What’s hot? Chatting music with Zane Lowe
Apple Music’s tastemaker-in-chief sits down with The Face in Ibiza to share his takes on Tyler, the Creator, Slowthai, Billie Eilish, Kanye and Rosalia.
The first time I saw Zane Lowe playing Ibiza, he had to do something that doesn’t come easily. That’s against his religion, even.
He had to turn down the music.
It was 1st September 2007 and the New Zealand-born DJ, then BBC Radio 1’s new music guru, was spinning before a set by Arctic Monkeys. That summer was Peak Monkeys, when they were already well on their way to festival headliner status. But here they were, playing a tiny, open-air beachside bar in San Antonio, as part of the then-new Ibiza Rocks bands-playing-Ibiza strand.
“I was talking about that the other day,” he begins with a grin. “There were some great moments and there were definitely some great shows with Ibiza Rocks, but Arctic Monkeys, in that moment, the hysteria…”
“It’s the only time anyone has ever asked me to tone down what I was playing because of the amount of beer being thrown around the sound desk. It’s, like, either turn the volume down or stop playing bangers.”
Lower the volume or stop playing bangers. You might as well ask Lowe to cut off his ears.
Twelve years on, Lowe has come a long way. Four years ago this summer he swapped his adopted home of London for Los Angeles, joining Apple Music’s start-up radio station Beats 1. The 45-year-old recently re-upped his contract: now he’s Apple Music’s Global Creative Director, while maintaining a dayjob which sees him leading a radio station that streams round the clock, seven days a week, to over 100 countries.
He’s also the go-to guy for world exclusive first-plays and interviews, scoring globe-rattling sit-downs with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Madonna via Billie Eilish.
We’re talking on an unusually rain day in Ibiza, during May’s International Music Summit. Lowe has flow in from LA with an Apple Music/Beats team. He’s here to take part in a keynote discussion with Pete Tong at this annual dance music conference – and, ever the tune-spotter, to take the temperature of the White Island as it gears up for the imminent summer season.
Ibiza is still a great incubator for new music, he says forcefully (although tbh, he says everything forcefully).
“That’s why we came. We came out here because we recognise its value to the core of what dance music is. It’s full of music fans a good portion of every year, and everyone’s ears are wide open and their attention is on music. Even if you’re going out to have a good time with your friends, music is the soundtrack to that.
“I have been a part of that experience, when I was at Radio 1,” he continues, “I have been a part of that experience as a DJ playing various clubs. And to come out as a part of Apple Music and see a different point of view, from a streaming point of view, it’s exciting to see what we can do with that.”
Is that, then, part of his Mediterranean mission: to plant a flag in what he sees as unclaimed territory vis-à-vis streaming and dance music?
“We’re working hard at trying to fill it and we’re trying to be really, really strong advocates for the dance music community in the streaming age. It’s really important to us.”
What, then, is the next innovation, or big leap forward, for Apple Music?
“Well, you know, if it’s big and innovative, chances are they probably don’t want us to talk about,” he shoots back with a smile.
What he can talk about till the streaming figures come home is new music. Lowe gives a shout-out to Dave, lauding him for “being so transparent and honest with his feelings right from the get-go. Talking about how he feels about living in Britain right now, but also talking about anxiety and what he goes through – he’s a very, very inspiring artist. Slowthai, likewise.”
Barely pausing for breath, he rhapsodises about Tyler, the Creator. “IGOR went Number 1 [in America] this week,” he says of his new album, “which is a critical achievement for an artist who has made an album that is uncompromisingly brilliant.”
What about his old pal Kanye West – has he heard any of his new stuff?
“No, but I was talking about that the other day… It’s funny: everybody who works on that, you can tell, is so desperate to talk about it, but they don’t out of respect… Ty Dolla [$ign] told me that it was great and that he’s lining up something very special.
“He’s never let me down as an artist,” he concludes, firmly, hopefully. “His music has never, ever, ever let me down.”
But has he let you down as a man – a man in a Donald Trump MAGA cap? There’s the briefest of pauses before Lowe replies.
“No. He’s his own man and at the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their opinion and entitled to say what they want to say. There are things lots of people say that I disagree with, and sometimes strongly disagree with. I am not a supporter of Donald Trump. I don’t mind telling you that, I’m just not. But it’s not up to me to judge…
“What Kanye chooses to believe is up to Kanye, and if we ever had a conversation about it, then, yeah, maybe there are some things I will disagree about. But he seems open to disagreement, he seems open to conversation. I leave it at that.”
His slot on the IMS stage is calling, so one more question for the Apple Music’s chief Music Man: who, to him, is the new music artist of the year. The answer flashes back. First he mentions Eilish, and then he pivots.
“Rosalia. Watch, just watch.” This coming summer, he says, the Catalan singer is only going to get bigger.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he enthuses. “She’s the single most exciting and important young superstar in the world of music. You know, there’s others who are equally exciting and important. But no one has broken out the way she has.
“She’s just got everyone’s attention in the biggest way.”
Zane Lowe’s flagship Beats 1 show can be heard Monday to Thursday at 9am to 11am PT. Listen live for free at apple.co/zane or On Demand with an Apple Music subscription