From the second he burst back onto the airwaves, a few thousand volts’ worth of adrenaline coursing through his voice, it was obvious. Not only has it absolutely killed Zane Lowe, being away from radio these last four months, but Beats 1 is something he’s seriously excited about. Whether or not the station, labeled “the world’s first local radio”, launched today as part of long-awaited new streaming service Apple Music, brings the revolution in streaming habits the tech giant promised when it was announced three weeks ago remains to be seen. But after a brilliantly high-tempo first two hours on air, full of new music, starry exclusives and classic Zane-isms – at one point he declared Royal Blood “ONE OF MY FAVOURITE ARTISTS OF ALL TIME!!!!!” at the kinda volume usually reserved for people screaming for rescue from a burning building – we know that Beats 1 means business.
You’d have been forgiven for thinking the almost violently enthusiastic Zane would return to the air a different DJ – same energy but maybe, now he’s broadcasting to more than 100 countries, a little tamer in his music selection. That fear was put to bed almost instantly: this introductory show, which let’s face it, given the notoriety around Apple, had probably tens of thousands of listeners tuning in to see what all the fuss is about, kicked off with Manchester newcomers Spring King. Who? Exactly. The message was loud and clear: the New Zealander might have moved to Los Angeles to take up a position at the biggest tech firm on God’s green Silicon Valley, but he’s lost none of his commitment to new music, predominantly from the UK, with five of his first 10 songs back in the booth by British artists.
What followed was an assuring mix of British underground (Skepta, Jamie xx, Hud Mo), grungy newcomers (Courtney Barnett, Bully) and big-hitters like Pharrell, Beck and Eminem, threaded together by the same breathless bursts of endearing hyperbole Zane filled his Radio 1 show with successfully for 12 years. “Our genre is GREAT!” he at one point announced, hammering home that no type of band, artist or music is out of bounds, despite the switch of station.
“Always on” proclaimed regular idents between tracks: a nod to the station’s 24/7 hours broadcasting, but also a pretty good description of the wired, hyper-caffeinated persona Zane’s carried over from BBC to Beats, his energy levels only drooping tonight during wooly attempts to explain how the station will operate. Details remain a little sketchy. Are shows going to be available on demand if you miss one? How much will be pre-recorded versus live? How exactly, as a worldwide station, will they meet the varied music needs of listeners tuning in from all sorts of time zones at once? What one person is waking up to in Bangladesh, another is jamming to as they prepare for a night out in London. Zane didn’t really have answers. These will likely be revealed in subsequent shows and via Apple over the coming 48 hours.
Much of the presenter’s Radio 1 show format has been reworked for Zane on Beats. His famous Hottest Record In The World is now World Record – today a new Pharrell single, ‘Freedom’, played twice in succession. “You’ve heard my show before, you know I do this!” he beamed, unapologetically. The impression after two hours back in the game for Zane is that he won’t simply recreate his Radio 1 show on Beats. Apple is right when they say nothing like this has been attempted before: an international radio station, with the scope to do seriously innovative, far-reaching things. Finally getting to grips with the station made those possibilities seem infinite. Zane’s return to the air was only a taster – but with shows by St Vincent, Pharrell and other stars still to check out, plus a rare Eminem interview from Zane incoming tomorrow, it seems Beats is going to take some beating in the streaming wars.