Outlook Festival; the jewel in the crown of the Croatian bass music calendar, is approaching its eighth year. Having grown from strength to strength to the commanding presence it has today; Outlook’s impressive success story and the legions of dedicated revellers across the world are testament to the festival’s pre-eminence as a purveyor of great music and good vibes.
So when we got the opportunity to chat to Jonathan Scratchley, one of the headliners at this year’s event as lead vocalist of Gentleman’s Dub Club, who also happens to be one of the founders of the festival – We jumped at the chance!
Hi Jonathan, how you doing?
Yeah, great thank you! Well, actually I don’t feel well. That was just a knee jerk reaction there! I’ve been really working very hard recently and I had a coffee this afternoon at 3pm, which is a bit late to be fair. It didn’t make me feel very good so I’ve taken a little lie down. Being looked after at the moment (laughs).
You work as an organiser for Outlook. What’s your involvement with the Croatian bass festival how long have you been involved with it?
I started it along with four friends about eight years ago now. It’s all developed fairly naturally really. We all first started doing the same stuff, as promoters. We met through promoting night and were brought together under that pretence. And then things slowly developed into what it is today where of the original five, three are working on Outlook full-time, I’m working as and when after taking the title of ‘Creative Director’. When I wrote my job description, I wasn’t 100% sure what it entailed but ultimately if you imagine everything that anyone sees the festival; the way that anyone engages with the festival in any sort of a way. You see it as a logo, an advert, a flyer and everything you see at the event, on the stage, off the stage.. That’s me.
How do you divide your time between your band Gentleman’s Dub Club and your work as Creative Director for the festival?
I think i’d have quite a lot of trouble if I just started both of them now, or I was doing one of them and another started, but it’s just been going on for so long that it’s quite natural the way it works. So, with the band, we rehearse once a week and then when we go and play, that’s one of the real advantages of, I suppose, owning your own business. I can leave for a month and go on a tour and then come back and work full -time for a month for the festival. And that’s the way it’s kinda developed. So, over the summer it’s the most mental time because we’re playing a lot of festivals and also, it gets closer to the event so, it’s very very hard to fit it all in. But yeah, I suppose neither take precedence. Its just whatever required at a certain time! (Laughs)
What’s the vibe in the GDC camp as you warm up for festival season? Are you always mentally busy juggling Outlook with your recording and tour schedule?
We’ve been going on almost as long as the Outlook and festival season for the past five years has always been really busy. I think we’re playing twenty-odd festivals this summer. That’s out to America, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium and around the UK, which is great! We’ve got some releases coming out this summer. We’ve written a new album and so we’re slowly releasing singles leading up to that, which is coming out at the end of September and it’s called ‘The Big Smoke’.
The lyrics of GDC’s latest single ‘Music Is The Girl I Love’ intrigue me. When sitting down to write this did it start as a metaphor for a girl or do you have a bittersweet relationship with music?
It’s interesting because it sits between both of those themes really. For me, I love music! I love everything about it, so I thought ‘How lovely to relate those two’. What’s the love of your life? It’s music! And then it really wrote itself from there. I thought it was a nice angle. So, I suppose I kind of sat on both sides of that fence when I was writing it, knowing that whatever I did write was relating to the other… If I was just singing about a girl in the way I would sing about music it might be a bit soppy. But, because I’m singing those things about music then I think it frees you up to be able speak about it, y’know? It’s nice.
Where did your love affair for dub reggae start? Was it through promoting?
Kind of, yeah! I started a night called Vagabondz up in Leeds. Which now runs in London and Brighton. That was pretty much all of the music that’s at Outlook; drum & bass, reggae, dub, hip-hop, dubstep garage. We did a lot of hip-hop to be begin with. But for me, I was probably like 13 or 14 and my older sister was really into reggae and she played me it. I remember she gave me a dub CD and I remember not really liking it. I was like ‘I don’t really see the point’; it felt a bit slow and I was listening to drum & bass and hip-hop, which is really high energy and I just didn’t get it. So, I continued listening to reggae and when I went up to Leeds uni when I was nineteen, in my first couple of months I went to Sub Dub, which is a wicked night put on by a crew called Iration Steppers. It was in this community centre every month and they’d bring their dub sound system along and they’d battle another sound crew from around Europe.. Someone would come up from London with their sound system and they’d set it up in a room with four or six stacks in total.
They’d have two or three each and the two DJ camps are on the floor and opposite each other in the room and it’s a soundclash! I just remember standing there in the middle and thinking I that had never experienced anything like that before in all of the time that I had been going out for the two or three years prior to this, listening to dance music and stuff; this was just better than anything else I had listened to! You just stand there, in front of the speakers, and you literally just get massaged for eight hours solid! It’s Incredible! And then also the interaction between the people there; everyone’s just on a vibe. You don’t ever get any sort of aggression and people will smile at you. That kind of competition element is great too because everyone gets involved and takes part in it.
I get that you have a strong affinity to bass music in general, but specifically with reggae and dub, lyrically there’s a historic connection to social awareness and people power. Considering the GDC tunes ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Riot’, Is that something that’s important to you?
Yeah, massively! I mean, we’re called the Gentleman’s Dub Club. We’re middle-class white dudes from this country. We’ve not faced a load of social injustice in our lives. We’ve faced some pretty miserable and uninspiring political situations, but nothing’s really came along and stamped us out. We’re not coming at it from a traditional sense whereby we’re fighting for our freedom which is a huge part of this music. The reason that soundsystem (culture) exists is because there was a group of people in Jamaica who weren’t represented on radio. It was all controlled by radio stations with this sort of pseudo American R&B and gospel music being played and a lot of it was propaganda as well; it didn’t relate to the majority. So the majority got together and wanted to make their own music and wanted people to hear it, so they built sound systems, they organised the dances, so people came down. At that point in time it was like a newspaper, it was communication; talking about the issues they were facing and putting the aggression they felt into their music. And so at the heart of reggae and dub music you can feel the passion! Now, we’re not trying to copy, we’re not trying to recreate, we’re simply recognising the energy in it and trying to harness the depth that it can get people to. So when I write words that are about politics and social issues, I’m doing that to try and get to the heart of why people would want this cathartic aggression with music.. Why you’d really wanna dig in and dance the hell out it. That’s the angle. So, I’m trying to get to the heart of what that music means to people but not necessarily in a political sense.
With the recent conversation surrounding black cultural appropriation in US Hip-hop, I wonder what your feelings were on the phenomena as a member of a 9-piece white dub reggae band?
The bottom line for us is that we understand the semiotics of what we do. We understand that you can look at it, and it can seem weird and displaced, but we just always just held onto the fact that we’ve found a love and passion in a certain area of music. We’ve followed it. And when we perform it, people feel that, we connect with people. So, disregarding the wider community and the overarching attitude that exists outside of what we do; we cant really bind with it. On a personal level, I feel strongly that music is music and the moment I open my mouth and sing, I don’t think it has anything to do with me. I think that the moment you make a tune and release it, it stops having anything to do with you; It’s taken and people chose to engage with it how they wish – That’s the amazing thing about it. All you can really do as an artist is express yourself however feels natural and that can never be right or wrong. So, to look at hip-hop and to look at Iggy Azalea as someone who’s white Australian, rapping in a traditional african-american accent, I actually have no problem with it whatsoever in the same way that I have absolutely no problem with a black american dude coming over here and singing UK punk music! I think that anyone who creates an issue with it is looking at it from the wrong perspective. Music doesn’t exist as something that has to be anything, it’s just a moment in time and an artist is purely there to express themselves. People chose to engage or they chose not to, it’s really just as simple as that.
You’re playing the opening ceremony of Outlook festival in the Amphitheatre. Have you played the opening ceremony before?
No, this is the first time! Y’know each year when it come around to choosing a lineup, we look through the artists and we sit down to decide who we’d like to book. We all bring ideas to the table and there’s always that conversation where we’re like “So, are we going to book GDC again?” (laughs) and i’m like “I don’t know! I can’t make a decision on it!”. Obviously I enjoy it and its lovely because we’ve played every single year but maybe it will come a time where we don’t play. I’m sure it’ll be a few years still, but there’ll definitely come and time. So this year I was like “Let’s play another stage and see what happens”. I mean, anyone would wanna play in that amphitheatre! I’ve hosted for amphitheatre concerts personally for the last couple of years and I cannot wait to stand on that stage! The moment you look out to all of those people, it just looks incredible! Just as any gig with six thousand people will always look awesome, but then the eyes naturally raise up as the light pans across the walls and the moment the situation dawns on you, you just feel in awe of the moment. It’s incredible.
You’ve got Roni Size’s Reprezent Live, SBTRKT, Jurassic 5 and Trojan Sound System on the bill with GDC for the opening ceremony. Any personal favourites in there?
That’s why they’re playing! (laughs) I of course love all of those artists, but for me, it’s Jurassic 5 and Roni Size… I think Jurassic 5 did four albums, certainly had two of them that were hugely influential in my life when I was younger. Them alongside ‘Tribe and De La Soul, a bit of Common maybe, but I couldn’t imagine better hip-hop. It’s musical; it’s got high energy, it has interesting stories, it’s funny. I was like “This is just incredible!”. So, I just cannot believe I’m actually getting a chance to see Jurassic 5 play, because I haven’t before..
Let alone play on the same stage as you?!
Exactly! Yeah. And then obviously, I saw Roni Size’s last tour when they did Reprezent live with Krust and Die in the band with Tali and Dynamite. It was up in Leeds when I was at uni there and it absolutely blew me away. It’s incredible. Such a good live show. The tunes! They’re just amazing. It’s just one of those gigs where you’ve heard them all and then they go and play another!
What can we expect from Gentleman’s Dub Club’s set? Is there going to be a load of new stuff? How you going to play it?
It’s hard for us not to play some tunes but we’ve got the new album, so we’ll be playing some of that. I think we’ve put three or four new tunes into our set over the past couple of weeks, which has been nice, but by then we’ll probably have a few more so compared with the year before, we’ll probably be playing 50-60% new tunes come the time.
Gentleman’s Dub Club are headlining the Sub Dub Outlook launch party at the Leeds West Indian Centre this bank holiday, Saturday 2nd May (TODAY) with DMZ plus Exit & Metalheadz in room 2. Are you excited?
That’s the room I was just telling you about before when I went to Sub Dub! That’s the exact same venue; the same speakers that I first listened to dub on. We played there last year, so I kinda know what to expect but when we were asked to play last year I just couldn’t believe it was happening! We literally chose to start the band in that room! We chose to play that type of music in that room, so we’ve been really fortunate in the amount we’ve played and the amount of fun that we’ve had doing it and so to stand in that room and play through the Iration Steppas sound system and alongside Mark and the other guys.. We literally write the tunes for those speakers so it does not get better! I cannot wait.
Rounding things to a close, could you give us a run-down of your top 5 favourite reggae / dub tunes?
Augustus Pablo – King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
“It’s gotta be top! Go and take a listen to that – It’s incredible!”
Twinkle brothers – Faith Can Move Mountains
“I first heard them at Outlook in 2009 in its second year.”
The Abyssinians – Satta Massagana
Scientist – Your Teeth in My Neck
Iration Steppas – Too Much War Dub
“Had to include something by these guys..”
That’s about all for now Jonathan.. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us at In-Reach! Been wicked speaking to you.
Nah, that’s buzzing! Thank you!
Catch the fantastic Gentleman’s Dub Club play tomorrow evening at the Leeds West Indian Centre for the Leeds Outlook launch party, featuring a massive roster of players from the Outlook Festival family, including Iration Steppas sound system, Prince Fatty and Solo Banton to name a few!
Do not sleep on buying yourself a ticket for Outlook 2015! Festival Only tickets for the 4 day party in the Croatian sunshine come at a snip of £140, but you can check the website for handy accommodation, flights and deposit plans too…