Interview conducted by our favourite four-to-the-floor expert, The Insider.
West Londoner Scarlett O’Malley has her sights on a 6Music show, and everything that she’s achieved so far suggests that this is gonna happen. Born into a music-mad family, and growing up surrounded by vintage soul and rock`n`roll, Scarlett has been steadily building her musical empire. From her Club Cowgirl radio shows on Rinse FM, to videos for Vinyl Factory, podcasts for The Museum Of Youth Culture, and her fledgling record label, The Soul Exchange. All of which boast selections that are testament to her impeccable taste. An ambassador for Emerging Female Talent at the Wild Wood Disco Festival, taking place in June, I talked to Scarlett about Perivale, Rockabillies, and her passion for “crossover” soul.
Hello Scarlett. Great to talk to you. Thank you for taking the time. Where are you today and what are you up to?
I`m sitting in my place in West Hampstead. I’ve just made a lovely dinner, as I`m obsessed with roast potatoes at the moment, and this evening I’ve been watching Beef on Netflix, and journaling.
It`s nice to talk to a born and bred Londoner. Where is it you’re from exactly?
I’m from the exotic metropolis that is Perivale, West London. If you haven’t heard of it, then in between Ealing and Wembley will do.
Can you paint us a little picture of where you grew up?
I grew up on Medway Estate in Perivale, with my Gran, and my two aunties, all living in different streets on the estate. There was a park at the end of the estate and a field behind my house. My two best friends lived on my road, and we grew up with like 20 of us altogether, same primary school, same nights out at the field, or in various spots of the estate. I really feel like where I grew up was the epitome of community and I loved it.
What music do you remember most from when you were a kid?
My household was all `50s music, all the time, literally. Rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, doo-wop, jivey stuff. Elvis, The Five Keys, The Keytones, Johnny Burnette, Gene Vincent, all that kind of stuff, and my Dad was always playing guitar and piano around the house when we were young.
Your dad was a musician, what did he do?
He played, and still plays, in various rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll bands. He started out properly with The Nitros in the `80s, and it took off from there. He mostly plays guitar and sings, but he’s pretty good on most instruments to be honest.
Was your mum into music too?
Mum has always been massively into music, being on the rockabilly and mod scenes when she was growing up. Our musical taste mostly aligns. We both love anything really soulful: soul, reggae, rocksteady, ska, all that good stuff. A lot of my adulthood has been spent at gigs with my Mum.
What was the first record you owned and how did you come by it?
I was asked this the other day and I’m not 100% sure, but I feel like it would have been a pop-punk picture disc from like, Good Charlotte, that HMV used to do on 45 or something like a Stevie Wonder tune on Motown.
When did you first start to dabble in collecting?
I was about 12 or 13 when I started collecting! Mainly HMV, charity shops and car boots. I’ve always liked old music so anything with a Motown label or any indie/pop punk stuff that was released as a vinyl single I’d buy.
You’re involved in the Youth Culture Archive. Were you in a movement or crew in West London when you were growing up?
The Youth Club Archive, aka Museum of Youth Culture, has asked me to do some writing for them, and I pitched a podcast, as I love making and presenting audio! I loved speaking to their photographers about subculture. I was very much in the noughties pop-punk / emo/ metal scene growing up until I was about 16 or 17, and then I got really into soul, ska, and rocksteady, and found myself hitting club nights like Lost & Found at Madame Jojos, 100 Club 6Ts Rhythm & Soul all-nighters, and hitting the International Ska Festival when it came around.
How did you get into DJing?
Soul 45, Mark James and Disgo Dan, in Southampton taught me how to DJ with vinyl when I was at uni! I had a ton of records and when they came on my uni radio show, they asked me why wasn’t I playing them out? I didn’t really start taking it seriously – playing house and dance tunes – until around 2019, but I’d been record collecting and selecting and playing soul a good few years before that.
Do you play digital files at all?
Yeah, all the time! I play more digital than anything at the moment, as it is so rare for clubs to be properly set-up for vinyl. It can be a lot of stress when you take a big bag of records to a gig and the turntables don’t work, or haven’t been serviced in a while. Justice for all the busted and broken turntables at venues who don’t care about them!
Tell us about your label – The Soul Exchange. What`s its music policy and what’s happening on the label right now?
Well at the moment I am knocking out emails trying to get some licensing in place. I signed my distro deal about 6 months ago, so we’re ready to go. I just need to stop getting the rejections and have someone give up the goose! The music policy is going to be rare `70s crossover soul, with Latin tinges – maybe some late `60s stuff, and early `80s stuff – but that’s my soul sound so it’s what I want to put out.
How about The Soul Exchange party?
I haven’t put on an event in ages, but it started out as a party, maybe I’ll do a Sunday session soon!
It’s both rare and amazing to find such a young DJ playing so much `60s and `70s soul. Do you buy much new music? What was the most recent record you bought?
I buy new music all the time! My Club Cowgirl Rinse FM residency is primarily all new music: house, soul, jazz, anything groovy, and club worthy, and most importantly fresh! I buy a lot on Bandcamp, and get a lot sent through in promo lists. The most recent record that I’ve been given was one of the newish releases from Make a Dance.
Make A Dance.
Is rare Northern Soul your thing? What is the rarest record that you own?
I reckon it’s more deemed “rare soul” or “crossover soul”. I love Northern, but I’m not so into the traditional stompers as I was when I was say 18, and I find crossover much more versatile and danceable… I mean I still love it all, but if we’re getting down to my sound. The rarest record I own would be telling, but the most I’ve spent on a single is around £85, nowhere what some people have spent on the scene.
How much of your record collection is 7s?
About 90% I reckon. I love the 7s!
Where do you buy your records these days?
I haven’t bought much since I made a big trip to the States in October, because the cost-of-living crisis has really been hitting, but I bought a ton in Detroit and New York when I was there. In the UK, I love Uptight Records in Hove, a good few shops in Soho like Sounds of the Universe, Reckless, Phonica, and Sister Ray, of course Soul Brother in Putney too.
Your Vinyl Factory show, how did that come about?
Charlie Dark intro’d me to Gabriela Helfet who was managing at the time.
So, what’s going on for you in 2023, plenty of gigs lined up?
At the end of April, I’m covering Moxie’s show on NTS and going back-to-back with Heléna Star at Queen’s Yard Summer Party. I’ve got a festival in Finland in May, and I’ll be at Gottwood, Glasto, and Lost Village, amongst some other spots this summer!
Festival season is nearly here. Wild Wood Disco Festival, have you played this one before?
Wildwood Disco is one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to! Super intimate vibe, with the best crowd and the production is amazing. Vicky does an amazing job with the programming as well. I CANNOT WAIT for this year! Each year gets better and better. I’m looking forward to seeing Secretsundaze, Bradley Zero, Jive Talk, Ruby Savage… and so many more!
You’re involved in the Emerging Female Talent competition. Please give us the lowdown on this.
We need more female-identifying talent in our line-ups, and in music in general. There`s no way we’re going to start seeing a fairer and better attitude toward women in the music industry until it`s the norm that line-ups are filled with female talent and the misogyny in the industry is eradicated! The competition is running now and will be concluded at Wild Wood Disco Festival. The winner will be playing on the main stage on Saturday night.
Tell us one track you are probably going to drop at Wild Wood Disco?
One track that I played on Rinse recently that absolutely popped off was off the M.A.D Edits 003 12”- Pascal Moscheni & 4th Street. A proper `90s housey rave banger!
What is your festival survival tip Scarlett?
Get some sleep! I can’t survive without it.
You can catch Scarlett O`Malley as part of the star-studded line-up at the Wild Wood Disco Festival, taking place at The Woodland Glade, Horseheath Racecourse, in Linton, Cambridgeshire, between the 16th and 18th of June. You can find more details, and purchase tickets, here.