Legendary music journalist, broadcaster and BBC 6 Music presenter Steve Lamacq joins Headliner for a chat about next month’s 6 Music Festival and why he believes the station appeals to audiences like no other.
Taking place in Cardiff from April 1-3, this year’s 6 Music Festival marks the event’s first outing since gracing stages across London just before the country went into lockdown. Taking in such venues as St David’s Hall, The Great Hall and Y Plas in Cardiff University Students’ Union and Tramshed, this year’s line-up is typically eclectic, boasting a bill comprised of Little Simz, Khruangbin, Father John Misty & members of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, IDLES, Bloc Party, Johnny Marr, Pixies, audiobooks, beabadoobee, Big Joanie, Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18, Cat Power, Curtis Harding, David Holmes, Deyah, Elkka, Emma-Jean Thackray, Ezra Collective, Georgia Ruth, Green Gartside, Gruff Rhys, Gwenno, H. Hawkline, Ibeyi, Ibibio Sound Machine, Lucy Dacus and many, many more.
“I’m really looking forward to this year’s festival for so many reasons,” fellow 6 Music presenter Stuart Maconie told Headliner, discussing the return of the event. “First of all, it’s my kind of festival in that it’s set in cities and clubs. I know some people love getting their wellies on and getting muddy, but I do like a roof, I like being able to find out about new places.
“I have such fond memories of all the 6 Music Festivals, particularly when we went to Glasgow. We had a tiny reservation on the way up in that we wanted to make sure that when weren’t going to someone else’s town and saying, ‘here we come to share with you the benefit of our brilliance’. Nothing could have been further from the truth. People showed us the good pubs, the good venues, the good restaurants. I pretty much lived in Barrowlands for four days and started going out for breakfast with the bar staff!
“This year there is so much going on in Cardiff, and of course, it’s the first one since Covid. It will be so great to see people after two years off.”
The 2022 6 Music Festival coincides with the station’s 20th anniversary. Since launching, it has attracted an increasingly devoted listenership and is officially the UK’s most popular digital station.
We caught up with Lamacq to find out what he’s most looking forward to about the 6 Music Festival and the station’s unique ability to transcend genre….
Firstly, congratulations on 20 years of 6 Music. What’s been the key to its success over the past two decades?
One of the things the anniversary has almost forced us into is actually analysing what it is that 6 Music does well and why we are still here. It may sound like we’re blowing our own trumpet, but I think one of the main reasons is the way 6 Music has adapted and grown with the audience. Even when we started 20 years ago, I don’t think anyone expected the change in the musical demographic – there was a point where people started growing out of pop music. When I started going to gigs in the ‘80s, if you saw anyone over the age of 30 it was like ‘what are you doing here, grandad’? Now it’s completely changed, especially over the past 20 years, and 6 Music was perfectly placed to understand that music being produced now is open to all.
It’s just getting the feel of the audience, understanding who they are and what you can bring them. We are fortunate to have a very inquisitive and enthusiastic audience, on several levels, from people who go to three gigs a week, to those who go out once a month but are ardent record collectors and fans. We have an incredibly diverse audience and our success has come through understanding that and representing it in the music we play.
6 Music’s audience is particularly devoted. What inspires that connection people feel to the station and its presenters?
They are fans and they are just interested in music. 6 Music was possibly a bit cliquey when we first started. It was quite a serious station, but now we are far more accessible. The word community is probably overused, but we are a kind of gang – it’s us and the listeners and there really is nothing between us. We all like the same things, it’s just a few of us are on the other side of the desk. It’s also not a station you grow out of. You can grow up with 6 Music and you can introduce the next generation in your house to 6 Music and there is no difference. We’re not a genre or age specific station – that is the rarity. Most stations are aimed at a certain age group or certain type of music, so you can feel at home at 6 Music for a lot longer than you would at most other stations.
Do you think this is something we’ll see more of across radio, as genre and age becomes less important?
Possibly. There are still signs of how music used to be, which is slightly more tribal. I think this changed a little bit during Britpop and we possibly thought that was a bad thing, that losing of the age gap. The idea that you couldn’t possibly like the music your mum and dad liked became a problem for a while with Oasis in the chart, because you had your mum and dad singing along to them because they reminded them of the Beatles. How can you rebel against your parents when they are humming along to the band you thought were your band?
That’s changed now and that generation gap has eroded slightly. But then, if you still felt like you wanted to like music your mum and dad didn’t like, you’ll still find that somewhere on 6 Music. If your dad is constantly reminding you that he once saw The Clash in 1978 then I’m sure he’d be slightly freaked out to know all you listen to is Giles Peterson’s world jazz. The great thing with 6 Music is you can embrace and embattle at the same time.