This article originally appeared in Time Out in November 2011
It has been a phenomenal year for legendary broadcaster Mary Anne Hobbs. She gutsily left her late-night post at Radio 1 last July, where she had been unearthing experimental music for the past 14 years. There, she was best known for championing UK dubstep producers and the West Coast LA beat scene, giving them a global platform for the first time.
But in July, Hobbs relocated to Manchester from Sheffield, returning to the place where she spent her formative radio years – the alternative station Xfm. She has taken on two of their music shows: the relaunched Music:Response during the week, where the soundtrack ranges from Slipknot to Rustie, and a primetime Saturday night slot, in which she continues to present the freshest beat-mangling in an attempt to spread her forward-thinking, John Peel-inspired gospel even further.
That's all while touring North America, hosting showcases at international festivals and collaborating with Clint Mansell on his award-winning soundtrack for Darren Aronofsky's 'Black Swan', of course.
So, naturally, we couldn’t be more excited that she is headlining the next Time Out Nite Sessions club night at Rhythm Factory on Saturday November 12 – a rare east London date for the high priestess of dubstep, and our first party after a brief hiatus over the summer. She’ll be joined by such discerning producers as genre-hopper Shackleton, exciting new duo Dreadnought, rising star Randomer and Dirty Canvas resident Reecha for a very special night.
Plus, it gives us an excuse for a catch-up about with the DJ about her continual quest to educate the masses.
We’re very lucky to have you play such an intimate show with us on Saturday. By contrast, you played to 15,000 people at Sonar in July…
‘It really blows your head clean off. Sonar was a terrifying experience for me this year because in the prior four years I had always come with my BBC badge on and had a coterie of new artists in my showcase. But this year it was me on my own and I hadn’t broadcast a radio show for nine months. I was really scared that I might fail.
‘In the end, 15,000 people were rammed into that arena; I was overwhelmed by people’s support. In fact, the last time I saw Shackleton was when myself, Olly [Skream], Pokes and Sam [Shackleton] were all backstage at Sonar. We were sitting in a little cluster in the dazzling lights of the dressing room deconstructing the events. It was probably the most extraordinary experience of the year for all of us.’
That must have been one hell of a confirmation that you could fly solo, go to Xfm and smash it on your own?
‘Yes, absolutely. You always wonder what will happen when you leave an institution as powerful as the BBC. But I stood alone on a stage that big and it gave me a wonderful sense that all my instincts – trying to progress my mission to bring a much more culturally significant sound to prime time radio – were right. That was the whole reason that I decided to leave Radio 1: I’d gone as far as I possibly could broadcasting in that 2am-till-4am dungeon and it was time to push the music that we love up to the next level. The BBC were not interested in having that conversation with me whatsoever; they didn’t want to even discuss it. I really felt like it was time to take a big risk and find something that could push this entire movement forward – and I found that at Xfm.’
What has the reaction to your two new Xfm shows been like so far?
‘I could not be more delighted. We’ve got record numbers of listeners. And it feels like such a victory to flip on the radio at 7pm on Saturday night and hear the music that we love being represented. It’s exciting to be able to expose, I suppose, the more guitar-centered audience that I’m playing to for the Music:Response shows to different textures of electronic sound that they might never have heard before. We’ve made Rustie the album of the week on that show! I see it as my role to try and counterbalance some of the dumbed-down scum that we deal with on a daily basis, which unfortunately seems so prevalent across new media.’
How do you cope with the ocean of new music that you’re constantly confronted with?
‘Sometimes I feel like a tiny little piece of flint skimming across the surface of this giant ocean. I always go to bed every night wondering if I’ve done enough. You are always tormented by this notion because there are so many people vying for your attention.
‘I literally turn my back for five minutes and go and put the kettle on and there’ll be 60 new emails in my inbox. I do wonder, with the huge acceleration of culture in the last seven years, how even someone like John Peel would have coped. He had just got an iPod for his sixty-fifth birthday [he died months later on October 25 2005, now known within the music community as John Peel Day] but I don’t know if he ever put any music on it. The MP3 format was completely alien to him. That’s not to say I don’t love it, I’m completely passionate about it. But I don’t know if you can ever go to sleep at night now and think: I’ve finished. It’s an endless search that I will continue forever.’
You said on Peel Day that you’re glad to be carrying his torch. Do you feel you are fulfilling that role now?
‘I hope so, yeah. I’ve always wanted to carry the torch for John until the day that I die because he was such an amazing inspiration to me, not just as a broadcaster but as a human being. His set of values and principles taught me how to live this life, so I am really happy to extol his virtues. Actually, on the show last week I spoke to Stuart from Mogwai on John Peel Day and it was so funny. I was telling him this story that John had told me: John had met every single person you can ever imagine from the dawn of time – if you asked him what Bob Marley was like, he could tell you a story. But I asked him one day if he’d ever met Elvis and he said he hadn’t, and that it was one of his great regrets in life. And he added: “Me and Sheila always believed we could have saved Elvis. All he needed was a couple of weeks at Peel Acres and he’d have been absolutely fine!” Even John Lennon used to go and stay with them quite frequently, to get away from it all too. So coming from anyone else, you’d think: what a load of rubbish. but I wouldn’t put it past John to have been able to save Elvis.’
Have you ever taken anyone in like that?
‘Loefah once stayed at my house for a couple of months when he didn’t have anywhere else to go. It was wicked! He brought his dog, Vincent, who I’m still completely in love with.’
Maybe Loefah will turn out to be the John Lennon of his generation! What do you think is the next sound, place, artist or crew likely make an equivalent effect on electronic music?
‘That’s really, really hard to say. To a degree, there’s never a plan. It almost just seems to unfold like some sort of exotic rare flower, one petal at a time. You tend to find momentum is created completely naturally within a scene and there’s this amazing groundswell and magnetic effect in terms of drawing people towards something unique and different. To really feel that extraordinary motion is very special indeed. What’s happened, I suppose, is that the people who were initially inspired by dubstep, “the DMZ generation” in the UK, have gone off and created their own interpretation of the original core [dubstep] sound. And then you get all these amazing symbiotic relationships between what’s happening between the east and west coast of America and what’s happening in London.
'Everybody has a slightly different twist. Producers are experimenting with different BPMs, textures, and they’re making tunes that I suppose they would release on a myriad of different labels depending on a label identity as well. You have Brainfeeder and Hessle Audio and Numbers and Night Slugs and all these different camps creating amazing aesthetics, all of whom have got brilliant symbiotic relationships with each other and would work brilliantly on a live bill together yet stand alone completely. You really have no sense of what’s right around the next corner at the moment, which is wonderful. If we could predict what was next, it wouldn’t be so exciting.’
Mary Anne Hobbs on…
‘He is probably my favourite electronic producer on earth. An endlessly fascinating and truly breathtaking artist. It’s always such a treat to see him play and I’m sure it will be absolutely incredible to see what he has to throw down, especially in a tiny little venue like that in Whitechapel. It will really be something else.’
‘I’m so glad Dreadnought are playing – it’s Untold’s new live project with vocalist Samuel Chase. It’s very different to what Untold would do as a producer. Samuel is an incredible singer, very melodramatic. I’ve only seen them once, their first gig in the back of the Shacklewell Arms pub in Dalston and they were brave, tempestuous and truly unique. So I’m thrilled to bits about getting to see them play again.’
‘Hessle Audio’s young star and one of the most exciting next-generation electronic producers.’