Annie Mac Q&A: The DJ on her Compilation, House Music's Revival, and Radio in the Spotify Era

EMI Music
Annie Mac

Ask any dance music fan in the UK and they’ll tell you that Friday evenings belong to Annie Mac. Her weekly show on BBC’s Radio 1 champions the best in new and upcoming dance music, all handpicked by Mac herself. After taking the summer off for a maternity leave (Mac and fellow DJ Toddla T had a son in May), Mac is back on-air and with a new album. Now in its fifth year, her annual compilation series, "AMP" (Annie Mac Presents) got its first ever US release this week through Astralwerks.

Billboard: You play on the radio at least two hours a week but then can only select 18 tracks for this annual compilation. How do you narrow it down?

Annie Mac: It’s quite indulgent. It’s genuinely the tracks that I like the most from the year. What I do is usually submit an inane list of music to the record label and then they go about seeing what they can license and they send me a list of what is available and then I start mixing. I’ve learned over the years that the best way to do it is to make it and then take it away from the computer. Go for a walk with it, go for a drive with it, go to the gym with it, live with it like a normal person would listen to it and then tweak it as you go.

That might surprise some people because as a radio DJ who plays live on the air, the assumption might be that you lay it down in one take and you’re done.

It was kind of harder this year as well because I was off from May until September. Usually it’s a little bit easier because I’m gigging all the time and you have specific tracks that [you know] work really well with each other.

Much of the compilation – like the Julio Bashmore-produced Jessie Ware song “Imagine It Was Us” and Rudimental’s “Waiting All Night” – is really representative for American listeners of the house revival that’s happening out of London. What’s your take on it and where is it going?

House music never really went away in Europe. It’s always been a really big deal. Even in America you have your labels over there – your Dirtybird Records, your French Express – they’ve just been resolutely underground labels. I think what’s happened is there’ve been a few acts in the UK that have risen through and penetrated the mainstream and made songs that are essentially pop songs but with roots in house music. And I mean original house music: Chicago, Detroit, not the more EDM sound.

The best example of that being Disclosure, who have reference points like Todd Edwards or Zed Bias. Those original sounds are coming back around but with a new lease of life, I suppose, from people like Disclosure, Bondax, Karma Kid.

So there’s a whole new generation of kids that are growing up having not heard the ‘90s stuff and hearing Disclosure for the first time and being like ‘I love this sound.’ These people who are into Disclosure are now looking elsewhere and trying to find more music and people like Claude Von Stroke and Justin Martin are being exposed more than they would have. For me, that’s just the best news ever because it’s so, so good.

You open this compilation with Duke Dumont’s “Need U (100%).” That track is doing pretty well here but it was huge in the UK.

“Need U” went to number one here. It’s essentially just a really good house record. To see something like that go to number one, for me, is just so encouraging and heartwarming. It makes me proud to live in the UK and for the UK to love that music makes me really happy.

In this era when people have changed their relationship with radio, when fans are making playlists on Spotify and listening to Pandora stations, has your job as a radio DJ changed?

I think it’s the job of radio to keep up with how people consume new music. I think the BBC is doing a really good job of that. They’ve just launched this thing called BBC Playlister, which is really exciting. It’s a way of kind of letting you listen to any kind of music you want from the BBC on your own time, in your own way. It’s a good example of the BBC coming to terms with what’s going on in how people are listening to music: on demand, as such.

When it comes to me being a broadcaster, I haven’t changed what I do or how I do things. I really believe in radio as a medium and I believe that the most beautiful thing about radio is that you are essentially investing in a person and investing in that person’s tastes. It’s about believability and trust. Radio 1 affords me that; they give me complete leeway to choose whatever music I want to play on the radio. I tune in because there are specific DJs that I know play good music and I want to hear what they do. It’s like having a friend and you know that you love what they love.

How has being a mom changed the way you approach music?

It’s funny because when you’re pregnant you don’t really know, Everything’s a first, so you can’t really predict how you’re going to feel about everything. Obviously now I realize that you’re still the same person. I still love playing music to people. I still love going to clubs and hearing music for the first time. The biggest change for me is you just have to be really fucking organized and I’m not that guy! So I’m having to plan ahead much more. Literally, today I was talking about coming to America next year for SXSW and Miami [Music Week] and I’m having to ring people now to see if they can babysit in March so I can go on tour. It’s kind of better for me. It’s given me structure. I’ve never really had structure before.

So, hopefully you’ll be stateside next year?

Yep! 100%. The news is in that my mother and father are going to babysit my child. I haven’t been there this year and I really miss going over there. I can’t wait!

"AMP" 2013 is available now.