Zane Lowe: My Festival Life

Featuring Smashing Pumpkins, rocket ships, and Mani

Photographer: Andy SquireChris Eustace on 10 May 2020

The first festival I ever went to was the Big Day Out in Auckland in 1994. There was Soundgarden, The Breeders, Urge Overkill, and the performance that changed my life forever –Smashing Pumpkins. It completely altered my path. I was such a rap fanatic, I still am, but I loved stuff like Nirvana and Screaming Trees too, and seeing the Pumpkins live, I hadn’t seen anything like it before or anyone play with that level of intensity before.

They started with ‘Soma’, so you’ve got this delicate riff that just builds and builds for two minutes, ‘til it drops like a hammer. Think of the confidence of the band to start with of their most dynamic records! I’ll never forget that.

I was actually working for a music TV channel at the time, and I went and hunted down the rushes, and I watched every single bit of footage from the stage that day.

Radiohead at Glastonbury in 1997 is probably the greatest festival performance of all time. It was a very special moment. It had rained and been miserable all weekend, then they came on and did all these songs from ‘OK Computer’, and all the stories are true – the fireworks during ‘No Surprises’, the moment when Thom was going to storm offstage, we all witnessed that close up, and it was remarkable.

It’s not a festival, Glastonbury – it’s a proper emotional experience. You go through exhaustion, elation, it’s really tough going but it’s incredibly rewarding. A festival is something you go to for a few days, put your tent up, pick the bands you want to see off the bill, and go and watch them, Glastonbury’s way more than that.

The strangest thing that’s happened to me at a festival was probably when I took my Mum out to Benicassim. Her and Mani got on like a house on fire – seeing them have this really great, friendly banter was really surreal! He just thought she was funny and really nice. For a good year after that festival, every time I saw him he’d be like: “How’s your Mum?!

The best festival show I’ve ever played was probably Warrior’s Dance with The Prodigy in Milton Keynes. It was the best in terms of the actual gig for me, but it was also a game-changing show. A lot of people who saw that gig subsequently offered me shows. For the first time, it felt like I wasn’t just playing records as a background DJ, I got a reaction from the crowd on my own terms. It was a turning point for me in terms of confidence.

The Prodigy being The Prodigy, they’re the best at what they do, and don’t need to prove anything to anybody, so they don’t mind giving you a really good bit of volume and lights. Otherwise it would have been like trying to yell through a tannoy! I’m really grateful to them for that.

My worst festival experience was when I did a no-show at RockNess. One year, I couldn’t make it because I got really sick, a really bad virus that spread to my heart. It wasn’t as dramatic as it sounds, but it was dramatic enough to have to go to hospital to get it checked out. I got a connecting flight to go to RockNess, and I had to call my team at the time and say 'There’s no way I’m going to make this!' I was sweating through my clothes and burning up.

Then the following year, we were booked to play, and I got to the airport and realised I didn’t have any ID on me. It was an internal flight, so I didn’t need a passport, but I don’t really carry a driver’s licence on me, so they wouldn’t let me on the plane. So for a second year in a row, it was looking like a no-show, and I felt like such an idiot! So we scrambled to try and make it, because we wanted to do something, because this was embarrassing!

We went along and got a slot on the Afterburner stage, which is an amazing stage, but I like to get on the mic and gee people up, and when you’re three stories up in this tiny little cage, literally in the top of a Mad Max-style rocket ship, and there’s this tiny little visor that’s the only way you can see the crowd, you try going “Put your hands in the air” when all they can see is your nose and your eyes!

It was great of them to let me try and put right what had gone wrong, but it wasn’t the best experience for all concerned. I’ve been back to play before Kasabian, and things were back to normal then though.

To festival first-timers I’d simply say: sunscreen, water, lift home!

My dream festival line up?

If I could have anyone I’d have Nirvana, Hendrix, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Smashing Pumpkins, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, PJ Harvey from the 'Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea' era, Shihad from the ‘Killjoy’ era and Quicksand all playing.

Festivals are the only place I can get away with… wearing three-quarter-length trousers and no shoes! I went onstage in Adelaide in some cargo pants cut off at the ankle, with no shoes on, and the guys from Knife Party were like: “You’re fully Aussie’d up now, there’s no going back!”

Zane Lowe will play sets across many UK and European festivals this summer, click here for a list.

Zane also curates the Ibiza and Mallorca Rocks line-up.

Ibiza Rocks tickets and Mallorca Rocks tickets are available now.

Short breaks with stays in the Rocks hotel and tickets to the live shows inclusive start from 104 euros (approximately £89) per person.

Click here to buy Ibiza Rocks tickets and hotel packages.

Click here to buy Mallorca Rocks tickets and hotel packages.


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