On The Frontline: Clash Meets Dub Pistols + Ragga Twins

On the roots of system culture, mental health, and rocking' the dance...

Dub Pistols are less a group, and more a force of nature. Festival favourites, their commitment to soundsystem culture has taken them across the globe, a journey that now spans 25 years of riotous parties.

New album ‘Frontline’ is a moment of celebration. Dub Pistols first new album in three years, it’s built around reggae, jungle, DNB, and more, a low end excursion married to some wicked songwriting. Naturally, they invited some guests into the studio, and the finished product is littered with stellar voices and top ranking MCs.

Dub Pistols leader Barry Ashworth had his live changed by club culture; a kid he was infatuated by the Specials, before moving through the Balearic era of acid house, and ultimately embracing jungle. Sitting down with Clash, he’s joined by Ragga Twins’ co-founder Flinty Badman – a pivotal voice in UK music, and a bass warrior with four decades of experience.

How did you two first meet?

Flinty: We were playing this show somewhere, and you met us backstage, and said: oh I’ve been trying to get you on an album for ages! We went our separate ways, then a few weeks later we’re playing another festival, and who should we see? (laughs) 

Barry: Well, obviously Seanie – who fronts up Dub Pistols – has known the Ragga Twins for years. They grew up playing football together.

Flinty: We were part of Unity Sound, and Sean would come along. He’d come to all of our sessions. Deman said to him once: look, you’re gonna be big!

Barry: We started running into each other all the time, so we thought: let’s do some shows together. And as soon as you two hit the mic, the energy is insane!

Why does it work together so well?

Barry: There’s two different components as far as I can see. There’s live. You put the Dub Pistols onstage, the Ragga Twins onstage… and the place just goes off. But there’s also a love of the culture and the music. It’s soundsystem culture. Jamaican culture. The sound.

Flinty: We grew up around reggae, that was our youth!

Barry: You walked into the Dub Pistols at the right time… it was carnage! We’ve got this documentary called What Could Possibly Go Wrong? The History Of The Dub Pistols and it’s… it’s carnage, yeah! (laughs)

Flinty: We haven’t actually been in the studio together… it’s all back and forth. We record at our studio, and send it across. If we were ever in the studio at the same time we’d get an album done in a day, I’m sure of it.

Barry: The Ragga Twins are two of the most professional people I’ve ever come across. Some artists come in to the studio, and you’re like: can you be bothered being here? But these boys come prepared. It’s the same with live shows – you do something at soundcheck and it’s nailed, instantly. One take.

Who were your initial influences?

Barry: You know what… it was Terry Hall. The Specials. My absolute hero. He was the one who got me into Black music, Caribbean culture.

Flinty: We grew up on hip-hop. Big Youth. All the Jamaican toasting artists. But in the UK, we were also listening to the Specials, y’know. Ska is the root of West Indian music. With jungle… we kind of just grew into jungle. When we joined Shut Up And Dance, they’d come out of the acid house thing. The music was changing, and our reggae elements helped it change. Jungle was just a name people put on it.

Barry: See, I had done hip-hop, reggae, all that. Then in 1987 I went to Ibiza, took my first pill, and the world went bonkers. I did that for a few years, but I remember going to a jungle rave, and hearing the basslines… and because I was a reggae head, the penny completely dropped. And that changed it for me.

Flinty: We just missed that! We just missed out on free parties – meeting at the petrol station, trying to work out where you were going.

Barry: Well, we try to keep it going in Mucky Weekender. It never goes over 5000 capacity, we don’t advertise it, and it sells out. It’s people who want to be there. All like minds. You can come alone, and you’ll leave with friends. It’s fantastic.

It’s a busy year for you both, as I know you’re taking part in some mental health fundraisers.

Barry: It’s something I’ve thought about a lot. Musicians are particularly prone to having mental health issues. There are ups and downs, there’s late nights, excess. There’s drink and there’s drug abuse. And that has a devastating effect. During COVID, only about 5% of musicians could survive. Most musicians go from gig to gig, and don’t have savings. During COVID especially the entire nighttime industry lost its livelihood. The government told us we weren’t viable, and should find a different career! That’s tough, mentally. When I started with Tonic Music For Mental Health it made complete sense. It’s about getting people to open up, through music. 

Flinty: We got involved in the charity football match!

Barry: Well, I wouldn’t say we played… (laughs)

Flinty: It was important for me to do it. I’ve had people in my family struggle with mental health issues. Fans have messaged us before, talking about how our music has helped them through dark times. It’s important to help people get through that.

There’s such a link between football and music, isn’t there?

Flinty: For me, I actually could have been a footballer. When I was young, I played in all my school teams, the area team. My father really got behind me. Charlton watched me, Tottenham watched me. But in 1985 my father passed away, and that really affected me. So, I dropped out of it, and got into the music. It threw me.

Barry: It’s passion, isn’t it? Tribalism. It’s a working class thing. You’re all in it together. There’s nothing that makes me more passionate or wound up or excited than football. Every musician wants to be a footballer, and every footballer wants to be a musician!

‘Frontline’ is out now. For Mucky Weekender details, visit the festival’s website.

Stay in touch with Ragga Twins online.

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