Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

An expat spin on the New Year

YouTube phenomenon and popular BBC Radio One DJ Zane Lowe will hit the decks at festivals

Zane Lowe was a presenter on now defunct local music channel Max TV. These days he fronts one of Britain's most listened to music radio shows.
Zane Lowe was a presenter on now defunct local music channel Max TV. These days he fronts one of Britain's most listened to music radio shows.

You may know Zane Lowe as the expatriate DJ who has fronted one of the most popular weeknight music radio shows in Britain for the past 10 years. Perhaps you remember him from mid-90s Kiwi hip-hop group Urban Disturbance, or from his time as a presenter on defunct local music channel Max TV.

Or you might have seen him as support act for New Zealand visitors such as the Stone Roses and the Chemical Brothers, playing broad-spectrum DJ sets that showcase his widely varied music tastes.

Lowe will be doing that again in a few days when he hits the decks at the Rhythm & Vines and Rhythm & Alps New Year's festivals.

But in 2013, the London-based Kiwi personality became something else entirely: A YouTube phenomenon.

That's thanks to a now infamous interview with a fired-up Kanye West which went on to claim 1.5 million YouTube views, inspired a parody by US late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel and generated many an internet headline.

Lowe could do nothing but watch on as West hijacked their hour-long chat for a bonkers and wide-reaching rant that includes the now infamous quote, "If you're a Kanye West fan, you're a fan of yourself."

Lowe, who hasn't yet spoken publicly about the interview, says scoring an interview with the previously publicity shy rapper was the culmination of three years of work.

"We'd been working behind the scenes for years to get him and his people to trust us. He hadn't done any press, and the next thing you know we're doing it.

"You'll see the first eight or nine minutes is really interesting music-related chat about his album and what he wanted to do with [his new album] Yeezus. That was the angle I was going for, but he made this immediate change of tack in what he wanted to say."

That's one way to put it. West delivered a wide-eyed emotional rollercoaster ride that broached topics of race, religion, romance, fashion, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga and polaroid cameras.

He also told Lowe: "When someone comes up and says something like, 'I am a God,' everybody says, Who does he think he is? I just told you who I thought I was: A God."

Lowe, who did similarly styled and extremely popular YouTube interviews with Jay Z and Eminem over a six-month period, says he couldn't do anything but sit back and - just like the rest of us - enjoy the show.

"I stayed out of his way, and only chimed in when I felt like I had something to offer. Who wants to hear me talk at that point? I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. He and his crew were really happy with that interview and felt it was a really honest representation of what he wanted to get out of it.

"There was no agenda [on my behalf] - just his agenda."

If anyone's setting the musical agenda in England these days, it's Lowe. He's built up a reputation as a tastemaker and trendsetter thanks to his popular BBC One radio show, which broadcasts for two hours a night, four days a week.

Exact statistics are hard to come by, but nearly 11 million people tune into Radio One each week, making it the second most popular radio station in the country. And it's fair to say a fair few of those are tuning into Lowe.

That kind of popularity doesn't come without criticism, and Lowe has copped it for being overly enthusiastic about new artists that don't go on to fulfil their early promise.

"Every song and album is the best in the world according to him. Goon," wrote one website commentator.

Comments like that mean Lowe has had to grow some fairly thick skin.

"You get used to it [and] you don't go actively looking for it. You try to remind yourself that people are people, and everyone's got an opinion. The only thing that's changed is that people can reach you really easily on Twitter, but it's up to me whether I take that on board.

"On a bad day it can hurt. On a good day it's water off a duck's back. Plus, a lot of it is really complimentary. It goes both ways."

Lowe's enthusiasm for showcasing new music is obvious, and his tastes are wide-ranging: His three favourite albums of the year include rock (Arctic Monkey's AM), dance (Disclosure's Settle) and hip-hop (West's Yeezus), and his in demand DJ shows are a "ramshackle" mash-up medley encompassing as much as he can cram into a 75-minute show.

"I'll play right across the spectrum, I'll probably make it to every BPM that I possibly can, try to make it make sense as much as possible. It's rough and ready, I don't walk in there with a perfect approach to beatmixing. I've got more of a hip-hop approach of scratching and cutting - it's quite rugged. You've got to develop a style that's an honest representation of who you are."

Lowe says he still approaches music like a 5-year-old listening to their first record.

"I have a childlike enthusiasm for beats and rhythms. I still have that total sense of awe for music, it's my primary focus outside of my family and friends - it's in my system, it's part of who I am.

"All I've tried to do in my life is try to get as close to music as I can. I have no interest in being on radio or on TV unless I'm talking about music."

- NZ Herald

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