Annie Mac Interview (2014)

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Annie Mac is the brilliant and much loved Queen of dance music on Radio One.  BBC listeners from around the world loyally listen to her Friday night set to launch their weekends with the hottest new dance music.  Her AMP – Annie Mac Presents – recently made its debut in the US with Annie Mac Presents 2013, a wonderfully-curated set of the finest tracks, including big tunes by Breach, Duke Dumont, and Mike Mago along with tracks to watch from GotSome, Gorgon City, and Koreless.  I enjoyed a quick chat with Annie and discovered that her vibrant personality comes through in conversation just as clearly as her dynamic music selection.

RS: What are y’all calling this ’90s house flashback trend that seems to be big over there in the UK?
Annie Mac: We aren’t really calling it anything; I suppose it’s just a house music resurgence. It doesn’t really have a name.

RS: I have heard it called Nu-house but I was wondering if you presenters had a name for it.
Annie Mac: No, I wouldn’t call it Nu-house because like you said, it’s not really new, but it has definitely taken over and been a big thing in the UK this year.

Annie Mac Presents 2013 - CD COVER (print) - V4RS: Your AMP compilation with Duke Dumont, Breach and Disclosure, definitely reveals that. These are all big pop records; did you expect this movement to become so big that it would cross over that way?
Annie Mac: I didn’t and it was such a pleasant surprise. It is just remarkable to see these essentially underground artists like Duke Dumont have a # 1 hit. It makes me so happy and proud to live in the UK and the fact that music like that can become popular and really mainstream. It is really classy and really good music. The same goes for the Disclosure album, it has sold so well and they are one of the biggest acts in electronic and pop music in the UK this year. They are all just making really, really good music.

RS: It is pretty shocking and brilliant actually. Is there a certain record or track that you can point to that started this resurgence?
Annie Mac: There are names that I could give you that were very popular from the beginning, for instance Hot Natured and Jamie Jones and his crew. They are always going to be around in the underground music and made a couple of key records that really penetrated. Hot Natured has a track that came out at the end of last year called “Forward Motion” which featured Ali Love.  As Hot Natured grew and got bigger a lot more music came out of that. Disclosure has their own sound, which is more rooted in garage music. Their record “Latch” was the #2 record, which was a house music record that went pop. It is hard to pin it down to just one record, though, because it is a combination of a lot of different artists’ records.

RS: You just said that Disclosure was what kind of garage record?
Annie Mac: I said their music is much more rooted in garage music, whereas Hot Natured is much more house music. Disclosure is also house, but there are a lot garage influences in terms of their production. There has been a whole generation of producers like Disclosure, Bondax, and Karmas that have come up and that look at ’90s garage artists like M. J. Cole, Wookie, and those UK producers as their inspirations.  As much as they love the Detroit techno and Chicago house etc., a lot of their influences are also from the UK- which is very interesting.

RS: I have noticed lately that the commercial guys are sampling ‘90s Europop records and the dirty dutch electro guys are bringing back the old school rave techno, do you think that everyone just wants to live in the ‘90s again?
Annie Mac: Well let’s be honest, the ’90s were great. I think it is just a trend and what is popular, everything comes and goes. Just like with fashion, camouflage is back and garage was big 10 years ago, I guess it’s time for it to come back around again. I suppose the young people are growing up and are looking at older music for reference points and producing music that is influenced by that. God knows what’s next.

RS: What do you see coming next?
Annie Mac: God knows. I wish I could tell you but I just don’t know.

RS: I kind of saw this in my own view that the Dutch sound, hard electro and the dubstep was getting so aggressive that people wanted to actually go out and have a good time with music again. That to me is what garage and house is all about, do you see that also?
Annie Mac: I do. House music was originally about unity and about having fun and what it stood for was culturally important. Back in the ‘80s, it was a beautiful thing and it was also just about dancing. I think in the last few years the scene has become massive and the really aggressive noisy sound has become really big, and that does not promote dancing. It promotes moshing and jumping up and down, and a slightly aggressive behavior on the dance floor. It makes me happy to see people dancing again because that is what it’s all about.

RS: Speaking of dance records that you can’t dance to, what do you think about these big room stadium house records which have two-minute-long breaks and no beat?
Annie Mac: That is just the way that people make those records, and they try to create drama within the song. They try to create tension and anticipation, which I get with the buildup and the breakdown, but two minutes may be slightly excessive.  But to each their own.

RS:   As the queen of dance music, have you been presented with a crown to wear as you rule over your loyal subjects?
Annie Mac: Absolutely not. I find the word queen slightly offensive because it makes me sound old; I would much prefer to be called the princess of dance music.

RS: There is a lot of talk about the death of terrestrial radio, at least here in the States, why do you think the BBC has survived and prospered so well?
Annie Mac: I think that we are pretty great at innovations and we have a thing over here called the iPlayer which is basically radio on demand. It is about moving with the times and about appreciating the people who want to listen to the radio whenever and however they like. Radio 1 really promotes being able to listen to the radio on your mobile and laptop whenever you like. We have been doing that for a while and we have a really big department of people whose sole job is to do that. We just launched a thing called BBC’s Playlister this week. It’s a really exciting service where you can bank any track or any piece of music from the BBC and save it to a playlist and share it on YouTube or Spotify. I think that it is a fun thing that people will love and will really encourage people to use the BBC.

RS: Talking about having a team around you, you are one of the busiest people that I can imagine. How do you balance and keep everything in check with your radio duties, DJ gigs, and finding music?
Annie Mac: It is kind of chaotic; semi-organized chaos! My week is divided up and I have 2-3 days that I use to listen and watch music, go through my show, and do my mixes since I premix some of the stuff on my show. The rest of the time I have meetings, play mom, and I do my gigs on the weekends. It kind of works out okay and it’s not too bad. I have quite a bit of structure now, having a baby has really helped with that because I have to be more organized.

RS: Are your radio sets prerecorded?
Annie Mac: No, my radio show is totally live every week but I mix some of the tracks together in advance. I don’t ever mix live on air because I want to talk whenever I like and I am not very good at mixing and talking. A lot of the times I just come in and do things very spontaneously and change things around, it’s always very off the cuff.

RS: How much control do you have in your song selection; do you choose every record or do the BBC people have music meetings with you?
Annie Mac:  The joy of the BBC is that I have full control and full say in what happens. They really give trust to the station presenters and employ us as experts in our fields. How it works is I send my producer a full grid with all of the music that I want to play and he lets me know what music he needs and then puts it in the system so it is ready for me to play. He is very helpful and is the voice between me and the industry.

RS: Were you nervous playing for Channel 4 on New Year’s Eve?
Annie Mac: Yes. Terrified. But the first time that I did it I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I walked in to this big warehouse on the east of London and Grandmaster Flash was there, which was intimidating. I went up to the greenroom and watched my Twitter and Facebook and everybody in the world was watching and at that point I got really nervous. I had a strong vodka drink, got on, and really enjoyed myself. I was lucky enough to have Jessie Ware come and sing a song on my set and the end there was a big finale. That was one of the highlights of my career, but when they asked me to come back and play for New Year’s Eve I knew how big of a deal it was and was very nervous. I played at midnight and felt a lot of pressure because there were hundreds of thousands of people with their televisions on and it was the biggest gig I ever played and probably will be for the rest of my career. I tried to look like I was calm but it was really hard because I was absolutely terrified.

RS:   The most important question is what was the first song that you played for 2013?
Annie Mac: It was “Strings Of Life,” the Danny Krivit edit, which is an absolute house music classic and it felt like the right thing to play.

RS: Brilliant. How do you filter through the inordinate amounts of music you get each week?
Annie Mac: I have to be quite mercenary about it and start by having a folder of stuff that I think I may like, whether it be from the labels that I like or sent from an artist that I like, and I always listen to them first. When it comes to promos I just roll through and try to listen to as many as I can, I can pretty much tell in the first 30 seconds if it is the right record or not, so there is not a lot of time wasted.

RS: What is a record that you “missed” the first time, through, that you kick yourself about?
Annie Mac: There is a really good one; it would be “Jack” by Breach, which is a really big record over here. He came on to do this thing called Specials of the Week which is a feature where someone brings in a brand new track and we play it for the first time in the world. He sent me a two-track release which was “Jack” on one side and on the other side it was a track called “Let’s Get Hot.” He told me that they would play whatever track we wanted to play and I chose “Let’s Get Hot.” He asked me if I was sure that I didn’t want to play the “Jack” track and I said yes. Next thing you know “Jack” was # 7 on the charts. He came on the show again and we talked and laughed about it.

RS: His new track is really good also. Is there anything that you would like to say to all of your fans out there?
Annie Mac: Thank you so much for your support. I haven’t been to America this year and I miss not going. Last year we were asked to play a stage at Ultra in Miami but I was very pregnant and decided that it probably wasn’t the best thing to do. Next year I am coming for you and can’t wait!

RS: Is your little boy responding to house music yet?
Annie Mac: He is responding to all sorts of music. My boyfriend works for a producer and a DJ so he always has music on. We were laughing today actually because he was playing a Jay-Z album track really loud in the kitchen and my child just slept very soundly in the other room. He is so used to music now that he is just not really bothered by it.

Annie Mac Interview conducted October 2013.

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