Renowned DJ and music journalist Mary Anne Hobbs was born on May 16, 1964 in a small town in Northern England. She grew up in an even smaller town which did not even have a record store. As an adolescent she took refuge in music, going to great lengths to obtain Sex Pistols singles and hide them away from her Puritanical father who had banned all music from their home.
But he never found her transistor radio. She would hide in bed, softly listening to the static, scanning the dial for John Peel's program. It just so happens that the legendary John Peel was also busy breaking the BBC's ban on broadcasting punk. Emboldened by Peel's zeal, the young Miss Hobbs dreamed of finding her place in the music world as an adult. After finishing high school she decided that the best way to do that would be to get a job at Sounds, a magazine devoted to chronicling the newly-spawned world of punk rock.
As an intermediary step, she decided that the best way to pad her CV would be to show that she had previous experience in the music business—working with a band, not writing actual reviews. So on one rare day that her local happened to be hosting the London band Heretic, she went and asked them if they needed an assistant. They told her if she could make a backdrop for them to use at their future gigs she could work for them. She did and ended up living in a bus in a carport with the band in London, doing menial dayjobs and helping them tour. It was by no means glamorous, as they subsisted on a bag of chips a day and had no washroom for themselves. But she was living her dream.
After putting out a tiny fanzine, she applied to Sounds and miraculously was given a job as a journalist. Eventually she ended up at NME and from there helped found the lads' mag Loaded. She was also one of the first DJs at XFM when that station began broadcasting in the early 1990s.
While at XFM, Hobbs had booked a live on air session with the band Mudhoney, who had gained some meager attention after the death of Kurt Cobain turned the entire world's attention to the then-seven-year-old music scene of Seattle, Washington just in time to watch that genre descend into commercial. Hobbs was told by her boss that Mudhoney would have to be booked for the following week, as Trevor Dann from Radio 1 was going to be her guest instead. She was livid and protested but was forced to interview her someone from the BBC whom she knew nothing about. She claims now that she was extremely caustic and confrontational to Dann, demanding to know why he was more important than Mudhoney.
One commentator on an interview of hers about the Trevor Dann cites that Hobbs was more flirtatious than anything else, but the point is that she expressed enough personality and drive to compel Radio 1 to hire her away from XFM.
Hobbs was with Radio 1 for 14 years: from 1996 to 2010. In 1997 she started doing a regular late-night show called the Breezeblock, which focused on electronic and experimental artists (the name breezeblock is a reference to a cinderblock). Sometimes the artists would do live sets, like the famous Peel Sessions, sometimes the artists themselves would DJ (there are two different, equally amazing DJ sets that Bjork did for Hobbs that are well worth tracking down as are the ones by the Beta Band, Lemonjelly, Shadow, Four Tet, Kid Koala, Chris Morris, and Radiohead!!!!! that last set is from the Kid A era too, top notch stuff), and sometimes Hobbs herself would play some of her current favorite records. The show was like a live version of the Back to Mine series of mix CDs, with a focus that would span from turntabilsm to IDM to glitch to alt-country to post rock to acid jazz to hip hop and everything in between. Even comedy acts such as Ricky Gervais and those crazy guys from the Mighty Boosh made appearances on the Breezeblock.
Gradually the sounds favored by Hobbs turned to grime and dubstep, of which she was an early champion of. In the fall of 2006, the name of her show changed to "Mary Anne Hobbs: BBC Radio 1's Experimental Show" but little else changed aside from the timeslot. From there Hobbs continued to gain clout, going on to release two different compilations (both on Planet Mu records) and multiple gigs curating showcases for the Sonar electronic music festival.
In the summer of 2010 Hobbs announced that she was leaving Radio 1. She then spent a year as a student mentor at the University of Sheffield. In the summer of 2011 she returned to Manchester to broadcast for XFM and did a Saturday evening slot. After a few months she was given a weeknight show which aired across the entire XFM network.
Halloween of 2012 was her final show at XFM. January 3, 2013 marks the return of Mary Ann Hobbs to the BBC, where she will be the new Saturday Morning Breakfast presenter for Radio 6.
The steady rise of Mary Anne Hobbs is a testament to the power of passion and "charging at your dreams" as she puts it in this recent TED talk. Hobbs also cites Steve Jobs as a strong influence on her—by all appearances she seems to have emulated his aura.
One of the commentators of an interview I used to write this decried Hobbs as being a "scene jumper" which strikes me as only being true in a dumbly ironic sense. She has her ear tuned to the pulse of music today and selects that which moves her. And when Mary Anne Hobbs chooses to give an artist airtime, she does so because that artist performs with style.
Much like her childhood hero John Peel, Hobbs has become an icon in the music world. A snippet of her voice appears in the intro to Mr. Scruff's record Keep It Unreal. She is also immortalized in the Half Man Half Biscuit song Trouble Over Bridgwater.
Mary Anne Hobbs is a true innovator and curatorial genius.
For a partial listing of the many, many, artists who made appearances on her BBC show, check out this site.