Luckily, before I meet Annie Mac, I find an article that she wrote in 2014 which lists the questions that she hates being asked (note to pop stars: if you could all do this and compile it in some sort of easily accessible database, that’d be really helpful, ta). Her personal bugbears all concern queries as to what it’s like being a pregnant/mother/female DJ in this “male-dominated world”. You wouldn’t ask Pete Tong how he copes with six children, she reasons, quite rightly.
Nevertheless, the prominent bump that occupies the space between us, in a hotel next to her Radio 1 headquarters, does merit a mention. The 38-year-old Dubliner, born Annie MacManus, is expecting her second son with her partner, the dance producer Thomas “Toddla T” Bell, in January. A press release went out this week about her maternity leave, with 1Xtra DJ MistaJam lined up to take over her 7-9pm weekday slot for a few months. “God I hate maternity leave!” she says, quickly clarifying that she doesn’t mean the actual caring for the heavensent miracle of a newborn baby, but having to release her grip on one of the most influential shows in broadcasting.
“I never find it easy saying, ‘Here you go, have my show.’ But it’s good for your ego. Selfishly you kind of want it all to collapse, and of course it doesn’t,” she tells me. “I want the listeners still to be there when I get back.”
She needn’t worry too much. After Zane Lowe walked away from Radio 1 in March last year, making a high profile move to LA to present on Apple’s Beats 1 internet station, figures showed that she added around 110,000 listeners to Lowe’s last total, with an audience of 1.74 million. A cool big sister to the station’s young listeners, she’s proved a great choice to operate the drawbridge between Radio 1’s more mainstream daytime shows and the specialist night time fare. “It suits me. I’m really happy with that balance because I really love pop music and love being able to play it, but I also had some brushing up to do , learning about indie labels and bands, having been doing the dance show,” she says. “I was never that worried about the music because I have a foundation in the indie world. I was brought up with it, spent a lot of time in my early twenties listening to it.”
As a prominent tastemaker she joined Jarvis Cocker and Jamie Cullum on last week’s Mercury Prize judging panel, helping to decide that David Bowie would have wanted the award to go to grime star Skepta. “I enjoyed the process. It was a good-humoured and good-spirited discussion. And it felt like the result went down really well.” Yet she’s still known best as one of the most familiar faces of British club culture. Her thick curls have even been turned into an instantly recognisable logo for AMP – short for Annie Mac Presents – her series of compilation albums, touring club nights and an annual festival for seven thousand in Malta.
This year’s compilation comes out early next month, with the usual continuous mix of dance hits on the first disc, but a broader range of artists including French art-pop act Christine and the Queens, the politicised electronica singer Anohni, and Canadian producer Kaytranada, on disc two. “I’m really happy with the track list on CD two especially,” she says. “It feels like there are important artists on there, which people maybe won’t expect from an AMP CD because maybe they still feel like it’s a raving brand.”
They might feel that because she’s also busy organising her biggest ever London show, an “All Day Rave” at east London’s Tobacco Dock, for which she’ll be joined by around 20 other DJs and performers including Basement Jaxx, her fellow Radio 1 host Clara Amfo and a gospel choir. Here is a case of motherhood affecting her work: she’ll be seven months pregnant when the event takes place and definitely not up for another UK tour of club venues. Doing three much larger shows, in Birmingham and Leeds as well as London, which will all wrap up before the clock strikes midnight, suits her fine right now. “With a bun in the oven, it’s not really that much fun DJing. I find the hours really hard, so these day-raves are a godsend.”
Major events such as hers are also an indication of the direction in which dance music is headed at the moment. Annual dance festivals such as South West Four on Clapham Common, and tomorrow’s Hospitality in the Park in Finsbury Park, grow larger while in the past eight years, London has lost 50 per cent of its nightclubs. “Right now it feels like people would rather save up all their money to go to a festival once or twice a year, than go clubbing week in week out. The stats about clubs closing are horrific.”
Of course she was especially sad about the council-enforced closure of the Farringdon institution Fabric this month, after two MDMA-related deaths over the summer. Her AMP night began in the mid-2000s in room three of the 2,500-capacity nightclub. Her partner Toddla T made number 47 of the 90 influential FabricLive mix albums. The club opened specially to host her 30th birthday party, and her dad made a speech there.
“When it closed I was overwhelmed and speechless,” she tells me. “They gave us a chance at the very start. I grew up there as a DJ, spent many, many nights there both DJing and watching other people, learning. I found the whole thing resolutely unfair. When you read about everything they did to be as cooperative as possible and work with the Police, it feels really unfair that they were shut down.”
She continues: “Listen, it’s also really really unfair and tragic that people died. That is unspeakable to think about and it is my worst fear that someone wil get hurt at one of my events. But if somewhere like Fabric is gonna be shut down, it sends a message to anyone trying to open a club or put on a dance music event that life is gonna be really tough, and it’s gonna be very hard to do it, so people just won’t do it.”
She says this is a transitional time for the sound of dance music, with artists such as Calvin Harris beginning to reject the overegged EDM sound, and complains that there aren’t enough new stars breaking through. But it’s when speaking about Fabric’s issues that her passion really bubbles up. “For me clubbing is classless, it’s a celebration, it’s a communion of people on one danceflooor all experiencing the same thing. It’s the most primal thing we know as human beings: people dancing round a fire to a drum. There’s something hugely celebratory about it. One of the reasons I came to London was because of its huge multiculturalism and the fact you could go clubbing and meet someone of any background, colour or creed and bond with them over music. A big element of youth culture is dying.” You can bet she won’t sit back and take it. Club culture has a worthy champion.
AMP All Day Rave, Oct 1, Tobacco Dock, E1 (08700 600 100, anniemacpresents.com)
Annie Mac Presents 2016 is released on Oct 5 on Virgin EMI