Shooting from the hip is something London dubwise-dance-meets-hip-hop band the Dub Pistols are well-known for when they perform live.
“We are quite a high-energy band, it’s true,” says Dub Pistols captain Barry Ashworth. “We’ve recently extended our live show so that we end up playing for nearly two hours onstage. We road-test new music live as well as playing old songs, and we drink a lot while we perform, obviously. So I suppose we do have a bit of arrogance about us that you don’t normally get with dance bands.”
Anyone who caught one of the 150 or so live shows that the Dub Pistols did last year alone would have to agree with Barry. This latest string of performances have featured songs such as ‘Alive’ and the soundsystem drum & bass-laced ‘Armageddon’ that will appear on the band’s new album, their fifth, coming out on Sunday Best in April. As well as fresh stuff, the recent shows have all included “adrenaline and alcohol-fuelled” versions of old classics ‘Cyclone’, ‘Westway’ and ‘Gangsters’.
“Our new album is definitely more geared to our live shows, though,” says Barry. “A lot of our previous albums were a bit slower in tempo. We even went a bit poppy at one bit. For this new record, we thought we’d pace up the energy a bit, almost taking it back to the spirit of the first album.”
In its earliest form, says Barry, the Dub Pistols wasn’t a band as much as a sort of “stage name” for his DJ sets.
“The band started off with me DJing badly,” he grins. “Then it grew when I started getting people to make noises over the top of me playing records to cover up my dodgy mixes.
“First, it was just the decks. Then I added keyboards. Then we started doing a four-deck thing with keys. And then, gradually, started bringing in different instruments and guitars. It’s only in the last three or four years that we’ve been using drummers and playing totally live.”
When the band released the pneumatic-bass and dope beats-driven ‘There’s Gonna Be A Riot’, on Concrete in 1996, they got lumped into a nascent scene, made up of the likes of The Chemical Brothers and Monkey Mafia, that was later called ‘big beat’. Their debut album ‘Point Blank’, that came out on Concrete in 1998, rode the big beat wave then, just as that scene was heading for wipeout in the UK, the Dub Pistols were lucky enough to get signed to Geffen in the US.
“We managed to avoid the backlash and went and worked in America for four years,” says Barry. “We spent eight months of each of those four years touring and I think that’s what really honed our live show. The US is totally geared for live music. I remember we were part of this tour called the Vans Warped Tour, and we played to 20,000 people a day with loads of other bands. When we first started playing those huge shows, I remember being petrified. But now it seems like the most natural thing to do, walk out onstage and play our music live.”
The band came back to the UK in 2001 and, since then, via three more production albums, the line-up has shifted and changed. The only member who’s been there from the start is Barry.
Last year the Dub Pistols’ live show at Womad was so incendiary that organisers had to stop them playing for 15 minutes, mid-set, so the crowd could calm down. One year at Bestival, they decided to get the audience involved in a beer fight and ended up soaked and performing on a plastic cups-and-suds-covered stage. While performing onstage, says Barry, they’ll polish off at least two bottles of vodka between them. But it’s not all hi-jinks.
“At the Rise festival in Finsbury Park a few years ago, we had Terry Hall and Lynval Golding from The Specials performing live with us,” says Barry. “That was amazing for me. The Specials are my favourite band of all-time. And to have Terry Hall and Lynval Golding up on stage with us singing ‘Gangsters’ and ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ was a really emotional moment.”
Emotional is a good way to describe a Dub Pistols live show. Each performance explodes onstage with the punk rock spirit rarely seen in a dance music band. That’s why, if you haven’t already, you need to witness a live show from dance music’s finest gunslingers.
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