Is Ska-Punk the new Punk?
Alan Connor's Music Experience visits a ska-punk gig.
9 May 2003
A quick word of warning if you fancy one of those gigs at your local venue with "minimum age 14". The average age of the attendees is likely to be about 12. And so no matter how much your passion for the music being played -- and who knows, a Battle Of The Nu-Metal Bands may be your bag -- the only person feeling less comfortable than you is going to be whichever strappy-topped teen is standing nearest you and wondering how fast Operation Ore would respond to a discreet text.
At least, that was my experience at the showcase of the Moonska label this week. Moonska present the acme of ska-punk bands, all of whom play every song very fast, except for the choruses, which are very, very fast. The singing is consistently like Barenaked Ladies' 'Two weeks', but less intelligible, and the fans are trying to forget it's a school night.
This wasn't what I'd expected. I have no relatives in their teens, and although I don't read the Daily Mail any more than I can avoid, the possibility remained in my head that I'd have a Rohypnol slipped into my lager by The Youth Of Today. As it unastonishingly turned out, the third-years were actually more interested in hiding their assiduously-smoked Lambert & Butlers from me when I walked to the deserted bar, in case I - qua adult - got them told off.
But they didn't stop getting off with each other, or show the slightest embarrassment about not being very good at it yet - snogging was everywhere you looked in this dank cellar lit up by the blooming lovebites on every neck and filled with the heady air of just-made oestrogen. Which isn't to say they weren't there for the music. In fact, the head-nodding boys at the back of the moshpit, where I made my home, were there solely to appreciate the musicianship. Which they got in spades.
Because you don't make a living on the teen ska-punk circuit if you don't have your chops. There's no promotion -- only a few are going to get played on cable channel P-Rock, and they have to vie for airspace with ska-punkers' mortal enemies, the metallers. Rather, you've got to persuade a critical mass of the playground that the gig is going to be exciting if they're going to drop their pocket money on the not-insignificant six pounds, plus bus fare, Bacardi Breezers and skate-style t-shirts (the last being a ska-punk band's chief source of income).
This has nothing to do with the music industry as we know it. Bands like Graveltrap and Farse can't rely on orchestrated press campaigns and fashionista imprimaturs like the Sex Pistols. You need to be resourceful. You can take your tops off (and they do); you can incorporate gimmicks like Spankboy's cider funnel for the girls at the front (which they've had to restrict to 16+ gigs); you can even go for crowd-pleasingly incongruous cover versions like Dublin boys Mixtwitch, who do a very fast and fairly-credible reading of Ronan Keating's own cover of shut-up-willya-darling classic "When you say nothing at all".
But if you can't get the crowd pogoing, crowd-surfing and chanting, you'll be sullen-stared off the stage. Kudos, then, to Spankboy (recently renamed The SolaBeat Alliance after an unlikely legal fracas) for sustaining the energy of an otherwise-repetitive form for so long. This is due to relentless ska/rock drumming and a horn section of lapsed school orchestra members who've found that an entire career can be built out of the riff to Madness's 'Wings of a dove' - so why learn Copeland?
And above all, The SolaBeat Alliance do not take their audience for granted. The guarantee of a good show cannot be stronger in any musical form than it is in teen ska-punk. Sure, you may have some explaining to do when you get home: "I stink of lager, Dad, because they poured it over all the crowd-surfers, and the bruises were administered in love, not violence". But it's worth it. The band won't be drunk like Creed, or late like the Stones, or contemptuous like tATu. You pays your six quid, and you get more intimacy and excitement than Good Charlotte could ever dream of promising.
Next go to: the Spankboy interviews, to see how ska-punk bands eschew the cool/not-cool rules:
I like the idea of Liv Tyler, not only is she a total fox, she is Steve Tyler's daughter. HELL YEAH! If she could sing like Nora Jones as well then that would be it.
Then read the fans' happy comments:
Shit guys, you absolutely rocked fibbers in york on friday night. I was the guy that ate all the pies in the Whitmore set. I felt like the dude in Matilda that eats the big-ass chocolate cake in front of everyone - RANDOM! Anyway, you've made a sure follower out of me, not only do you play ska but you play QUALITIEEE SKA! Thanx for making not my day, not my week but my bloody year. Peace.
A quick request: does anyone have the lyrics for One True Voice's next single, the why-the-brackets "Shakespeare's (Way with) words"? I simply cannot wait the sixteen days until its release, but Google has failed me. Your reward comes from the 200-singles-for-£5 bag I picked up this week - specifically all those 7"s which I already have (you are not obliged to take "Green door"). Your help is appreciated.