On a Lowe frequency

By Scott Kara

With his high media profile in Britain, DJ Zane Lowe is effectively the biggest NZ act at next week's Big Day Out. He talks to Scott Kara

When Zane Lowe plays the Boiler Room at the Big Day Out this week he won't be nervous. He's played bigger rooms - like the 86,000 capacity Wembley Stadium in June last year as special guest of the Foo Fighters.

And how did the Kiwi lad, who's done pretty well for himself in Britain during the past decade, score that show?

"Invite yourself to the wedding, that's what you do," he jokes.

He's not showing off, it's just that the guy is hooked up. He also did a similar set at Wembley the year before for Brit pomp rockers Muse.

"You know, I'm not above and beyond getting a little hustle on. I know the Foo Fighters and their crew from years and years of doing interviews, and I've got to know their manager really well, so for me it was a chance to go pay my respects to the band, entertain the crowd, and absolutely do this for myself," he laughs again.

Since leaving New Zealand in 1997, where he also had a healthy TV and music career on the go, Lowe has worked his way up through the ranks of British radio and TV to become one of the country's most influential music figures.

This is the guy who early on touted the album Boy In Da Corner, the debut by a young 19-year-old rapper called Dizzee Rascal in 2003. That same year, at the Rascal's request, Lowe introduced the album at the awards ceremony for the Mercury Prize - Britain's most prestigious music award - which the rapper went on to win.

More recently Lowe has been responsible for bringing bands like Bloc Party, Kasabian and fellow Big Day Out stars the Arctic Monkeys to prominence.

He hosts the prime Monday to Thursday 7pm-9pm slot on BBC's Radio 1, a show focused on playing the best new music, and also has his own show on MTV.

Talking to him on the phone from Southampton, where he's tucking into a pint at the pub an hour or so before he's due to DJ (as in a gig rather than broadcasting), it's no wonder he's got where he is today. This motormouth's energy and enthusiasm gush down the phone. He's the type of guy who keeps coming back repeatedly until you give him a job just to shut him up. Well, that's how he got into MTV at least.

And in recent years he's also been in increasing demand as a superstar DJ, doing his own tours and gigs, which is what he is coming home to do at the Big Day Out - at 5.30pm in the Boiler Room.

Although, at the Big Day Out don't expect to hear never-heard-before exclusive tunes like the ones he plays on his Radio 1 show.

For his festival playlist he uses the words "tailored" and "customised" to describe the make-up of the sets and he's careful not to talk specifics.

"There's lots of re-edits, and remixes, and pretty much 80 per cent of the set is made up of songs changed in some capacity from the original to something new.

"I just try to cram as many styles, in a relatively cohesive way, into whatever time I've got. It should really feel like a gig. I feel like a band so the crowd should feel like they are part of something interactive."

He's come a long way since the very Kiwi sounding, yet pioneering hip-hop crew Urban Disturbance and the DJ Shadowesque sound of 1997's Roofers, the first album by Breaks Co-Op, a band he formed with fellow producer Hamish Clark.

Besides his broadcasting achievements in Britain that was the last New Zealand heard of Lowe for a while until Breaks Co-Op re-emerged in 2005, along with vocalist Andy Lovegrove, to release the chart-topping follow-up The Sound Inside which sold more than 30,000 copies.

The lead single from the album, The Otherside, was the No.1 airplay hit of 2005 and winner of Song Of The Year at the NZ Music Awards.

The band plan to record another album - maybe sometime this year - but they are all busy, especially Lowe.

He puts the strong influence and status he holds today down to getting a lucky break in the late 90s when he was given the chance to play the music he wanted on MTV.

"There was very much a pop revolution going on with boy bands, and the only guitar bands who were round were very mellow, measured and considered.

"So MTV gave me a show called Brand:New, and they realised they still had to cater to that sort of music rather than just completely doing the pop thing, and said, 'Well, you can have this show and do what you want'. And because no one else was really doing that at the time, apart from maybe Jools Holland, it gave us a chance to bed in and gain an influence when no one really cared."

Around this time he was the first to play Muse, the Hives, and even nu metal bands like Limp Bizkit. There were also the Foos, of course. And then along came bands like the Strokes and the Kings Of Leon in the early 2000s, which was perfect timing for when he scored the Radio 1 job in 2003.

"You realise it's a very privileged position to be in, to be playing records at this timeslot. But also the influence comes from being on Radio 1 and the lineage [the station] has with [the late] John Peel and Steve Lamacq. I'm very appreciative of being a part of that."

So what does he do when the new song on offer for him to play as an exclusive is not so hot?

"Well, it's an unofficial equation that never really gets spoken about," he laughs.

"You add up your opinion - I'm going to get this wrong - and multiply it by the importance of the return and how anticipated [the song] is, how much the audience is going to love it irrespective of whether you were disappointed or not, and then draw a big line through that and decide to give it a shot anyway because you figure the band's trajectory and what they've achieved already means the song has a right to be heard."

He is not, however, the be all and end all of taste.

"I just want to play records that excite people and if it doesn't fly it doesn't hurt - and you have to be honest with yourself and the artist."

Who: Zane Lowe
What: Kiwi lad done good, superstar DJ, British TV and radio presenter, and member of Breaks Co-Op
Playing: Big Day Out, January 16, 5.30pm, Boiler Room
Also: See this Thursday's TimeOut for the Big Day Out special starring the Prodigy, Serj Tankian, Mike Patton of Fantomas, Black Kids and My Morning Jacket

- NZ Herald

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