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Gentleman’s Dub Club & The Skints: In Conversation With The Co-Headlining Spearheads Of Reggae Today


Photo courtesy of Chuff Media


Although Gentleman’s Dub Club and The Skints had often been associated with each other from festival circuits and from collaborating together in studios, their recent 2023 co-headline tour marked the first time they were on the road touring together. Their long-awaited double bill was an iconic combination in the Dub and Ska genre. Kicking off in Portsmouth on 25 February, the 7-date tour ignited UK cities with soulful music packed with energy. Before I caught their concert in Camden's Roundhouse, I had the chance to interview Josh Waters Rudge (guitarist and vocalist for The Skints) and Jonathan Scratchley (vocalist for Gentleman’s Dub Club.)


Formed in 2006, Gentleman’s Dub Club are a nine-piece band that has established themselves as a respected group in dub music, and who have frequently performed in festivals throughout the UK and Europe. Along with Scratchley, the group comprises Tommy Evans (drums), Luke Allwood (keys), Nick Tyson (guitar), Toby Davies (bass, synths), Niall Lavelle (percussion), Matt Roberts (trumpet), Kieren Gallagher (saxophone), and Harry Devenish (sound). They originally met in Leeds when they were students, as their shared love for reggae and dub music led them to become regulars at a monthly dub night run by Iration Steppas.


Most notably, Gentleman’s Dub Club is characterised by their high energy performances and wild stage presence. I first saw Gentleman’s Dub Club perform live during their 2022 tour; it was my first flavour of rave culture, and ever since I have only gone further down the rabbit hole. At this performance, I immediately noticed that they all wore suits; when I asked Johnny why they chose to do this, he jokingly said, “We all have to wear suits because everyone dresses so badly!”


Photo courtesy of Chuff Media


He then told me about the time he burnt his feet last summer in Cologne when he danced barefoot on the stage, which is a great way of summing up the band's indefatigable energy. During their live performance, it felt like the room was not enough to contain GDC’s energy during the song, and when the crowd all ducked during the dubbed bass, their hypnotising crowd control was clear to see. Towards the ending of their performance, they had everyone jumping; as I felt the whole room shake around me, it was easy to comprehend why the band are regular performers at leading festivals including Glastonbury, Bestival and Boomtown. Furthermore, the immaculate precision of mixing and lighting was an ecstatic experience that had clearly had a lot of thought put into it.


The Dub Club takes inspiration from many different sounds, but their original inspiration of the simplicity and weight of reggae and dub music has not changed. Whilst continuing the spirit of reggae luminaries like The Twinkle Brothers, Bob Marley, Israel Vibration, and Iration Steppas, they create unique sounds within a familiar format, blending in features of other genres like ska and drum & bass. This fusion of genres was most evident in their performance of their hit song, 'High Grade', which featured a combination of live brass instruments which were reminiscent of mid 80s ska nights, the heaviness of the bassline from the sound system, and the hyperactive DnB energy the song took on near its ending. In the pursuit of a good-quality performance, the Dub Club put a lot of emphasis on their set list and mixing. The waves in energy levels within the setlist gave a stimulating and engaging performance; high energy songs were often contrasted with slower ones, which allowed the detail and musicality of both to shine. When asked about the process of mixing the individual songs, Johnny said: “We’ve always looked at the songs for a live through the lens of if we were a DJ. Similarly, the idea of dubbing by definition is to do something and to change it — putting in a delay or a reverb, bringing in another instrument [or] changing the structure is at the heart of the culture so we’ve always tried to do that”. There’s something special about hearing dub music live and knowing that it’s the first and last time you’ll ever get to hear that song in a certain way. He talked about how writing a song to be listened to in the car and mixing a song for a live is a completely different task, and he joked that “it would be dangerous if you were in your car dancing to it [GDC's music]! We’re just thinking about the kids, you know!”



I was curious to ask Johnny about his thoughts on the dispersion of reggae music. With reggae being a resistance movement against imperialism, originating from Kingston ghettos and emblematic of Rastafarian character, I wondered whether its fundamental nature and message is as well-known today. He insightfully commented, “It’s a fact that reggae is smaller now than it was in the 60s, 70s and 80s — it’s still a global phenomenon rather than being just Jamaican, but it’s undeniably in smaller pockets now and not in the mainstream. It’s amazing that we can go to different countries like India and perform reggae and dub and the people understand the roots and core of it. In the UK, the reggae scene that we’re a part of is strong and audiences are very supportive and there’s a lot of love for it, but it’s not what it was 30 years ago with artists like Madness, The Specials and UB40. We’ve [made] a pretty good name for ourselves in the UK and London, there’s still a lot of people [who come to see GDC's shows] but it’s not Wembley arena or the O2. The whole industry is smaller, but it’s still thriving, and has a lot of amazing music and people that really love it.”


We then discussed the direction in which genres stemming from reggae are growing today. Johnny described the reggae, dub and Caribbean tradition in the late 60s to be like the roots of a tree, and as reggae travelled internationally, the tree grew different branches: jungle, ska, hip-hop and so on. For example, the dancehall and Afrobeat branches have become a big scene now, headed by artists like High Octane and Burna Boy. He said that dub music, on the other hand, requires being heard and felt live through a sound system because it is a bass heavy, immersive and hypnotic dancing experience: “Dub music is not trying to be big — it’s underground by definition because you need it on a big speaker. Some of those big dub tunes with people like Lee Scratch Perry or Iration Steppas, their music is never going to work on the radio because it needs a lot of bass to be pumping through your body.” The fate of dub music having to stay in the underground realm through sound systems allows it to exist in the best form: “It's beautiful, more consistent and people will come because they love it. An interesting example that I experienced when I was younger was the way that D&B and dubstep came in and suddenly became very popular. The underground got so big like a volcano needing to erupt, and reggae and dub was on the radio and mainstream. But in that process, it lost a lot of its soul, because money became important and artists were more concerned with the wrong things. You can’t make that music for the radio: you can make something similar but it’s [fundamentally] different. Some dubstep worked for the radio because of its high frequency. But the range of the bass in the sound system is different on the radio, you can’t hear it. As a consequence, [it became] compromised,”Johnny elaborates, “and that’s a metaphor in life — if we try to search for scale and fame and money, then we run the risk of losing our soul. The soul [of dub music], if it stays here [underground], is beautiful: it's really rewarding, and filled with good people who do it because they care.” Johnny's words reminded me of Bob Marley’s Rastafarian lyric of spiritual resistance, which states, “don’t gain the world and lose your soul".


 

Meanwhile, The Skints, a four-piece band from London, have also established themselves as a leading punk/ska/reggae band on an international scale. The band consists of Jamie Kyriakides (vocals/drums/guitar), Joshua Waters Rudge (vocals/guitar), Jonathan Doyle (bass guitar) and Marcia Richards (vocals/keyboards/alto saxophone/melodica/flute/ guitar/sampler) But to label The Skints as just punk, ska or reggae feels like a disservice; their efforts to blur genres to an extreme degree are appreciated by fans on a global scale. The band was originally branded as “tropical punk” but has continuously evolved their sound and merged a variety of genres innovatively, drawing from an eclectic range of influences like soul, pop, grime, and hip-hop to name a few. During the interview, we talked about the extensive music taste within the group, with reggae being their common ground. For Josh, “the feeling and spirit of punk and the sound of Jamaican music have been the biggest fuel [for the band]”. We discussed how growing up in North-East London and engaging with its punk-rock scene through skateboarding was a formative experience for him: “As a teenager, the message of punk drew me in: talking about problems and injustice got me through who I was as a kid. I always got on with people but always felt like an odd-one-out in any world I was in, so being part of a community that was bigger than myself was very important.” The Skints's latest album, Swimming Lessons, released in 2019, takes inspiration from dancehall, punk-pop, dub sound system, grunge and so on. These stark hops between genres were exemplified when they performed 'Learning to Swim'; the introspective rock verses, which detailed singer Marcia’s experience of losing her sister, alternated with the hardcore punk guitar riffs in the wordless chorus.



There is something specifically about London that gives it a great buzz; it serves as a cultural melting pot, especially in terms of the strong relationship between Jamaican and punk music. Josh expressed how lucky he felt to grow up in London and experience so much music and culture there, because a large part of The Skints is tracing back the lineage of the music they love, and going forward from there. We discussed what made ska and punk fuse so well together in the late 70s in London to produce the ska-punk genre. He referred to spearheads such as The Clash, Don Letts and Big Youth who sparked the fusion of the genres, with ska and punk bands performing on the same bills together and appealing to the same audiences. “In terms of the message between punk and reggae, there was crossover between the Venn diagram of white and black working class youths which connected the punk and reggae scene in the late 70s.” He further spoke on how the desire to transcend and defuse racial tensions in Thatcher-era Britain created a common ground between the emerging British punk rock scene (with mods, and skinheads) and the ska revival in late 70s. Josh described the fusion as “a powerful thing from the city that has come into the fabric of the Skints”. The band's unique identity makes it clear that creativity doesn’t emerge from a vacuum, and that new genres are always a mix of something from the past with a new spin; this attitude is what makes The Skints the figureheads of the reggae scene today.


Since the band’s inception, their diligence and self-sufficiency have been respectable. Formed in 2007 while at school in North-East London, the band launched themselves into the underground punk scene through the UK’s 'toilet venue' and 'squat' circuits. The phrase 'toilet circuits' refers to a network of small music venues in a city, the name originating from the size and cleanliness of the venue, or to the lack of a dressing room which would lead performing bands to have to change in the toilets. 'Squat' scenes refer to empty property being used to host music events. The Skints exploited these opportunities to gain support and promote themselves. When asked whether he misses the underground scenes, Josh replied, “It was such an amazing part of my youth and it served as a strong foundation for the band today. I may not miss sleeping on the floor at squats, but I look back at it with fondness, and [think about] how we’ve evolved [since then].” Regardless of the fact they are more well-known now, the band have maintained that spirit from their squatting days: “Wherever we are in the world, you can find us at grimy little club shows; it’s not like we’re playing massive shows every night and I’m still involved with DJing at side events. That part of my life has made us who we are.”


Photo courtesy of Chuff Media


Their ethos of independent entrepreneurship also continued after becoming more well-known. What is significant about The Skints is that they have never signed to a major record label, which subverts how recording artists in the music industry traditionally rely upon record labels to broaden their consumer base, promote their music through media coverage and market their albums. Instead, they have opted for one-album licensing deals with independent record companies or crowdfunded through Pledgemusic. When asked what made the band steer clear of a record deal, Josh said “When we first started touring, we were very young and hanging out with bands that were older than us, and we saw how bad things can go quite quickly. I don’t think major record labels are evil, and I think often when they sign an artist, they start off with good intentions but they don’t care about it as much as you do — so if it doesn’t go well, it’s very much your problem. We’ve always been mindful of that.”


Furthermore, Josh’s foundation in punk rock made him value the underground scene more: “To me, the underground scene was everything and the mainstream didn’t exist to me, because I was so plugged into what was actually happening. It’s unpoliced, unadulterated and it’s not diluted. It’s a much more pure way of doing things where profit isn’t involved.” His insights on the relationship between reggae or punk genres and mainstream record labels were astute: “For the time I’ve been alive in the UK, I’ve never seen a punk or a reggae artist be signed to a major label and have it go really well; their music always gets more diluted because of the major label, especially [as they] only think of reggae as a summer pop hit single. For those of us that are living and breathing reggae 24/7, 365, it doesn't make sense, you know? If we [had signed] to a record label for our first or second record, we would not be a band still touring today.” The Skints are very respectable in that they deliberately chose a more difficult route and had to work out the game for themselves in order to maintain their creative freedom. It’s heartwarming to consider how their early dream was to play at the Camden Underworld, a venue with a maximum capacity of 500 audience members, and now they have sold out the Camden Roundhouse.


As Gentleman’s Dub Club and The Skints came together in Camden Roundhouse on 2nd March, everyone from the young generation to the older members of the crowd could be seen dancing as one. The two bands have cemented their names in the modern reggae scene, and undoubtedly exemplify what it means to take inspiration from different genres and make it their own. It was a genuine privilege to be able to talk to the members of both groups, and hear about their love and knowledge of reggae music, their pursuit of putting on quality performances, and their dedication to expressing themselves in ways only they can.



To keep up with Gentleman's Dub Club, be sure to check out their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

To keep up with The Skints, be sure to check out their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

 

Edited by Talia Andrea, Music Editor

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