"Bands are at their most exciting and creative when they first start out," says Huw Stephens, and if anyone should be an authority on this, it's him. As BBC Radio 1's champion of new music, Stephens listens to hundreds of under-the-radar acts every week to find stuff he loves, and, happily, his listeners do, too.
Stephens was just 17 when he got his first job at Radio 1, becoming the station's youngest ever DJ.
"I thought it sounded like the best job in the world, sitting there playing music to people," he says. "Turns out it is." Sixteen years on, little about what he does has changed.
"Obviously there's more places to find music now, but essentially I'm doing the same thing: trying to find brilliant stuff to share with people. I soak up loads of different music—from gigs, recommendations, festivals—trying to find the interesting stuff. Every day I hear something great that I want to play on the radio."
Three nights a week, he broadcasts the best of that new music to listeners and hosts bands for live sessions. He was an early champion of acts like Haim, Disclosure,and The 1975, has broadcast live from festivals, including Glastonbury, SXSW, and Barcelona's Sonar, and still makes time to put on live shows, too. Ten years ago, he started the "Huw Stephens Presents" night at London venue The Social, where he promotes new bands every month. "I love live music and I've put on gigs since | was 16. When you see a great band early on, there's nothing like it. Both my radio show and the live shows I promote are quite eclectic. We'll have punk bands, piano singer-songwriters, sometimes great pop music…. I like a bit of everything."
Acts who've played the night include Alt J, Young Fathers, and Slaves. ("It was the night before Alt J signed their deal," says Stephens, "and all their friends and family were down. It was a special one.") But finding the next big thing isn't the reason he does it. "I've never supported someone just because I think they're going to be big," he says. "Because you can never tell. When Slaves played my night a couple of years ago, if you'd have told me that Miguel would be covering them and they'd be Mercury Music Prize-nominated, I'd have been thrilled but I'm not sure I'd have believed it. You can't predict it, so you've got to just always go for things you love."
As a venue where so many new bands have cut their teeth, The Social felt like the right fit to host a series of sessions for Sweet, featuring four of the acts Stephens is most excited about right now. "Little Simz is one of my artists of the year—I think she's phenomenal," he says. "Kiko Bun is a reggae artist who has got a real groove to him; he's going to be special. Oscar has got the amazing deep voice and is influenced by reggae, hip-hop, and indie. And Gwylim Gold is another amazing performer. They're all playing in a great venue in London. It's going to be really intimate and special—I can't wait." It's show time.