A full-on fusion of dance music energy and live music improvisation
What’s On and our friends at Hype speak to Dub Pistols star Barry Ashworth ahead of the group’s appearance at Barasti on the beach in Dubai.
Barry Ashworth has been there and done that. Importantly though, he’s still here and is still doing it 25 years after first getting involved in making, playing and releasing music. In 2014 he is the front man and lynchpin of a dub-funk fusion band that manages to do something many others before them tried but failed, namely putting a live face on the often studio or club confined sounds of electronic music.
Like many of Ashworth’s age, he got his initial taste of house music’s delights back in the late ’80s. Despite being a Liverpool lad – somewhere famed for its more indie-pop leaning musical landscape – an early trip to Ibiza turned Barry’s head to the possibilities of dance.
Before long he was promoting club events and soon started indie-dance band Déjà Vu. At the time contemporaries to baggie indie-dance bands such as Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, said project transpired to be just a taster of what was to come.
As well as DJing ever more during the ’90s, Barry famously founded Dub Pistols, an ever-evolving crew of music-makers, songwriters and instrumentalists that emerged at the same time as big beat peers like Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers. Skyping from a hotel room in Eastern Europe, Barry is every bit the likeable geezer you’ve been told he is. Joking about poor internet connections, he lays back on the bed, resplendent in a Dub Pistols T-shirt, and, despite having come off the back of a busy weekend playing Snowbombing and So Sno Festival,
is full of life.
“I do a bit of both skiing and snowboarding, but I wouldn’t say I am great at either. ‘A tumbler,’ I would call myself,” he laughs, before disappearing from screen then reappearing in a pair of sunnies. “I’ve taken a few tumbles in my time, falling off stage and stuff. In fact, I’m in the Czech Republic tomorrow and last time I was there I crowd surfed, then got thrown back on stage, hit the monitor and broke my ankle!”
These sort of rock ‘n’ roll stories and tales define the chat, but Barry admits that nowadays the Dub Pistols are actually tighter than ever. “Our live shows up to about four years ago had become shambolic. Everything was a mess, it was embarrassing; mates told me to give it up. We nearly fell apart, mostly ’cause things got a mess, and mainly ’cause of me. Occasionally we still fall off the stage but generally now we rock the show. We still party hard,” he says, “but back then we were really falling off a cliff, now we’re much more professional.”
You can understand the band enjoying themselves a little too much in the period leading up to that, given that they endured a protracted separation from a major label in the preceding years. It all started when the Pistols’ 1998 debut album Point Blank made it big in the US. As a result, a representative from Geffen Records called the band, keen to get a piece of the action, and flew them to the States immediately.
“We signed a million and half dollar deal there and then,” says Barry with a smile on his face. “Geffen invested lots of time and money in us and we went from playing to 20 people and a dog to 20,000 people. What happened wasn’t really their fault: 9/11 happened the week of our release and it screwed everything up. We made lots of money from doing syncs and soundtracking films and stuff and really they were cool. I’d like to say they are all rotters at the label but they weren’t.”
There have been four more full lengths since that debut, with the most recent coming on Rob Da Bank’s Sunday Best label in 2012. For the last six months, though, the Dub Pistols have been threatening to release another new LP, and finally Barry confirms it will be done by May this year. Like all their work to date, it will be a song-based, live affair that fuses punk ethics with danceable grooves and dub swagger with big beat bombast.
“Mentally it’s the hardest thing,” muses Barry. “Coming up with ideas is OK but then deciding if they are good enough is hard. I’ve written 18 new songs and now I need to go back and make them up to the standard I want. Like everyone, we want this to be the best album we’ve ever done. It’s sort of sounding like that but we need to make sure every track is better than the last.”
Although Barry works with hugely talented and accomplished musicians such as The Specials main man Terry Hall and Tim Hutton, who has written for the likes of Ian Brown and The Prodigy, those auteurs have other projects to fall back on and so most of the pressure rests with Barry. “It’s an honour and quite a lot of pressure,” he says before musing on the advantages of being slightly older than your average star.
“It’s not until you mature and learn about your craft and the industry that you realise that this ain’t what you signed up for. You learn you have to be more about love and passion and you really have to want to do it. As a kid you can be taken advantage of, but as an adult you realise that’s not on. Very few people make it to the millionaire rock star stage, and you have to make a lot of sacrifices in terms of relationships. And financially, most artists are poor. Also you miss everything from back home, you aren’t around with your mates… ” He tails off, so we ask what it is that makes it all worth it in the end.
“I don’t know,” says Barry. “If you’re in a van travelling for ten hours and you get to a gig and it’s a poor show, you think, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ But when the shows are awesome or you make a great track, it’s beyond wicked.”
The Dub Pistols live at Barasti’s Sugar Beach festival, Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, Dubai. Friday April 25, 11am to 3am, free. Taxi: Barasti. Tel: (04) 3181313