don’t know who they are. So I feel like dance music is going a certain way. It might be going back underground, which is quite exciting for me! In terms of grime and hip-hop, there is a guy called Yungen who’s really exciting, Elf-Kid as well, who’s from south London and Nadia Rose who’s from Croydon. Basically there’s this place in South London called Croydon, that is breeding the most incredible grime MCs, who all seem to be coming out of there. And then in terms of bands, there’s a band called Bad Sounds that I really like, and also Strange Bones. There is loads of really exciting young bands coming up through the UK at the moment that I feel have got massive potential.”
I finally ask her “What do you think of Exeter, and will you be returning?”
“Yes, I think I definitely will. We’ve seen Exeter at its finest this weekend weather wise, the views, the rolling hills, the trees, the people, it’s just so beautiful and I think I might spend a holiday here, it would be gorgeous!”
So she might come to campus after all, maybe for a set? Or am I being too ambitious?
For more great coverage of Exeter’s Big Weekend go to XTV, Xpression and Pearshaped.