Renowned for raucous live shows and a coalescent approach to making music, Gentleman’s Dub Club are a nine-man force to be reckoned with. This month sees them return to Nottingham, hot off the heels of the release of their latest album Lost In Space. We grabbed vocalist, Johnny Scratchley, for a chat about his band’s sound, their intergalactic ambitions and the possibility of an alien abduction…
How did you all meet, and who brings what to the table musically?
We met many moons ago when we were at university in Leeds. At the time there was a big dub scene, and a nice crossover existed between local and student audiences. The thing to do was to go to this night called SubDub – a dub night with the residential group Iration Steppas. We just fell in love with it, and gravitated towards each other through that event. We were all musicians; multi-instrumentalists Toby Davies and Niall Lavelle were already starting to produce records. We got together to try and recreate what we were hearing at SubDub, and it all snowballed from there. In terms of what we bring, that core unit is still there. But the band is very equal – everyone contributes, from the lyrics and melodies, to the guitar lines and chords. Any songs that get written, whether personally or as a group, always go through the whole band as a filter. And everyone contributes in their own way.
We can hear a diverse range of influences at play. How would you articulate your sound?
Dancefloor reggae or heavy dub - I’d say that gets to the heart of it. We listen to a lot of dub and reggae music, and also ska, but our influences individually range from heavy metal and classical, to jazz and hip-hop. We’ve always worked in environments which promote dubstep, drum and bass, garage, grime and UK hip-hop. We’ve just taken all of those things and created something over many years that we call our own.
And how has that evolved since you first came together in 2007? We live in a very different world now – has that had an impact on the way you approach writing music?
I think we have stayed in silo with it to be honest. You make a decision as an artist on whether you want to follow trends or to do what feels right. I wouldn’t say that one approach is better than the other. Ultimately, it’s great to have the freedom to do whatever comes naturally, because that means you can really enjoy it without watching the rest of the industry. If you’re in line with other sounds and tastes, then great stuff, but if you’re not, then whatever.
What do new listeners need to know about Gentleman’s Dub Club?
We have always lived and breathed for performing live. Every time you stand in front of an audience, you’re creating a different environment, and there is a different dynamic every time. To be able to enjoy that moment – that’s why we do it. We don’t use backing tracks or overly synthesize our sound, we create something for that moment and for the relationship with that audience. If you haven’t seen it, then tune into the music – but really come and see it live to understand what we’re doing. Trying to follow fads or recreating what other people are doing doesn’t mean anything when you’re stood in front of a group of people who just want to dance.
How do you get pumped for those wild live performances?
We always come together as a group before shows to do vocal warm-ups. And we wear suits, which is a big part of it – like putting on a costume and getting into character – so that’s pretty important. We also know each other so well and we’re such good friends that there’s a real comradery. When we go on stage together it feels like we’re a team.
What inspired you to explore a new intergalactic dimension on your new album Lost In Space?
Apart from the fact that I knew LeftLion was going to be doing a space-themed issue a year and a half after we started writing it… it felt like a really natural thing to do. Our first album Forty Four was made in the basement where we started in Leeds. The next one was called The Big Smoke, which was when we moved to London. Then the one after that was Dubtopia, which is based on a floating island above London. So we felt like the only natural next step would be to go into space. Coupled with the fact that there’s a strong connection between dub music and space, there’s a lot of space in the music itself, and room for otherworldly sounds like echoes, delays, sirens and weird little squeaks.
Guests on Lost In Space include Swedish reggae star Million Stylez and reggae veteran Winston Francis. How do you approach collaborations?
It’s all pretty last minute and unplanned to be honest! We recorded the tracks and then afterwards thought about people who would work well on certain tracks, and then reached out to them. Fortunately, both of the people we wanted were up for it! We have been big fans of Million Stylez and his sounds for a few years now. And working with Winston Francis, an all-time reggae legend who has been around for so many years, was just an absolute pleasure.
You’re hitting up The Level at NTU in March. How have you found previous shows in Nottingham?
We’ve played in Nottingham loads before. The first time was in a tiny pub somewhere in the city centre - it probably only held just over a hundred people - but it was rammed and amazing. We’ve played all of the venues in Rock City to big student crowds, which are transient, but with a good solid heart. Shows always seem to sell out too, and I can’t think of a bad show, which is wicked. We’re very pleased to be coming back.
What can we expect from your live show on this tour?
It’s nice that this tour is based on an album with such a coherent theme, so we’re currently working on new visuals, but the big thing is that we’ll have a lot of new tunes to play. We’ll be playing our big tunes, as we always have done, but because this album has got a really strong identity, it will definitely be part of the show.
Do you believe that we actually went to the moon?
And of all the members of the band, which one of you is the most likely to get abducted by aliens?
It would potentially be me, actually! Or maybe Matt Roberts…he’s so unique. Yeah, he would be a good test subject for the aliens to try and work out.
Gentleman’s Dub Club are appearing at The Level on Friday 22 March as part of their Lost in Space tour.