OOX Interview: Bringing soul back to Cambridge

Image credit: Evelina Gumileva

This week TCS caught up with Hamish Oliphant, the chunky, funky face behind the brand, OOX. He DJs solo as HamHox and as the brawny half of the DJ duo, Brother To Brother. Since its conception in November 2017, OOX has fast become a major player in the Soul scene of the South East. Its manifesto dictates that punters should leave both sweaty and smiling. Hox is an avid collector of vintage vinyl and his extensive collection spans 7 decades and all genres that draw their influences from early soul.

TCS: So Hamish, you claim on your RA page to be “nothing special – just a bloke with large thighs and a record box brimming with funk, soul and blues”. Despite digital music being cheaper and more far more accessible, why do you invest so much time and money into vinyl?

Ham: I started out buying mp3 files for sets, but it seemed like an awful lot of money to spend on something that isn’t material, something that you can’t hold in your hands and cherish. At first vinyl was a novelty to me, but now, I guess it’s a bit of an addiction. I really enjoy crate digging for new music in shops and online. Owning it as a unique piece of history - most of the records I own are from five or six decades ago. Records don’t get thrown away. They may disappear for years on end, but they’ll always resurface. I also find it makes my DJing better. When I’m flicking through records in a box, I put things together that I wouldn’t normally put together digitally, and every set becomes very distinct from the last. You are more restricted on vinyl.  There’s no looping, queuing, or automatic BPM syncing, but that makes you work a lot harder at it and overall makes it a lot more rewarding.

TCS: Do you put a lot of planning into your sets or do you tend to find yourself improvising on the night?

Ham: I tend to have my favourites which I always bring with me. I like to go for versions and covers of really famous songs. Truman Thomas did an amazing uptempo R&B version of Aretha Franklin’s Respect. You can hear the crowd singing at the top of their voices, despite the lack of lyrics in this version. It’s just really refreshing and exciting hearing it changed up. I usually just play on the fly.  I have stuff from 50s Jazz to modern house and I bring everything.

TCS:  This is your 6th year at Cambridge. You’ve done radio before but how come it’s taken you this long to erupt onto the club scene?

Ham: The inspiration and encouragement came from my good friends, Will and Lewis, founders of Deptford Northern Soul Club. Two years ago they started their own night in South London. Now they tour up and down the UK with their own nights and festivals.  They said, if they could do it then I must be able, too. My first club night was a one-off in November 2017. It was both successful and immensely fun. I think it has been successful because people realised that some Funk and Soul was badly needed in Cambridge. Also, OOX doesn’t take itself too seriously. Everyone needs a bit of silliness, even at Cambridge.

TCS: Where did the name HamHox come from and what was the inspiration for your OXO stock cube branding?

Ham: Ham has been my nickname since before I can remember. I was sat in the Brewhouse Pub with DNSC and we were joking about possible DJ names. I’ve got big legs – like ham hocks. I try to include food analogies in all of my branding. The stock cubes was a happy mistake when designing a HamHox logo. I liked the idea of OOX standing for “hug, hug, kiss”, appropriate for the Valentine’s Day Special. The ham flavoured OXO stock is pink too. It was perfect for making it into a series of events: Valentine’s Ham, Chucky chicken for Spring Fling, Vegetable All-Nighter. Lamb and Beef are already in the oven. Apparently, people have started calling it “Oooookcz”. Ha!

TCS: You’ve started running secret parties last term, the premise of which being that it’s not well advertised and people only find out the location 1 hour beforehand. How do you choose the venue for these events?

All the venues I’ve approached are places that I like to hang out at – cafes, bars, pubs. When next year comes around it’ll be a regular thing. I like the idea of running things in interesting spaces that people don’t usually dance in. Since I’ve been here for 6 years now, my knowledge of niche places is pretty good.

TCS: You’ve got your biggest night to date fast approaching - what should we expect?

Bigger venue, more eclectic DJs, extended play. I love the nighttime. On previous occasions, 3 am has come too soon. I really want to keep going. Levanna, our main headliner, is a proper northern soul girl. Scarlett O’Malley loves Doo-wop, Motown and Blues. Ned Stax has a penchant for Japanese Disco and Jazz. Bro2Bro will be funking around with African and Latin rhythms. Finally, Will Foot (DNSC), will be energetically bouncing around the DJ booth until 5 am with his House and heavy Disco cuts. I can honestly say that this lineup is outstanding. I can’t wait.

I’m keen for it not to be thought of as just a Cambridge student night. ARU are now selling tickets and the OOX takeovers in 2648 and Thirsty have drawn lots of local residents who wanted to hear the soul music. That’s the key – it’s a party and everyone's invited. I’m creating a space for people to dance and enjoy themselves. It’s certainly not financially driven for me so far there’s been no profit made. It’s more that it makes me happy. I want to do it for people, like me, who need this music.



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