Wednesday, June 29 2022

Before Annie Macmanus – aka veteran DJ Annie Mac – started her four-hour set for her new night, Before Midnight, she strolled among the early arrivals saying hello. They all said the same thing: thank you. “It’s like I’m doing some kind of public service,” she says.

At Islington Assembly Hall in north London on Friday night, the gratitude was real – with the mixed crowd ecstatic at 9pm, before many clubs had even opened, and knowing they’d be on their way back just after midnight, when the “normal” clubbers are just getting started. Macmanus started the night off, calling it “clubbing for people who need the sleep” because, at 43 and with dependent children, she no longer wanted to play sets all night. The DJ – who in her 17 years as one of BBC Radio 1’s biggest DJs has always said ‘raving is a state of mind’ – also wanted to throw parties ‘for anyone who just wants go out and like nightclubs but don’t really feel like the nightclub is the place for them anymore.

But if it was meant to be old-timers’ clubbing, hundreds of ravers in their 20s and 30s on Friday hadn’t gotten the memo and danced alongside middle-aged mums barely believing they were getting on. had come out, and older couples who had danced their way through several decades.

Before Midnight is in full swing. Photography: Liam Oz

New Zealanders Sarah Kelly, 33, and her sister Frances, 31, came because they are long-time Macmanus fans. “Her nights are so inclusive and feel really safe,” Sarah said. “Tonight I feel like there are all these different types of people, all ages, but that’s our type of people – everyone just wants to have fun. And we can be at the bed at 1am – amazing!

Just before midnight, Jo Marsh, 52, was beaming, throwing herself onto the dance floor with her friend Mel Sargaison, 54, and Mel’s daughter, Hannah Story, 24. The friends have been dating since the 90s – often in the area behind King’s Cross, the seedy beating heart of London’s clubland before it was sanitized with luxury apartments and expensive clothing stores.

“It’s special,” she said. “We have lived with so much restraint during the pandemic, and we all need to let go and reconnect. It’s been so inclusive and we loved it – we can’t wait to see the next one.

Before launching the night, Macmanus planned fiercely. The capacity of the room was set at 800, small for an evening with the DJ headlining, and the DJ booth was placed in front of the stage between the dancers to create a “real connection”, and avoid a situation where “everyone is filming”. the DJ with his phone in the air.

And for certain ecstatic moments it worked, as the Communards’ Don’t Leave Me This Way crescendoed towards the back of the set, or as the silver band exploded overhead and the joy of the mass dance filled the room. At other times, the venue – a Grade II-listed music hall with high ceilings – absorbed too much sound and bass beat. “The roof was so high that the sound traveled around the room a bit,” Macnamus explains. “I think we made it work, but the next one we’ll do it in a real nightclub.”

Since leaving Radio 1 in April last year, Macmanus says she has unwinded and fallen in love with music all over again. She started her own podcast – Changes with Annie Macmanus – and writes, what she describes as “like coming home”. It turns out that doing exactly what you want, on your own terms, is good for the soul. Does he miss Radio 1 at all? “I don’t really have any. Not at all,” she said. “I really don’t want it to come across as a negative, I really loved it when I was there, but I feel really happy and at peace to be gone when I did.”

She adds that she does not take her position in an industry still dominated by men for granted, aware that at her age, many women in music are ignored, sidelined or simply “invisible”.

A caveat to the theme, she says, “But there’s just something about middle-aged women’s minds that’s pretty amazing.”

The morning after the show, the DJ – who is delighted to say that she went to bed at 1am – looks back on the night: “I’m delighted with the way it went. “From the start there was this feeling that people were so happy to be there – the crowd was awesome.”

Confirming that the night will continue, Macmanus adds that tickets for the next event will be released the following week. “We’re definitely doing more,” she says. “It just made me really excited for my future as a DJ.”

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