10.01.2009

The Aggrolites: The Last Good Ska Band on Earth

Why did ska die after 1999? I have some theories. To save time, I'll put them in a list:
  1. Good ska is technically demanding, but most people in ska bands in the 90s were mediocre musicians - basically high school jazz combos.
  2. Ska's cultural referents, to Jamaica in the 60s or Britain in the early 80s, had nothing to do with middle-class white kids in America in the 90s. No new themes emerged though; self-imitation started as a badge of honor but ended up being an incredibly tired cliche (think of all the bands with "ska" in their name, etc.)
  3. Ska's major key, up-tempo sound can be energizing, but it can also just turn into a generic Disney Channel soundtrack. This is why ska lives on today primarily in commercials and as background music on TV shows (see: Ace of Cakes.)
  4. Ska-punk almost always sucks. Operation Ivy were amazing, and Oregon's own The Readymen were great, but that's about it.
  5. Finally, and most importantly, there was no edge to ska after about 1997. The punks and (anti-racist) skinheads who were part of the scene left because it got so lame - scrawny 15 year-old kids in their dad's ties tend to water things down a bit. I, personally, hate violence, but there's still something to the threat of rock n' roll or punk or hip-hop, the fact that you have to be a little crazy to be part of the scene. It keeps out the tourists, and that's why (for example) punk is still relevant after all these years. Without the edge, ska was just boring.
Anyway, that's all a very long-winded introduction to the last good ska band on Earth: The Aggrolites. Look at them:


See? They are tough! They aren't little kids! They look cool! They also happen to be fantastic fucking musicians!

The best of the third wave (i.e. 90s ska) were bands like Hepcat and The Slackers, who played updated takes on the original early - mid 60s Jamaican ska. The Aggrolites do that too, but they have the good sense to just refer to it as reggae, which never got watered down in the same way the whole concept / genre of ska did. It isn't reggae in the Bob Marley sense, however - it's the same sound as '68 - '69 British dancehall reggae, also known as skinhead reggae since it was the original (pre-racist, apolitical) British skinhead youth culture that packed the clubs in the late 60s to dance to reggae, get in fights, and have gross British sex in alleys.

Compare the Aggrolites to what was, for my money, the worst third-wave ska band of the 90s, the contemptible Regatta 69:


See? Dorks. Fucking dorks. And they couldn't play their instruments, and they sucked. Somehow, they were briefly on Moon Ska, the would-be center of the third wave record label.

In conclusion: if you have fond memories of dancing around in cool vintage clothes and hanging out with scary dudes called Red Dog, Oz, Caveman, and Smash*, check out The Aggrolites. They're keeping everything that was ever good about ska alive and have no time for the detritus.

* Actual dudes I knew (some fairly well, some barely at all).

3 comments:

Happy Hippo said...

I think I would have to rank that post as one of my top 5 favorites. Great stuff.

kungfuramone said...

Thanks, man. Like the old wine cooler guys used to say, we appreciate your support.

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