Anyone that lives in London will have noticed. We’ve read the news stories and seen the petitions trying to save places like Hackney floating about online, but the fact is there are so many other fights taking place right now – whether it’s the fight to save the NHS, the fight to stop countless innocents dying in the Middle East, the fight against cuts to the Police, Tax Credits or the Armed Forces – it’s easy to see how the fight against the multiple club closures in London and across the country has dropped down the pecking order.
There haven’t been thousands turning up outside Number 10 because nearly half of the UK’s night-clubs have shut their doors in the last 10 years but the numbers speak for themselves; in 2005 there were 3,144 clubs and this is now down to 1,733. “The problem you’ve got with central London certainly, is so many of the clubs have been shut down – they’re not being shut down because they’re not full, they’re being shut down because they’re worth more as property to developers”. I’m talking to Dub Pistols front-man Barry Ashworth on the phone, it’s mid morning on a Monday and I’ve just asked for his take on the recent closure of one of London’s most infamous clubs – Trade.
“It’s not just Trade”, he tells me as the cut-to-the-chase mindset I was warned about edges to the fore “every club I can remember going to is gone – apart from the Ministry, do you know what I mean? They’ve all been sold to developers, I think it’s sad, but I also think, you know, it’s not just a problem for the club scene – it’s the whole of central London is being socially cleansed you know? It’s being gentrified and that’s a huge problem that London has to address”.
Ministry of Sound is often referred to, not just because it’s an iconic South London brand or because the co-founder James Palumbo is now a Lord but because as well as being the biggest independent record company in the world it’s one of the few shining lights on the London night-life scene. “UK culture, pop culture, art culture whatever you want to call it are the only things we’re still actually very good at exporting in this country and that’s having it’s life squeezed out of it, the city is losing its life, its soul”. Barry is passionate and animated now talking so quickly I’m hoping I’m able to catch it all, “but, you know, as a tourist, why would you want to go to a stagnated city? You wouldn’t. So it’s something that needs to be addressed for sure”.
I ask if whether it’s this spate of closures that has fed the festival scene over the last six or seven years with more and more countries being opened up and more and more people looking to the continent for the fixes they struggle to get at home? “I love festivals, don’t get me wrong – they’re what Dub Pistols are all about – but look, I think with festivals the actual age groups vary“.
“For the young ones coming up, who want their own identity, I think clubs are an absolute – you know, they need that. They need somewhere to go; they need somewhere to say ‘this is our generation’, ‘this is what we do’ do you know what I mean? And it’s also where things develop. The underground club scene. This is where all the little things grow. Tomorrow’s stars come from the underground. It needs to be addressed, but I don’t know how you address it ‘cause money talks”.
I ask whether he feels it’s harder in that case for artists hoping to break through at home and whether we’re just not being creative enough in our search for the answers to this? Maybe we should adopt a continental attitude towards our night-life? “If you go to places like Holland or Germany; places like that, clubs are heavily subsidised by the government, whereas here it’s frowned upon which is utter bollocks“.
Having got his definitive answer on the matter, we move on from the club scene generally, and talk instead more specifically about the “Killa Sound” single which was released late October and boasts five extravagant remixes alongside the original, Skapes steps up on first remix duties and delivers a towering speed garage number; hailing from San Diego, Wes Smith’s dutty bassline remix turns “Killa Sound” into a peak time Breakbeat banger.
Ex-Prodigy member Leeroy Thornhill’s take steps outside his BPM style zone and ramps up the pace for a Drum & Bass slammer. Aussie based Breaks maestro D-Funk brings a solid mix with hammering bass from start to finish, and finishing off the remix EP is Landings, who slows things down with a deep bass mix for the heads.
So what was the thinking behind this? Was it an intentional look back at the defining elements of the last few decades in Dance music? “I’m very eclectic in my taste”, he begins, trying to explain the concept succinctly, “and I’ve been around so long – music is music – it doesn’t matter what style, there’s good music and there’s bad music and that’s all there is. I like hearing what other people’s interpretations are and they’re all producers I totally respect so I wanted them to just give me their style. These are the styles I’m into and I’m just asking these producers to give it their turn”.
So obviously I have to ask, which is your favourite? he pauses before giving me the official line like any good parent, “I mean I love them all!”, I say of course, and press a little more but he won’t be drawn, “Skapes is a good one for me”, he says and I think that’s that but he continues, “but then you know, if I’m playing Ghetto Funk, D Funk and if I was back at the house monging out then I’d listen to Landings – I’ve got space for them all in my sets“.
We talk some more about whether or not a definitive ‘Killa Sound’ exists and he says he’s always hunting around as a DJ for something fresh to drop at the next gig, “I had record shops in the past, so I’ve always collected. Good music and bad music”. I ask if he has any plans to revisit owning a record shop at some point, as vinyl continues its renaissance, “not now. When I was younger, it was at a time when CD’s were taking over… you could have a record shop. You put a tune on in a rave and sell 15 thousand copies of it. Underground Dance records would be outselling what was in the charts, the major record companies didn’t embrace it at the time, so you know, there was massive demand for it back then – which is coming back around now”.
It leads me to ask for his take on the news over the weekend that Tesco have decided to start selling vinyl for the first time in their history, surely this is going to escalate the consumer appetite which could be a great thing to see? “Who? Tesco?”, he sounds unconvinced. I say yeah, they’ve just announced it this weekend (December 5).
He thinks about this for a beat, “it would be interesting to see – I mean, it sounds great”, the tone in his voice suggesting it sounds anything but, “but what vinyl are Tesco gonna stock? Are we talking limited editions and Adele or are we talking underground? Let’s face it, Adele’s people aren’t gonna go f**king crate digging in Tesco are they? And most people who go record shopping – unless they’ve got the munchies – let’s face it, are not going to go record shopping in Tesco”. That’s me told then. “I’ll embrace any way of people selling vinyl”, he continues “Tesco? I’m not sure, but I’d be interested to see what they stock and who’s going to be their buyer”.
We’ve been talking for a little while now and throughout the conversation Barry’s answers come openly, he’s frank and direct – as I was told he would be – and he gives me the impression of a man that has no trouble saying what’s really on his mind. I ask about the acts right now that are worthy of a shout out and he name checks Gentleman’s Dub Club, The Hook and King Youth, “he’s got some absolutely awesome stuff”.
I ask for his take on the ‘melting pot’ of the British music scene and its influences, “of course it goes back to colonialism, we’ve got such a diverse mix of ethnic communities. So all of those people bring something to the plate and that just gets fused. To me Punk was an idea of fusing music – it was never a sound. It was about throwing everything into a pot and seeing what comes out, to me that’s what Punk was. If you’re going to try and make a Punk record, you’ve fucked it. You’ve missed the point. So it’s that and the fusion of cultures that makes us so unique, we experiment“.
We talk a bit about America and their take on House and Electronic music, “If you were a House DJ back in the day – ‘87, ‘88 – you couldn’t get arrested in America, do you know what I mean? It’s like they had to, they all had to come over here to play – no one in America ‘got’ House music. They got there in the end and now they think they discovered electronic music! it’s like, come on. They didn’t even realise, we had to sell them back their own f**king product. That’s what I’m saying once they get on it, you’d think they’d invented the world”.
We come back to the subject of the UK, “that’s why England is so unique. England’s cities do Pop culture or Art culture or whatever you want to call it, better than anywhere else in the world in my opinion. And when you fly over London or drive through it, you realise what an amazing city it is. It’s really only central London having its soul sucked out of it. If you go into boroughs it’s not so much. It’s one of my favourite cities and I’ve travelled a lot“.
As the conversation draws to a close we talk a bit about football, “I’m from a family of scousers so it’s Liverpool for me”, and what 2016 looks like for the band, “more festivals than you can shake a stick at already. Then finishing off the documentary”, I ask what it is, “what could possibly go wrong? the history of the Dub Pistols”, he says with some amusement. Who’s directing? “I’ve worked in film for years so I know what I’m doing”, he reminds me “we’ve been shooting it and doing interviews with people and all that sort of stuff so we’ll see. It’s looking great at the moment so we’ll see what sort of interest we can get for it”.
That’s it. our time is up, I say it was great talking to you, “don’t forget to mention us in it when you’ve done it”, he reminds me before we hang up. Dub Pistol’s “Killa Sound” is out now via Sunday Best Recordings, purchase it on iTunes here, and keep tabs on them on Facebook, Twitter and their website.
Words by Akua Ofei