Inside Boiler Room with Joe Muggs | MN2S

This month sees Boiler Room celebrate their fifth birthday. In that half decade, they have grown from a small outfit with a simple idea to one of the the foremost content creators in electronic music – and one with an increasingly innovative and daring output. From live streams in locations as diverse as New York’s Museum Of Modern Art to Croatian amphitheatres and Ibizan villas, through to the sweatiest clubs and makeshift spaces the underground has to offer, their largely invite-only affairs have the world’s hippest brands queuing up to be part of what they do.

Now with an increasingly busy editorial department creating reams of engrossing content, their authority and influence has grown to unprecedented levels. We spoke to their editor-in-chief, seasoned music journalist Joe Muggs, to find out more about what they do – and how they do it.

How did you come to be involved with Boiler Room?

It was all a bit of a whirlwind really. I got the tap on the shoulder from Blaise at ADE last year, and it all felt a bit like getting recruited for MI5 or something. He said “we’re working on building Boiler Room into an editorial site”, I said “that sounds exciting”, he said “do you want to be involved?”, and a couple of meetings later I was in.

What’s the brand’s mission statement in terms of editorial? Do you use the word brand or do you hate it?

It’s horses for courses how you describe yourself. Dealing with commercial partners you use the language of “brand values”, but in terms of the day-to-day work of programming shows and deciding editorial values, the word ‘brand’ never really crops up.

The mission statement is that we’re going to publish amazing editorial basically! We’re in a very lucky position that people are coming to us already because of the broadcasts, so we don’t need to think first and foremost about attracting readers: we need to think about keeping readers. In the short term that’s meant branching out from just publishing articles about the artists/labels/clubs/promoters we are working with into punchy opinion pieces and longer, wide-ranging historical and analytical features, plus starting to think about discussion podcasts (like the amazing UK funky one we put together recently) and broadcasts, and we’ll just keep building on that.

What does your day-to-day look like? How much content do you publish?

I’m in the Wapping offices every day, working with an editorial / social media team of four. It’s very different to a pure editorial site as we’re constantly fitting everything that we publish around the broadcast schedule. We do at least one article for every show announcement, quite a few more if it’s a particularly major show. Take our SXSW/Ray-Ban showcase headlined by Kaytranada, which dominated the site last week with articles every day and still has a few more things to come out in the next few days, or our ongoing Logan Sama x ICA x Boiler Room series. So bearing in mind we average about 30 shows per month from all over the world, that makes up the core of what we do.

Add an increasing number of standalone articles, audio interviews etc, and that’s generally at least a couple of features a day plus a track debut every day, an Upfront mix every week, and increasingly extra bits and bobs for things like our DEARTH contemporary art takeover project that exist in parallel to the day to day site.

Our next big drive, though, is to focus all our energy on those big features, so expect to see a lot less quick Q&As, and a lot more seriously in-depth writing as 2015 goes on.

Boiler Room is so multifarious now that it must be hard to make semblance of all the different strands. How do you guys view it and how do you manage that diversity?

“Hard” isn’t the word. It’s a lot of work, sure, but it just requires vigilance really. It’s a matter of not taking on any project unless it fits the spirit of Boiler Room – which is about finding music and culture that we really give a shit about, and sharing it.

How do you guys keep your finger on the pulse of new talent?

Simple: everyone in the organisation is heavily involved with music. There are, I think, about half a dozen labels being run by people just in the London office, and everyone DJs, promotes nights, does radio shows, has friends who make music, makes music themselves and so on.

What have been the most exciting musical developments of the year so far for you?

Really into Chilean juke! These guys in Santiago are sampling reggaeton, local rap and more traditional sounds into footworking beats. It just goes to show you can never tell when and where a particular sound will find new resonances. I’m tentatively exciting that grime’s younger generation seem to be getting their act together too, possibly inspired by Novelist and The Square. We just got over sixty submissions for the open mic session at the ICA and they’re mostly not crap!

Who have been your most awe-inspiring interviewees to date?

It’s always people with stories to tell. Róisín Murphy springs to mind, as do Rob Gordon and Zed Bias. There are stories and there are stories, though, and as it happens the ultimate has to be my mate Ibrahim Alfa

What have you got planned in terms of new content streams and ventures for the future?

Can’t really say specifically but the DEARTH thing – where we’ve got some serious names from the world of fine art basically going under the bonnet and messing around with the Boiler Room format – and the increasing number of avant garde and what you might call “neo-classical” shows we’ve been doing (Nils Frahm, Jonny Greenwood type stuff) are clear indicators that BR can very easily expand into all areas of culture, without leaving behind the foundations in underground/club music.

Which other publications do you and have you historically admire(d), and why?

As a teenager in the sticks in the late ‘80s early ‘90s, The Face, i-D, NME and Mixmag were my gateway into a world I could never have contact with, and were impossibly exciting to me – so they’re probably the most influential. I love – and still write for – The Wire, of course. And FACT is one of the very best publications doing it right now: it is one of my very favourite places I’ve ever worked, and there’s something kind of bittersweet about now being in competition with them.

I increasingly look outside the music press, though, and America seems to be generating amazing writing now: things like New York magazine, the McSweenys stable, and even Buzzfeed in the serious long reads they fund through their clickbait pieces, all seem to have stuff that is super long and involved without being over-dry, and that has real stylistic panache.


What does music journalism need more / less of?

It needs more confidence that it still has something to say, and it needs less neurosis about whether it still has a place.

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