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The voice of the alternative. The gate-keeper to the underground. The most enthusiastic, well-versed, inclusive and entertaining personality in music broadcasting today. And now not just an MTV legend and Radio One lynchpin, pounding out the world’s most exciting and innovative new sounds between seven and nine every Monday to Thursday, Zane Lowe – aka Zipper - is a successful international live DJ and producer in his own right. Once the man behind new music, now he’s edged his way inside.
Zane has come a long way from the bedroom in Auckland where, as a five-year-old, he first became obsessed with rock music thanks to the Thin Lizzy ‘Live And Dangerous’ album he uncovered in his parent’s collection and his brother’s obsessions with The Smiths, The Cure and Led Zeppelin. As a teenager he turned to rap when his mother brought him tapes by The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and LL Cool J home from a US trip that were impossible to find in New Zealand. “Every day I’d be drawn to listen to records or try to find something out about music.”
While his motormouth excitement about the music he was discovering baffled his rap-averse schoolmates, on graduation it landed him a job at Auckland’s Max TV as the in-house “interview guy”. “I interviewed everybody from The Pumpkins through to Meatloaf, from Garth Brookes to KD Lang, you name it. Everybody that went through there, I had an interview with.” The stint left Zane with an “obscenely long” 20-minute showreel tape, produced alongside an electro album called ‘Roofers’ with his band Breaks Co-Op. Both in hand, in 1997 Lowe travelled the world for several months, final destination glamorous Cool Britannia.
After a six-month stint behind the counter at the Music & Video Exchange in Notting Hill, his showreel landed in the lap of MTV’s Eddie Temple-Morris, who offered Zane the chance to cover for him on his show for a holiday fortnight. Impressed, they hired him as a presenter on Up 4 It, MTV News, MTV Rocks and then Brand:New, “the stop-gap between pop music and The Strokes”. Then in 2002 Zane made the switch from MTV slickness to MTV2 slackness, founding the now legendary show Gonzo, a cult music magazine programme centred simply around Zane - oozing wit, warmth and an encyclopaedic knowledge of alternative culture - interviewing alternative bands squashed up on the show’s iconic brown sofa as if they were his best mates come round for beers and giggles.
“That was the big ice-breaker – especially American bands would go ‘you want me to sit here? Okaaaay…’ Especially if there was a few of them, they’d be really bunched up and I’m sitting so close to them, you gotta get into the vibe of it because I’m right next to you going ‘what’s up?’ I wanted to sit on a couch with no script, no graphics, the lowest budget. The line on the day was ‘let’s set the bar so low that we never trip’. We made this show that was so rough and rugged but it had a charm. It wore its genuine authentic enthusiasm for music with a very wry smile.”
Zane’s eight years on Gonzo provided some classic rock TV moments – Zane getting ‘comedy’ punched in the nuts by Dirty Pretty Things, and leading Brandon Flowers, Ricky Wilson and Kele Okereke in a rendition of A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ among them – but his sideline in hosting a show on XFM drew him into radio, and in 2003 the call came from the BBC asking him to replace Steve Lamacq’s Evening Session on Radio One and giving him a free reign in choosing his own playlist.
“It’s the greatest radio show in the world to do because you’re not tied into one musical genre. People still consider it an indie slot, but it’s really not. It was really upfront with Skrillex and dubstep. If you could tell a story from Keaton Henson over to Mastadon and make that jump over to Yuck and somehow end up playing Paula Robinson and over here to Frank Ocean and Llana Del Ray and make sense of that, as a broadcaster that’s the best day ever.”
Alt.Britain took Zane to its heart. His Fresh Meat segment threw up such rock’n’roll luminaries as Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian, The Killers and Bloc Party. His wide-reaching love of music was evident, from championing hardcore, rock and punk acts like Rival Schools or QOTSA to landing the first listen of Gnarl’s Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ or dedicating entire weeks of his show to playing classic albums in their entirety as part of the Masterpieces slot.
The performing itch never left him, though. He remained a member of Breaks Co-Op, releasing the double-platinum (in New Zealand) album ‘The Sound Inside’ in 2005 and, since leaving Gonzo in April 2010 he’s increasingly been getting his onstage fix from live DJing. Having been invited to spin at Wembley Stadium, geeing up huge crowds before gigs by Muse and Foo Fighters in 2008, he began honing his CDJ craft.
By 2009 Zane was gaining plaudits in dance magazines such as Mixmag for his sizzling sets in Ibiza. The Prodigy, Deadmaus, Skrillex and Pendulum began asking him to open major gigs for them at Brixton Academy, Victoria Park and Milton Keynes Bowl, his decks centre stage. The festivals started calling – this year he played Bestival, Rock Ness and Future Music Festivals across the globe, to rapturous receptions. He sold out his own 20-date Insider University tour in 2010 and subsequently 2011, and is taking his new production to 16 universities around the country on his 'Electrified Tour' connected by Nokia Lumia this year.
What’s more, Zane has started remixing and producing artists too, making remixes of Kasabian’s ‘Vlad The Imapler’, Sway’s ‘Still Speeding’, and most notably Snow Patrol’s ‘In The End’. “I’m constantly trying to get as close to music as I can. Step by step you start to validate your own artistic pursuit within it. I’ve got to a point now where I feel I have a place in it.”
From out on the peripheries, Zane’s headed for the dead centre.