I am just about to turn 44 years old. When I was in my 20s, I never thought I would still be DJing in my 40s, but it turns out that it’s still as thrilling and fun as it was when I was half my age. I still love the connection to the crowd; I still love being in the middle of all that noise. But all those late nights have taken their toll on my brain. I wish I could remember more.
This year, I seem to want to play only old music. I have been ending my DJ sets with an edit of Abba’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight). At Glastonbury, I played John Paul Young’s Love Is in the Air and Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere. I can’t get enough of playing the classics at weddings, having DJed two this summer already.
This may be a reactionary thing. It’s the first year I have not been at Radio 1 in 17 years. Playing old music feels almost subversive, since I have been conditioned to discover and air new artists for so long. But it’s not just me. Already this year, Paul McCartney has headlined Glastonbury, Abba have sold out huge shows in hologram form and Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill has topped the charts and broken records.
Now that you can carry practically every song ever recorded in your pocket, the concept of “new” music is relative. But for those who are rediscovering all this old music, there is an added bonus, in that songs are memory machines. They act as portals to precise moments in the past. And for this frazzled, soon-to-be 44-year-old, that has become newly useful.
I listen to Goldie’s seminal 1995 album, Timeless. The first song, Inner City Life, starts with a slightly oscillating synth. There is an alien-like, ethereal quality to the sound and it stirs something deep in my consciousness. Suddenly, I am 18 again, on holiday in Tenerife. My hair is cropped and I am sitting on the balcony of the apartment I’m sharing with five girlfriends for the fortnight, but I’m with a boy. There are empty bottles and cigarette packets on the table. There is no view, just bushes and brick, but the sun is coming up and the new day feels heavy with possibility. We are on the precipice of the rest of our life.
I listen to Blur’s album Parklife and it transports me to my bedroom in my family home in Dublin. The house is empty and this is precious time for release, as I’m a teenager and I need to scream and shout. Albert Einstein watches over me from the poster above my bed. The lights are off and I am wailing the lyrics at the top of my voice, feeling everything in extremes: my teenage self-loathing; my yearning to be free; my desperation to be looked after.
I listen to the xx’s debut album and I’m in the triangular-shaped bath in the basement of my first flat, with my new boyfriend. Our bodies are tangled up, in and out of the water, his long legs propped on the side where mildew has gathered in the grout, turning it the colour of rust. It is Sunday evening, the end of a sequence of parties and afterparties. We are exhausted, but content.
There are no linear patterns to my memories any more, just these intensely vivid and sensory flashbacks, and I’m so grateful for them. Nothing can conjure up a moment like music can. As I get older and life feels like it’s galloping away from me, music roots me. Songs are flagpoles looming through the mist of my memory, joining dots on the map of my life. I’m going to keep playing the old ones, so I can gain a new perspective on years gone by. It’s time to start remembering again.
Annie Macmanus is a writer and DJ (as Annie Mac). Her novel Mother Mother is out now
July 17, 2022 at 06:38PM Annie Macmanus