The very first memory I have of Jamaican music is when I heard Mad Cobra’s “Flex” at the innocent young age of ten. I don’t think I fully understood, or even cared about the lyrics then, but something about the rhythm and unique vocal delivery hooked me in. Looking back on it now, 16 years later, I wasn’t aware of how much I would come to love JA music in all its forms, especially modern dancehall and American reggae and ska. I’m now 26 years old and living in Chicago, and have finally decided it’s time to do my part to contribute to this scene. I’m not a musician, not a DJ, not a promoter. The best description I can label myself is an active and passionate fan. I want to be able to listen to this music throughout my life by continuing to support it. By not only embracing the past, but looking into the present and future, I hope it will continue to thrive and reach new ears.
My gateway into this scene, as was common for most teenagers in the mid to late 90’s was through such bands as Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, and Operation Ivy. Around age 15, I began to discover MTV’s punk bands of the day, and somewhere along the line I heard a Less Than Jake song on my local college radio station. My first two punk CDs were Epitaph’s first Punk-O-Rama comp, and the Vans Warped Tour comp where I heard Reel Big Fish. Those two bands got me hooked on any and all “punk with horns” – admittedly, yes, my first definition of ska.
Around the same time my local scene in New Jersey was blowing up. Catch 22, One Cool Guy, the Royalties, Inspecter 7, Foil, The Derringers, and countless others were playing shows in local halls and clubs almost every weekend. I spent the majority of my high school years at The Palace in Bound Brook, The Cove in Roselle Park, The Cheesequake Fire House, and The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Every so often I got to see some better regional bands come through like The Toasters, Skinnerbox, Mephiskapheles, The Slackers, etc.
As the New Jersey scene began to fade out when bands broke up or moved onto other things, and the shows stopped, I began to dig deeper into the roots of this music. My progression took me backwards through each “wave”. From the Toasters to The Specials to The Skatalites, I became hungry for the true history and meaning of Jamaican music. While I loved all of it, as I went back I noticed what seemed to grab me most was always the deejay music, the toasting and chatting. It could be Coolie chatting on a Toasters tune, Ranking Roger with The Beat, or some of the early deejays like U-Roy. While I respected and appreciated the classics, I found myself always gravitating toward the new music at my disposal: Dr. Ring-Ding, Rocker-T, King Django, and modern dancehall like Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Shabba Ranks, etc.
Fast-forwarding to 2003, I can thank Chuck and Buck of Jump Up and Megalith respectively for releasing “Still Standing” and re-kindling my interest in this scene and culture. Through the formation of Hub City Stompers around the same time, and Bomb Town shortly after, along with King Django’s Version City parties, I was able to find good shows to attend again. I met a good group of people dedicated to reviving the NJ/NY scene (big up Steady Sound System!), as well as other like-minded individuals on trips through NY, NJ, Philly, and Baltimore in their respective scenes (props to Bob and the DC Ska crew!). Moving to Chicago 3 years ago, I was privileged to become part of the Chicago scene, with regular shows by Deal’s Gone Bad, Lord Mike’s Dirty Calypsonians, and The Drastics, and regular reggae nights around the city. Lately however, the amount of gigs seems to be on the decline, and I find myself again starting to explore new music. But this time instead of digging through the past, I’m looking at the present, trying to find bands that are active today, and new bands that will continue to push this scene into the future. We are lucky to have a handful of great bands coming up through California like The Aggrolites, The Hi-Lites, and Penny Reel Junction, with The Aggrolites as well as Westbound Train gaining national attention through Hellcat Records. New Jersey is booming again with Hub City Stompers, Bomb Town, Bigger Thomas, and King Django still going strong, and younger bands like Awful Waffle and The Defending Champions carrying the torch. Also keep an eye out for newcomers Silver Dollar, a traditional ska band featuring Lord Skoochie of Inspecter 7 fame on vocals and sax, and King Django on trombone. Chicago is seeing Deal’s Gone Bad and The Drastics branching out of the Midwest and touring the east and west coasts. Chicago also has a younger ska/punk band, Manic Sewing Circle, that have grown tremendously in the past three years, both in songwriting and in popularity. They are playing a few Warped Tour dates this summer and have recorded a track on their upcoming album with Todd from Deal’s.
On the international front we have Megalith Records bringing us ska from all over the world, with a large focus on European bands such as Rotterdam Ska-Jazz Foundation, Pannonia Allstars Ska Orchestra, and St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review. Not to mention a resurgence of influence in British music with the likes of The Dead 60’s, Hard-Fi, Lily Allen, The Dualers, and Pama International.
The names I’ve listed are by far not the be-all-end-all of contemporary ska and reggae music, just the ones I find myself most interested in. I won’t claim to be an expert on this music. I won’t be able to tell you the names or writers of any obscure tunes or riddims, or even break down each individual era into its finer points… but I can tell you about what I like. I’m not here to educate – I’ll leave that to the experts. I’m here now, in 2007, where this scene is continuing to rebuild and progress stronger than it has in many years. I hope to contribute to this site by sharing my passion and interest for the players in our scene that are helping it thrive. Thanks to Gabe, Andrew, Brian, and Bob for inviting me to join, and I’m looking forward to contributing.