Countermeasure: Dub Pistols

Barry Ashworth speaks out...
Dub Pistols pic.jpg
In some ways it's inevitable...

...that Dub Pistols have delivered their strongest album in a decade. After all, contemporaries from Underworld to Orbital, The Chemical Brothers to The Prodigy have all found their second wind as the 21st century progresses.

In some ways it's remarkable...

...that one of the year's most outspoken records comes from a group who have been around the block more times than they care to remember. 'Worshipping The Dollar' is all fire and fury, lashing out at a world which seems eager to forget about the underclass until they start lighting a few fires.

Still led by Barry Ashworth, ClashMusic tracked down the Dub Pistols lynchpin to talk about music and mayhem.

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So where did the title come from?
Well it’s obviously an anti-Imperialism thing, y’know what I mean? It was a line taken from a track written by Carla but it pretty much summed up the sentiment which we were trying to put through the album. It’s the Jubilee year. It’s 25 years since the last bout of rioting broke loose and punk came out, The Clash and The Specials were big. Last year when the banks all collapsed and everyone was rioting, that was when we were writing the album. It was almost like we’d gone full circle and mirrored that time, so it was kind of coming from that angle really. It was full circle. The Tories are back in power, everyone’s on the streets fucking rioting and London was burning.

It’s quite an eerie parallel.
Yeah. Totally. It’s art mirroring life and life mirroring art. It’s come full circle. We wanted to say something without being a Bono type preacher.

Your approach seems more indebted to soundsystem culture.
Yeah totally, it’s totally what’s going on in the streets. It’s the working classes who suffer every time, they take all the shit. Everyone blames it on youth culture and it’s not – you’ve just got to have a look at what’s going on around you. The robbery is getting worse and worse. It doesn’t seem to matter. You see what the banks are doing... If someone fucking robs an apple they get five years and if a bank robs millions that’s all fine. What was it someone said? Give a man a gun and he’ll rob a bank, give a man a bank and he’ll rob the world. It really is that sort of thing. They can get away with blue murder.

Was the decision unavoidable, then?
Yeah. It just seemed like the perfect time. Certainly up until ‘Six Million Ways To Live’ we’d always gone down that way, we’d always had something to say. But with ‘Six Million Ways To Live’ – typical us – week of release, after spending four years working in America someone fucking flew aeroplanes into the World Trade Center. I remember sitting watching it happen thinking “that’s us fucked!” We had lyrics about blowing up the White House like I was an alien in Independence Day. Things we’d written two years previous and suddenly it had come back and the whole album was scrapped. We were dropped as a priority in America having been number two on the Billboards. We had gone away from that for a couple of albums it became very much tongue in cheek but we felt that with everything going on it was time to come back and say something again.

Are music and politics easy bedfellows?
No. I think it’s really difficult to get right and I totally understand it. The Clash were good at it. People don’t like it. Not so much that people don’t like it, radio stations fucking hate it. You’ll get backed down from people. It tends to be that radio stations are owned by someone, their views don’t always match yours and therefore you’re going to be crushed. It is something that sits hard. People don’t mind it so much, as long as you ain’t ramming it down their throat. If you do that you’re limiting the outlets where you can actually be heard from.

There aren’t a lot of politically motivated artists coming through.
It’s surprising. It’s surprising. How much of that is down to labels staying away from stuff? I’m sure there are acts out there. It does seem like there’s not many people with much to say these days. Or of any relevance anyway.

We could do with a Joe Strummer rampaging around.
I don’t think there’s anyone who meant more in the British music scene or tried more to change things. He’s been a massive influence on me musically, definitely. Everything I do.. They’re the ones who got me into reggae. Back in ’77 you could go down to Petticoat Lane and buy up loads of dubplates. My old man would drag me out of my bedroom, sit me down and make me listen to Bob Dylan all afternoon.

How does the band operate in the studio?
It tends to be myself. I have ideas. I’m lucky to be surrounded by great musicians so I don’t have to sample everything. I can bring them in as an idea and get everyone playing, maybe change a few things here and there. You can tell. You learn things from places and then I’ll get the boys in to change things for me. We’re a band but the band is mostly myself and whoever I’m writing with at the time. Most of them play with other people. The good news is that they don’t mind coming in and doing what I what, because if they were all contributing then it would just be a great big punch up.

Do you treat the touring aspect of the band as a different entity than the studio process?
Well the touring thing is something that never stops. It had a massive influence again on the album. In terms of the face that we’ve never gone drum ‘n’ bass before – because we do so many shows now, we’re doing a lot of the older stuff as drum ‘n’ bass. Obviously, the dub and hip hop double times up really well into drum ‘n’ bass. I just found that the crowds were absolutely going mental so we went down that route a bit more in the studio.

People forget how massive drum ‘n’ bass remains.
It’s massive. It’s absolutely massive. Obviously there’s a new Jungle scene now and there’s so many things that hark back to it. It’s like anything. Last year was Dubstep, this year will be something different – House music never goes away. Once it’s been battered for a while it’s alright to come back again, or use the influences from it and take it to a slightly different place.

Dub Pistols - 'Worshipping the Dollar' (Album Sampler)



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It’s funny how localised that scene was when it started out.
Totally. You go worldwide and it’s just massive. It’s like everything it just takes time to filter down. No one ever predicted that dance music would be as big as it is now. I remember when they stopped selling vinyl – I used to have two record shops and we used to sell more vinyl in those shops than the singles that were charting. We could sell 15,000 copies of an underground album – it was easy! Obviously everything’s changed now with the whole digitalising – that’s a massive changeover. It’s quite depressing now when I’m walking round London and you can’t find a decent record shop. You used to see record shops everywhere but now you can’t find ‘em. HMV just sells games! It just amazes me that people don’t want to spend money on music. I’m standing here now and everyone’s walking around with a Walkman in their ear. It’s like, do you know what’s powering that thing? You’ve got your £350 Walkman and your £500 headphones – what do you think the content on that thing has cost?

Surely there’s a positive to the web explosion?
Oh listen it saved our career! Don’t get me wrong: I blame the record companies for the whole free download culture because when they were asked to go for it they all said no. They wouldn’t let these digital sites do it, so the only way you could do it is by illegally doing it. It’s like HMV leaving their doors open at night with everyone taking the stuff out. If you’d have got people at the initial stages to go in and buy it they would have done it. I don’t think anyone would mind paying 79p for a single or £7 for an album – they used to pay 15. No one would mind that, it’s just the way it’s gone and it’s definitely the record companies who are to blame.
You invited fans to help make your new video, where did the impetus come from to do that?
It was just an idea, it’s about finding more and more ideas of being interactive and getting people involved. I like this whole idea of fans paying for the album and becoming the record company. It’s another thing on that – get people in, get them involved. Everyone’s in the video, it’s like building a family. It’s just that sort of idea. The songs about being alive, so it’s people’s lives in 2012. I was quite surprised at how many people sent in pictures. It was literally thousands. I think we crashed our server about three or four times.

Is touring still as important to you as ever?
I think it’s the most important part. We’ve been around fifteen years, we’re probably the most successfully unsuccessful band ever. In terms of, whenever it looks as if things will take off it crashes. The reason we’ve been able to keep going it by touring. It’s like the old school when you just got in the bus, you kept going and you built a fanbase up like that. Every one of our shows now sells out, it’s going off and that is purely by going out and doing it the old way.

That’s been one of the major trends in modern music.
There’s a problem with that as well, though. Well there’s two problems with that, actually. One, the record companies deal in 360 deals where they want 50% of your touring revenue so they’re taking everything. The second thing is that every band now has to get out and go on the road constantly, which means that at any one night there’s God knows how many bands vying for the one audience. It’s good to get out there but it’s fucking hard doing it constantly. The big artists are charging £100 a ticket, where the smaller bands are fighting for the same audience and lot less money.

Touring must open up your horizons, though?
Getting to crowds you wouldn’t normally get to. Obviously if you’re on Radio 1 then you’re hitting a million people every day, but the only other way is touring. Festivals, you’ve got such a varied age groups. Our crowds aren’t 40+ crowds, they’re across the board and that’s a great thing. It comes from getting out there, touring and people can see you.

How do you feel things are going in this country?
Terribly. Things were going well weren’t they? Then this bank thing came along and they’re using it. I don’t know if you’ve ever read ‘Shock Doctrine’ but it seems that apathy is massive. The fact that banks can get away with what they’ve done is... shocking. Politicians blatantly fucking lying. The whole Tory thing – they’ve backed out of everything. Bringing down the deficit hasn’t worked. You make more people unemployed so they aren’t spending any more but they’re taking more out via benefits. That bits shocking but you can’t see it coming to an end anytime soon. They’re using it as an excuse to take more and more things away from you. Even the police! I mean, I hate the fucking police but cutting police at a time when crime is rife just beggars belief. Shutting down hospitals, taking away people’s medication – that takes away even more resources until there’s none left. None of it works. But I don’t have an answer.

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'Worshipping The Dollar' is out now.

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