Frequenting the airwaves on BBC Radio 1 every weeknight, Annie Mac’s influence isn’t limited to the hours of her shows or even her regular proclamation of the ‘Hottest Record in the World’. She’s evolved her brand and she’s recognised now not only as one of the most assured voices in radio, but a TV personality and the head honcho of her annual festival in Malta.
Following a couple of false starts on a dodgy phone line she noted her surprise at receiving a call from a UK number.
“I’m actually from Belfast,” I told her, before using it as a cue to feed my curiosity about her time at university in the North’s capital.
“I went to Queens and loved every second of it, I had the best time ever,” she told me.
Having been introduced to the clubbing world in dimly lit rooms organised by long time promoters ‘Shine’, Annie reminisced about her evolution from party-goer to employee.
“Yeah I actually worked there for two years when I was in university and was an avid regular before I got the job there.”
“I just went and was a super-fan and started handing out flyers for them and worked on the door and it just evolved,” she explained.
This development seems wholly natural, however it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what draws you to a passion initially, but for the Radio 1 resident she knew right from the start. The allure of new found freedom in a previously forbidden space sells itself.
“For me my first clubbing experience was quite late, I went when I was in my final year of school and it felt like a door opening to this secret world that was just so exciting and illicit because I wasn’t allowed to go,” she recalled.
If the initial curiosity and potential freedom drew Annie in it was the sense of community that maintained her interest.
“Moving out of home and having this independence and freedom…That was one side of it. Then the music was a whole world I was starting to discover and the DJs came with it.”
She continued, “Then mostly for me it was the social aspect and going and seeing the same faces every week and feeling you are part of an exclusive club. Only these people who knew ‘Shine’, knew how good it was and how fun it was. I used to just go around the dance floor making friends every week, you’d go in knowing three people and go out knowing 30.”
This new found freedom paired with a love of sharing music with like-minded people snowballed into a healthy career for Annie Mac doing just that on radio.
Laughing, she said, “I basically made it my life’s work to tell everyone the secret!”
“It’s the best job in the world, it’s the most fun thing to be able to share your passion and love for dance music.”
Annie’s personal evolution from stamping wrists to putting her own stamp on the music industry is mirrored by an evolution in who she shares music with.
“The thing I’ve really been enjoying about it recently is reaching people beyond club culture,” she told me.
“The idea of my show on a Friday appealing to multi-generational people, people in their cars, people in work and loads of young kids listen to the show. I get loads of messages from new parents with toddlers and kids all the way up to ten loving it. It’s really interesting how it’s evolved beyond club culture to total mainstream.”
Following her free flowing explanation of the scope of her show Annie noted the personal satisfaction her job can bring and what it does for the world.
“It’s as much about a mood, ” she said.
“Feeling happy because people associate dance music with that euphoric feeling of joy and as well as spreading good tangible music, it’s spreading that feeling of happiness which is also a nice job to do.”
With the ability music has to spread joy and positivity we also noted how historically it’s played a role in political discourse, challenging established notions and providing a voice to those frequently ignored. Having overseen a plethora of music and the rise and fall of a number of genres, I figured who better to ask than Annie about potential trends off the back of club closures and the divisiveness of Brexit.
“There’s definitely a trend for more ferocious, politically motivated guitar bands without a doubt. We all know social unrest breeds great music,” she said.
“There’s definitely been a kind of surge in the guitar bands existing, but also in appeal for them. People wanting to go out and get their frustrations out at a gig and mosh and jump around and shout… It’s good, you’ve got your Irish bands like The Murder Capital and Fontaines D.C. and then you’ve got loads of great English punk bands like IDLES and Black Midi.”
She continued, “I’m yet to see it happen in dance music and I think that would be a really exciting evolution.”
“To see something really visceral, new and reactive culturally to happen within in dance music, I mean dance music has always been that in the past, I’d really like to see something new that would be really exciting,” she told me.
The conversation gravitated towards Annie’s personal growth and the evolution of her career. Having rose from humble beginnings to becoming the face of her very own festival, it’s not all been plain sailing.
“It’s the most wonderful thing getting to 40 because your 20s are a journey of self discovery, trying things out, experimenting, figuring out who the fuck you are basically,” she told me.
“Then you get to 30 and you have more of an idea of who you are. For me my 30s were consolidation.”
“I know who I am, I know what I want, not fully, but I’m definitely getting there. You stop giving a shit as much, in terms of how much you are liked and that’s really magnified when you get older.”
We continued and she joked about people now donning her the “Queen of Dance.” She laughed and said “Can I not be the princess?”
Back to her audience, who are getting younger by the day it seems. Annie reasserted her belief that radio, and music in particular, provide a method through which we can close generational divides.
“It keeps you feeling very young and in touch. Age and growing is all about spirit… It’s all perception and how you approach life.”
“If you always immerse yourself in the culture and you are always curious and always asking questions and you don’t put age restrictions on yourself you are going stay young for longer, without a doubt,” she continued.
And on staying connected, Annie talked of her bond with her homeland and in particular her love of the upcoming Other Voices festival in Dingle.
“I feel very proud and happy to be Irish,” she told me.
“Other Voices has been one of the things I’ve loved most in my career for the last ten years or so just for that reason alone. It gives me that really tangible connection to home. It’s different going home and seeing your family… You don’t get to see much of Ireland or immerse yourself in the culture. So going to Other Voices, working with Irish people, Irish production companies, Irish musicians it’s just brilliant because you get a really amazing sense of what it is like to live in Ireland.”
“Just being in a breathtaking beautiful place, you forget just how beautiful it is. You come around the corner of a bay in a taxi and you just think ‘Oh my god is this real’.”
“You come away so enriched, it makes you think, it’s such a treat. It’s medicine for the soul.”
Annie will return home once again for this year’s installment of Other Voices, but for the first time she will play a slot at the festival, in Dingle’s only club Hillgrove.
“It makes sense for me as I’m there”, she said.
“I don’t get the opportunity to play in Ireland that much… It’s nice I get to play somewhere I’ve never DJ’d before, not even just Dingle, but in Kerry or in the whole of the South-West of Ireland. I’ve never DJ’d anywhere other than Dublin and Belfast in Ireland, it’s mad.”
“There’s just a mad buzz about the whole town and it’s really addictive… I’m really excited and judging by the audiences Other Voices has, it’s going to be a riot.”
We’ll see you up the front Annie.
Annie Mac plays Hillgrove in Dingle on Saturday 30 November at 22.30.