Friday, 19 October 2018

Column: United States Of Ska (Part One)


UK ska punk is currently thriving. I honestly can't remember a time where the scene has had more bands putting out such fantastic releases and wowing crowds all over the country with their incredible live shows than now. There are even small DIY festivals popping up here, there and everywhere to showcase these incredible bands – the best being Level Up Festival in South East London. Lately I've been thinking about American ska punk bands and how I know nothing about the underground scene there. Sure I know all about the big boys like Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, Big D & The Kids Table, Mustard Plug and the Mad Caddies but what about the bands playing the small basement and bar shows? I decided to take to the Internet and see what underground gems I could find. It turns out that the underground ska scene in the USA is packed with incredible bands, so many that this post has been split into two parts. Here's part one of my look into the American underground ska scene. Part two coming soon!

The B Sharps
Not to be confused with Homer Simpson's acapella band or the promoters from South East London, The B Sharps are a seven piece from Riverside, California. On their latest album, Plan B's Get Degrees, the band brilliantly combine poppy ska and smooth reggae to create these fantastically fun joyful sing-along songs.

Be Like Max
By the time that this column is posted Las Vegas' Be Like Max will have just completed a European tour including a couple of UK shows which I'm gutted to have missed. The six piece are one of the most varied bands in the scene mixing 90s third wave with a more modern take on the genre. It's all good times throughout with plenty of big choruses and lots of skanking to be done to Be Like Max.

The Big Skandal
The Big Skandal are a ska/rocksteady band from Miami, Florida. Taking influence from traditional bands such as The Skatalites and Prince Buster as well as more contemporary acts such as Madness and Operation Ivy, The Big Skandal are one of the most impressive rocksteady bands I've heard in some time.

Chilled Monkey Brains
Combining punk, ska and metal, Tallahassee's Chilled Monkey Brains are a band you'll love if you're a fan of the UK's own ska metalheads Beat The Red Light. Famed for their electric live performances, Chilled Monkey Brain have toured all over the USA with bands such as Less Than Jake, Strung Out, Authority Zero, Mustard Plug and The Slackers to name just a few.

The Dirty Notion
Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, The Dirty Notion are a four piece rocksteady band. The band came together to play something different from their previous bands and something rooted to the music they love. Definitely a band for fans of The Slackers and The Aggrolites.

The Fad
The Fad are a long running New York band originally active between 2000 and 2008 before reforming in 2012. I was completely unaware they were back together until I noticed their name on this year's Fest line-up and my feeling of guttedness about not attending this year doubled. 2008's Kill Punk Rock Stars album is absolutely superb.

Grey Matter
Michigan's Grey Matter are one of the most unique ska bands I've ever heard. Classifying themselves as "emotional skacore", the fivesome fuse ska punk and emo together to create something quite awe-inspiring. These are two genres that I would never expect to work together but Grey Matter have pulled it off with some aplomb.

The Hempsteadys
We reviewed The Hempsteadys' superb 2018 album Séance! Séance! last month and enjoyed it so much I had to include them in this column. The Connecticut based eleven piece take traditional ska and reggae music and drag it into the 21st century with dirty vocals and perhaps the best brass/horn section on the list. The Hempsteadys are a band I'm desperate to see live.

Joystick!
I first became aware of Joystick! after checking out some of the bands on the Fest 17 line-up that I hadn't heard of before. I had a listen to their 2017 album Sinceriously and was blown away by the high-tempo ska punk songs the band play. The eight piece from New Orleans have taken the classic third wave sound and added some of their own hometown jazz influences to create something just wonderful.

Runaway Ricochet
On their recently released album, Gas Station Culture, Runaway Ricochet play an infectious poppy form of ska punk that you can't help but smile and sway along to. The six piece from St. Paul, Minnesota, are a fairly new band on the scene but are seriously impressive. They are a great gateway and into the world of ska punk for people newer to the genre.

Scheming Thieves
A former CPRW Band of the Week, Utah's Scheming Thieves are one of my favourite discoveries of 2018. Their debut release A Classic Ruse is eight songs of fun fast paced ska punk from a band showing a huge amount of promise. With big horns and fun choruses, there's a lot to love about those Scheming Thieves.

Stupid Flanders
When a band is described as "the best parts of Less Than Jake, Rancid, Mustard Plug and Goldfinger" you know you're listening to something pretty darn good. With big horns, catchy lyrics and gritty vocals, played at a pace that will get you dancing like a loon, it's hard not to fall in love with Stupid Flanders from California.

Tef London
Orlando's Tef London combine punk, ska, swing and dixieland music to create an terrific high tempo sound. Fronted by Jenny Morrison and featuring some of the best brass musicians in the Orlando area, Tef London formed due to the fact there were no ska bands in the community and became one of the most impressive bands in the state.

Victims Of Circumstance
Clearwater, Florida's Victims Of Circumstance are one of my favourites I've discovered putting together this list of American ska punk bands. Combining pop hooks with a punk attitude and energetic ska, Victim Of Circumstance have toured the world playing their superb music to people all over. It seems they even found their way to England to play Rebellion Festival in 2012. Gutted I missed out on seeing them back then.

Keep an eye out for part two of this column coming soon.

This column was written by Colin Clark.