Making a case for DJs

Zane Lowe.
Zane Lowe.PHOTO: REUTERS

Radio deejay Zane Lowe says fans may let computer algorithms decide what music to listen to, but they still need expert views on where music is headed

Many music fans are letting computer algorithms decide what music to listen to on streaming services, but do not discount the human touch just yet.

So says music tastemaker and famed radio deejay Zane Lowe, a host and creative director on Apple Music's online radio station, Beats 1.

Apple Music is the music-streaming service started by technology giant Apple.

"There's room for both," the former BBC jock and television presenter tells The Straits Times in a recent telephone interview in which he discussed how technology is starting to replace traditional curators such as DJs in the way fans discover new music.

Whether it's a trusted news source, somebody working in the entertainment industry, maybe a pundit, people also want to hear an educated point of view on where they think music is going. ''

RADIO DJ ZANE LOWE on how technology is starting to replace traditional curators such as deejays

"I think it is a very valid and very fast-paced, very well-built machine that absolutely listens to your tastes and the tastes around you and it does its best to try and match those," he says of software that creates automatic playlists for listeners.

"But whether it's a trusted news source, somebody working in the entertainment industry, maybe a pundit, people also want to hear an educated point of view on where they think music is going."

The 43-year-old, known for his high-octane style of presenting, spent 12 years on BBC Radio 1, the British radio station that broadcasts contemporary music worldwide.

From 2005 to 2008, his evening programme won Best Radio Show at the NME Awards.

He moved to Los Angeles with his wife and two sons to join Apple Music in 2015, a departure described by British newspaper The Guardian as "a considerable loss" to the BBC.

Born in New Zealand, Lowe's obsession with music started when he discovered his mother's extensive record collection at the age of six.

He started out as a presenter on Auckland music television station Max TV, then moved in 1997 to London where he had a stint on London-based radio station XFM. He joined the BBC in 2003.

His work continued to straddle both radio and television, and he was a host on the music-based European channel MTV Two, now known as MTV Rocks, from 1997 to 2015.

Like his past programmes, his flagship show on Beats 1 is a barometer of what is fresh and hot in popular music.

"We're a broadcasting service that works in tandem with playlists and with algorithms, rather than in opposition," he says of his current gig.

Similar to his time on the BBC, exclusive song premieres and interviews with top artists, ranging from hip-hop star Drake to popular singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, are a trademark of his Beats 1 show.

More than just a presenter, he is also an acclaimed musician, songwriter and producer and is part of New Zealand electronica outfit Breaks Co-Op.

In 2015, he received a Grammy nomination for Best Album as one of the writers and producers on In The Lonely Hour, the debut album by British singer Sam Smith.

Lowe has also done remixes for indie bands such as Kasabian and Snow Patrol and has written music and produced songs for hip-hop acts such as Tinie Tempah and Action Bronson.

Moving on from traditional radio such as the BBC to a newer music platform like Apple Music meant a tremendous change in pace, but he is embracing it.

"It's been the most exciting time I've had in radio," he says enthusiastically.

The process of releasing and promoting new music used to take a long time for artists, record labels and formats such as radio.

These days, music can reach fans almost immediately after it is produced.

"Beats 1 is built to move very quickly. Luckily for us, Apple Music has given us the resources to do that," he says.

"It's been great, it feels like it's where the music fans are, it feels like it's where the music lives, it feels like it's leading the pace in terms of releases and how people get their music."

•Zane Lowe's radio show is on Beats 1, Apple Music

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline 'Making a case for DJs'. Print Edition | Subscribe