Chance discoveries are music to DJ Julie Adenuga’s ears | Rebecca Nicholson

Playlists generated by algorithms are pervasive. So a personal recommendation is a thrill

Julie Adenuga hosts the afternoon show on Beats 1, the Apple radio station that manages to combine excellent broadcasting, star names and exclusive interviews with an almost impenetrable approach to actually making it easy to listen to. Still, Adenuga’s show is one of the best of a good bunch and she recently explained that a new approach to finding music was what kept it fresh. “I made a point of not looking for new music any more,” she told the BBC. “I made a point of allowing it to find me.”

The problem was that in being sent truckloads of new stuff every day, she lost her “natural connection to the music”. I’m sure that’s partly down to it being work, but she described a feeling that is increasingly familiar to me as a music fan. I have always found nostalgia, particularly when it comes to music, to be wearying, a sort of narcissistic one-upmanship about one’s own past and tastes. But I do miss the necessity of finding new songs and albums to love without algorithmic assistance.

In the early 90s, I remember reading that Kurt Cobain loved the first Raincoats album; I spent years after that trying to find it every time I went into a record shop. I never did, but now it doesn’t matter, because I can type in “Raincoats” and it’s there on my phone in an instant.

More often than not, now, I will sit on the bus, open up the Spotify app and become paralysed by the ear-boggling range of choice on offer. I find the playlists presumptuous – yes, OK, fine, I know almost every song on Women of Indie, but do I need to be put in a box? – and the way it twists music towards being written with a playlist-friendly mood in mind to be a particularly bleak step towards blandness. The choice is overwhelming and, for me, it means I fall back on old favourites. That Raincoats album really was worth the wait.

But new music and new artists still make their way in, mostly through friends’ recommendations or through frantically Shazam-ing (I once woke up after a particularly exuberant night out to discover that every song I’d Shazam-ed involved David Guetta in some capacity). The songs I’ve loved most recently have come to me through other people loving them enough to spread the word, and that always has the power to beat the mightiest of playlist recommendations. Which is the role a DJ such as Adenuga fulfils for her listeners too.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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