Yanking Your Soundchain: Zane Lowe Talks TV

Reinvesting in music television…
Zane Lowe meets Nas

Music and television have always been awkward bedfellows, particularly in the UK. Take a quick look at the schedules: beyond the usual customers – okay, customer, in the shape of Later… – there are precious few channels allowing artists time to express themselves.

Annie Mac has her Superstar DJs series on Channel 4 (read all about it), but for the most part, TV commissioners remain cold to new music shows.

Zane Lowe, though, is eager to try something different. Relentless Ultra Presents Soundchain With Zane Lowe is a new show coming to MTV Music, which – despite its mouthful of a title – has a simple concept.

“It’s about the points on the journey,” the broadcaster explains. “The people, the songs, the influences, the highs and the lows, the real broad-stroke headlines, pieces of wisdom and advice that have stuck with those artists. Because that stuff stays with you, so it’s about getting those stories and getting that insight into what defines those artists.”

A seven-part series, Soundchain finds Lowe granted intimate audiences with everyone from Queens Of The Stone Age to Nas, Kasabian to Chase & Status. Comparing to series to his own BBC Radio 1 show, he is proud of the diversity on offer.

“We wanted to make sure that it felt genre-less, as that’s a modern thing now. You can be a fan of one singular type of music, of course you can, but most people look at music nowadays with a playlist mentality. That’s pretty much how we approach everything now with regards to the curation aspect of what I do: the radio, the TV, DJing. Anything I’m involved in what I would call the curation side of things is broad. So it’s the same rules for Soundchain.”

Opening with Kasabian reflecting on new album ‘48:13’ – soundly thrashed by Clash in our 2/10 review – Lowe’s enjoyed unrivalled access to each artist.

“New York, LA, Slovenia, London. It’s been good. We’ve been really lucky, we’ve not had closed doors at all. Even subject matters that have, perhaps, been difficult [for the artists] to re-visit has been, but only up to a point where they feel comfortable, and then we move on.”

Probed on the series, the New Zealander admits that traveling to New York to trace Nas’s journey was a personal highlight.

“The timing was perfect,” he enthuses. “I mean, for me as a music fan to be able to go to New York, to the Blue Note club, and talk to him on the edge of the stage... it was such a ridiculously awesome day. You’re talking to Nas in this iconic location in the city that made him. I mean, ‘Illmatic’? Is it not arguably the greates rap album of all time? It’s under 40 minutes of pure brilliance from start to finish.”

(Indeed it is: read our Spotlight feature on ‘Illmatic’ here, and our interview with Nas to mark said album’s 20th anniversary, here.)

Hopeful for a web-based aspect to the show, Lowe points to Radio 1 as an example of how traditional mediums can incorporate online elements.

“I think Radio 1 is flying right now. I mean, new changes to the schedule, new DJs, a fresh slate in many ways in terms of on-air talent. Everyone is communicating with each other, sharing with each other in terms of show to show.

“Online being a hugely important part of people’s lives right now, Radio 1 are doing incredible things; from playlists going right through to the iPlayer integrating with the Radio 1 YouTube site. I mean, we’re running with technology, we’re running with the modern approach to consuming information. Hang with the smart people, keep your ears wide open, and adapt.”

MTV has been keen to give the presenter, who broke through said channel, as much leeway as possible. It’s a freedom he can compare to that he experienced as the lynchpin of the MTV Two (now MTV Rocks) series, Gonzo.

“We wrote the list [for Soundchain], we got everyone together. We knocked it into shape. But MTV has been incredible. Relentless have given us the resources to make it amazing. It’s just like it was before [with Gonzo], really. They’ve been a dream to work with because what’s really important to them is to make things that feel authentic. You can’t do that if everyone is pushing in different directions. They know what they’re good at, and they do it well.”

For Lowe, everything he does must have some form of personal investment, resulting in some kind of tangible legacy.

“I don’t want to do anything professionally which isn’t contributing in some way to something long form, to an investment. I just feel, right now, that music is the most disinvested art form. It’s free: most people don’t even pay for it. It’s been completely devalued so now we have to invest in it; we have to create big, bold, ambitious visual statements. Like, okay, let’s start a big seven-part TV series and make it look amazing, with these amazing artists. Now is the time to do that.”

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Words: Robin Murray

Soundchain begins on MTV Music at 9.30pm on July 6th. Details

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