A conversation with Barry Ashworth of Dub Pistols

Codin Oraseanu
Nov 19, 2020
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Last month Dub Pistols released their ninth studio album - ”Addict”, through Sunday Best Recordings. A collection of 11 tacks marks 20 years of Dub Pistols and over 35 years for Ben Ashworth in the music industry, the mastermind behind the productions of Dub Pistols. 

The album floats around rhythms of drum and bass, reggae, and hip hop, remaining strongly rooted in bass music. Dub Pistols stay true to their uplifting and festival sound, their music being a well-received break from the daily pandemic anxieties. Through the album, you will find established collaborators like Ragga Twins, Natty Campbell, and General Jah Mikey. The album also features impressive collaborations with Chesire Cat on Addict and Sound Boy, and with Rhoda Dakar on Stand Together.

Our conversation follows the production and the release of ”Addict”, and explores subjects such as the future of the music industry after the pandemic and raises a topic about the quantum of support the governments are offering to the music, culture, and arts industry.

|Every track of the album exhales festival energy. Where does this power come from, especially in these pandemic times?

The energy of the tracks comes from the fact that Dub Pistols are really a festival band, and performances are so much part of everything we do. I could have released a whole album of drum and bass or could have released a whole album of reggae music, but I just wanted to mix them to keep the flow going. 

|Have you thought of postponing the release for a time when the pandemic would be over?

We have always planned to release in September. We made that decision very early in the year before the pandemic broke. I was still optimistic when the pandemic broke around February, March that our festival Muchy Weekender would still go ahead, and it wasn't until before the end of Mucky Weekend that became clear that the situation wouldn't end any time soon. So, we were committed to release on schedule. I have enough tracks recorded to release another.  

People still deserve to have music. I think you can't just stop because it is a global pandemic; put the record back. I believe that would have been the wrong thing to do, a wrong message. Some people might decide to hold back on their product, but it was never something I would agree to or even think about it.

 
|How did you pick the collabs for the album? 

Ragga Twins I absolutely love. They are drum and bass dons, I worked with them on many occasions and they are performing with us live, so I had them in mind. Cleshire Cat I have always loved since first hearing him with Leftfield, who is a good friend of mine and a huge inspiration to what I do, so I always wanted to work with Cleshire. With Rhoda Dakar, we would always talk about over the last 3 or 4 years to write a song together.  

With Lindy Layton, I have worked with her so many times, and she has written so many tracks for Dub Pistols and performed with us so many times that I knew she would be perfect for doing Call Out Son. Navigator, we would work with for a couple of tracks on the previous album, and I didn't necessarily think we would do a hip hop track. I just came up with this idea, and we sit down in the studio, and I just started writing loads of lyrics for him which he helped me put in place and solve the way they should flow. 

 

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|When you composed the tracks for the album, what energy were you looking for?

A lot of the reason we went into jungle or drum and bass tempo was because I discovered, five o ten years ago, that energy works live, and works for the festivals. So, it was kind of then when we started to speed up. But also the good thing about drum and bass is that you can have half time, and you can go with ease into hip hop or reggae tracks. So, as I said, many of the songs I write are with a live performance in mind.

 

|A lot of the bands alter their sound for the live show. For you, even on the recording, each track is ready to be mixed in a Dj set. Is this coming from a Dj mindset?

I think the difference is that I come from a Dj background. When I am making the tracks or recording the tracks, even if I am performing them live, I still want to be able to drop them in my Dj set. So, I have always in mind with the Dj been able to do that. 

As said, these things come from a Dj background. For me, there are always 16 bars. And, again, the way that we do our live shows is very much the same way that I would do a Dj set, in the way how it flows, the way the intros and the build-ups, and the way we can mix the tracks in, very much kind of a live Dj show. 

 

|What do you think is the future of the music industry after this pandemic?

This is a million-dollar question because I don't think anybody saw it going for so long. The problem that we got is how we get people back. Obviously, there are social distancing gigs already for whom, in the first, I was so anti. It just seemed everything lacks crowd interaction and strips the energy out of a show. I thought this was the anti-Christ, the fact that people had to sit down. But now, I gladly play to a sit-down audience. 

I hope we will get back to where we were. I don't know what the long term implications are going to be in terms that maybe there will be a whole generation of grown-ups that haven't yet seen or been out to concerts or been out clubbing. This is the first time when people aren't allowed to go out anymore. I know everybody is doing their bit to trying to make it safe and viable. Is terrifying to think that the governments are not really supporting the arts and the music industry in the way they should be. They are saying that not everybody is viable for funding when there is not true because every club, every festival, every venue would be full if they were allowed to operate. 

 

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Do you feel the government hasn't supported enough the club scene in the UK during this pandemic? 

There was a system where they gave a lot of grants, but it seems to me they picked the people they were going to give the money out of thin air. The finance coming is nowhere near enough. The hospitality sector is in a terrible state. There were a lot of grassroots charities and movements to try and help these places, but I fear for the worse because if they don't get enough support, these venues will end up being sold for real estate, and a lot of other places will start disappearing. It's a massive moment in music, culture, and the arts. I hope for the best, I fear the worst. 

 

|With the new album out and distributed, how do you see the promotion of new releases? Not only for Dub Pistols but for music in general. Do you see social media as a plus in communication? 

I think things are always changing. I believe streaming services should be addressed because I don't think it's a fair platform for artists who get paid the way they do. I think the pandemic, more than ever, showed that the music industry is broken. Social media, in many ways, has kept the music industry alive and certainly gave bands more longevity than they necessarily would have. In the past, once you stopped being on the radio you will disappear from the map, whereas now you can still engage with your fanbase through social media. But these platforms are always changing and the kids are always moving, so the struggle is to keep up with the kids really. 

 

|TikTok? 

Everybody is telling me I have to be there, but I am not sure I am going to make myself disappear or land I don't know where (hahaha).

The problem you get now with TikTok is that you are making the attention spam less the 15 seconds. And this is the hard thing. And again, not just TikTok, but if you look at the way A&R people and record companies are run now, they don't have an A&R man in every city, in every club to go out and look for bands. They don't stick to the music, they look at how many likes or comments a song has, or they put a track through an algorithm to see if it is average enough. I don't know if you would get David Bowie, Pink Floyd, or those kinds of bands on a record deal through a nowadays process. Everything has to be instant now.

The challenge is to try to find a way to monetize the industry back to making music worth money because at the moment is devalued. 

 

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You were talking about the attention span on social media, but how about listening for a full track or record? DO you think the young generation has the patience for this? 

I don't know exactly what the attention span is on Facebook and YouTube but I am told it is not more than 30 seconds. I still listen to a full record and a lot of our fan base of a certain age still do, but I can't speak for the younger generation but, as far as I have been told, the attention span is getting less and less. You can't have a big long intro anymore, everything has to happen straight away. NOW. 

 

|How do you see the new generation on the dance floor? 

There is always a next-generation coming through, there is always another scene. I think this is always the case. I don't see the party ever ending. 

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