Interview by Azzief Khaliq. Photo by James Rivers.
If you’ve tuned in to BFM on a Sunday night you probably will have listened to The Selector at least once, if not more. The two-hour show, hosted by DJ Goldierocks and sponsored by the British Council, aims to expose the latest and freshest sounds from the UK’s underground and alternative music scene, unrestricted by genre or commercial interest.
The Selector first launched in 2001 and has been hosted by DJ Goldierocks since 2009. She was in town to give a speech and spin at The Great Britain Festival–which runs until l November 14–and popped into The Wknd’s offices to talk to us about The Selector and what’s been going on in UK music.
So you’ve been hosting The Selector since 2009, yes? Seven years, that’s quite a long time.
Goldierocks: Yeah, I was trying to work this out in the last interview and I was like, “oh my goodness”, it’s longer than I realised!
Have you noticed the British music scene change since you’ve been hosting The Selector? How so?
G: Things have completely transformed and evolved. I think that’s what’s so exciting about the UK music industry in particular, in that it’s very fast-paced, it’s constantly changing, it’s constantly growing. I think in 2009 dubstep was just bubbling up, and it’s almost like it’s over now in the UK; instead, grime’s really dominant as the next hot scene that everyone’s really buzzing about. Indie rock sort of went away and became quite melodic and ethereal and then has come back really punchy and punky again, and grunge is having a resurgence too, with bands like Arrows of Love and Turbogeist.
So, how does it feel to host of such a popular show? 46 countries, 4.3 million listeners; that’s a lot.
G: It is a lot. It is a weight of responsibility, but it’s a joyous responsibility. I think the thing that I find so exciting about the show is that I have complete creative freedom; British Council have really trusted me to deliver this show to all these people around the world, and I uphold that. It’s got to represent the underground side of the UK; the underground energy, what’s really happening across Britain, from all different cities—not just London—all different subcultures, and all different genres.
I’ve got to travel the world as well; I really have been to a number of amazing places: Kazakhstan, Russia, Libya, all over Africa, Central America, Mexico, so yeah, my passport’s full of stamps.
I was going to ask about that, actually. I read you’ve been to Malawi for Lake Stars festival, for example. Any particular places you were particularly keen on, any very special places?
G: Malawi is really, really special. It’s such a poor country, it’s so underdeveloped, so it feels a bit like you’re going back in time, but everyone’s really warm and friendly and beautiful, and the country’s amazing.
I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Asia as well; just before this trip I was in Jakarta, I was in India last year, and we broadcast nationwide across China and the Philippines. So I think I really connect with this part of the world, I’d like to come here more.
How was Indonesia, by the way?
G: It was cool. Jakarta’s really cool. I played a party with Virgin Radio out there, which went really well, but I think there’s a lot more to Jakarta than I saw. I went to this really cool hip-hop night at Lucy in the Sky, which is this floating bar in the sky, and that was great fun. I also went to this amazing record shop and listened to loads of dangdut and was thinking about how you could sample it, combine it with hip-hop. It was a wicked record shop.
I think there’s this dangdut-meets-hip-hop scene in Java that’s pretty interesting, I think.
G: Yeah! And they rap in Javanese! I heard some of it, and it’s really cool. I’m really all about encouraging people to do stuff like that: reclaim your sound, your national identity, don’t just sing in English because you think it’ll make you more popular. The UK and Europe are really open to “world” music, and new sounds, and new genres, and I think now’s a more exciting collaborative time than ever before.
You mentioned having “complete creative control”, but I’m sure that there are a few “layers” that each episode has to go through before it airs?
G: I’ve been doing it for so long now that they trust that I’m not going to do anything naughty, and I work with a great production company called Folded Wing, so I have my producer and assistant producer, and we decide the music every week and the greater direction. But then it’s listened to by an executive producer, and then the British Council, and that’s before it goes out on air, so there is filtering.
Also, broadcasting to so many different cultures, so many different religious backgrounds, different societies, different political systems, means that you have to be really aware of not offending anyone. But we’re not going to pussy around either; we’re going to have strong, creative, innovative music full of open ideas.
Is the music you play on The Selector purely personal choice or are there other considerations as well?
G: I play music that I think is important. I don’t have to love it, but it’s gotta be diverse and it’s gotta be exciting and innovative and new. Those are our key rules. Some of the urban music I find a bit hard to listen to, but that’s what 19-year-olds are listening to in the UK, so it’s really, really important that we play it and represent it. So that’s my role, that’s my responsibility.
I’m living and breathing the scene in the UK: I’m out all the time, going to see live music, going for meetings, getting recommendations from bands, and sometimes I literally live at festivals, going from festival field to festival field. There’s a lot going on, there’s a lot to soak in like a sponge, and I do it joyously.
Must be a lot of work, then, keeping up with things?
G: It’s a lot of work. I’m switched on all the time. The entire time I’ve been in Asia I’ve still been working online, hunting new music out. But, you know, who can say they get to do this for their job, man? I get to play music for a living!
How do you keep the show fresh? Once a week, two hours per show, seven years running, it’s pretty easy for things to get stale, I imagine.
G: I’ve got two different producers across the year, and I think a different producer always brings a different energy to it, which is cool. But you just have to keep pushing yourself; if you become complacent then you just take it for granted. You have to keep pushing yourself creatively and think outside the box, and about how you can keep the show evolving.
You change the format of the show, change ideas, get new guests in, just keep pushing it. If it’s the same tried and tested format, people will get bored of it, like with anything else.
I’m always thinking about the show. I’ve even got some notes on my phone now about new ideas and new formats. And obviously there’s all the technology as well, making sure we’re still linked in with all of that. And that’s not just social media, but it’s also about how we can have cool videos, or maybe some kind of app that can be a physical interaction based on music.
We developed this idea to do with learning English, so a band will come in and record a session for us, and people can watch the video and we’ll have the lyrics in English and it can help people learn English, just little things that add an extra layer.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you were one of the first journalists in Libya after Gaddafi fell; what was the mood like in Libya at that point, culturally and politically?
G: Culturally, they were in shock. They’d been closed for such a long time, so to then be open was a bit of a shock. But people were really open, desperate for nuggets of anything, of music, of culture. The landscape was, you know, it’d been a war-torn country, so there were still piles of rubble and loads of political graffiti all over the walls, which I thought was really cool.
Since then, it’s gone backwards again and we’re not broadcast there anymore. Political evolution takes time, and there’ll be ups and downs and movements backwards and forwards, so I hope we can get to a place where we can get broadcast there again. It’s a very difficult time for the people of Libya, so I wish them all the best. But it was exciting. Dangerous, but exciting.
Time to ask the standard question everyone in radio seems to get asked these days: what about Spotify? I understand that in some countries there’s not really any competition because Spotify and internet penetration isn’t widespread, but what about in a country like Malaysia, where almost everyone in urban areas has access to Spotify on their phones and computers? Are the two in competition?
G: I think that was the initial reaction, and I definitely think that for classic pop music radio, that is the case, that the two are in competition. But I think that isn’t the case for really specialist broadcasting. You know, we’re saturated with music, we’re saturated with options, the internet has flooded people, and that means that people often don’t know where to look.
But I think people trust now in curators and tastemakers more than they ever have before. And that might be in the format of a presenter for The Selector, or that might be in the form of a record label, or a music website. Something where people go “oh wow, what’re they saying is cool.” It’s about picking your tribe and what you culturally identify with; the kind of “gang” you want to be in. So I think radio is as relevant as, if not more important than, ever before.
I think there’s something special about listening to someone talk about the music instead of just discovering stuff on Spotify. I mean, I have no issues with the algorithms—they’re really good!—but it’s nice to have someone talk about the music.
G: And also you’ll get insight, you know? I’m there in the UK, living it and breathing it. You’re gonna get insight and experiences and inside knowledge that no-one else has. I’m going to be interviewing the bands directly so you’ll get more layers to it. With record label features you’ll get their insights too, and all that extra content is a bonus.
Any British favourites from 2016 that you think Malaysia (and the rest of the world) should keep an eye on?
G: Haelos are a brand-new band that I’m really excited about. They’re kinda like London Grammar, a bit ethereal and cool, and I think they’re the ones I’m really excited about as the next hot thing. There’s also Catfish and the Bottlemen, who are a really cool punky indie rock band that I think could go down really well in Malaysia. They’re doing really well, a hot band to watch. There’s also Skepta of course; it’s just been a year for Skepta, grime has just taken over and blown up. There’s also a great DJ called Murder He Wrote that’s a South African-style house/grime DJ that’s really hot too.
Has 2016 been the year of grime, then?
G: Without a doubt. The fact that Skepta won the Mercury Music Prize shows that grime is the genre.
Do you think that the resurgence of grime has had something to do what’s going on with politics and the economy?
G: Hundred percent. It’s been a really difficult couple of years, with political unrest and economic crisis, and I think the economic crisis that’s been really difficult. We’re still recovering from it, especially in poverty-stricken areas in the UK. People don’t have jobs and they get restless.
Are there any other trends that are really bubbling up in the UK, beyond grime?
G: I really think grime isn’t finished yet, there’s still a lot to do with grime. But there’s a lot more DJs coming up than ever before, and with all the technology at everyone’s hands, it means you can just work on your own, and on your own music. People are looking a lot more towards producers like Bonobo and Cinematic Orchestra to make this beautiful, layered electronic music. It’s more than just making a cool beat that you can dance to down in the club, it’s about a wash of sound all over you. People are really open to that sound now; why not just go to a gig and sit down and let it wash over you?
But yeah, regardless of trends, my number one thing is always “support the artist”. Bands can get going, and they can put out one record, but if you don’t continue to support the artist by buying tickets to gigs or buying the physical music or buying their merchandise, they’re not going to last beyond one or two albums because they can’t support themselves. So yeah, pay what the art deserves.
Is that a big issue in the UK?
G: Massively. Because it’s hard for the heart! Passion can only take you so far, and it’s really hard if you’re a success, if you’re doing really well, but you still don’t have enough money to pay rent at the end of the month. It’s really depressing. Bands will last a couple of years when they’re young and hungry for it, but without support, they won’t have longevity.
And people want to do what everyone else does, you know? Get married, settle down, have kids. The thing is that being a musician is very mentally challenging. People think that you turn up, you rock out, you party and it’s a really easy life, but it’s not. It’s very psychologically testing. It’s not just pouring your heart and soul into lyrics and then sharing them with the world, but it’s also relentless and exhausting and isolating and lonely. You need a home life to balance those things out, but you need to be able to support that.
To wrap things up, any advice for up-and-coming musicians?
G: Don’t follow trends, don’t do something just because you think it’s cool and because you might be the next cool thing. Make music that you really, really believe in and are passionate about and is as innovative and boundary-pushing as you can manage. That also makes it really worthwhile because if you’re really poor, tired and lonely, the fact that you’re making music you care about will be your motivation and keep you going in tough times.
And it means you’ll also have integrity, so even if you’re not a success, at least you did something you can be proud of. And when people criticise you—and they will—you can stand by your creative decisions.
Be kind, too. The music industry’s really tough, and really mean, and people are really mean in general, especially online. And I say that to the music fans as well, just be kind to people.
Azzief Khaliq mostly spends his days thinking about, buying or listening to music. He used to play music too, but finds that it’s not something he’s all that interested in doing anymore. What you know about dem tings dere?