DJ Goldierocks’ broadcasts are winning worldwide fans for unknown British bands. Is she the funky new face of soft propaganda?
It plays in the skyscrapers of Jakarta as the smog breaks into a twinkling Saturday night. In the mornings it sings in Mexico City, to university students yawning their way through halls. It streams across white-sand beaches in Mauritius and bullet-ridden buildings in Bosnia. Three million people in 33 countries are listening intently to the same sound: a British radio show you have probably never heard of.
“This is The Selector,” goes the jingle. It’s the most cutting-edge music show coming out of Britain, delivering a soundscape of young British life. It’s as irresistible as the best of John Peel; intriguing but never too abrasive on the ear. Yet the most surprising thing about the country’s coolest radio show is that it was created by the British Council.
The British Council is not synonymous with cool. Producing a yoof-culture show sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Yet The Selector is a screaming success. How did the BC get down with the kidz? The answer has got her feet up on a yellow chair in an office in east London. DJ Goldierocks (real name Sam Hall) is as easy on the eye as she is on the ear.
Gold waist-length hair, fat black fake lashes, a willowy ’70s flower-power dress. But her radio following is not down to how she looks. She’s one of the best-connected DJs — a party animal, a player, an ear-to-the-ground, a sometime Radio 1 presenter and a regular on the music scene, with a web of promoters, A&Rs, online music contacts and friends from whom to cultivate her mix.
“People perceive the British Council as fuddy-duddy, but it’s amazing,” she grins. “I can’t think of any other show in the world that does what we do: literally play a really dirty grime track next to a soul record, next to a free experimental jazz record, next to a pop thing, then thrash metal. It is totally cross-genre.”
The show is as irresistible as the best of John Peel; intriguing but never too abrasive on the ear
She has a global ear for music, which is essential given her breadth of listeners.
She knows that “in Malawi they want a good bass line; in Kazakhstan they like hard techno; they’re big on hip-hop in Jordan; Eastern Europe and the Americas have started picking up dubstep; in Poland they like drum and bass”.
Since she started fronting The Selector in 2009, audience numbers have increased threefold. Now she’s taken the show live in many of the countries where it airs: DJing in a tower block in Shanghai; a jungle in Malawi, and a Soviet-style bunker-club in Kazakhstan.
Goldie’s not a shoo-in for a global DJ. She grew up in Surrey attending an all-girls private school, with a dad in IT and a housewife mum who “makes jam for the village fete”. But while they were “outwardly conservative, in their views they were quite bohemian”. Sam found her ear for music in Jamaica, where her family has a holiday home, and in her parents’ record collection: “My Dad loves old Motown records; my mum, ’70s rock stuff, blues, Janis Joplin.”
It was during a theatre studies BA at Goldsmiths that she decided to get into music. She got a job as a journalist on Rockfeedback.com, became a promo girl at her local radio station, interned at Capital FM, and played more DJ sets and put on more live shows than you’ve listened to Madonna songs. Her huge break came when she was picked to play a slot at Glastonbury in the VIP zone with Keira Knightley and Kate Moss on the dance floor.
Goldierocks tips up her chair to listen as her producer digs out a track. Smoky jazz vocals fill the room, and she nods: “It’s quite Beirut.” Kid Creole and the Coconuts play but “it doesn’t sound fresh enough”. Then Michael Kiwanuka, a 24-year-old singer from London with the buttery vocals of Otis Redding. “He’s got a timeless old soul in his voice.” What is she looking for? She frowns. “Anything as long as it’s innovative. Fresh. New.”