Interview: Gentleman’s Dub Club

Having released a string of critically-acclaimed albums and becoming a feature of festivals worldwide for more than a decade, Gentleman’s Dub Club are certainly among Britain’s most exciting live acts. With the release of their latest album ‘Lost In Space’ in January and a busy touring schedule for the rest of 2019, we sat down with frontman Jonathan Scratchley to discuss the new record, their achievements so far, and what they have planned for the future.

Thanks for taking the time to have a chat with Fortitude Magazine today, Johnny. How are you?

I’m very well, thank you Frosty. It’s a pleasure, mate, thank you very much.

For any of our readers who might be new to Gentleman’s Dub Club, how would you best describe yourselves?

It’s kinda like dancefloor reggae. Something between reggae and big build-and-drop electronic.

2018 was a pretty hectic year for you, wasn’t it? You released ‘Pound For Pound’, you toured all over the place, you did the 1Xtra takeover. It must be difficult but could you pick one thing that was the main highlight for you?

Well, you’ve picked out two brilliant things really. The Rodigan takeover especially. Me and Toby [Davies, bass] took over his 1Xtra show on a Sunday which was a personal life goal, I suppose. His show was one of the first things that got me into reggae music. He did Rodigan’s Reggae on Kiss on a Sunday night and I used stay up for it, listen to it on my handheld radio. Often I fell asleep to it with the earplugs still in, wake up on a Monday morning too tired for school. Releasing ‘Pound For Pound’ was massive because we did that with The Nextmen and we’d never collaborated with another act in that way before which was great, and it was a really different record to anything we’d created before. Actually, to be honest, I think the highlight of the year for me, apart from some great festivals, was meeting the woman I love at a show, and the brilliant thing is is that she hadn’t been watching us play, which is a much better dynamic.

So you met her watching someone else?

She was there to see her mate’s band. They were called Wild Marmalade, an Australian band with a didgeridoo. So yeah, that was probably the biggest thing that’s happened to me. Festivals in general have been great, that was at Earth Garden in Malta which is an amazing festival and was one of the first gigs of the year. My favourite though was in Manchester towards the end of the our last tour at The Ritz, and one of our first ever gigs was in Manchester which was about 11 years ago. It changes loads because it’s quite a transient city, a lot of students there. It was rammed, it’s a wicked venue and there was just this love in the room. I’d had a bit of a hard time of it, I’d been going through some stuff and the night before we’d been playing in Birmingham which was a really hard show for me to get through, one of the hardest I’d ever done. I felt like I was in a different space, but the next night I swear it changed my life, that gig. I’ve stopped drinking, stopped smoking, and not doing that before shows has massively changed the way I perform and the way I’ve connected to people, myself and the audience. This gig in Manchester was one of my favourite gigs ever and it just came out of the blue, the love in the room was just mindblowing, I couldn’t believe it. And it wasn’t just me who felt it: I still see people talking about that gig online, I see comments on different posts saying “Manchester was my favourite gig ever…” And when we went back on to play one more tune I told the audience everything, exactly how I was feeling when I walked on that stage, everything I was going through. It was the first time, that performance, that music, it became something cathartic. For me it was healing.

Almost like a release, in a way?

Complete release. Just a real beautiful moment and it really resonated with me, really motivated me, and I was just so happy to be there at that time. I mean, we play loads, we probably played 60 shows last year, to bigger audiences and probably in better venues, but just that moment in time, it was the right audience and I was in the right place for it, so I’d say that was probably the highlight of the year if not the last five years. It was just amazing.

Given that the band’s been going 12 years, it must be really special that even at this stage you’re still having gigs that you’re calling the best you’ve ever done.

I tell you, man, stopping drinking? Massive. Absolutely massive. I never used to get really pissed and then go on stage, I always felt like that was shortchanging the audience a little bit. Sometimes I’d be a bit bladdered.

I always thought no more than two beforehand was the right amount.

Well I remember thinking exactly that: the perfect amount is two beers before a show. Nice little warm up, bang, you’re in the groove. Whatever happens after happens. But this last tour I’d had a really busy summer because I do a lot of things outside of the band, I’m quite heavily involved in other areas of music.

Can you give us a couple of examples?

I run an events company and we had three big events running up to the tour that were really consuming, really hard. I looked at that run of dates and just thought I don’t think I can drink and not sleep and do all these gigs and work. I was really daunted by the prospect after such a big summer. I decided I was going to try and do it without drinking. It was tough to begin with but, Jesus, a few gigs in once I’d got over the slight shock, because it’s different obviously, I got into the groove and had some amazing shows. I can remember every second of them, I didn’t have any moments where I felt out of control. I mean, it’s not like I want to be in control, I’m not trying to be stiff or overly-managed, but I didn’t feel like I’d forgotten any of the words or that I was going to trip over something. That stuff happens if you’re maybe a little bit loose. It may solve some stage fright or anxiety that can often come from performing, but I’m telling you man, the euphoric natural high that comes from not drinking or not doing anything…and I haven’t drunk since.

I know a few people who’ve gone straight edge recently and they all say it’s for the better, particularly in regards to productivity.

It is connected in a weird way to productivity and creativity, when really it kinda narrows your field of vision.

You’ve put out an album almost every year since 2013, which relative to some acts is a tremendous output. Do you feel like to have to get that amount out or does it just seem to flow naturally onto record?

Well, it’s fun. Our first EP [‘Members Only’] came out in 2009, and that was about 3-4 years after starting so to begin with we didn’t do anything, and I think that came from trying really hard to recreate what we did live. We tried and tried and tried but we were never happy with it, and then we just got over this hurdle when we realised that it didn’t really matter, we’re just doing what we’re doing. We like the stuff, just put it out, don’t worry about anything. Don’t worry about what people think or whether it matches up or whether it’s the same or whether it fits under this umbrella or that. So we just got into this approach of saying “we’re just gonna do what we enjoy”, and once it’s been recorded and put out we don’t have control over it, it is what it is. That really liberated us. We realised as well that there’s not a massive amount of money you can make from the sale of music and so if you want to make it a career you’re gigging, and to gig more you gotta release music and so actually it was motivated by those two things, mainly. We’re enjoying doing it, we’re enjoying these tunes. We like ’em, let’s get ’em out. And the fact that we know our live show smashes it and that’s where we know we’re going to continue to make it our livelihood, and to do that, to travel further, to get bigger fees, play to bigger audiences, get higher up bills and in new places, we’ve just gotta keep putting new music out.

I suppose it’s best to not tour the same set list for 10 years.

Yeah, exactly.

‘Lost In Space’ came out a week ago today, and you can hear it’s got a more spacey, electronic, maybe even a more sombre feel than some of the stuff that preceded it. Is there a particular reason for that or is it just how the album naturally formed?

I suppose the spacey-ness is because that’s what the record’s called. We felt that all fit under one umbrella. In terms of being more sombre, that wasn’t so much a decision. I hadn’t thought that much myself. We called the album Lost In Space before we wrote it. We liked the idea of dub in space, there’s a lot of that in dub music, a lot of delays and reverbs and echos. So that was the only real motivation behind it. Then I wrote a story, then we wrote the album off the back of that. We got together for a week in Wales and wrote it, a really concise way of writing.

It’s often seen that music of, for want of a better term, “alternative” genres is often a reflection of the times in which it’s created it, especially in music like yours’ that’s bringing in so many different elements from so many different places. Given that it’s certainly interesting time we’re living in at the moment, how important do you think music is in putting that reflection across in times like these?

Well there’s loads of different ways to approach it. How important music is is in a way saying there is good music out there that’s commentating in a meaningful, impactful way. I wouldn’t say I’ve heard a great deal that’s really doing that for me, although I do enjoy listening to more electronic music nowadays that’s got less words in it, so I suppose you can say it’s got that nature of rebellion and commentary in it but it’s less obvious. I believe in the power of music and it’s ability to communicate quite complex and often very important messages across society. I suppose it’s done in a lot of different ways. Like the last Specials tunes, one with a young Asian girl talking over a beat, which is really powerful, and the other one, Vote For Me, is about politicians that are lying to people. That’s quite obvious, quite direct, which I think is definitely cool. And then there’s the escapism side of it, which is kinda saying, in a similar way, “let’s listen to this music and let’s just go, let’s just go away”.

And where would you say Gentleman’s Dub Club are on the spectrum?

Probably the escapism side of things, although as we get older the words change and develop, and the style changes and naturally grows. So this next album, I’m thinking about what it could be, but I feel like it has to be more conscious and a little bit more inline with the pain or confusion that people are feeling. The unsettled nature of things is the core of what’s going on, I suppose. It’s just confusion and a lack of trust and belief.

I think it’s fairly obvious for people listening to your music that Gentleman’s Dub Club is music for getting people moving and feeling good, which is probably why you’re such a mainstay at festivals. Do you find you have to consciously balancing what you mentioned before with the accessible, feelgood nature of the music?

Along that line of escapism, I’d say at gigs more than on records, the dancing, y’know, the shaking, the release, it’s like a cathartic aggression that comes out. That togetherness, that unity and that positive energy is probably the most impactful aspect of what we do. If the records are a bit more out there and escapist, a bit more fantasy and you can take what you want from them, then the gigs are about togetherness, love, unity and celebration.

Are there any artists at the moment that’s really grabbing your attention? Anyone you think more people should be paying attention to?

I’m really loving a lot of the London jazz scene and electronic crossover, it’s wicked. Blue Lab Beats and Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia and Moses Boyd, really feeling that. Also really like some of the more ambient, soulful R&B stuff like Jordan Rakei and Nick Hakim, that’s a lot of what I listen to. I’m starting to listen to a lot more accomplished music, to be honest, which is dateless and not about being on trend. I don’t have a clue how many people are listening to those types of tunes but they’re really grabbing me because I’m getting into a wider variety of experience. In reggae? General Roots, an amazing act, they record just down the road. They’re originally from around here, from Muswell Hill and Haringey. They just released the dub of their EP showcase, which is wicked. It’s a really, really high standard of dub reggae music. They’ve just ramped it up over the last couple of years, the last six months especially. Hollie Cook, as well, who they back for. She’s brilliant. Everything that Prince Fatty puts out is amazing. Everything he touches turns to gold, man. I listen to a lot of electronic soul with that R&B flex. People like Ne-Yo. There’s a lot of great music coming out with this electronic melody line, that crossover. It’s all kinda one thing: instead of another line of vocals, it’s another instrument. It’s less about big powerful ballads and big whopping basslines, it’s more about that rainbow of sound.

So the album’s just come out, and you’ve announced a load of dates across 2019. Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to right now?

Yeah…I’m gonna have a bath in a bit, I think [laughs]. We’re playing the last ever Outlook Festival in Croatia, that’ll be amazing, playing in the amphitheatre alongside Andy C, Shy FX doing a ragamuffin show, Loyle Carner and Flohio. Flohio’s another one to check out, actually, she’s amazing. That’s going to be incredible, although I might be a little bit biased. We play almost every year and it takes place in the 2000 year old Roman amphitheatre. We’re playing some other festivals but I don’t know if they’ve been announced or not, but we’re playing some big UK festivals, got some really good slots coming. A couple in Europe as well. We’ll be touring again, probably in October/November, a couple of dates in London as well leading up to summer. We’re supporting UB40 at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, which is like their O2 Arena. It’s massive. Absolutely massive, so that’ll be good.

You briefly touched upon this before, but is there anything you’ve got in the works at the moment that you haven’t announced yet that maybe you could drop a little hint about?

All I can say is that this probably won’t be the last music we’re putting out this year. In terms of gigs, we’ve also been working on a couple of really special shows.

Fantastic, well I shan’t keep you from your bath any long. Before you go, any final thoughts you want to share?

Just thank you very much for taking the time. It’s been a real pleasure. I’m still in shock at how long this ride has been going for. We never started out intending to be a band that has longevity and was able to mean something to people, but it seems to have ended up that way. So, fuck, if you’re reading this and you’ve been following the band in any way or for any amount of time at all, thank you. And if you’ve never heard of the band before, go and check it out. If you don’t like it, all good, if you do like it, come and see us live because that’s when it really sparks.

Thank you. The pleasure has been all our’s.

‘Lost In Space’ is out now on all major platforms. Check out Gentleman’s Dub Club’s latest video, Light The Fuse, below.

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