It can often be difficult for females to break into a longstanding boys’ club, but Annie Mac has proven to be an exception. In addition to being one of only a handful of internationally known female DJs today, her resume boasts a range of accomplishments, from hosting several popular Radio 1 shows in the U.K., to presenting music-oriented TV shows for the likes of MTV and the BBC and DJ’ing in clubs around the world with her hand-picked, rotating “Annie Mac Presents” talent roster. Here, the Irish-born DJ discusses what it’s like to be female in today’s dance-music scene, about where she sees the future of electronic music heading, and about her “secret” love of fishing.
Is it important for you to “break” America?
It’s never been a big aspiration. I have an agent over here who probably hates me because he’s always trying to get me over and I turn him down a lot, just because I don’t like missing my radio shows. I don’t like other people doing them. [laughs] When you come to America, you have to come for at least two weeks to make it worth your while. This time I was really lucky because Radio 1 said that I could do my show from New York, so I only missed doing one show live. We kind of took advantage of that and squeezed in as many gigs as we could over that 10 days: San Fran, L.A., Austin, Vancouver, Toronto, and then New York. It’s been really good. I think in terms of crowds, people [here] are really enthusiastic and really happy. In the U.K., sometimes the crowds are a bit cooler, a bit more reserved.
You’re one of a just a handful of female DJs/electronic musicians today. What do you see as the upsides and downsides to being a woman in this industry?
It’s all upsides, to be honest with you. Nothing negative has ever happened to me because of the fact that I’m a woman in this industry. It’s only ever afforded me goodwill from other people. Promoters are really delighted to book you because you’re a woman and maybe you appeal to a different crowd or something. When I play, I always have girls coming up to me saying it’s great to see a lady up there. People have only ever been really nice. I’ve heard other [female DJs] say that sometimes guys are waiting for you to fuck up because you’re a girl, and if you do fuck up it’s because you’re a girl, rather than becuase you’re not a very good DJ. But I honestly have only ever had goodwill toward me. It’s great for me because I’m a minority. I don’t mind being the only woman with loads of men around me! [laughs]
I have noticed, though, that even the crowds at clubs or live electronic shows seem to be heavily male. I haven’t really been able to pinpoint why that is. Any ideas?
I think in terms of the making of music — and this is just my own personal theory — there’s some inherent gene that is different in boys and girls. I think boys are more adapted to technical stuff in general, sitting in dark studios and working and teaching themselves things for hours on end. Whereas I think girls are as into music and as knowledgeable about it, but are maybe more into the social aspects around it. Even me as a DJ, I’m not that technically minded. I don’t have the patience to learn Logic and those things. I’ve seen loads of arguments on forums from girls going, “Oh, it’s really sexist,” but I think that ultimately girls just aren’t as into DJ’ing or making music as much as boys are. I don’t think that’s necessarily a sexist world, it’s just life: Boys are more into it than girls are. I’m quite a boyish girl, so maybe that’s why I DJ. All the girl DJs I know are tomboys.
It’s awesome that you continue to champion new dance music and bring attention to up-and-coming electronic artists. Is there a particular dance subgenre that’s closest to you?
I love disco, and when I started buying records, that’s kind of what I veered toward — all sorts of disco 12-inches. I’ve got lots of awful disco on record, but lots of good stuff as well. Disco I don’t think I’ll ever tire of.
Was disco what you grew up listening to then?
I was 19 or 20 when I got really into disco. That’s when I started properly buying records. Before that, I just loved all sorts of things. I was really into rock and indie music for years, and when I moved to London when I was 20, I got right back into that. I kind of hung out in Camden for a few years and used to interview bands for my radio show and record sessions with them. So yeah, it’s kind of everything — it’s not all dance music for me. I love guitar music and kind of miss playing it. I love when I stand in for Zane [Lowe, fellow BBC Radio 1 DJ] and people like that because I can get it out of my system and play bands again.
Which newer artists are you digging at the moment?
I think Skream is very much on fire in terms of his remixes and his production. He’s got so much good stuff. And there’s a guy called Hot City, a U.K. guy who’s quite new. He plays like two-step garage-y house — really fun, really good. There’s a guy called Sbtrkt as well. We played his Basement Jaxx [“Scars”] remix on the show tonight. Again, just kind of 140-BPM-dubstep speed but garage-y, very U.K.-sounding, very fresh, really bouncy, and easy to get along with.
Where do you see dance music heading in the next couple of years?
It feels, at the moment, really, really exciting. In the U.K. There’s so much stuff going on and so many sounds and so many amalgamations of sounds. What excites me musically is something that sounds fresh, that I haven’t heard before — a rhythm or a sound or a beat that makes me go “Wow.” There’s so much of that coming in, literally every week. Trying to squeeze all this good music into two hours is harder and harder. It’s a lovely problem to have. I think definitely things are changing. You’ve got this kind of new generation of producers coming up, like Skream and people like Rusko and Benga and Toddla T. All these kids are under 25, really talented, really open-minded. They’re [putting] all these amazing sounds and energies into the music they’re making. I don’t know what’s going to become of it, but it can only be good things. It can only get more and more exciting.
Is there a big difference between how you approach your radio show versus your live DJ sets?
The radio show is less subtle in terms of just banging in different tracks. You’re just hitting people with different genres: drum and bass followed by dubstep followed by hip-hop followed by house. It’s all different. But in a DJ set it’s harder to do that and make it sound smooth. You have to be very, very technically gifted, which I am not. [For DJ sets] I try and do what I do in the “Mash Up” but kind of do it over a longer period of time. I kind of play things in sections. Maybe a bit funky, then a bit more electronic house, then disco house, then dubstep, and then drum and bass, so it’s really more sections of things rather than singular tracks. I try to still represent everything.
What are your ultimate career goals?
To be on the radio for as long as possible, before it becomes undignified. [laughs] Radio is my first love. DJ’ing is brilliant, but I think in time I will probably feel like I’m a bit old for it — not anytime soon, but maybe in 10 years or something I’ll be like, “OK, put the headphones down; they’re 18, and you’re 41.” [laughs] To keep playing good music and loving good music and being stimulated by it. I just love my job, so maintaining that would be good.
Have you thought about getting into production and remixing?
Yeah, music-making is kind of a pipe dream, something that I’m definitely interested in, that I’ve always been interested in, but I’m very wary of doing it. If I do it, it’ll be something that I do for me, privately, and see how I go. But I love that process of making music. It’s something that I’d like to do down the line, definitely.
And lastly, what would people be most shocked to know about you?
I love fishing! [laughs] I’m really into fishing. I’m not like fishing-obsessed, but my dad is an avid fisherman, so I grew up going fishing with my dad. Whenever I go home, we get on a boat and go out to the Irish Sea and catch mackerel. It’s very close to my heart. But I’m not, like, packing my fishing rod every weekend, putting the waders on. [laughs] It’s just something that I love. People are like, “Weird!” My boyfriend saw me on one of those sort of extreme-fishing programs and was deeply disturbed. I hadn’t told him about my love of fishing. He caught me!