In the not-so-distant past, a group of people got together and decided on a few things that the internet would universally malign. Right under Nickelback was ska, a genre whose legacy is as much associated with its dubious fashion choices as the music itself. At least, I assume that’s how it played out. In reality, the progenitors of the so-called Third Wave ska are probably to blame, with their checkerboard suspenders and fedoras and repressed band geekdom that led trombonists the world over to declare, I’m a punk and a rude boy to boot.
Stereotypes aside, there are plenty of reasons that the ska punk of the late ’80s and ‘90s turned so many people off. It led to abominations like Christian ska, stoner ska, and this little number. But I’m here to tell you that ska—and you might want to sit down for this—ain’t bad. Am I a skapologist? Maybe. Mostly I’m tired of consorting with folks who think that Less Than Jake and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are the cornerstones of the genre. That’s a disservice to the swinging, summery sound of ‘60s Jamaican ska, a genre that blended calypso, R&B, and even Southern American blues. In addition to capturing artists such as Prince Buster, Andy and Joey, and The Skatalites at the peak of their powers, the original ska movement also featured artists like Lee “Scratch” Perry, The Wailers, and The Maytals, who would go on to become staples of slower styles like reggae, rocksteady, and dub in the following decades.
Another tenet of ska’s three-tiered history is referred to as Two Tone ska, the ska-punk style that emerged out of Britain in the late ‘70s. The second wave is named after the independent label Two Tone, founded by Jerry Dammers of the Specials, perhaps the most important band to come out of the country’s nascent scene. Though the Specials’ Elvis Costello-produced album remains the Ur text for Two Tone ska, the genre also produced groups like Madness, Bad Manners, and The English Beat. The groups offered a punchier, more pop-oriented approach to the music of their Jamaican forebears, and many of their hits were covers of Jamaican classics. Madness even went so far as to name their band after the eponymous Prince Buster song.
While ‘60s ska and the ‘70s revival are accessible for anyone fond of Jamaican music or the sunnier side of post-punk, Third Wave ska is a little more impenetrable, requiring a certain amount of nostalgia to fuel any sort of genuine affection. I—and, I’m sure, many others—cut my teeth for ska on a little video game called Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Did I know that Goldfinger or The Suicide Machines belonged to a genre called “ska punk?” Did I know that said genre had a predilection towards checkerboard garb and something called skanking? No, but it was energetic, joyful, and fun as hell to (pretend to) skateboard along to. I hope that we as a society are close to abandoning ska shame for fear of the internet’s scorn, that we can appreciate the weird time in the ‘90s that punk circles embraced their inner marching band weird. But maybe we can leave skanking behind.
Julia Selinger is a writer and rapscallion living in Brooklyn. She was first in her class at Princeton, has an I.Q. of one hundred and eighty-seven, and it’s been suggested that Stephen Hawking stole his Brief History of Time from her fourth grade paper. The young genius is on twitter @julialena_.