The suit life: Gentleman’s Dub Club

We speak to Johnny Scratchley of Bristol Sounds headliners Gentleman’s Dub Club ahead of their performance, about why city feels like home, how the Sunday show will celebrate soundsystem culture, and those dapper suits.

Turn up the bass, and don’t be fooled by the smart suits. Gentleman’s Dub Club may be some of the best dressed men in music, but they also play to some of the wildest crowds too. This group of genre-defying gents – who skilfully weave dub, reggae, hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, skin-tingling brass melodies, electronica and more into each rallying tune – have been a favourite of Bristol’s music scene for the last 15 or so years.

“It’s the perfect storm,” says lead singer Johnny Scratchley (pictured below with the bright red tie) – agreeing that the genres they entwine appeal to the Bristol’s taste. With their hands firmly plunged into the melting pot of Bristol’s musical culture, the distinct Gentleman’s Dub Club sound feels synonymous with the city. So it was surprising to learn that the collective was founded in Leeds after its members attended university there.

Scratchley feels the same way about the band’s strong ties to Bristol: “We started in Leeds and came to play in Bristol a lot. There’s a very similar crowd here, and the same heritages seen in both cities – with strong Afro-Caribbean communities and soundsystem cultures. These are the undertones to dub, reggae and drum ‘n’ bass. Bristol is the ultimate example of that.”

With the band touring so many UK cities, he notes that you see many other places, scenes and audiences changing constantly due to revolving student populations, but Bristol is different. “It’s one of the few cities that takes longer to change,” he says. “Obviously new things come along, but because there are so many people that really live here and aren’t leaving every three years when university’s over, it means you can build a culture and a scene. I suppose we were embraced by that scene really early on, and the support has stayed.”

Gentlemen prefer bass

Though dub and reggae often has the potential to bring positive vibes to listeners, Gentleman’s Dub Club’s music strikes a balance between addressing rollercoaster emotions, positive reflections about life and stomping beats that stir crowds seeking a release through live music.

“There is definitely a need for positivity at the moment,” Scratchley says. “So there’s positivity and a reflection of that in everything we do. But there’s also beauty in release and that doesn’t have to be sunshine and candyfloss. When it comes to it, I quite like the release of really intense music. It helps even more than singing about ‘the good life’. I used to call it ‘cathartic aggression’, and was feeling that at gigs and being on stage. That’s really what I get out of performing and is a big part of our music. Plus, it helps me as an individual to get the release in that way.”

If you’re looking for some speaker therapy, then Bristol Sounds’ Sunday session – which Gentleman’s Dub Club are co-headlining with reggae punk band The Skints – should be an essential diary date. Joining them on the day are ska reggae group The Dualers, electro-reggae ensemble Dreadzone, reggae singer and keyboardist Hollie Cook (who features on Gentleman’s Dub Club’s latest album On a Mission and is a good friend of the group), reggae musician – and another mate of the band – Kiko Bun and DJ Count Skylarkin.

Expect an all-day show overflowing with sun-soaked (well, the feeling of sunshine even if it’s drizzly) soundsystem culture and joyous festival revelry – an atmosphere Gentlemen’s Dub Club create by nature.

“Playing a festival always feels like a comfortable space for us to perform,” says Scratchley. “There’s a freedom that comes from it that you don’t really get in a club. Sometimes gigs finish too soon for the type of atmosphere that we want to create, so we wanted a show that gives people enough time to come and actually properly enjoy and relax, and really get amongst it. This Bristol Sounds show fitted into an existing idea we had of collaborating on a line-up, which felt really appealing.

“The beauty of this line-up is that we’re looking forward to seeing all of their performances. Kiko Bun is a good friend, and will be excellent. We’ve played with The Dualers a couple of times before – they’ve got good energy so that’ll be interesting to see. Dreadzone are a band we’ve played with quite a lot over the years. They’ve got a killer vocalist Earl Sixteen, who grew up in Jamaica and is a living legend. Seeing that performance is going to be particularly special.”

Suit you, sir

Even if you couldn’t hear the music being played (unlikely, as the thundering bass is usually felt from afar), Gentleman’s Dub Club are instantly recognisable on stage thanks to their smart attire. White shirts, ties, blazers and even the odd waistcoat bring an air of sophistication to even the muckiest of festival crowds.

But aside from the dry cleaning bills, and a decent pre-show steam iron, how does Scratchley find performing high-energy sets all year round suited and booted?

“I’ve got used to it. Obviously it would be easier and more comfortable to perform in tracksuit bottoms and a vest, but it’s really enjoyable wearing a suit. I saw a photo the other day of us playing when we had first started out and we weren’t wearing suits. We literally looked like a load of squatters who’d broken into the venue and stolen someone else’s

instruments. We realised we looked terrible and thought – ‘We’re going to have to do something about this. Shall we wear suits?’.”

The fashion choice paid off, and means that Gentleman’s Dub Club walk out on stage every time looking the business – literally. So, Scratchley and his dapper bandmates will grace Canons Marsh Amphitheatre on Sunday 23 June with their reliably energetic, genreblending performance alongside a day-long celebration of soundsystem culture that will no doubt get the entire harbourside smiling, stomping and forgetting all about work on Monday. Miss this party if you dare.

Bristol Sounds takes place 22-30 June at Canons Marsh Amphitheatre. Gentleman’s Dub Club will play Sunday 23 June.
Tickets are available at

Image credit: Fatty 35mm