- 28 Aug 17
One of the biggest DJs in the world is returning to her home soil for EP this September. Hot Press caught up with Annie Mac for a candid chat about her recent projects, improving gender diversity at festivals – and why we need to get serious about safe drug-testing zones. Interview: Peter McGoran
It’s well established by now that when it comes to arbiters of taste in dance music, Annie Mac takes pride of place. For years she’s been the eponymous host of BBC Radio 1’s Friday night dance show, and more recently took over Zane Lowe’s enviable spot of hosting Monday to Thursday evenings on Radio 1. One of the most respected DJs in the world, Electric Picnic is lucky to have her on the Main Stage.
But September still seems a long time away for Annie, who’s had a busy summer already.
“I played Glastonbury at the start of the summer, which was my first gig back after having been away on maternity leave,” she tells us from her home in London. “Then I was in Ibiza until up until yesterday. I was doing the Radio 1 weekend in Ibiza, which is always a big affair, and this was probably my favourite one yet.
“We did a couple of huge club nights on the Friday, followed by David Guetta and Fat Boy Slim on the Saturday. Then I was curating my own event on the Sunday, where I did a B2B set with Disclosure which was really well received. Now I’ve got Leefest, Bestival, Electric Picnic and Samhain to keep me busy for the rest of summer.”
Is she looking forward to coming back to Ireland?
“Yeahhh! Really am. It’s always amazing to have an excuse to come back home. Obviously all my family are still in Dublin, so it’s wicked to go back and do some work there. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been away a long time, you realise once you leave home that you always cling onto your Irishness.
“For the EP set, I’ve been working on a new concept involving a gospel choir from London. I’ve always been really into gospel choirs and I’ve always really wanted to work with one. Then last October I did an event in London and someone from a choir approached me and asked if they could play at it. We ended up working together and the whole thing went magnificently. So we decided to do another live show at Glastonbury, then another at Lovebox.
“And I really really wanted to bring it to EP, because I wanted to make a bit of an impression beyond just DJing. So we’re all flying over – 12 incredible gospel singers – and they’ll be singing some stuff that I’ve curated for them; some old Detroit-style songs, then some brand new tracks that I’ve picked out. I think gospel music has a tendency to be a bit happy-clappy, cheesy-wheezy, so I wanted to counteract that with something more dance-y.”
Besides her own music, Annie has also been vocal in trying to shed light on the issue of gender disparity at festivals.
“It’s an issue that’s very slowly improving,” she says. “Although I wouldn’t consider it being anywhere close to being fully addressed. Interestingly, Melvin Benn (Festival Republic MD) has announced that he’s making efforts to do something about the gender imbalance. He’s launching a new programme that aims to give opportunities to female artists and bands.
“That’s something that should be encouraged. I think there’s a whole industry out there that’s run by one demographic, in the same way that so many other industries are: like the science and technology industries. But I think it’s slowly starting to change because it’s being talked about more.
“It’s something that I’m always thinking about. Not even that consciously, just because I am a woman and I do notice the lack of women working in this industry. Most promoters are men. There’s a huge majority of people who book festivals, who promote festivals, who are men. “We need more women in those roles. I have my own festival, I don’t know any other women out there who have that, although there’s an amazing woman in Ireland called Avril Stanley, who runs Body & Soul and she’s being doing a brilliant job. But we need more.”
The aforementioned Benn also pushed to implement safe drug-testing sites at Leeds Festival this summer, a move that would undoubtedly save lives. Unfortunately, an agreement couldn’t be reached between festival organisers and Leeds City Council on the matter. But it’s something that Annie Mac sees as essential for keeping people safe at festivals and clubs.
“I think there needs to be a level of education about recreational drug-use that doesn’t exist at the moment. And I think that a lot of lives would be saved and a lot of injuries avoided if there was a situation where you were educated as a kid about drug use in the same, mature way that you’re educated about sex.
“A lot of kids go to these events and don’t know what they’re doing, they do things which could potentially be harmful. And if you give some education, I think that can only be a good thing. The drug-testing idea, which is being handled by a not-for-profit company called The Loop, has already been done in several instances. People are actually handing back their drugs once they’re tested and people discover what’s in them. “Drug-testing already happens in Holland, and I think it’s only a matter of time before people start to see it working in other countries. That could have a domino effect in the UK and then Ireland in the future.”
Annie Mac's Top Picnic Recommendations
Pete Tong and The Heritage Orchestra
“Pete’s bringing the full orchestra with him to Electric Picnic, and I can tell you right now that it’s going to be absolutely incredible. I saw him and the orchestra do Ibiza Classics the first time they ever performed, which was at the BBC Proms at the Albert Hall, and it blew my mind. Proud might not be the right word for it, because it sounds so patronising! But I do feel a sense of wonder and respect whenever I see what Pete’s doing.”
“Bicep are one of the really great Irish acts out there who are starting to get noticed in a big way. The nice thing is that – where dance music is at the moment – there’s a huge audience for the likes of them and I think the duo are thriving off it. They recently played to 2,000 people at the Roundhouse in London, and they’ve got their debut album coming out soon. It feels like they’re really riding the wave of love for dance music at the moment.”