Interview: Jay Dean (Dubrek Studios)

Jay Dean has been a vital member of the Derby music scene for much of the last two decades, in several of the city’s breakthrough underground bands and as owner of Dubrek studios. Jay may now be running the newest creative music space but he has also played in, promoted, or recorded Derby’s music since he arrived in the mid-’90s.

“I arrived in Derby in 1995 and infiltrated the local scene fairly quickly! I got chatting to some guys at the BlueNote and the band Cato was formed pretty much there and then. We had a mutual love of Ride and My Bloody Valentine. I also landed a job promoting gigs at The Loft alongside Catherine Hinks (married to Darius from Cable) and we had a great time putting on a lot of cool bands in there, coming from labels like Domino, Chemikal Underground. We put on Mogwai, Pastels, Delgados, Arab Strap, David Pajo, Idlewild – there’s quite a few!

“Derby felt incredibly vibrant musically at this point; there were several good venues all with excellent promoters alongside clubs playing the music of the artists we we’re booking. It struck me that both the quality and quantity of the bands was really exceptional for such a small city. Also the diversity of styles was amazing. Twinkie were always my favourite of the bunch – a mish mash of pop sensibilities, punk and Sonic Youth with David Niven look a like Moo taking charge.”

That passion for the scene hasn’t left him and he says it’s just as vibrant now, despite how times and the music industry have changed. “Derby’s scene has always been great and has the desire to stretch beyond the confines of the city. There’s still loads of bands from different genres getting out there, touring and releasing records.

“My main concern has always been younger folk coming through but in the last few months I’ve seen a serious upturn in the amount of kids putting bands together which is awesome!

“I couldn’t even begin to count the amount of bands that have passed through over the years. Maybe I should make a list sometime, if I can remember them all!

“The recording studio has been steadily used by artists from all over the UK, Europe and the States so a huge amount of folk have passed through. Bands like Komakino and LostAlone have brought producers like Paul Draper (Mansun), Brett Anderson (Suede) and Gil Norton through the doors while I’ve been lucky enough to record XFM sessions for artists such as Joan As Police Woman and Lords.

“Actually Lords are one of the best bands I’ve worked with. We made two albums, a split 10” and a 7” together. The 10” was a Kerrang single of the week, and the 7” was mastered at Abbey Road where we ended up meeting Paul McCartney!

“My current Derby pick though is Biscuit Mouth – I bloody love that band.”

Goddesses

The studio may now be in Becket Street, in an area quickly striking out to be Derby’s ‘creative quarter’, but has moved around the city having begun at The Victoria Inn.

“My first love had always been recording and during the time Cato existed we struck up a friendship with Pete Bassman from Spacemen 3. I spent a lot of weekends with Pete in his studio in Rugby messing around with mixes and fragments of portastudio recordings or sometimes taking the whole band over. He had combined his recording studio with a rehearsal space to help financially prop it up. I thought it was a brilliant idea and tested the idea out at The Victoria Inn.

“I’d been the promoter (amongst other roles!) there for nearly four years and thought my lifespan in this job was over. The Vic had a disused stable block at the rear so I set about converting it into a small studio and practise space. I recorded quite a few bands in there including Terrashima, The Removals, Staple and my own band, Fixit Kid.

“It became obvious that this could work on a larger scale so over the course of six months I secured a Princes Trust loan and funding from East Midlands Arts Council. This enabled me to set up a much larger facility above Lifetime Tattoo on Monk Street, which lasted a year until I took over the top of the mill building where I was based for thirteen years.

“The spaces grew organically with the demand… the only real changes have been the faces passing through! Having said that there are people still coming that have used the place for well over a decade.”

After such a long time settled into the mill building there were several reasons behind the move but one driving force; “The business needed energising; I’d been in the Monk St warehouse for thirteen years and it had no scope to move forward. There were problems with the building, the stair access was a nightmare, the rent was extortionate and I wanted to be somewhere more visible. When I started out I had this Andy Warhol’s Factory vision for it all but it became apparent it wasn’t the right space.

“I love the idea of collaboration so offering all these services in one place gives artists more opportunities to meet and exchange ideas. Also from a business point of view it makes sense. We want to offer a lot of things, so we’re doing them small scale so quality isn’t sacrificed.

“The studio live room is a multifunctional space – you can rehearse, record and perform in there which means areas of the studio aren’t left unused. We can keep costs down which is passed on to our customers. I guess I want to make it easy for people to do these things this enables them to focus on what matters – making great music.”

And Jay is no stranger to making music himself; from Cato and Fixit Kid, to You Judas and Gold Codes through to current project Goddesses, currently working on an EP to follow last year’s debut album. He finds the music he hears around him at Dubrek as important to his own creativity as a musician as making music himself is to building a business which reflects the needs of bands. “It’s a continuous back and forth process. When I started out I was really into shoegaze and psychedelic music; my own band Cato made this sort of stuff. So most projects I was asked to get involved with was music of this ilk. When Fixit Kid started up and we we’re getting attention from John Peel etc all of a sudden all these hard edged, angular noise rock bands wanted to work with me. So initially I’d get asked to work on records that reflected my own bands.

“The turning point was about the time of You Judas, Lords and Little Explorer in 2006. The flood gates suddenly opened to anything from country to black metal to Nepalese hip hop to indie rock. Working with a wide variety of musicians enables you to open your mind to all sorts of great artists to listen to, as you want to check out their influences and reference points.

“I believe cross pollination with other musicians is what moves everything forward, so the back and forth is really important to me. There’s always more to learn and definitely more musical styles to check out, it’s just a case of soaking it all in, then letting itself re-emerge in some way.”

The new space at Dubrek doesn’t stop with music but is also a shared creative space, currently with Creative Sage, run by Jay’s partner Vicky. “It’s a social enterprise focused on crafts and incorporates recycling and social inclusion. The building came with a massive backyard and we just started picking up sheds off Freecycle. The main workshop is a converted summerhouse.

“It made sense for us to set this up here as we both work antisocial hours and as couple wanted to actually get to see each other! She’s just sourced silk screening equipment and a heat press so may start teaching bands how to print their own T-shirts soon.

“Dubrek feels very much like an arts space so Creative Sage fits effortlessly. We’re both involved with FORMAT festival this year also; the main building will be hosting an exhibition and a couple of events while Creative Sage will be providing some creative printing classes.”

Together Jay and Vicky carried out the building work necessary to renovate the derelict shell and turn it into the studio and creative space. Work was nearly complete, with some areas in use, when the building suffered significant flood damage setting them back months and threatening the future of the business. “The flood was psychologically crushing and all the bands and friends around us kept us going. It was a really overwhelming experience from Paul Beal and Jim Cork setting up the GoFund Me, to people making us food or coming down and helping us putting it all back together again. I don’t think either of us had realised just how much the place meant to people. The local scene was incredible – Paul organised a fundraising weekender and told me so many folk asked to play he could have put on a week-long gig. I think that speaks for itself!

“I’m still stunned by the generousity we received and I’m really humbled by it. Dubrek would not be open now without the GoFundMe campaign and everyone else who helped us out.”

With such longstanding on the scene and with such close access to the bands and creatives throughout the whole music-making process Jay has a good measure of Derby’s oft-maligned scene. Right now he feels Derby is in a positive place, with many opportunities opening up for musicians and the music scene. “It feels like there’s a great network of people wanting the same things at the moment – and that is to support and push artists in the city as far as they can and that is a fantastic thing to experience and be part of as that’s when great things happen.”

The next gig taking place at Dubrek is the Biscuit Mouth album launch on 3 February – details here.

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