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'Clubbing is primal, it's a communion'

DJ Annie Mac tells David Smyth about touring, club culture and maternity leave

Luckily, before I meet Annie Mac, I find an article she wrote in 2014 which lists the questions she hates. Her personal bugbears all concern queries as to what it's like being a pregnant/mother/female DJ in this "male-dominated world". You wouldn't ask Pete Tong how he copes with six children, she reasons, quite rightly.

Nevertheless, the prominent bump that occupies the space between us, in a hotel next to her Radio 1 headquarters, does merit a mention. The 38-year-old Dubliner, born Annie MacManus, is expecting her second son with her partner, dance producer Thomas "Toddla T" Bell, in January. A Press release went out this week about her maternity leave, with 1Xtra DJ MistaJam lined up to take over her 7pm-9pm weekday slot for a few months.

"God, I hate maternity leave!" she says, quickly clarifying that she doesn't mean the actual caring for the heaven-sent miracle of a newborn baby, but having to release her grip on one of the most influential shows in broadcasting.

"I never find it easy saying, 'Here you go, have my show'. But it's good for your ego. Selfishly, you kind of want it all to collapse and, of course, it doesn't," she tells me. "I want the listeners still to be there when I get back."

She needn't worry. After Zane Lowe left Radio 1 in March last year, moving to LA to present on Apple's Beats 1 internet station, figures showed she added around 110,000 listeners, with an audience of 1.74 million. A cool big sister to young listeners, she operates the drawbridge between Radio 1's more mainstream daytime shows and the specialist night-time fare.

"It suits me. I'm really happy with that balance because I really love pop music and love being able to play it, but I also had some brushing up to do, learning about indie labels and bands, having been doing the dance show," she says.

"I was never that worried about the music because I have a foundation in the indie world. I was brought up with it, spent a lot of time in my early twenties listening to it."

She's still known best as one of the most familiar faces of club culture. Her thick curls have even been turned into an instantly recognisable logo for AMP, short for Annie Mac Presents, her series of compilation albums, touring club nights and an annual festival for 7,000 in Malta. This year's compilation, out early next month, is the usual mix of dance hits on the first disc, but a broader range of artists on disc two. "I'm really happy with the track list on CD two, especially," she says. "It feels like there are important artists on there, which people maybe won't expect from an AMP CD because maybe they still feel like it's a raving brand.

"For me, clubbing is classless, it's a celebration, a communion of people on one dancefloor all experiencing the same thing. It's the most primal thing we know as human beings: people dancing around a fire to a drum.

"There's something hugely celebratory about it. One of the reasons I came to London was because of its huge multiculturalism and the fact you could go clubbing and meet someone of any background, colour or creed and bond with them over music. A big element of youth culture is dying."

You can bet she won't sit back and take it. Club culture has a worthy champion.

  • Annie Mac Presents 2016 is released on October 5 on Virgin

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