parodies by nacrowe
i was thinking the other day about WHITEWASHING in AMERICAN culture over the years. how ELVIS PRESLEY unfairly gained undue adulation with the general public that was probably more appropriately due to LITTLE RICHARD and CHUCK BERRY. same dynamic could be argued with EMINEM, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, BENNY GOODMAN, BEASTIE BOYS and so on. seems to be a bit of a tradition that a genre or style only gains mainstream acceptance and critical recognition once a white musician does it with some competency. i dont know about BENNY GOODMAN (whose music i am not a fan of at all - much prefer DUKE ELLINGTON), but the majority of these artists were all steeped in the musical traditions that they pursued and had the utmost respect for the artists that came before. for EMINEM this means explicit shoutouts on tracks mentioning the likes of celebrated lyricists like RAKIM, 2PAC, NAS, ANDRE 3000, JAY-Z, REDMAN, THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G., LL COOL J and ICE CUBE among others. my problem is not with the artists but with the general public's COLLECTIVE AMNESIA towards and HISTORIC DISREGARD towards BLACK CULTURE until a white body inhabits such. its bullshit.
this led me to thinking about the 2-TONE SKA movement out of the UNITED KINGDOM in the late 1970s at the height of THATCHERISM and the VILE, RACIST, ANTI-IMMIGRANT perspective that her government embodied. since the post war era there had been a massive influx of immigrants from THE CARIBBEAN, known as the WINDRUSH GENERATION, who worked in northern factories alongside their CAUCASIAN counterparts and grew to establish a similar working class lifestyle. this close racial proximity in both living and work contexts saw cultural and musical innovations from JAMAICA, part of THE COMMONWEALTH, find active listenership in ENGLAND from both their descendants and their white counterparts. SKA, ROCKSTEADY and later REGGAE became a facet of BRITISH culture not dissimilar from other inherited artifacts like tea (INDIA), polo (IRAN), baked beans (UNITED STATES), ST. GEORGE (SYRIA), tennis (BASQUE), penny farthings (FRANCE), marmalade (PORTUGAL), pubs (ANCIENT ROME) and fish and chips (SPAIN). that penchant for CULTURAL APPROPRIATION is a distinctly BRITISH tradition in my opinion.
whats cool about 2-TONE SKA is how it explicitly indicates in its names its roots as the common meeting point between two cultures and musical traditions. in the face of the AUSTERE domestic and seething ANTI-IMMIGRANT policies employed by MARGARET THATCHER and the rising tide of RACISM that such engendered in the larger culture and body politic, these musicians showcased an ALTERNATIVE vision that valued INCLUSION, COOPERATION and celebrating DIVERSITY. these bands include iconic BRITISH multi-ethnic acts such as THE SPECIALS, THE BEAT, THE SELECTER, BAD MANNERS and THE BODYSNATCHERS as well as aligned all-CAUCASIAN acts like MADNESS among others. it is nearly impossible to not see 2-TONE SKA as a distinctly POLITICAL act within the BRITISH context it was birthed under. i think people today, especially in the UNITED STATES, just see it in retrospect as derivative dance music that takes its cues from JAMAICAN culture. they dont see the intent or evolution of a sound. dont believe me, just listen to third-wave AMERICAN ska bands from the 1990s (like LESS THAN JAKE, REEL BIG FISH, CHERRY POPPIN' DADDIES, BUCK-O-NINE, VOODOO GLOWSKULLS and THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES) that took the sound but none of the politics and made something VIBRANT, SOPHISTICATED and INTOXICATINGLY ENGAGING to something BLAND and easily DISPENSABLE.
of course there are a number of bands that thoughtfully (like EMINEM) paid homage to the history of the form and felt comfortable further INNOVATING on top of such. i want to give a shoutout to the modern bands i feel are in keeping with the true legacy of 2-TONE SKA such as the FISHBONE, DANCE HALL CRASHERS, THE SUICIDE MACHINES, NO DOUBT, THE SLACKERS, THE AQUABATS, GOLDFINGER, STREETLIGHT MANIFESTO, CATCH 22, THE AGGRO-LITES, THE INTERRUPTERS and SAVE FERRIS among others.
i just wish AMERICAN audiences would care more about issues related to CULTURAL APPROPRIATION and WHITEWASHING. maybe as our country becomes less white this unfortunate dynamic will shift in a generation or two. here's hoping!
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode from the fall of 2019 on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC dedicated to 2-TONE SKA and the thoughtful hybrid bands that came thereafter. enjoy!
RIP TERRY HALL.
photo & text by nacrowe
i will totally admit that NO DOUBT was my gateway drug to discovering MADNESS in high school back in the early 2000s. my junior year of high school in KUWAIT was a period when i felt totally unhinged from myself, partly because of my relocation to the MIDDLE EAST and, well, partly because i was in high school. so glad i dont have to repeat that year ever again. it was during this time that my family went on a winter trip to GREECE and in ATHENS i can remember buying my first DEVO, MINDLESS SELF INDULGENCE and MADNESS records.
what drew me to MADNESS and specifically their debut ONE STEP BEYOND... (STIFF, 1979) record was just the bouncy, WHIRLING chaos that was their landmark singles "ONE STEP BEYOND" and especially "NIGHT BOAT TO CAIRO." i loved how the songs seemed to truly lift off and then ascend to further and further heights of brass instrument driven INSANITY. as a teenager i was caught up in my own world and MADNESS felt like the equally ARTISTIC ANTITHESIS to other stuff i was listening to feverishly at the time like the art damaged JANE'S ADDICTION and NINE INCH NAILS.
being more than well-acquainted with NO DOUBT's TRAGIC KINGDOM (review linked HERE), as they were from my home area in ORANGE COUNTY (in fact ANAHEIM borders BREA), it made some type of COSMIC sense that their upbeat yet highly MELODIC sound was rooted in MADNESS' infectious cyclical POLYRHYTHMS and positive outlook. the other through-line for the two bands was an internal resolve to publicly acknowledge the roots of their 2 TONE SKA sound with that of its root material in JAMAICAN SKA and DANCEHALL traditions. doing so confronted the inherited COLONIAL MINDSET of their audience.
largely the other third wave ska bands influenced by MADNESS and their 2 TONE peers in THE SPECIALS and THE SELECTER were absolute shit (notable exceptions: OPERATION IVY, DANCEHALL CRASHERS, GOLDFINGER, THE AQUABATS and SAVE FERRIS). this AMERICAN third wave largely divorced themselves from the HISTORICAL and POLITICAL underpinnings of the sounds and its roots and therefore largely created a LISTLESS sound unmoored from any sense of gravitas or genuine heart. SKA in their hands became BLAND (and largely LAME) party music. it is this unfortunate recent lineage of bands that i am attempting to separate MADNESS from with this review.
i look at them as sonic innovators with an infectious sound that is as positive as it is inclusive. it is a distinctly BRITISH reaction to a lived THATCHER DYSTOPIA. one were revolutionary notions of racial integration and harmony between the classes was promoted and held in high esteem. in MADNESS i hear a sound rooted in BRITISH POLITICS and HISTORY that was constructed to confront issues surrounding such at the time. this was not trivial party music, per se. it was in fact music with a political agenda. and i believe that aspect of their sound is criminally overlooked.
ONE STEP BEYOND... is a landmark album and definitely worth checking out.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
narrated by celebrated RANCID/OPERATION IVY frontman and modern PUNK ROCK icon TIM ARMSTRONG, the NOISEY series UNDER THE INFLUENCE was a short-lived documentary series on their YOUTUBE channel that investigated three influential 20th century music scenes.
what stands out about this series to me is the loving care the producers took to more or less let the participants of the scene take control of the narrative, where ARMSTRONG's voice drops in from time to time to clarify or connect a few points. his famed marbled-mouthed voice is both JARRING and UNCONVENTIONAL, yet works its magic as it forces you to actively listen to his words.
obviously with regards to RANCID, the NYHC and 2-TONE SKA scenes are two essential ingredients to their sound and it is interesting to get a sense of the HISTORY and POLITICS, both within the five boroughs as well as the receding sunset of the BRITISH EMPIRE, that informed how these musical forms and communities came about. in the case of NYHC and 2-TONE SKA it was a clash of cultures, an amalgamation of styles that created evolution. with KRAUTROCK you had a whole post-WWII generation of WEST GERMANS that wanted a collective CULTURAL YEAR ZERO. they wanted new forms that indebted NOTHING to the previous GERMANIC culture that had been pilfered and bastardized by the NAZIS. a new sound for a new WEST GERMANY.
whats also cool is how they connect these past scenes to RIGHT NOW. its not academic so much as it is prologue for vital CREATIVITY currently happening. these segments are just as INVIGORATING and UNEXPECTED as the original scenes themselves.
definitely check out these three episodes. they are beyond INFORMATIVE and well-produced and are definitely worth your time.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the cultural roots of the SKINHEAD subculture are rather fascinating. the fact that in our modern nomenclature the term has a dark, far right-wing, xenophobic connotation ironically belies its origins in a cultural moment that brought a diverse confluence of cultures and styles together. its a term with many embedded identities that is at war with itself. its a subculture that is complicated and serves as the perfect metaphor for the UNITED KINGDOM's complicated relationship with its former commonwealth and itself.
DON LETTS' film THE STORY OF SKINHEAD (BBC, 2016) explores the SKINHEAD subculture and its inherent contradictions. the story begins with the UNITED KINGDOM's policy in the wake of WORLD WAR II of allowing inhabitants of its greater commonwealth entry and work visas to work in the island's borders. this set off shortly thereafter beginning in the 1940s what is now known as the WINDRUSH GENERATION, former inhabitants of the CARIBBEAN (JAMAICA, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, etc) that begin working in ENGLISH factories and living in council estates. DON LETTS hones this narrative squarely with his own, as he was raised in SOUTH LONDON on a council estate by JAMAICAN-immingrant parents from this generation. what happened was that despite their parents closeted racism, white kids on these council estates in LONDON began to adopt the style and music of their JAMAICAN counterparts. poor white urban identity in some circles became intwined with CARIBBEAN immigrant culture.
eventually this movement, which didnt have a name, but later got deemed SKINHEAD by outsiders, was largely innocuous as it was mainly a subculture based around white appropriation of black culture. the fact that eyes were raised by an older white generation didn't stop these kids, and its debatable whether or not they shared in their parents XENOPHOBIC-leaning views. it must be said that racial jokes about PAKISTANI immigrants were common on the radio at the time and the education system was far from progressive, with educators often being explicitly derogatory towards the dress, speech, mannerisms and culture of immigrant children. racism was in the air and open on some level during this time in BRITAIN.
eventually shops emerged to cater to this subculture and it spread north. by the 1970s haircuts and fashions changed as the original SKINHEAD culture merged with northern football culture. this new identity helped solidify a new uniform for the emerging football hooligan and their street gangs of fellow team supporters. violence and gang-mentality entered the picture as these squads with face off against rival supporters, but the ethos was still tentatively not explicitly race driven. again, its complicated. definitely some cognitive dissonance going on here. it may be that some elements that had far right-wing sympathies based on those that preexisted in the northern white working class population itself, but none that were rooted in the SKINHEAD subculture per se.
enter the NATIONAL FRONT. this WHITE NATIONALIST political party used football (as well as youth events, dancehall parties, self-published newspapers, etc) as a means of attempting to convert young men to their side in the late 1970s and early 1980s. those that embraced their XENOPHOBIC, RACIST views forever altered the meaning of the SKINHEAD subculture. it been infiltrated a segment of poor northern white kids.
but culture shifted again. this time to PUNK ROCK which largely embraced REGGAE and its bedrock political messages wholeheartedly. but it wasn't a good fit for the SKINHEAD kids that went to their shows. too artsy. too posh. SHAM 69 bridged that gap. but unfortunately their gigs were infiltrated by NATIONAL FRONT SKINHEADS that caused SHAM 69 frontman JIM PURSEY to abandon the band and move on.
the 2 TONE SKA and OI PUNK movements of the early 1980s that came next didnt fair much better. famously they couldnt find gigs because of the fear around their following, which absurdly included NATIONAL FRONT SKINHEADS. this was much to their chagrin, since they named the movement 2 TONE as a means of delineating that they were on the side of multiculturalism and racial equality. OI PUNK was just a newer, more aggressive form of PUNK ROCK that placated to a generation of militaristic SKINHEADS looking for a community. again the NATIONAL FRONT infiltrated both to the point that it rendered them dysfunctional. this was especially the case after the SOUTHALL RIOTS OF 1979, in which SKINHEAD youth burned a pub in SOUTH LONDON in a largely asian community. OI was banned by MARGARET THATCHER and most of the bigger (non-racist) bands folded up, leaving only those funded by the NATIONAL FRONT in their wake. it was a coup for the ultra right-wing.
this in turn led to the SHARP SKINHEAD bands who were a reaction to these NATIONAL FRONT funded racist SKINHEAD bands. the SHARPS were explicitly anti-racist and that movement continues to this day.
its super interesting how this youth culture got hijacked and its "uniform" which was based on JAMAICAN style from the 1950s is now synonymous with WHITE NATIONALIST and NEO-FASCIST movements from POLAND, GERMANY, the UNITED STATES and even MALAYSIA. i even saw this in THAILAND where they sold NAZI paraphernalia in common markets with "SKINHEAD" gear. its truely bizarre and endlessly fascinating.
i have one other thing to add.
this contradiction of "loving" the music but "hating" the people is something that is not unique to the NATIONAL FRONT infiltration of certain segments of SKINHEAD culture. i've heard that contradiction by white AMERICANS my whole life. its a form of cognitive dissonance rooted in a potent cocktail of hubris and ignorance. the idea that you understand a people and a culture better than they do. its very AMERICAN and it deprives minority populations of controlling their own identity, which was probably the point in the first place. but what do i know, im only a former teacher. i saw this shit firsthand.
great documentary that brilliantly raises some unnerving issues about cultural appropriation and how hate can be used to subvert and infiltrate youth culture. endlessly fascinating.
art by nacrowe
click HERE for our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO with a playlist dedicated to classic 2-TONE SKA and the music it inspired.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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art by nacrowe
tonight's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 8PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is all about 2-TONE SKA and beyond. get ready to dance.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.