Diving Into A Ska-Punk Summer
Photos Courtesy of fanart.tv
“I think you’re bleeding,” I said, pointing down at my friend’s leg. We stood about a shoulder width apart from each other in Tae-Kwon-Do class. My white uniform had been washed and ironed by my mom who took pride in knowing her son looked presentable to his classmates. My friend’s top was wrinkled with a few dingy pit stains, and his left pant leg was slowly seeping red; first a trickle, then a pool. He glanced down as well, shrugging casually as if nothing had happened.
“My bike peg got stuck in my shin today.” Long pause.
“How did that happen?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he sighed. “Guess I just slipped.”
“You slipped on your bike?” Even eleven-year-old me was incredulous.
“Well, I slipped and I fell,” he confessed, “but mid-air, my bike came down and the peg went into my leg.” Then, as if his leaky plasma was not enough to convince me, he leaned over and rolled up his pants, showing me a poorly applied bandage that needed to be changed. “I gotta’ sit down.”
Class had just ended, so we made our way over to the right side of the room where my buddy’s backpack lay next to the wall. We sat down and he slowly untied his bandage, revealing an almost black, dime-sized hole that pulsated. I imagined it was in the first stages of gangrene.
“What were you doing in the air?” I stared, wide-eyed.
“I was jumping a ramp at the skate park. I BMX.”
I knew what that was— my brother was a skateboarder, after all. “Cool so you listen to punk music?” I asked.
“Yeah some, but mostly I listen to ska.”
“What is ska?” I inquired, puzzled.
According to my friend, it was “basically punk with trumpets," but that only partially explains third wave ska, and even that's not entirely accurate. To get a more worthwhile definition, we have to trek back in time.
Ska originated in the 1950’s and was first a Jamaican style of music that combined American jazz, Caribbean, and rhythm and blues. It was not until the '70s however, that ska gained a following outside the islands when bands in the U.K. began to experiment by fusing the genre with punk to create faster tempos. This style would transition into a more modern “2 tone” or "second wave" which struck the U.S., Australia, Germany, Japan, and many other countries across the world. (The Beat and The Specials, for example, were both a part of the "2 tone" movement.)
Typical ska consists of a variety of instruments, but almost always includes guitar, bass, drums, trumpets, trombones and/or sax. It has several sub-genres (rocksteady, calypso), but in the U.S. morphed chiefly into a "third wave" named “ska-punk” or “ska-core,” which blends ska with hardcore punk.
But enough about where it came from; ska is all about movement, energy and constantly going. As we slam into summer, it’s time to hit the skate park, surf some waves, and have fun. If you head for the asphalt and beaches, we hope you enjoy a few of the great ska-punk bands of the past. We suggest getting your feet wet with the following:
Unarguably the most popular ska-punk band of all time, Sublime was founded in Long Beach and came into prevalence during the early to mid-'90s. These talented trailblazers hadn't even reached their peak when their lead singer, Bradley Nowell, died of a heroin overdose after their self-titled album was released. Nevertheless, their blending of surf-rock, hip-hop, and punk set the bar high for many bands that would later come along and founded umpteen tribute bands that continue to play today. May we suggest 40 OZ. TO FREEDOM (1992) and SUBLIME (1996).
LESS THAN JAKE
I’ve seen Less Than Jake live and these guys are a trip. Imagine early Blink-182 with lots of potty humor, raw talent, and distinct vocals, plus a trombone-heavy groove that sets them above their contemporaries. Their upbeat fast-paced sound has ensured them a spot as a favorite among pop-punk fans, and their ability to never take themselves too seriously (what else can you expect from a band who's first album was titled Pezcore?), while cranking out multiple hits eventually landed them records on Capitol and Warner Brothers. Today they continue to make music, and actively play tours and festivals (including Warped Tour nearly annually). Check out LOSING STREAK (1996), BORDERS AND BOUNDARIES (2000), and SEE THE LIGHT (2013).
THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSS TONES
A lot of people credit these guys as one the original culprits of ska-punk (and the creators of ska-core, along with East Bay's short-lived Operation Ivy), but they’re probably remembered most for their song “The Impression That I Get,” which crossed over to the mainstream, reaching #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Charts. Have you ever had to knock on wood? If so, then dig these albums DON'T KNOW HOW TO PARTY (1993)and LET'S FACE IT (1997).
THE OC SUPERTONES
Pure, non-stop fun. Originally a founder of the Christian ska movement, The Supertones held their own in the mainstream (along with other memorable acts like Five Iron Frenzy), enjoying success with the release of their third and fourth albums, which both charted the Billboard Top 200. Part of their advancement came from the group's ability to compound multiple genres, including metal, funk, disco, and rap. They had over nine studio albums and were featured on twenty-plus compilations. We recommend SUPERTONES STRIKE BACK! (1997), CHASE THE SUN (1999), and LOUD AND CLEAR (2000).
Before they became an alt-rock sensation, and before Gwen Stefani was dating that country dude on The Voice, No Doubt was undoubtedly ska. 1992’s “Trapped In A Box” is a classic ska single (with a not-so-punk sound) from their original self-titled album, and The Beacon Street Collection featured a rare collaboration track with Sublime's Bradley Nowell ("Total Hate '95"). While they later distanced themselves from the ska-punk scene, you can still find elements of their roots on later albums, as evidenced here: THE BEACON STREET COLLECTION (1995) and TRAGIC KINGDOM (1995).
Who says that ska died in the '90s? These guys didn't seem to think so. Streetlight Manifesto formed in New Jersey circa 2002 and released their first album in 2003. Several bandmates were members of the ska band Catch 22 (which had also formed in the garden state). They took the previous ska-punk sound and built upon it, often breaking for long brass instrumental solos, showcasing each band member's talent rather than accentuating guitars and bass. For your consideration, EVERYTHING GOES NUMB (2003), SOMEWHERE IN THE BETWEEN (2007), and THE HANDS THAT THIEVE (2013).