Ex Pat Files: Zane Lowe
Author: Martyn Pepperell
These days Lowe resides in London where he is the Monday-to-Thursday DJ host of BBC Radio 1's 7-9pm evening show, a presentation dedicated to breaking new and emerging music of quality into the British market. Validating his influence, past alumni of the Zane Lowe experience include The Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, Gnarls Barkley, Dizzie Rascal, Cut Off Your Hands, Die! Die! Die!, P-Money and Fat Freddys Drop.
Aside from Radio 1, Lowe is also a VJ on MTV Two show Gonzo and takes part in regular UK nightclub tours as a DJ under the Home Taping Tour brand. When he has time spare he hits the studio to work on his own original productions and remixes for other artists (most recently P-Money/Vince Harder's Everything). Oh yeah, he's also a husband and father.
Over late December and early January Lowe was home for a holiday and a few DJ gigs around the country - providing NZM the opportunity to book in a bit of a shop-talk session with one of the most successful ex-pat Kiwis actively involved in the UK music industry.
So, how did you first become involved with Radio 1 and MTV Two in the UK?
I was pretty lucky man. I went out [to the UK] with a vague idea of what I wanted to do. Actually vague is underselling it. I wanted to make music, and ultimately I still make music in some capacity, whether it's by myself, or with Hamish from Breaks Co-Op, or [Chris] Tubbs.
I wanted to make my money and pay my rent by working in the music industry. My first port of call was TV, because I did Max TV. I met with a guy called Brent Hansen, who used to run MTV Europe. Fantastic guy, and he's a Kiwi who's done very well for himself.
I met him briefly and he got me a number. I rang that number and just kind of showed my show-tape around and got very lucky - met a couple of people who really believed in me and gave me my shot. Once you get to the table you graft it and try to make your own luck. With MTV I got a show that was right for me, which was brand new and got me into the new music thing.
Then with radio there was Xfm, a brand who were on the up in London and really happening at the time. I guess I was part of helping build that into something cool and that led to MTV Two; which was one of the best things I ever did. From that Radio 1 came calling - so it was really just a game of jumping from stone to stone.
What influences your radio DJing style?
In a way part of it comes from the performance side of my life, when I was a rapper in Urban Disturbance. I just bring that to radio and try to become a part of the music production-wise. I try to make it feel really mix-tapey, and get really behind the records, put some energy behind them in the same way Tim Westwood (a fellow Radio 1 DJ) does. Over time I've developed a slightly more measured approach also, so that I can give it shades.
Really, it just came down to a friend of mine who heard my first couple of shows on Xfm and said, 'When you talk to me about music, especially after a couple of beers, you put so much passion and energy into it. You could sell me that record right there, and I haven't even heard it. That's what you need to do on-air; you need to sell the records.' That's what I got my style from, just trying to turn people who didn't really know about that music onto that music; by just basically trying to get them to trust me.
Eight hours of UK-wide prime time radio a week! How much time do you spend preparing for your show and what goes into it?
If I have to do a fairy sizeable interview I have to go in early and get my head around that, so I go in about two-ish and I'm on air at seven. Some days it's earlier. If it's a straightforward show, the team have got everything in place and I've been briefed on the music and know what's going on, I'll sometimes get in an hour before the show. That can make some of the most enjoyable shows, cause you go on pretty fresh. It doesn't really have a set routine. I wish there was and I feel like there should be, but like anybody doing any job, every week is different and that shit flies out the window - you know?
Three of us work full time on it - me, a producer and an assistant producer; and that's a dedicated team. Then we have the exec who oversees everything, but he used to produce the show, so he understands what we're about. Then we have people who work in Radio 1 who are called broadcast assistants and music assistants. I mean, there are enough hands, we're not spoilt for staff, but it's certainly not bloated.
It's not like there are people at BBC looking for things to do; everyone's busting their ass all day every day throughout the week. We do love doing that show, it's the greatest professional pleasure, but we're all fucking knackered - especially right now, we're feeling it.