Annie Mac has a terrible memory. It’s a trait the DJ has mentioned repeatedly in interviews – often blaming her profession’s sleepless lifestyle – and even based an entire podcast series around: Finding Annie was premised on her desire to dig up lost memories related to crucial aspects of her life, from childbirth to Irishness.
It’s also been a running joke on her final stretch of BBC Radio 1 shows. As the 43-year-old prepares to depart the station this week after 17 years of broadcasting, she has found herself with the strange task of summing up her own legacy – which is especially hard when you can’t recall great swathes of your career (including an interview with Rihanna). Luckily, the BBC archives act as a handy back-up memory. Mac starts her final broadcast by replaying her first ever link on her first ever show, 2004’s The Mash Up. Self-effacingly recounting her failure to find something with “symbolism and hidden meaning” to kick things off, the young Mac has instead resorted to a track by High Contrast notable only for sparking joy. This show, she concludes, is “all about things that make you jump up and down and say yeah!”
Mac still wears her authority as an expert and tastemaker very lightly – muso knowledge as chinstroking machismo was cast out completely in favour of earnest enthusiasm. The Mash Up’s remit was to play music from the perspective of the punters, rather than the DJs, and Mac’s demystification of dance music is a significant part of her appeal. She is more than willing to pull back the curtain on an air of cool: other archive clips played on her final shows include a hungover appearance on the breakfast show recalling a night embarrassing herself in front of Pete Tong, and a tranche of nightmarishly awkward interviews. Her musical choices are similarly inclusive: the setlist for her final show – curated from reams of listener suggestions – is full of dance tracks so accessible they cross over into bona fide pop.
After years playing tirelessly in clubs, it is fitting that her last ever show lands on a Friday – the day she psyches listeners up for the weekend with Radio 1’s Dance Party. Yet she’ll leave the station with an influence that goes far beyond the dancefloor, or, latterly, the kitchen disco (it feels ironic that having expertly coaxed a party atmosphere from the stony silence of lockdown streets, Mac is departing just as clubbing becomes feasible once again). In her weekday Future Sounds show, she has also proven herself a thoroughly modern kind of Radio 1 DJ: an anything-goes playlist reflects the genre-fluid listening habits of younger generations; sensitively conducted interviews suit a world in which musicians are likely to talk about past trauma when promoting their music; a stress on mood rather than style mimics the typical Spotify playlist.
Unlike her forebears such as John Peel and Zane Lowe, it’s probably not for seeking out novelty that Mac will be remembered, but rather her zeal for the music she loves and her effective attempts to democratise the dancefloor. The correspondence Mac shares during her final show paints her as an almost lifelong companion to a generation of listeners, and the most tearjerking messages are not about dance music at all, but the bittersweet nature of time’s passing. Mac’s final message is to remind listeners to get up and dance because “life goes by really, really fast. It thunders by.”
Mac is not moving straight into another broadcasting job. Instead, she is leaving to focus on podcasting, writing – her debut novel Mother Mother was published in March – and spending time with her children. But wherever she goes next, you get the sense she’ll bring her legions of emotionally involved listeners with her. In the end, Mac’s forgetfulness doesn’t matter: her time spent soundtracking lives with effusiveness and a lack of ego exists vividly in the memories of many, many others.