Seven stages on ships and in castles. Sixty handpicked artists from right across the musical spectrum. More than 8,000 revellers.
At the centre of all this is the one woman making it possible: Annie Mac, DJ, radio host, and the tastemaker who gave electronic music icons like Disclosure their big break. At her Lost & Found festival in Malta, she presents some of the most exciting artists of the moment.
“How are you doooooing, Malta?!” the woman with the curly hair shouts into the microphone. She dances, she sweats, she presses the headphones closer to her ear. Her head nods to the rhythm of the bumping house track spinning on the turntable in front of her. Annie Mac raises her right hand and looks over the 3,000 dancers beneath her, all hailing their queen.
What’s peculiar about this scene isn’t just the time – it’s a sunny spring day rather than an early-hours rave – but that Annie Mac is on the balcony of a castle. What’s more, next to her are two pale guys armed with carnival crowns and sceptres, better known as Disclosure, one of the most successful and influential electronic duos, who will take over the royal DJ desk when Annie Mac’s done.
In early April, the Irish radio host and tastemaker invited 60 musicians to a four-day festival on the Mediterranean island of Malta: AMP Lost & Found. The seven party locations, including ships, hotel pools and the sandy brown palace, are as exceptional as the line-up itself.
Instead of the usual superstar DJs, Annie Mac has mostly picked living legends, insider tips and personal favourites, from garage house pioneer DJ EZ to talents on the rise like grime whizz-kid Stormzy, whose single “Shut Up“ reached number eight on the UK charts last December. Plus there are performances by electronic music heroes Hudson Mohawke and Mark Ronson, who have worked closely with the 37-year-old throughout their careers.
Annie Mac is considered a genius when it comes to spotting and nurturing talent. With her daily show on BBC Radio 1, which has 1.74 million people tuning in across the week, she’s in the rare position of being able to take ambitious musicians under her wing to help them break through internationally.
Take Disclosure. When they were still too young to order a beer at the bar, Annie Mac took the British brother duo on tour with her and played their music on her radio show before anyone else did. In 2014 their single “Latch“ peaked at number seven on the US charts and has been streamed half a billion times on YouTube and Spotify.
In 2012 she invited a young singer named Sam Smith to play her tent at Bestival. He had to take a night off his bar job at the time. Four years later he has four Grammys, which he won for his debut album, and an Academy award for his James Bond theme “Writing’s On The Wall“.
After finishing her regal set, Annie Mac sits down with The Red Bulletin to discuss the topic of talent.
THE RED BULLETIN: You’re hosting one of the most influential music radio shows in the world. How much music do you receive per week?
ANNIE MAC: It’s hard to quantify, because it seems like there’s an endless stream since things have gone digital. It’s maybe 600 tracks, from which there’s a selection of 50 new ones I present on air each week.
Sounds like your job entails a lot of quick decision-making. How do you do that?
Having a very strong vision of where you want to be and knowing who you are really helps. Experience is also very important, as well as a great team who you really trust. Trust is everything.
In what way?
In my job, you have to trust in each other’s taste. If there’s a song I definitely don’t like, but the other two members of my team are into, I have to go and reassess that. And sometimes I go, “You know what? Let’s try it out.”
And if the track you rejected goes down well with listeners?
One of the most important things I’ve learned in my job is to not be afraid to do a U-turn on record. Don’t be too proud to hold your hand up and go, “I was wrong, this sounds amazing now and it just took me a while to like it.”
In a lot of professions that kind of honesty could cost someone their job…
…and that’s tragic, because honesty is so important. In my job it’s all about connection to people. People choose to spend their time with you and you owe it to them to give them everything. It’s my responsibility to play the music I love, and if I’m not sure about music that I play, I say exactly that. That immediately puts the listener and me on the same page, rather than saying, “This is the greatest song in the world!” It’s about letting people into your perspective and letting them feel like they’re part of it. There’s a big element of honesty that goes with that.
How do you avoid making bad decisions?
It’s essential to realise you can’t make right decisions all the time. If you want to achieve something unique you have to try to do stuff that hasn’t been done before. In that sense, it’s as important to fail as it is to succeed. Failure makes you stronger.
What does a song need to appeal to Annie Mac? Do you have any advice for young artists?
Try and make something that has some form of originality. Be creative, think outside the box, think outside the musical landscape. It’s very easy to follow the unwritten rules of generic pop music. What excites me as a listener, is hearing stuff that feels like something I haven’t heard before. That’s what I look for.
Are there really 50 songs per week that give you that feeling of originality?
The thing is, you are always going to borrow subliminally from your influences. You always hear reference points in a song, where you think that bassline sounds like Prince. But it’s about taking what you love and making it your own. Listening to your gut feelings, however weird they may seem, takes you to a creative place. Just go with it. It’s just too easy in this music world to create music that you feel people might like, rather than create music that you love.
Can you explain that using the example of Disclosure?
It’s because they’re not just good at making beats, they’re genuine musicians and, most importantly, great songwriters. When they work on a track, they start with the song and then they work the music around it. The reason they were able to make it in America is brilliant songwriting. If you take all electronic elements away, when you hear a version of Latch that’s just on the piano, that’s when you realise how brilliant their songs are.
Approaching dance music with a songwriter background seems to be the formula behind many modern hits. Did Disclosure start that trend?
Definitely. What’s funny now is, you get so many people copying them. Subliminally or not, all I’ve heard for a while is music that sounds like Disclosure, which is testament to them. It’s an incredible homage. It’s not often that you get people come along and do what Disclosure did, that’s hard to do. But that’s why they’re successful.
Lost & Found 2016 took place from March 31 - April 3. Watch the official aftermovie on YouTube.
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