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 manipulation by nacrowe
its funny, i was always under the impression i was anti-third wave SKA. i saw LESS THAN JAKE and REEL BIG FISH at WARPED TOUR years ago with the crowd skanking in unison and thought it was all beyond corny and lame. both bands were like awful, parody versions of THE SPECIALS or MADNESS, bands i liked, respected and grew up listening to. also seemed that the political roots of the genre were replaced by silliness.
just running through in my mind all of the bands i like that i now realize were part of the wave included quite a variety of bands like OPERATION IVY, THE SLACKERS, DANCE HALL CRASHERS, THE AGGROLITES, THE SUICIDE MACHINES, FISHBONE, THE AQUABATS, SAVE FERRIS, THE INTERRUPTERS, GOLDFINGER and, of course, SUBLIME and NO DOUBT. guess i have to thank the recent documentary PICK IT UP! - SKA IN THE 90s (POPMOTION PICTURES, 2019) for setting me straight on that. so maybe i was a fan all along and didnt know it.
the documentary not only chronicles the history of SKA from its JAMAICAN roots, but also conveys how its adoption by the PUNK ROCK community created a hybrid genre that bridged two communities who both had similar pre-existing self-sufficient, DIY ethos. many of the SKA bands refused to play shows that weren't all ages, over time changing how book agencies dealt with PUNK bands in general. most venues and promotes make their profits on alcohol and the fact that all these SKA bands had 8-10 players didn't make for a financially rewarding touring situation, especially with the decision to play all ages shows. just indicative of how inclusive the scene was initially and the ethos to nurture a supportive community. when it blew up in popularity everything changed (as expected).
i found it interesting that some bands saw the rise of NO DOUBT and SUBLIME as an answer to the psychological heaviness of GRUNGE and a reaction of sorts by the public to the death of KURT COBAIN. it's a similar rationale to the rise of bands like OASIS and BLUR in ENGLAND during the concurrent BRITPOP movement. i just never associated NIRVANA with paving the way for the rise of SKA bands, but now i have that connection.
like any bubble, it had its peak and then the market got saturated and the bottom fell out in the early 2000s. its the same old record industry story. the scene had effectively cannibalized itself as the fad grew in popularity. the public was SKA'd out. the documentary does a great job of showcasing global bands that have risen in the interim years in places like MEXICO, JAPAN and VENEZUELA among other places.
part of accepting this music is being open to it and its message of positive mindset and self-empowerment. at WARPED TOUR i obviously failed in that regard. but whats funny is that in college at RUTGERS i knew lots of classmates who were obsessed with this local band called STREETLIGHT MANIFESTO who werent silly or outrageous, but wrote upbeat songs about real-life. and what is not to like about that. all the bands i listed before, especially ones like THE AGGROLITES and THE SLACKERS, use the form as a means of expressing a wide range of emotions rooted in personal narratives and social realities. there is a core message there that is accessible. it also helps that their musicianship and song-craft are all top notch, but my feeling is that they are tapping into what SKA music historically was all about: messages of self-empowerment and community. for me that is the future of the genre, as much as i love the extreme cartoonish-ness of THE AQUABATS and their DEVO-inspired visuals.
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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