“Working in radio is like phoning up your mate and playing a piece of music down the phone to them,” says Annie Nightingale MBE, radio programmer, DJ and dance music aficionado. “Despite all the changes in technology, the basis of that is kind of the same.”
Choosing what music to play on her BBC Radio 1 ‘Breaks Show’ is something that Annie spends a lot of time working at.
“I have 300 new tunes to listen to today,” says Annie. “I could spend 24/7 listening to new music that I get, buy and track down and I still wouldn’t be able to hear it all.”
At the moment she’s particular excited about the new music being produced by a Canadian breakbeat artist called Excision, as well as the new output from his cohort Datsik and the various remixes by Londoner Mike Delinquent. Last year she dedicated two whole shows to the new breaks sound coming out of Italy and it’s the exciting new twists and turns in what she calls “bass” music that keeps her at it after all these years.
“I suppose I first got into this music about fifteen years ago,” says Annie.
“I started after I got mugged in Cuba. I had my bag stolen and my leg got broken in three places during the attack. When I got home I couldn’t move for months and ended up just listening to music.”
During that period, the UK underground was dominated by a new garage sound pioneered by artists such as Armand Van Helden and interpreted by UK artists like The Dreem Teem who made records that ended up being lumped under the name ‘speed garage’.
“Out of that sound, a new sound started emerging,” remembers Annie.
“You could hear the music changing week by week, with heavier basslines and strong breakbeats, and that’s how the whole nu skool breaks sound started taking hold.”
When Annie got back to work, she started playing this music on Radio 1 and hasn’t looked back since.
“Radio 1 was pretty uncool for a while, but in the mid-1990s, it really got its act together,” says Annie. “The whole grime explosion was a pretty exciting time and now we’re right in the middle of an urban pop revolution. We have a whole group of black artists having No.1 hit after No.1 hit and I think it’s incredibly exciting.”
If anyone is qualified to pontificate about what’s hot in new music, then it’s Annie Nightingale. Annie got her first journalism job on the Brighton Evening Argos in the 1960s, writing record reviews of new singles from bands such as The Beatles. She was there at the beginning, middle and end of punk rock and was working at Radio 1, hosting her legendary ‘Sunday Request Show’, when acid house started taking hold.
“I’ve enjoyed pretty much every musical revolution except that period in the early 1980s,” she recalls. “Music was so dire at that point that I really thought I’d have to get out. I remember bands such as Kajagoogoo releasing records and it was just awful. At that point, the wrong people had taken control, which was all the accountants and all that lot.”
Annie says that what she felt were “factory made records” defined that early 1980s period.
“One thing I’ve learned is that if you hang on in there, something amazing does happen eventually. Just when I was getting really pissed off with music, the whole electronic music thing started coming up, through the mid-1980s and onwards.”
Annie toured with Primal Scream in the late 1980s and cites Andrew Weatherall’s influence on the band as one of her most inspirational moments in dance music.
“What he did with their song ‘Loaded’ was revolutionary,” she sparkles.
“They were a jangly rock band at the time. He took that song, took it apart, put all the spoken samples on it and just transformed the whole thing. That was his first dance remix and I think it was one of acid house music’s finest moments. I think he should have won this award instead of me.”
Last year, Annie celebrated her 40th anniversary with Radio 1. She was the first woman DJ to work for BBC Radio and has seen the station change beyond recognition since she first picked up her headphones and spoke into the mic.
“I do DJ in clubs but seamless mixing isn’t my thing,” says Annie. “Really I’m a programmer not a DJ. I just like getting the good new tunes out there.”
Catch Annie’s ‘Breaks Show’ every Friday morning at 2am on BBC Radio 1…
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