When I moved to London, I worked in lots of very poorly paid and thankless television jobs before getting a job working on The Music Hall of Fame as a researcher. From there I was asked if I would like to write a new-music column for The Times. It was off the back of that, plus a friend who worked in radio, that I was asked to do a pilot for Channel 4 Radio.
I have to say that my dad [legendary BBC DJ John Peel, who put many bands on the map with his live radio show, The Peel Sessions] didn't really have a huge influence on the career choices I made but rather my general approach to work and how not to get too obsessed by the idea of money or status. But the route for me has been a sudden and fast one. I have being doing my show, 4Radio's SlashMusic, for Channel 4 Radio (www.channel4radio.com) for about eight months now. I bought decks with my first student loan and spent all my student days buying and playing records. I earned a film degree at Sheffield Hallam University, which gave me a lot of free time, and my friends and I would spend hours every day trying to mix and scratch records. I have always had a fondness for playing people things that I think they might not have heard.
Your dad owned hundreds of thousands of records. How did his love for music influence you in discovering new music, and how has that enabled you to spot a band that has something really special going on?
The record collection in our house is extraordinary; it's quite unique in that it contains every type of music imaginable. We always had music playing, every hour of the day, every day of the year. It was relentless. One minute it would be techno, the next Zimbabwean music, U.S. folk or metal from Germany. There was so much to listen to that you rarely revisited records. The more music you listen to, the better you get at spotting what you think you might like. Once you start looking, I think it's very hard to stop — my dad's dedication to this bordered on the insane. He often used to say with every new box of demo tapes, “The next Elvis could be in here.”
There have been occasions when I have begun to feel a little dizzy, especially when so much of the music is badly recorded in bedrooms. But I often have “ah-ha!” moments — I'd like to think at least at three times a week. They are well-worth the wait and keep you smiling as you listen to the next 300 bad ones.
There are a lot of up-and-coming bands that hope to be discovered. What can bands do to pave the way and get the attention of DJs such as yourself?
I've got lots of friends who are very talented and who don't seem to be able to get the attention they deserve. The music scene in Britain is overrun at the moment with “fashion bands.” They look great but are in fact very ordinary. I think that if a band is really good, then they will get noticed. Don't alter what you're doing in an attempt to sound like what is currently popular. Oh, and try to avoid comparing yourselves with other bands. I stopped listening to people who said they sounded like Jeff Buckley.
On your SlashMusic show, you present the best of thousands of unsigned bands. What's the best way for an unsigned band to approach you? In addition to uploading music to the Channel 4 site, what can they do to get your attention?
I am a big fan of people just being nice and retaining a degree of humility about what they do. We are very fortunate in that everyone we seem to deal with in recording our shows, from the bands themselves to distribution companies and PR, are all really nice. I don't see that it's particularly necessary to see other acts as competition. I listen to every single thing I get sent, so it doesn't make much of a difference how I receive it. However, you can find out the distribution companies of your favorite bands and try to persuade them to distribute you to us; there are certain ones that I always look out for. Also, I am setting up a PO Box in the next few weeks. In the meantime, records can be sent to my producer, Hermeet Chadha, at PO Box 53615, London, England SE24 9LD.
For our readers who are DJs, how would you suggest they make the transition from DJing in clubs to DJing on the radio?
I rarely DJ in clubs, so can't claim to be an expert. But I guess it would have something to do with making a name for yourself, and it also depends on what types of music suddenly make it into the mainstream. At the moment, it seems to be all about hiring dubstep DJs; tomorrow, it might be the return of breaks.
How would you advise a fellow DJ to go about getting the proper training and experience for radio? What's important in presenting yourself to a station program director or person looking to hire new on-air staff?
Do loads of pilots and keep doing it until it starts getting fun. Then find a friend who works in radio and bother them constantly. I still have a long way to go in radio, but I am enjoying myself now, and it makes all the difference. It took me a long time to get used to hearing my voice through a microphone, and until you do, you can't relax. Also, you have to show the bosses that you can give them something that they can't get anywhere else. And when they try to tell you what they want, just nod and then ignore them.
What is a mistake bands (unsigned or signed) make that you'd like to see them avoid?
A lot of bands have this strange tendency to think that in order to appear talented, you have to behave like an arrogant idiot. This isn't true.