In Conversation: Zane Lowe

Passionate prose from the Radio 1 DJ...
Zane Lowe and Professor Green

BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe is amongst the music world stars featured in a rather shiny new promotional campaign for Relentless energy drinks, alongside Pure Love and Professor Green. (Click those names for more content.)

Clash bopped down to the London launch event for the new television advert – which you can see below via the magic of YouTube – to grab five minutes with Lowe. Just to shoot the shit, really. Because we’re social sorts, us. We don’t need an agenda to hang out (so let’s hang, yeah?).

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Zane, you’re a pretty lively guy. I can’t imagine why you’d even need an energy drink…

Oh dude, you’d be surprised. I have been known to walk around with a can in my hand, for sure.

Maybe you need to get yourself one of those hats, for the cans… what are they called?

I don’t know. Is there a name for what those are? It’d be good to know. You know, for the festival season. It could be dangerous, though.

But in all seriousness, it’s good to see a company like this one supporting British music, isn’t it?

I think so. It’s not easy these days – it’s not easy to make music, to write about it, even to talk about it. You need to really commit to it, and believe in it. Everything we’ve said in supporting this campaign has been the truth, and honestly I was really blown away when I saw it. I love the feel of it – it makes me think that, if I was a kid, I’d want to get myself on stage. I think inspiration isn’t as high on new artists’ agendas as it used to be – today it’s all distribution, rather than inspiration. Or rejuvenation, or any other ‘–ation’! So it’s good to feel that we’re kind of supporting that – and I like these dudes a lot.

The filming wasn’t intrusive? As you’re a man with a hectic schedule…

We had a lot of fun making it, so much that we didn’t even realise we were working, really. And I know what you’re saying, because people can leap into these things without realising the commitments, and how it’s going to go, and that can upset people. But when it works out as well as this has, it’s like a good day, man.

And the acts here, Pure Love and Pro’ Green, you’ve been familiar with for a while I guess?

Well, as far as personalities go, Frank [Carter, from Pure Love] is so strong. Anyone who ever saw him with Gallows will know that he leaves an indelible imprint on you from the first time you see him. He’s a force of nature. He’s been something of a reluctant rock star for a long time, I think, but now he’s fully embracing things. He’s got bucketfuls of charisma; and Pure Love write really good tunes.

It’s nice that he’s managed to find happiness with Pure Love, while Gallows have continued, too…

Yeah, the last Gallows album is really good. Wade [MacNeil, new Gallows singer] is brilliant, and I really love what those guys have done as a band. I loved them with Frank and I still love them without him. It’s a shame that we lost [MacNeil’s old band] Alexisonfire in the process, but we gained Dallas Green! There’s much to be thankful for in the world of music.

I’m not so sure about some of these emo-cum-hardcore guys going solo. Dallas’ City And Colour… just never clicked…

Oh really? Not feeling it? Too emo for you?

Well, not really. I go back to The Get Up Kids, Saves The Day, bands like that…

Well I guess those bands are kinda more pop-punk, aren’t they? Good records though. [Blink-182’s] ‘Enema Of The State’ is still one of my favourite albums. Is it wrong that a part of my life is still soundtracked by that album?

Not at all. But if Wikipedia is to be believed, The Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Siamese Dream’ is your absolute favourite album…

Totally. It’s a great rock record. It’s so standalone, too – I don’t think it can be compared to anything else. It just is a document, a moment. It’s those songs in that order, played that way, produced that way. And [Pumpkins’ preceding album] ‘Gish’ had some great tunes on it, but it’s more of a collection of songs rather than ‘Siamese Dream’, which is just… whoah. You turn it on, and you don’t turn it off until it finishes.

That’s a great endorsement of the album format, right there…

I’m a big fan of the album, I really am. And we’re up against it, as there are some really intelligent people in this industry, whose opinions I really respect, who say differently. They don’t agree with that standpoint, they don’t feel that the album is a valid art form. I couldn’t disagree more.

Well it’s great that you can use your Radio 1 show to play full albums, in your Masterpiece series…

That’s right. And sometimes we’ll play multiple tracks from one album on the same show, too. I think music should be embraced, and the idea of it being distilled into a single format, that’s sort of how the world is becoming anyway. That’s what popularity bars are for, and that way of thinking has purpose and acts as a filter in some ways. It filters down a list of songs, and allows other people to see what is being liked – and maybe they’ll check that song out themselves. But for me, it doesn’t mean that the other side should be ignored, which means it can be a more long-form, enjoyable experience. For me, music has always been about switching off, to switch on to something else – to let go of one world, and absorbing whatever my imagination goes with, and however I feel about a particular song. And sometimes I want that to last longer than three minutes.

And when you’re putting your Radio 1 show together, does your innate enthusiasm…

Inane enthusiasm?

Haha, no, innate. Inane would lead us toward a slightly different conversation. But as you’re sort of charged with being Radio 1’s ‘gatekeeper’ for new music, does that enthusiasm ever get tempered by pressure to be the guy who is on new releases ‘first’?

The only pressure I feel, really, is to deliver to the audience the show that I think they deserve – which is, in turn, the best show that I think I can do. I need to do the best job of putting that song on that platform, at a time when it’s going to feel exciting. And I’m trying to reach people who wouldn’t necessarily like it, too, so they might go: wow. I don’t feel pressure to beat anybody to the punch, but obviously it’s great to be able to play records first and be part of a story. But really, what it boils down to is to take music that I am passionate about – that’s in my nature – and connect it with an audience, and watch for the explosion. I want each show to be an exciting event. I mean, a lot of what I play can be heard online at any time, and I’m not mad at that because that’s how I listen to a lot of my music. But if I’m in a position to be able to play these records, then I want to f*cking sell them to an audience, y’know? I want people to love that shit. Anyone can just play it, or post it. That’s an algorithm. This is f*cking real rhythm, y’know… like a heartbeat. This is an experience that we share together.

I recently spoke to some students about where they found their new music, and some didn’t even own radios. Do you think there are many more years left in radio, in its traditional format?

Well, that’s why we’re online, buddy! But I think radio will be okay so long as it continues to adapt. It has to exist in online spaces, and it has to be on all the formats that people want to access it on. Human interaction is important – and it’s important that we pay attention to recommendations, from people that we both know and don’t. From people we trust. It’s how you discovered music growing up, and it’s how I discovered it, too. Whether that was my brother, or a radio announcer, or the guy in my local record store. They put me on to music. And today, I could source a lot of new music myself – but it’s infinitely more fun to do it with other people. I don’t mind what format we find ourselves on, so long as we are in a position to actually communicate, and share music, personally. I like the personal experience of doing it. I get a big thrill out of sharing music. The sharing is the thing. It’s the thing. Life’s too short to keep things to yourself.

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Listen to Zane Lowe on BBC Radio 1 here

Zane performs at this summer's Benicassim

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