Oli Marlow (Sonic Router/fabric)
Oli Marlow is one of those people who wholeheartedly (and successfully) throws himself into countless pursuits. Head of Press for London super club fabric, founder of Sonic Router, journalist and beatmaker (to name but a few), it’s all for the love. Brainer caught up with the Londoner to talk journalism, the music industry, and what particular toiletries A-Trak has a proclivity for.
Where did you grow up?
For the most part, a village in rural Nottinghamshire
Where in London do you live?
N4. Green Lanes is the spot for kebabs, plus you can buy a sink plug, an ice cream and cigarettes at any hour of the live long day there.
What did you study at university?
BA New Media Journalism with Photography & Digital Imaging.
What makes you happy?
People. It’s all about those really important people in my life that matter to me and talking to them on instant messenger, sharing jokes in real time. That makes me smile on a daily basis.
Music, writing, yoghurt, trainers, plaid shirts, clothes with toggles and leather patches and Alex Bean.
How long have you been making beats for?
Um, since my 2nd year of uni, so that would date it to about 2003/4. Honestly aside from writing, it’s the only thing I’ve ever really stuck at, even though you’ve probably never even heard my music. I make mainly instrumental music with soft synths stolen from flatmates and friends…
I just had a beat put out on an American label, Poisonous Gases. It’s on their ‘Skweee Cruise’ compilation. It’s called ‘Greg Says…’. I wrote it for a friend to make him laugh.
How long have you been writing for?
Since before that… English was the only thing I ever really excelled in at school. I liked the imagery of things, like reading too much into something – that over analysis… that bullshit reading of meanings and twisting of words, that’s what I latched onto. There was never a wrong answer, you could make you own interpretation and I liked that.
You scribe for SR, theQuietus… anyone else?
I edit Sonic Router, alongside a couple of main contributors – Jimi and Rory (shouts to them for sure), aye. I write a monthly column for theQuietus too; those guys give me free reign to do whatever I like so it works for me. There’s no fixed schedule or topic to my columns, they’ve let me develop it organically into whatever it is now. They trust my taste. I respect that and what they’ve done/do with the site a thousand percent.
I contribute features regularly to Trap Magazine too; it’s a new bi-monthly free magazine about bass music, cut on really high quality paper. My participation in that has grown quite naturally too, from previous writing work for ATM including a cover feature on Joy Orbison, Jon (the Trap editor) has been really encouraging. I think I totally share his vision for what it could become.
I’ve written bits for some other publications too over time (yourselves included) but other than a regular gig reviewing curveballs for Rock-A-Rolla magazine that’s about me right now.
Anything else you do (other than Sonic Router & fabric & beatmaking & writing) in your spare time?
Sonic Router has now spun across platforms. I host and edit a monthly hour long podcast for music retailer Bleep.com looking back at their past releases over a month, picking what I think people should know about or might’ve overlooked or missed in the habitual onslaught of new music. I also host an upfront bi-weekly radio show on Hivemind.fm – a new internet radio station – every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month between 10pm -12am.
Outside of that I’m just trying to live right and keep myself in boxfresh Vans.
Did you always know you wanted to be involved in music, whether it was journalism, PR or production?
Music was always something I wanted to be involved in for sure. I think there are a few points where it really hit home for me. Getting my first guitar at school and writing fuck-awful 4 chord songs about ‘not fitting in’ and then getting Logic and figuring out how to make my own music from scratch, would be two of the major milestones.
In terms of music journalism I think it just connected, like when you’re into something so much, spend all your time listening to it, thinking about making it or making it, it kinda becomes inevitable that you’ll want to head that way in terms of what you’re writing. For me it was just combining those interests. A very thin percentage of what I write is paid work, so it’s always gotta be a passion for someone to keep at it. I guess I always thought I was better at writing about music than actually writing it, so that was my way in.
Of course, you’re Head of Press at London’s fabric. How did that position come about?
I was offered a job as a radio plugger by the person I eventually replaced. There was an internal shuffle between departments and through friendly recommendation (sup Joe? Call me…) my run of experience and I were pointed out to the guys over here. I did that job for about a year and a half, before our department reshuffled again. When my boss left to go back to the States, I became press manager.
What’s the general vibe in clubland, with a whole host of venues closing down like Canvas, The End, Herbal, matter and fabric itself very close to shutting its doors not long ago?
To say it’s been difficult for a lot of places would be an understatement but come down here on the weekend. I’ll buy you a beer and show you. It’s in rude health.
Where were you working before fabric?
I worked at a record shop part time while I was at uni. When I finished I went full time, then I got the creative fear, quit my job and sat in my flat wishing I could be Sage Francis for 3 months. I got a couple of internships within the industry soon after, stuffing envelopes and writing press releases. One of the internships turned into a part time job, which in time developed into me being an Online Press Officer at an independent PR company called Outpost Media.
On the side you founded your website Sonic Router. Tell us about it.
Sonic Router was born after I changed jobs. fabric took me away from editing the 3 Bar Fire website, which was part of my role at Outpost. Through doing that I met Jimi (The Exploder) on a forum; he ended up writing for the site quite a bit before I left. After a while it was obvious to me that something was missing. I couldn’t not be working on something more editorial based, and around this time Jimi was approached about a writing gig on a popular website that sadly never materialised. We threw a few ideas around and decided that to back up such a column, we’d need to start a blog or something to give such a column a backstory, some thread of credibility or a constant voice at least.
SR launched with two mixes in February 2009, one from hip-hop producer Rekordah and one from a more dubstep focused guy called Vista. It just grew and grew really, with us covering music that interested us. Things were a lot more sporadic then, there was never as much of a (rough) schedule that there is now. We went after the producers we thought deserved to be written about as soon as we felt that way. To me getting a mix from someone like Untold was (and still is) a fucking big deal, as I respect the guy’s music so much. Getting even a fraction of that respect back from the artists gave me the confidence to go after all the producers I was discovering. Personally I was honoured they felt we could do them justice – that we could help them get recognition. It’s romantic but I like to think it’s a 2 way street with us.
In short I could dress it up a hundred ways but Sonic Router is simply a blog about good music; music the contributors and I are deeply besotted with. We have an ongoing mix series which is currently up to its 64th installment – almost all of which come with exclusive interviews – and other than the mixes we post interviews, reviews, exclusive and not so exclusive downloads in a way that, to me, feels proper. There’s so many blogs that just post MP3s or YouTube clips and a quick sentence hyping the shit out of that day’s producer y’know? We just try to back it up with text, in an attempt to carve ourselves some kind of editorial voice.
Describe a typical (working) day in the life of Oli Marlow.
Everything I do is done from the same desk. Breakfast is most likely yoghurt with granola and coffee, then I’ll hit the inbox, reply to the torrent of emails and check out my bookmarked websites extensively. There’s certain duties that need to happen in a week in a press department so more often than not I’ll crack on, make my pitches, write my blurbs, record my placements and throw a quick glance at the house and mixes sections of dubstep forum in between writing, researching and comissioning blog posts for the fabric blog, of which I’m also the editor. Then I’ll try and fit in some Sonic Router work and correspondence when the work day is done or on my lunch break.
What do you love most about your job(s)?
I like the fact that I get to write about and be around music all day and that I get exposed to so much stuff, it’s fully overwhelming.
Also, I’m kind of obsessed with the ‘editorial voice’ – I’ve had full on arguments with work mates about their use of grammar, context and cadence online before. It’s just something I really believe in. From 10am to 7pm weekdays, I get to craft one on behalf of a globally respected group of people who operate a venue and run a record label and outside of that I get to do it for myself. It’s satisfying. I mean every blogger out there is self important, that’s the whole point, right? Why else woud you spend your whole day online talking about what you think? It’s like those people who live their lives on twitter, always assuming that someone somewhere gives two shits about what you’re saying; it’s the same thing.
What do you hate most about your job(s)?
That it takes up so much of my day. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on anything else outside of office hours.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in your line of work?
I took A-trak to buy some deodorant once. That was pretty nutso.
What deodorant did he choose?
A-trak is an Old Spice man. Strictly roll on.
You’ve interviewed a fair few people over the years – who’s been your favourite to grill?
It’s always easier to interview the people I know personally; it’s just a bit more relaxed and less intense. I don’t think I really have a favourite from the ones I’ve done in all honesty…
Who would you like to interview that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
There’s a lot of people I’ve got plans with, a lot of half baked promises have been made, but honestly most of these things pop up out of the blue. I don’t have a 6-month-ahead schedule or anything. Um, I’d love to interview Andrew Broder from Fog in person. We did an impersonal email thing a couple of years ago but it never really satisfied my obsession. But in terms of the dream team: him, Daryl Palumbo or Chino from Deftones.
What advice would you give to a budding journalist or someone who wants to start out in your particular field of work?
Just do it. You think it’s hard, and in a sense, hell yes it is. In my experience you don’t really get paid for your words, but you have just got to stay committed to your grind and keep at it. There totally are jobs out there that will let you indulge in your writing if you shot call it. If you’ve really got something to say that’s worth hearing, people will eventually listen (I hope) if you present it properly.
Oh – and I’m going to be a monumental hypocrite by saying this – don’t pay too much mind to what other people are doing. Carve your own damn niche.
What does the future hold for the printed magazine?
So many magazines have folded over the past few years that there’s bound to be a degree of pesimism out there when it comes to the health of the print run. I’ve never been involved in the creation of a magazine from scratch so the majesty of holding something you created in your hands is a little lost on me but everything I’ve ever written in print I have a hard copy of, and that comes close; those are some of my most treasured possessions. They’re physical things, pieces of hard work that people own. That’s special.
You could argue the impending doom about books too – that the Kindle is going to kill that printed medium – but in all truth the medium that people use to read things on is purely subject to invention. It’s incredibly sad to see a healthy, glossy magazine switch up to a crappy, badly navigated website with little or no attention to design, but in a lot of cases it makes more sense to have such instant accessibility to articles. No matter what the website though, I think theres a very certain mindset involved in reading from print. You can’t get that same level of immersion on a computer screen – or I can’t seem to anyway.
What does the future hold for the music industry?
Again, we’re living in the future now. You can get music however you want it, it’s just that now the option is there to get it instantly without wait or fuss online; and it would seem that a lot of people prefer that method of purchasing music. It’s always going to affect the way music is sold and marketed but people won’t stop making music, and that’s what I like to focus on.
People who like the physical products are still buying vinyl, perhaps the labels and artists are having to spend more time on the build quality and in producing innovative design work, but that’s no bad thing. Plus these people are still buying it.
Musically, who are you feeling right now that we should be taking notice of?
David Kennedy (Ramadanman/Pearson Sound) is one of the most sonically aware producers making music right now. His club music is essentially infallible and I’m really super impressed with everything I’ve heard from his label mate, Joe (Hessle Audio). He’s so considered in what he does and his drums are just so impeccably tight every time and at every tempo. Oh, and people need to learn about Coco Bryce too. Don’t let the skweee tag scupper you, its just great synthetic beat music.
There are so many more people I’ll kick myself in an hour’s time for not mentioning so I’ll say just keeping checking the blog… we’ll try and rep all them dudes there in good time.
A little preview on what you’ve got coming up in the future?
Long overdue site updates are imminent, but it’s more of the same essentially. Maybe I’ll get me some new Vans when pay day comes… that’s kind of how far ahead I’m looking right now, haha.
Interview: Ian Hsieh
Profile picture: Sarah Ginn