Performing art is always about creating a bow of suspense.

An interview with Oli Rubow

31 January 2020 - by Sina Najaflou

It was 2013 when I first heard about a hybrid drummer from Germany. Peter Wolpl was doing a band-camp here in Tehran and we got to have frequent conversations regarding the drummers he had played with. He told something really interesting about his latest project with a drummer who happened to have a very good command of electronics alongside his drumming. Right after, I knew I had to study him and learn about him. We started chatting on different social platforms where I was given the chance to get answers to some of my questions.

Later on, almost 2 months ago when Bijan convinced me to pick up where I had left with my interviews, I thought Oli could be the first one, I really wanted to dig deeper in some of the stuff he was doing and well, here I share with you the interview I did with him.

Thank you Oli for taking your time, it’s an honor and privilege to have you among the other drummers I have interviewed over the last years. Please tell us a little bit about where did you grow up in? What did spark your interest in the drum-set? Did you always wanted to be a professional musician/drummer or it just naturally happened to you?

I grew up in a family, where music played an important role. My grandfather was a professor at the university (Musikhochschule Stuttgart), my mother is a classical singer and works as a music teacher, but in the end it was the record collection of my stepfather that draw my attention to the cosmos of jazz-rock and fusion. I got my first drumkit (a Remo practice kit) at the age of ten, as well as lessons at a small music school in my hometown near Stuttgart, where I learned to read and play drum scores. One year later I got a real drumkit (a blue Sonor Champion) as a birthday present and I was allowed to hit those drums in the basement of my grandfather’s house. There, I loved to drum along to my favorite music. Thanks to a school project I found the members of a first band project. I was 13, they where 18 years old and we covered diverse tracks from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Lee Ritenour. Around this time I heard from my favorite two drummers in my hood that they went to Hamburg to study with Udo Dahmen (the drummer that later invented the Pop Akademie in Manheim). Although it was only two courses, lasting only three weeks, those lessons (called “Popkurs” – it still exists) and new contacts were intense. So I decided, this should be my next step after finishing school, forwarding directly into a life as a professional drummer.

Who were your role models back then when you started keeping the groove?

I had Billy Cobham’s “Funky Side of Things” on a compact cassette and loved the funkyness and groove. When I was twelve my mother drove me to a two-day masterclass with Billy, after that I had found yy first drumming hero. It was very motivating. During the eighties it was impossible not to hear the great Steve Gadd, I tried to check out every record he played on until I discovered Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta on the record “GRP Super Live in Concert”. Which felt as a life-changing experience.

Do you have other sorts of hobbies or activities to maintain the balance between your personal and professional life?

I am interested in any kind of art. Sometimes it easier the get new inspiration out of art forms that are not music, as seeing an idea or concept behind an artist’s work can mostly be adapted, transformed and modified for the drums. And I love to read books, in order to relax, to calm down and to dive into parallel realities. As a kid, playing soccer was my main hobby. Nowadays, I love to do and try out diverse sporty things with my twelve year old son: diving from rocks, playing hackysack, visiting skate parks… When being at home, family and friends are an important counterpart to the touring life of a musician.

Photo credit to the owner.

Since when did you start focusing on electronic music? And what reasons contributed to you making this hybrid electroacoustic setting on your drum-set, What did you want to achieve sonically? Were you influenced by any drummer or musician?

I was absolutely into jazz music and its side stages until my room-mate brought some drum’n bass records from London. This was around 1996. And when I heard this kind of highly energetic music, virtuosi programmings and special drum sounds, I found an interesting alternative genre and new routes opened. In the first place I tried to be able to play those freaky patterns or rather the essence of all the programmed layers of a groove on my acoustic drum kit. But soon I understood that I also would have to tweak my drum kit sonically. Therefore snares were pitched higher and dampened with a little towel, hihats replaced by two little splash cymbals and so on. But I also realized that some of the typical drum samples, e.g like a boomy 808 kick, were almost unable to be imitated. I started to also experiment with electronic outboard (a Roland Groovebox MC-303 and an Akai S-2000 sampler), programming typical sequences I could drum along with. Besides this, I met an established producer that offered me to be the live drummer for a well known German hip hop artist. Again I sorrowly dived into the sonic world of this genre and tried to imitate the sampled breakbeats and additional programmings. I also started to add a ddrum4 plus some pads to my acoustic kit, an e-drum brain that could import the originals sounds from any production. Although I really appreciated the work of Jojo Mayer (who found a new place in the drum’n bass community of New York) and Flo Dauner’s way of drumming (he is the drummer of “Die Fantastische Vier”, Germany’s best know hip hop artists), I realized the importance of the studio or rather the used gear and the producer’s impact to a record. So they – the machines and the visionaries – became my real heroes. In the following years I spent my time to check all different genres of the dj-cultures, no matter if straight four-on-the floor (like disco, house, techno) or if broken (hip hop, electro, oldschol breakbeats, broken beats). I wanted to learn the groove details as well an overview over the used gear. And, as I also liked the idea of the remix, I discovered its roots in dub music - another turning point that sparked my fire for delay devices.

Tell us about your most favorite piece of gear in your setup, and how much do you rely on that?

If I had to name on piece of gear, I would actually take a tap delay machine. This kind of stompbox effect helped me a lot to shape an individual sound of drumming. And since the year 2000 it is a steady partner on my drum carpet. Although I really love my own Tama drums, I learned to feel comfortable on almost any drum kit (one reason of transforming and playing rental kits all over the world). Consequently, my most favorite pieces of gear have to be those that fit into a suitcase (max. 20Kg) and hand lugagge. To be flexible in relation to travel by trains or planes (because I don’t really like to waste time while driving a car). These days I travel with my cymbals, a computer and an audio interface (stuffed into a Meinl bagpack) and different kinds of electronics relating to the particular band, suited in one half of my suitcase (usually the green Roland SPD:One, a Boss RE-20 Space Echo that, if necessary works with batteries and a little Mackie VLZ-402 to mix my in-ear sound).

How do you incorporate in your musical ideas, visions and taste while playing with De-Phazz? Is there anyone responsible for making “the final decision”?

All the DePhazz Records is the work of one guy, Pit Baumgartner. He produces the originals, but when we prepare for a tour, I - as the MD, bring in my ideas concerning arrangements and the band sound and make proposals of DJ alike set-lists, but in the end we – the live band – try to develop homogeneous versions for the stage. While rehearsing we jam along the produced files and then decide which to keep electronically, which to rebuild organically with our instruments. When Pit joins the DePhazz live shows, he usually drops samples and dubs the two vocalists with a delay machine. But very often, especially for the gigs abroad, he prefers to stay in the studio to prepare new material. According to this circumstance, I once tried to also cover his musical contributions, meaning: to drum and dub my drums and vocals in real-time. This was not only a challenge regarding to coordination, but a further step into my echo-drumming.

Oli Rubow with DePhazz - Photo credit to the owner.

How was working with Peter Wölpl? How was his reaction to visiting Tehran, was it enticing for you to come over here as well?

I knew Peter since being a child and watching Super-Drumming on TV, then met him in 2006 in the band of the Munich based bass player Wolfgang Schmid. I always adored his energetic way of playing! Some years later he called me and told me about his fascination for Ableton Live, finally we founded a modern version of the guitar quartett, consisting of a drummer, a guitar player and two synchronized computers. Our band is called “Luminos W”. When Peter returned from Tehran, he was really excited and I immediately thought: we should play there some concert. Since several years Tehran is on my travel list: I heard a lot of inspiring stories from Hakim Ludin and I smell nearly everyday the delicious variety of the Iranian kitchen in our house.

What genres/artists have you been listening to lately? Do you find social media and streaming services to be in favor of music and musicians?

A coin always has two sides. As a music aficionado, I enjoy the benefit of being able to hear anything out of the world wide record catalogue: new releases, historical background, masterpieces of every genre, exotic folkloristic developments or niche music. On the other side there is the massive over-supply: we have a jungle with stunningly diverse possibilities, but don’t know how to walk through, unless we find a kindred spirit who takes our hand and shows his discoveries. Not to forget the fact that people suddenly take free music for granted… Nevertheless I like to share all my knowledge, my ideas and empirical values – therefore I have been writing my weblog since 2006 (unfortunately in german), so I hope, you can get access to my mixcloud mixes and my spotify “container”, where I collect and/or combine all recent inspiration:

You can also visit all the posts in the “music of the moment” column in my blog (

What are the musical challenges you are still facing with? And how do you react to them?

Every concert is sort of a nice challenge. The critical factor seems always to be the remaining timeframe. First I try to learn the songs (therefore I listen to them in different settings), prepare the drum parts (write lead sheets and try to learn them by heart) and then I optimize my electronic surrounding. If possible, I verify recordings of shows with me drumming, in order to further optimize the playing. Doing drum workshops and clinics are definitely no problem for me, as I can talk and drum about a current life I love to live, but since 2017 I am teaching at the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt, and this is a challenge due to different levels and expectations of the students – but again a nice task where I learn a lot.

Oli Rubow with Peter Wolpl - Photo credit to the owner.

At the moment, what are some of the interesting ideas you are exploring behind the drum-kit?

This year I pushed the idea of integrating electronic stereotypes to my drum kit. Usually I take a delay device to create additional loop alike layers and typical dub effects and I use the SPD:one for pitch-able clap sounds, a deep boom bass or – thanks to internal reverb – for long noisy tails. What’s new, is the kick trigger pedal (Fatkat or Roland KT-10) on the left side of the hihat machine. Mostly used for an additional four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern, I am either triggering a Vermona Kick Lancet or a Jomox Mbase (both analog drum synths) with it.

You use a very intriguing pedalboard along with triggers. When did you start experimenting with that? Would you please give us a rundown of your rig?

My first electronic device was a Boss DRP1 Dr. Pad, the predecessor of the SPD:one series. I bought it in the mid nineties and loved the electronic vibe of those pitchable clap and snare sounds, that easily added some clubby vibes to the acoustic drum kit. With the advent of ebay I tried to buy and checkout as much of the old-school e-drums and drum-synths I could afford. In 2000 I bought a Line6 delay modeler that change my life. Soon all those triggers, pads, sound modules and effects were mixed. (What led to the solo album “Organic Electro Beats” in 2003 and my first book “E-Beats am Drumset”).

With Ableton Live a lot of interesting possibilities occurred: this DAW broke the rigid structures of pre-programmed playbacks (that were a tool since the early eighties to create some typical electronic or programmed aesthetics) and opened the perspective that a real-time electronic structures – not only sounds, but also textures and loops – don not necessarily require a click track or rather a corset for the drummer! So my main goal shifted to all those click-free ideas that spark some e-vibes. Concerning this matter, drumming with a tap-able echo device is very easy, yet pretty “effective” model of this approach. To try it, you only need a dynamic microphone (like a Shure SM57, or the Sennheiser e604 that I like because of its compact size), a cable that is plugged into the delay pedal (maybe you ask your guitar playing friend if he doesn’t want to lend one of his stomp boxes that has a tap tempo function…) and another cable that goes to an amplified loudspeaker (e.g. monitor box, guitar amp, front PA). Set the mix knob to 100% wet signal, set the feedback of the repeats to minimum, tap for example 1/8 or dotted 1/8 notes and play your groove. You will hear a nice additional “fake loop”.
​See the video on IG:

If you have a little e-drum, you could plug it instead of the microphone (or additionally, if your pedal has two inputs) into the delay:
See the video on IG:

And if you prefer or more isolated signal for the delay, just take a trigger pickup instead of the mic. In this example only the side snare has a trigger pick up that is plugged into the keinedelay TEIL1. See the video on IG:

The next step could be: drum a groove with only one hand and tweak the knobs of the efx. See the videos on IG:

This is just the beginning of a universe of possibilities: think of typical dub effects, think of chaining the delay with other effects (eq, phaser, reverb, vocoder¬) or mute switches, think of taking the next step, a loop machine. Obviously you can also take your computer as an efx brain, Ableton offers a lot of possibilities to adapt the strategies with the guitar stompboxes, but also opens up to integrate midi controllers, for example if you want to tap the tempo or open an aux send channel, you just would have to hit a pad or triggered tom/cymbal with your sticks. Fortunately I am just about to finish my recent book, called “Echodrums”.

In order to be able to feature the delayed signals on point (e.g. for the chorus or solo of a track), I additionally use a further guitar device – an A/B box, that is placed besides the hi-hat pedal and hit with my left heel. The mic is plugged into its channel A, the output goes to the delay pedal. Now, if channel A is chosen, I see a yellow light on my Boss AB-2 and I hear the delays, if channel B is chosen no signal will be fed to the stompox.

What would be your piece of advice to the young, enthusiast drummers who want to broaden their sonic horizons on the drum-set?

* Try to form in words what (kind of music, drumming, sounds) you really like and which goals you wish to reach. Define and name them, well knowing that the journey becomes the reward.

* Always open your ears and mind, try to stick to a thing you like and further explore its context. It’s similar to language: the more words and phrases you know, the more interesting stories you can tell.

* Groove is much more than written music, it’s the combination of the pattern, deliberate chosen sounds and the attitude of the player. By the way, I programmed a free search engine for alternative drum sounds, kind of presets for drummers:

* Performing art is also always about creating a bow of suspense.

* A nice insight from the bedroom producers of club music: throw away the manual… maybe you find some unique new ideas, in any case it helps to find your own style.

Thank you Oli! If you enjoyed this interview you may look up Oli on different social networks and take a loot at his website:

I will keep updating my website with my interviews and you should expect more to come. Wish you all the best, Sina Najaflou