Outside the spin
SO, THIS IS what it’s like to be in demand. In the past 12 months, you’ll have found Annie MacManus playing festivals and clubs such as Australia’s Stereosonic, Barcelona’s Sonar, Miami’s Ultra and the Isle of Wight’s Bestival, as well as the usual seasonal sorties to Ibiza.
Her latest compilation album Annie Mac Presents 2012 has just gone on release and then, there’s the not insignificant matter of her regular gig at BBC Radio One. When you’re hot, you’re hot.
A while back in an interview, the Dublin- born DJ referred to her non-radio DJ-ing gigs as “a happy aside”, but not any more. “It’s become more than that. I’ve been working on it over the last 10 years and to call it a happy aside now would not do it justice. I absolutely love it and I would be foolish to think I could walk away from it and go on with something else and not miss it. It’s become a big part of my life and my livelihood.”
Those DJ-ing appearances away from the radio microphone are now a business.“About three or four years ago, I realised that it accounted for four-fifths of my income and it was something that I should probably take seriously. We started thinking about where it could go and what we wanted to do with the ‘Annie Mac Presents’ brand in terms of events and curating line-ups at festivals and compilations. It’s still fun, but it has turned into a business, which sounds strange to say.”
It’s a business with a growing reach too, judging by MacManus’s appearance at the gigantic Ultra festival in Miami earlier this year. “Ultra was fascinating to observe,” she says. “It’s a culmination of how Americans have fallen in love with what they call EDM. It’s so funny to see it through European eyes. The way people are dressed, it was like Gatecrasher or Global Gathering 10 years ago. Girls were wearing big fluffy boots and fluffy bras and people had their faces painted with fluroscent paint.
“But it’s insane over there because it has become so ubiquitous so fast. Dance music has become pop music. David Guetta and Calvin Harris may be DJs but they’re pop stars now too. That four-four beat is now the backbone of most big pop hits. People might moan about Guetta, but his success means people are more open to understanding and enjoying the more progressive stuff coming up from the underground.”
MacManus also plays a part in bringing the sounds of the underground to the masses via radio shows and compilations.
“My role is to bring the best new music to people and play it on the radio and in the clubs and to help them hunt it out. The compilations are hard because you need a balance between stuff people know and stuff they don’t know. The battle for me when it comes out is to make it sound relevant and current, as well as being a synopsis of the year. With this one, more than ever, I’ve been really lucky because I’ve got some tracks on there which are still really exciting, as well as acts like Frank Ocean who are quite big now.”
MacManus has seen many changes at BBC Radio One since she started presenting her own show in 2004. “The big change is that the BBC Trust has said to Radio One that you are supposed to be catering to young people so you have to do that. They’ve acted as disciplinarians, I suppose. Radio One has always been a youth station, but over the last 10 years, there’s been so many more ways for young people to hear music and young people are consuming music at a younger and younger age. Radio One has become conscious of the need to cater to that audience, so it’s about aiming for the younger audience in their teens and having them grow up with the station.”
While it’s a little different for a DJ presenting a dance show – “dance music is something that you can understand better when you go clubbing, and you can’t go clubbing until you’re 18,” notes MacManus – she still has concerns about her future.
“You can’t help but worry. Anyone would in a job like this. But look at Jo Whiley, she left Radio One when she was 43 and she never sounded old. For me, it’s not about how old you are, but how old you sound and how old you are in what you play and are protrayed. I still feel like a little person at heart, I don’t feel like a grown-up whatsoever. I think Radio One adds to that, it’s like being in a Peter Pan world where you don’t have to grow up.
“It’s easy to grow old in dance music too, especially for men. I don’t know if it’s easier for a woman, and I do worry about that. There’ll come a point where I will want to have a family, and gallivanting around the world DJ-ing as a mum is not that easy. I’ve no one I can look to and go ‘oh, they did it’. There’s been no one I know who has become a mum in the last 10 years and maintained a DJ career, so that’s something you have to seriously think about. And if I don’t DJ, I have to have a back-up plan, another career.”
Perhaps that alternative career will be on TV? Irish viewers, after all, will know MacManus best from presenting Other Voices. “I totally loved Other Voices, except for the time they made me go out in a tiny little boat to see Funghi the Dolphin. I’ve never got over that trauma . . .
“The telly career is something I’ve been looking into a lot this year. I did the iTunes festival with Nick Grimshaw, and there are some other shows in the offing. I want to do documentaries and I’ve been co-producing shows about DJs. We made one about Tiesto and that’s going to air on Channel 4 in November. I’ve been learning a lot about TV and how it works. It’s a good feeling to be learning something new.”
* Annie Mac plays Dublin’s Twisted Pepper next Thursday as part of Beatyard festival