If you're on the wrong side of 25, you probably think of Zane Lowe as fondly as the bands you loved most growing up. Throughout almost a decade of service on Radio 1 he broke hundreds of bands, showcasing an incredible knack for making the new Good Shoes single sound like the most important thing in the universe.
In 2015 he left the BBC to help launch Apple's global radio station, Beats 1. His show has just as much energy as his Radio 1 slot, but there's slightly more time to take a breath, with more in-depth interviews and a broader spread of music from across the world. There's still a kind of alchemy to his on-air production skills, though, making a radio show sound like a stadium show.
Zane broadcasts from LA, but on a flying visit to London he stopped by to do the VICE interview. When we talk there's no difference between his on-air and off-air persona; it often feels like he's spoken a whole perfectly-formed paragraph before he's blinked.
VICE: When was the last time you said "no" to something in your work life?
Zane Lowe: I mean, that’s been a bit of a constant area of my life, which has been going in and making music with people. I was getting really into that when I left the UK, and I was getting into a lot of "sessions". And that was becoming another part of my life. I had always done [it], but it became a focus. I moved to Los Angeles and started doing Apple Music, and some of that interest carried over and I had to say no. That was really hard. That was not fun, to say, "I would love to come and make music with you and I really appreciate you being interested, but I just don’t have the time." I had to be really dedicated to what Beats 1 could be, and really wanted it to be successful and useful and add value to the experience for the artists and their fans.
What was your worst phase?
There was a moment during my time at Radio 1 – I was noticing the changing way that people were listening to music. We’d taken a dip in the ratings. They were going to streaming services and going to Soundcloud and going to things where they felt they could control their own curation. So it wasn’t like we bottomed out, but there were like six months there where it felt a bit rough. I reacted quite badly to it – I sort of panicked and I probably wasn’t fun to be around. I wasn’t enjoying it. When you question your passion, you end up thinking: 'Is it me? Am I not bringing my A-game?'
I realised the audience and the artist can start this direct conversation. Initially, I was like, 'Where do I fit into that?' I think you have to ask yourself, 'How are we adding value to that relationship?' I don’t feel in control anywhere near as much, and I like that. You have to be willing to join the conversation rather than lead it; you have to be willing to collaborate rather than control. This is the most pure and exciting time for that conversation between artist and fan to exist. I still want to listen to it, and sometimes I want to contribute, but I’m not going to stand in there and go, "I know better."
How long do you think you would last in space?
I’ll give you the mathematical equation: it would be space, plus about 55 seconds of breath holding, and then I reckon I’d probably perish. In terms of mentally, I think I would survive in space as long as the mission required. I’m pretty resolute. I see things through. I'm not in a hurry to get into space. I quite like having my feet on the ground. That's a very Liam Gallagher thing to say, isn't it? "Fuck space, I like having my feet on the ground." He always finds the most amazing way to say it. I spoke to him yesterday – he was going, "I'm fucking having porridge, mate. Drizzle of honey. Fucking having porridge."
What conspiracy theory do you believe?
Kendrick Lamar was abducted by aliens. If Kendrick believes it to be true, I wouldn’t put it past him. That guy has special insight. Isn’t he just the most amazing, deepest, complex, beautiful fucking artist? Like, the idea that Kendrick floated that and said, "No one believes me, but I believe it’s possible." It’s a good time for the aliens. Aliens are going, "How many people do we have to abduct for you to take us seriously? Outkast wrote a whole album about it and you still didn’t take us seriously."
What’s the grossest illness or injury you’ve ever had?
The other night I was having dinner – I was on a wooden chair and on the back it’s a bit rough, you could feel bits coming off it. I put my hand down the back of my chair and there was a two inch, needle-type splinter with the sharpest point. Imagine the thinnest, toughest bit of wood, shaped like a needle. Somehow, and this is the miracle of life, out of all the land and space and matter in the world, that tiny little space between my big thumbnail and my thumb perfectly met with the tip of that wooden splinter and it was so long and so sharp that it just went really easily underneath my nail all the way to the base of my cuticle. It still hurts. Look here, you can still see it. It hurt like shit.
What would your specialist subject on Mastermind be?
Tribe Called Quest or Beastie Boys. I was going to do it! They did a 1xtra special, but it didn't work out. I was pissed because I think I would have been good.
What event have you got in your iCal that you’re most looking forward to?
My holiday. I've got some technology mates now in LA – I've been hanging out with [entrepreneur] Gary Vaynerchuk a bit, and I sometimes watch his videos and he's like, "If you're taking a holiday, it's a mistake, I never take holidays" etc. But I love a holiday. I need a break. Maybe it’s just the way my brain is put together; I’ll put a lot in, but when I need to step out, I’m really happy to check out.
If you could be a radio DJ in any era of music, what would you pick?
I think the beginning must have been pretty spectacular. In the mid to late-60s, my dad was a pirate in New Zealand. Him and his friends felt that the government’s control over broadcasting wasn’t speaking to them or the generation, and music was changing. They tried to get a license to make a rock 'n' roll station and were denied, so took matters into their own hands. They put a radio station on a ship in international waters and they broadcast for years and called it Radio Hauraki. They basically invented commercial radio. I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing without that. If you trace it all the way back, it starts there.
How many books have you read and finished in the past year?
Zero, zilch. Just zero time. I had to watch season seven of Game of Thrones and then go back to season one to play catch up – that’s how behind I was. I couldn’t even afford an hour a week for the first few years.
What’s the nicest thing you own?
I’ve got a TR-808 that I’m pretty stoked about. I’m going to start using it on the show, which will be really fun.
If you were a wrestler, what song would you come on to?
"The Champ Is Here" [by Jadakiss]. Just the loop, then the beat.