The Shape of Ska to Come
Updated: Apr 15
This week, instead of our usual round up of new and pre-release ska we will look to … what is the future of ska?
Been a slightly slow week on the new release front this week (some nice stuff from The Ruffolos, Proyecto Secreto, Phoenix City Allstars but we will keep them back for next week) so it has given us a chance to reflect on the current ska scene (from a UK based perspective.)
We are ska fans at a fantastic time. So many amazing bands in the traditional style. Trad bands like Mango Wood, Travelers All Stars. 2-Tone bands like The Skapones. Third wave is full to bursting with incredible bands BUT… the scene is changing. Gigs are no longer the denizens of skinheads. In the 80s / early 90s, if you went to a show – you were a skin. And if you weren’t… you really stood out. The last Slackers show I went to, there were maybe three. At the last bunch of ska shows I’ve been to, the audience is full of… well… ‘normal’ people? The skapunk scene is thriving and you are more likely to see the skanker going nuts at the front in a pair of vans, cargo shorts and sleeveless Op Ivy / Call Me Malcolm T. There is no doubting that the skins are the godfathers of the ska scene. These are the guys and girls who spearheaded the whole movement. A youth movement that fought for ska and still is the bedrock for the whole movement. However, the original skins are now in their 50s-60s-70s… Yes they have disposable income, kids have flown the nest and they are getting their lives back and can actually go to gigs again. And so the demographic is changing.
When 2Tone went across the pond, a whole new scene generated in the States. Now I have to tread a little carefully here. By the time skinhead arrived in the States, it was towards the end of the UK skin movement and the perception of skins in the States tends to be of a more nationalist nature than in the UK. Yes there are loads of ‘trad’ skins in a multicultural society but the bonehead legacy lasts longer in the States. And so, ska audiences and the ska sound is different to the UK. Some of that sound and subculture has made its way back over here and the global ska scene is morphing. THIS IS A GOOD THING! Ska is evolving and it needs to in order to survive. There are a few younger skins around but the youth at gigs aren’t really going for the style.
The last The Beat ft Ranking Jr gig I went to, I was surprised to see a bunch of kids in their mid teens, all dressed like my son. Casual clothing, the odd label, a couple with merms and I thought ‘that’s nice’. BUT… they skanked the whole gig through. Way more energy than me! These are the next generation coming through.
This week – The Featured This Week sessions change their focus to what is happening in the current ska scene and looking at those artists who, over the last 10 years, have slightly modified the sounds of ska and making that sound appeal to a new audience. I have left out some of the harder stuff like Redeemon, Glory Hunters, Unfunfair, Still Alive etc… that’s a whole different bag for another time. Also I’ve avoided some of the more established stuff (Oh my Gawd, I can’t believe you didn’t include Fishbone / The Skints / Less Than Jake etc…) and as for hyperska – not for me. But… this stuff influences and has shaped the current ska soundscape:
New single form ska collaborative group Smoke and Mirrors Soundsystem - Strength in Numbers was released last year and crosses over dub influences. Great divide is lifted from the album and features the stunning voice of Dunia Best.
Andy B & The World is another collaborative group with over 100 artists on The First One. Andy has gathered artists from all factors of the ska genres from folky through abrasive skacore to 2Tone. The last single saw him team up with UK skapunk modern legends Roshambo – Apathetic is a great example with the rapped/toasted lyrics and modern skapunk sound.
Festival favourites Dub Pistols have been around a good few years bridging the dance and ska scene. Last years Addict saw them team up with 2Tone legend Rhoda Dakar.
Formed 10 years ago, London based The Kubricks have acquired a unique sound. The Specials’ bassist, Horace Panter, championed the band, claiming, “I can hear Madness, The Ruts, Squeeze and The Clash in there…” Between Antipodes was released last year and is a funfair of modern ska sounds. High energy.
Bad Time Records has put out some incredible stuff over the past few years and Kill Lincoln is one of the founding artists. I was lucky enough to catch them at the beginning of April and they are awesome live. Fuelled by the energy of late 80s US punk yet with enough offbeat sounds to get a skank going. Can't Complain!
The sensible side of the movement comes to The JB Conspiracy. 2021’s album Beginnings is a stoic example of the musicianship that is in the scene. They played a stunning set at the Pookout Party last year and bring a whole new level.
Off to a Frome and a fella who goes by the monicker Common Sense Kid. CSK is a producer who blends electro, dub, hip hop, reggae and ska and is producing some really interesting stuff. His album ‘A for Effort, E for Attainment’ is out now on Ska Punk International.
The short lived fictional concept band Landfill Crew consisted of Tim Armstrong from Rancid / Tim Timebomb and Jamaican Dancehall artist Tippa Lee, Kevin Bivona (Interrupters) Dash Hutton (Touring drummer for bands like HAIM, Sugar Ray, Weyes Blood, and many more. Drum and vocal studio work with artists like Tim Armstrong, Jimmy Cliff, the Interrupters) only produced one set of recordings: Landfill Crew – EP. Poet’s In The Night is a stand out track and its influence can be heard in many so called New Tone tracks.
When Ranking Roger’s The Beat returned with Bounce we were blown away by this new but familiar vibrant sound. We are used to Roger’s laid back toasting but Ranking Jnr’s fast paced toasts/rap sections really livened up live performances and begun to herald a new audience. Check Ranking Jnr's performance during lockdown.
Back to 2019 and The Downsetters unleashed Chainsaw Lullabies was another shot in the arm. The Ipswich crew effortlessly combine punk and ska but it’s not skapunk. This is a unique sound. Hard edged but soft at the same time. A big brash sound stacked full of controlled energy.
Zen Baseballbat have been on the scene a good while but when Better Ways To Love & Offend dropped in 2021 I wasn’t too sure about it. 80s pop infused but with a razor sharp production It took me a while to ‘get’ this album. But when I did – awesome! Even better live and they always put on a great and well received at Specialized The Big one. 2020’s Brown Cows of Elocution is one of our more popular songs.
Chainska Brassika is probably one of the more traditional bands in this list but their cheeky London influence came out in spadeloads on Tales of a Londoner released last year. It incorporates some contemporary vocal deliveries and is a belter from start to finish.
Following in the London style is Buster Shuffle who produced one of the best albums of last year. Go Steady is a slight departure from their simpler sound on previous releases. The part spoken vocal delivery over the piano heavy sounds is striking.
The Bakesys are a well established band whose earlier releases had their roots firmly in the 2Tone / ska explosion camp. However, the last two albums have explored the dub psyche resulting in Sentences I’d Like To Hear The End Of and Freezing Cold In The Summer Sun. Changing the soundscape of ska and introducing many to dub.
One of our favourite live bands are Filthy Militia. Last year’s Coping Mechanism was a great EP and a good way in for many to the modern skapunk. When they played Specialized The Big One last year, I was a little concerned how they would go down - being a fairly traditional crowd. However, the awesome music and Frosty’s stage presence and audience interaction won the whole crowd over (a stomping version of It’s Raining Men may have helped here). A great segue way into the modern sounds of skapunk.
One of the more interesting bands to come out in the past couple of years is Bad Operation. They have so far produced one self titled album, but what an album. I first received this during lockdown and clearly remember being sat in a traffic jam going round Bournemouth airport for two hours solid with this on repeat. The sound is strained and troubled but so damn fresh. Now onto the 3rd pressing of the album – this one of the pivotal albums in the modern sound of ska.
Causing a bit of a stir is Tape Girl, a producer from Colorado from the Tik-Tok generation. The kids like it… a gateway to the hyperska scene.
Speaking of the kids… My two teenagers have been raised in ska, BDR is on 24/7 in the kitchen and they have a good grounding in ska. However, they are so aware of music in general – one a world street dance champion and the other has the widest musical taste I think I have ever encountered and introduces me to new music every week. When I ask them which ska act they want to see, they both agree - Death Of Guitar Pop. Silky and Top Kat have got the current generation just right. They are young(ish), exuberant, relevant and did the genius thing of working with Tom Skinner, exposing themselves to Tik-Tok on Bosh! They are not to everyone’s taste (especially those firmly ingrained in the trad sound) BUT they are shaping the scene and introducing a new generation of kids to the scene. They are enormous fun live. First In, Last Out dropped Friday from the forthcoming crowd funded album.
Dubmatix is a basshead producer from Ontario. I got into him via his work in dub. But recently he has turned his production eye to ska and producing a new sound akin to that of The Bakesys and PJ1800. Dub-ska if you will. An interesting and growing avenue that appears to be opening up. We watch with interest.
Ska has evolved since the late 50s/early 60s as the sound has developed. People refer to waves as it is a way of grouping and organising sounds as they develop. But, since the ‘3rd wave’ the waves have blended as new subgenres and amalgamations of sounds have occurred. As long as ska continues to evolve, new people will come and ska will live on.
Let’s face it, we got into ska through 2-Tone. To us it was a new sound and through that we discovered the original sounds of ska. In the same way, when the ‘Summer of Ska’ happened in the 90s through Mighty Mighty Bosstones et al, the kids discovered 2-Tone and then the original sound. Now, ska builds on the most solid of foundations. And that is why ska has pervaded for 60 years plus.
Ska’s not dead – some people just stopped listening. And now they have something to listen to.
Subscribe to our Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/@ButtonDownRadio/featured
and especially our #NewToneSka playlists at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmpaxFQpPPFwuCUwfQ1vCRFyrxX3DFYIR
Also our Bandcamp collection at https://bandcamp.com/buttondownradio has almost 1000 of the best modern ska releases.
Some labels to check out who actively support this changing scene
Pookout Records - https://www.pookoutrecords.co.uk/
Ska Punk International - https://www.skapunkinternational.com/
Bad Time Records - https://www.badtimerecords.com/
(There are LOADS of bands out there – way too many to mention, but these are the current ones we are vibing to. Click links and find some new music. Ska Now – More Than Ever)
Perhaps in the next one, I'll do an in depth look into the world of todays skacore / skapunk / skametal scene?