Annie Mac: “I am happy in chaos and noise” | TV & radio


Annie Mac is busy doing homework when I join her on video one morning in early May. She is scheduled to give her weekly “rave lesson” to the tea time show of fellow BBC Radio 1 presenter Nick Grimshaw (today’s topic: a weeklong Castlemorton party in 1992). I had wondered if these lessons were a sneaky way to teach teens how to throw parties in the rubble of the UK pandemic scene, but no, Mac says it’s about “remembering the culture of how the British danced ‘and resonate. now, “when people find new ways to feel together when they are not allowed to come together to listen to music”.

I always felt, I don’t know, touch all the wood, pretty good of my existence, basically

The Irish DJ is in the “rave shed” at the bottom of her garden, its red walls and stacks of records familiar from Instagram live DJ sets she made with her husband, producer Toddla T (Tom Bell ), the weekend. They have just celebrated their second wedding anniversary. He provides home schooling for their three and six year old sons. Keeping them busy is a challenge, says Mac, 41. “It’s about recalibrating your expectations rather than trying to be a real teacher. Let’s learn how to cook pasta or make a jigsaw or make a bird feeder from a bottle of milk. I enjoy most of the two and a half hours of Mac work before I have to exchange them. It is difficult to limit your workload. She is naked, her curls untamed. But the step back was also good – the fantasy of a more rationalized life forced to exist. It suits him. “I basically have three levels of what I do in my work,” she says, with the same zippered authority that she brings to her shows, “and it’s really simple and it’s really clear and clear.” is very regimented, and that means that when you have work, you just screw up the blitz. “

In 2015, Mac succeeded Zane Lowe to present the flagship program of Radio 1, five nights a week. It was a major meeting in the world of radio and a testimony to its vast influence: it played a decisive role in the breaking of great acts – Mylo, Justice – in the United Kingdom, and credited the introduction of mainstream at dubstep. At the time, she was also Europe’s greatest female DJ, although the industry suspects that listeners accustomed to Lowe’s indie mentality would welcome her effusive club kid. She coldly added 110,000 listeners, her omnivorous musical state of mind reflecting (and probably shaping) that of a generation on the Internet not linked by old tribal mentalities to the musical fandom.

“I’m a control freak”: Annie Mac DJing at Arcadia in Bristol. Photography: Alicia Canter / The Guardian

The radio broadcast is level one. Then there is a podcast and the writing of his first novel, which should be released next year. That’s exactly what’s happening right now. Earlier this year, she led her Annie Mac Presents conference – a week of industry panels and new concerts in London. In times of non-pandemics, there would be even more: hosting a festival in Malta (inevitably canceled) and DJing other summer events.

The podcast is the reason for our chat. Two summers ago, Mac was 40 years old. She had been doing a presentation on Radio 1 for about 15 years. For the first time, she found herself looking back at her life, although her “decimated” memory made it difficult. She started a podcast, Finding Annie, to collect her past from conversations with friends and peers, which helped. The loose concept introduced her to a new set of listeners unlikely to tune in to Radio 1 on weekday evenings, and ordered a fairly standard celebrity-to-celebrity conversation, so admirably frank – like Mac telling Sara Cox of Radio 2 how outraged she was about having to push her placenta out of her “raw, red scuffed vagina” when she was first born.

Podcasting, says Mac, was about exploring self-expression and having something of its own, although the Finding Annie format has a lifespan. After two series, she renamed her Changes with Annie Mac, and pushed her attention outward. In each episode, she asks a guest to share the childhood and adulthood changes that shaped them.

“You can get to really meaningful moments quickly,” she says. There are celebrities: Caitlin Moran for learning not to hate her body as an adult; Swedish popstar Robyn on how the next change she plans is parenting. But there are also civilians: a former homeless man who became a shelter worker, Paddy; Candice Brathwaite, a black author of the working class rare in the world of “mummy blogs”; an 18-year-old knife activist named Jhemar Jonas, whose brother was fatally stabbed.

“After spending a year or two listening to podcasts, there seems to be an echo chamber,” Mac says wearily. “Everyone says the same things to each other, and they all have the same beliefs and the same policy and the same everything. She wanted to let people who had real difficulties speak on their own terms, a boost confirmed by the episode with Jonas. “You never hear about children,” she says. “The people who wield the knives or who run away from the knife. It’s the idea of ​​humanizing them and trying to understand them so that we can help them. “

Power of three: from left to right, Annie Mac, Jo Whiley and Sara Cox, Brit Awards, 2011.

Power of Three: Left to Right, Annie Mac, Jo Whiley and Sara Cox, Brit Awards, 2011. Photography: Richard Young / Rex / Shutterstock

It’s not that celebrities are bait; his curiosity is also authentic. Nick Grimshaw tells me that she makes the most of everyone: “She never feels rushed – she makes you feel that you are really important to her. But the podcast is a Trojan horse for her to delve into “the things I’m trying to understand,” she admits. “After looking back for a while, I now want to look back and forth, to see what really affects me and what I can spend my time with in the next phase of my life.”

Let’s talk about how it has changed. “Oh shit, should I do the thing?” She said, surprised. His troubled memory made childhood fuzzy. (One expert said her lack of sleep exacerbates memory loss: “My strange hours of work for so many years probably haven’t helped that.”) So she started at 17. Mac – then MacManus – always thought she would be an actor. She doesn’t know why. She did not attend theater in school, although she performed in a play and practiced her Oscar acceptance speech. But she auditioned for the acting class at Trinity College Dublin anyway, and “she fucked up the mess, like in a comedy,” she says. “I had to give the speech at the end of Romeo and Juliet, went into paralysis, couldn’t remember the words, was so mad at myself. “

Then she went straight to a hairdresser and had her hair cut to the end, “a very visceral reaction to my own failure.” She once said that a boy calling her “poor” at school was the worst thing she had ever been told. It looks like she had extremely high standards. “Maybe I did,” she said, puzzled. She was surrounded by high-performing friends at private Wesley College, although she did not think the school had much to do with her confidence or aspirations. As the youngest of four children born in five years, she had to strive to stand out. “I was pretty comfortable in the chaos and the noise from an early age, because I really didn’t have a choice.”

The rejection was decisive: Mac didn’t know what to do until his mother suggested applying to study English literature at Queen’s in Belfast. She entered. Leaving Dublin for Belfast changed the game, she says. “I found the radio and I found music.” She moved to Farnborough, Hampshire, for a master’s in radio before settling in London. While presenting on student radio and developing her DJ concerts, she harassed producers for meetings and started on Radio 1 as an assistant producer on Steve Lamacq at the age of 24.

Grime partners: Annie Mac with Mark Ronson and Dizzee Rascal.

Grime partners: Annie Mac with Mark Ronson and Dizzee Rascal. Photography: David M Benett / Getty Images

Starting a family at 34 was the biggest change in Mac’s adult life. “Going from a very chaotic and dynamic travel life and fucking booming loudspeakers and screaming crowds and chronic hangovers to a calmer life and not wanting to stay outside so late …” She didn’t had not necessarily wanted to slow down, but had the impression of having reached a position of relative career security “to be able to dodge for a moment and to have the impression that I was not in danger”. She was right – she graduated from a bi-weekly night show two years later – but still had to consider her own limitations. In retrospect, playing Lovebox six weeks after having your first son was stupid, she says. “I don’t know how you’re going to feel, because you have no experience with motherhood – I found it really difficult. I’m a control freak, so I like to know where I’m at. ”
She continued to DJ after having her second child, driving to and from concerts overnight so that she could wake up at home. One evening on the highway last year, she was overwhelmed by the feeling of endangerment, so she shrank. Weekends are her only opportunity to sleep her children, so she only takes concerts that allow her to do so. “There are many more factors at play than mere ambition. “

She squirms when I say that she is one of the most influential women in British music and asks if that brings some assurance. Thinking that way is bad for your decision-making, she says. “This is not what motivates me at all. “That’s the case with creativity,” she learned recently. The writing of his first novel was born from a “desire to create something for art”. She insists that it is Radio 1 that is influential, and whoever does it after she will inherit that influence. “And let them have it,” she said. “For me, the radio talks about music and connection, that’s what makes me want to drive to town every day. “

But she uses her power in other ways. The label’s chiefs credited his lectures for making them think differently about the mental health of their artists. She always talks about the annual issue of gender inequality on music festival bills. (Even if she is not combative towards the industry: “This is not how it will work.”) Musician and podcaster Jessie Ware called Mac for advice on managing a career in mum. Last year, Mac and Greg James chastised listeners who complained about the song by British rapper Dave Black, which confronts Britain’s persistent racist inequalities. The negative response to the song was revealing, she said. The same was true for his requests to comment further. “It’s not that,” she said desperately. “It’s about talking to people who suffer from racism every day and can speak very eloquently about it, like Dave did. “

“We are finding new ways to be together”: Annie Mac. Photography: Stephanie Sian Smith

This spring Mac tweeted support for victims of filthy artist Bristol Solo 45, who has been charged with imprisoning and raping four women. Passionate about rap, she wonders how her show should address explicitly misogynistic forms of rap music. This is a historically complex problem, especially for a white woman. Did she feel an apprehension? It wasn’t that she was saying to anyone “you have to change,” she said, with a panto. “It’s the idea that there is representation from all sides. I want to hear more women rapping, talking about what it’s like to be a woman, how much they want to fuck men or women or whatever. The point, with everything she does – podcast guests, festival line-ups – is to leverage her profile to broaden the playing field.

The population of Radio 1 is made up of listeners aged 15 to 29. There is no doubt that Mac is at home. She is a brilliant broadcaster: excitable and compassionate; knowledgeable but never exclusive or showy. But recently she started thinking about her future there. “I’m still very aware that Jo Whiley left Radio 1 when she was 43,” she said. “But Jo was doing the big daytime show, so you’re much more visible there. The great thing about Radio 1 is that as a DJ specialist – Annie [Nightingale], John [Peel], Pete Tong, Tim Westwood – it’s certainly not as much of a problem how old you are. It’s really a matter of spirit and how young people feel with you. “She loves her show and has no plans to leave, but is curious to explore what the BBC has to offer:” You are lucky to be able to age there. Similarly, the Changes podcast stretches her legs.

Mac said ten years ago that his greatest achievement was “I like myself.” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard another woman say that. It’s a feeling that gets stronger with age. “I always felt, I don’t know, touch all the wood” – she pats her desk and her head – “pretty good in my existence.” Her husband says it is made of steel. Her friends call her “the runaway” because she cries a lot. “But I can easily feel my feelings, and it may be helpful to feel comfortable. “

Her self-confidence goes both ways, Grimshaw tells me. “It is good for encouraging you to know your worth.” I think that’s part of the reason Mac is so good at its job – loving yourself makes it easier to see everyone’s best.

It’s lunch time and Mac has to switch functions with Bell. The first thing she wants to do after the lockout is over is to go to Ireland. “It’s overwhelming trying to figure out when I’m going to see my family again,” she said. It would also be good to sweat in a club. I remember reading that she loved fishing and I was wondering if she intended to angling in the summer. It’s something she did when she was a kid, she laughed, a reputation that stayed after making a Cultural show little about gender inequality in the field. “But I love to fish,” she said, thinking about it. “I like not knowing what’s under there, all that feeling of anticipation. And I’m optimistic, so that’s fine with me – it’s the idea of ​​always hoping that there is something on the other end of the line. “

Changes with Annie Mac are available on all podcast providers


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