The Tastemaker: Annie Mac on AMP Sounds, festival lineups, and why bands definitely aren't dead

‘You have to relinquish a little bit of control, because there’s physically not enough time in the week to listen to everything. It took a while for me to get used to it, but it’s worth it’

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Thursday 08 February 2018 17:26
Mac: ‘Everyone in charge in the music industry at large is a white male’
Mac: ‘Everyone in charge in the music industry at large is a white male’

Annie Mac is buzzing after a fit-boxing class. “I’m probably going to vent,” she says as we dive out of the freezing cold and into a coffee shop in Kensal Rise. The BBC radio DJ is in the middle of her AMP Sounds series of gigs and DJ sets, which are taking place at the Jazz Café, the Roundhouse and KOKO in London across February.

“I’m really happy with how the first weekend went,” she says. “All the Jazz Café ones are going to be amazing, they’re sold out and we’ve packed them full of names. The first one of KOKO sold out on the night, that was really good. I’m excited, it’s good for me to get back into DJ-ing places like that.

“I’ve been quite extreme in how I’ve been doing it recently, either massive festivals or really small gigs. I have a very loud dialogue in my head when I’m doing it. That move when you go up a bit and you’re not drunk all the time when you DJ is quite a heavy one to make – the idea of standing in front of loads of people, playing records, is kind of bizarre. I’m self-conscious, I’m not a singing-dancing person.” She pauses, exhales. “By the last KOKO I’ll be fine, it’s just the first one I’m a bit…” She pulls a face.

It’s a great lineup: MoStack, Tom Grennan, Dream Wife, Superorganism, Tom Misch and Jessie Ware have got involved, and Mac says she’s tried to curate it so fans will see their favourite new artists, along with some they might not have thought to check out.

“It’s hard to curate, having booked events for so many years, the Jazz Café ones are always the hardest,” she explains. “It’s the part trying to get a big name, an artist who wouldn’t usually play there. A lot of the time it’s personal relationships as well, finding the bands I feel super passionate about.”

One of the most impressive things about this year’s AMP Sounds is how diverse the lineup is. After last year’s disappointing festival season, and a few letdowns already for 2018, Mac’s picks, for AMP and also her Malta-based festival Lost & Found, are exciting to see.

“Everyone in charge in the music industry at large is a white male,” she nods. “I read this Grayson Perry book where he talks about the ‘default man’ being white, upper/middle class, and subconsciously we don’t even see it, in law, politics… everyone in positions of power.

“It applies to the music industry as well. Apart from Emily Eavis at Glastonbury, pretty much all the major festivals are booked and run by white men. I feel like they just don’t see what’s missing, a lot of the time, because they don’t have to. It’s about having them in positions of power where they can make an impact on the major decisions that happen in the industry.”

She was one of the most vocal critics of Wireless festival when it was pointed out, following their lineup announcement, that just three artists on the billing were women, next to 34 male acts; branding it “appalling” and “so so embarrassing” on Twitter, and writing a response piece for Grazia.

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“I get it, [the organisers are] business men,” she says. “They sold 97,000 tickets, they’re off to the pub. The people buying tickets aren’t complaining. But it’s frustrating, and it made me wonder why I was so angry. The message you’re giving out to young girls is ‘we are not prioritising you, because we don’t have to’.

“There are women, and you have to make sure from the start that you have them on your lineup. A third of the Lost & Found lineup is women; the start of it was making sure we had that. You have to be really conscious to get that equal balance. For instance on the bottom tiers of so many dance festivals there’s this new wave of women coming through, who aren’t even talked about in terms of their gender, they’re just the good DJs right now.”

‘You have to make sure from the start that you have enough women on your lineup’ 

Last year Mac worked on a BBC documentary – Who Killed the Night? – which looked at the dwindling club scene in London, where she was introduced to London’s “Night Czar” Amy Lamé. While it definitely started a conversation around culture in the capital city, she points out that nightclubs are still closing.

“Now developers are just buying places, taking stages out and just obliterating them before there’s any time for debate,” she says. “But I hope there’ll be a surge in new venues opening soon.”

Asked what new music she’s keen on right now, she rattles out a bunch of tracks by great artists including Dream Wife, Yaeji, George FitzGerald, and the DJ duo Floorplan – which consists of Robert Hood and his daughter Lyric. When she started out at Radio 1, she says she sniffed a little at the idea of having a person, or team, filter which music she received. “Now I get it,” she laughs. “There are oceans of f***ing dance music promos that come from all over the world. It’s quite overwhelming in trying to keep on top of it. So many different genres – and I play everything.

“What’s happened significantly in the last few years is that I have much less free time to go down those SoundCloud or YouTube wormholes, which is quite panic-inducing. You have to relinquish a little bit of control, because there’s physically not enough time in the week to listen to everything. It took a while for me to get used to it, but it’s worth it.”

She cackles when we talk about the constant hand-wringing over radio “having less influence”, the “death of bands” and how “streaming is ruining the music industry”.

“It’s all very easily contradicted isn’t it?” she grins. “‘Bands are dead’ = lie. There are loads of bands, new ones I’m so excited about.”

She’s keen for artists to move on from what she calls “identikit Major Lazer from two years ago”. “Recently I felt like emailing Diplo [from Major Lazer] and saying, ‘Can you start making different music so everyone can move on from this now?’” she says. “There’s a lot of bandwagon-jumping. It’s a thing. I’m really looking forward to guitar music coming back to the mainstream, seeing what new stuff is coming through.

“That is our USP – what’s new – and being able to post it for the first time, and being a platform where artists want to share their music with you,” she says. “Sometimes there’s a competitive level for exclusives within the industry, ‘who’s got first play with this’. It’s f***ing exhausting, and I’m not cutthroat enough to go after those. I want people to feel like they want to come to us: that’s a nice situation to be in.”

Annie Mac’s AMP Sounds series runs through February – for tickets and information check out the website

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