Nick’s Declassified Ska-Survival Guide


Unless you were hitting the music scene hard in the 90s, which is unlikely seeing as you were either just born or a toddler, you’ve probably never heard of the odd, yet intriguing genre of ska. As you will find out throughout the remainder of the article, ska proves to be a rather diverse and experimental genre of music; however, prior to delving into the palate of a stereotypical rude boy, let’s take it back to the basics and break down the defining characteristics of ska with a band everyone probably recognizes: Sublime! Not-So-Ska Ska

            Sublime-“Date Rape”

As you listen to “Date Rape”, Brad’s interesting lyrics (to say the least) are complimented by an explosive horn line, fast-paced bass lines consisting of the occasional walking bass, and guitars that accent the upbeat. All of these characteristics are defining features of ska that separate it from the various genres that serve as its roots, including rock, reggae, jazz, and blues. There are plenty of bands similar to Sublime in the sense that they bridge the gap between rock, reggae, and ska. Now that we’ve got down the basics, let’s dive into the different types of ska.


Ska Pop!

            Reel Big Fish – “She Has a Girlfriend Now”

Aside from being unusual and goofy, this song proves to be rather catchy and light compared to a majority of ska tunes. The outlandish lyrics combined with the light accents from the horn line and guitars provide an enjoyable, yet gentle ska effect that resembles a stereotypical pop song. If you’re into the contemporary scene and Top 40s tunes, then ska pop is probably your fit.

Reggae Ska

            Less Than Jake – “Science of Selling Yourself Short”

As mentioned earlier, ska consists of mostly upbeat guitar and fast-paced rhythms that produce an extremely energetic and demanding sound that can become overbearing and redundant at times. When you’re not feeling too buoyant or just need to relax, reggae ska is a great genre to turn to. The reggae sound infused with a mellow, relaxing horn line really soothes the mind and allows the listener to unwind. If you’re into reggae, alternative, or even indie music, this type of ska will probably mesh with you. On a side note, this is definitely a personal favorite of mine.

Ska Punk

            The Fad - Ska-Boom!”

It’s time to ‘pick it up, pick it up’ with probably the most popular genre of ska, ska punk. Unlike the previous categories where the instrumentation and vocals were rather clean, everything becomes much more aggressive and hard-hitting in the punk subsection. The bass and metronome are cranked up all the way as the tempo picks up and the vocals become much more engaging and for lack of better words, pissed off. This genre tends to be extremely entertaining and engaging in a live setting as the crowd becomes rowdy and feeds off the energy of the band. If you’re into heavier music genres like rock, punk, or even hardcore, you’d probably enjoy this type of ska.

“Stroll” Ska

            Big D and the Kids Table – “Describing the Sky”

This is definitely the newest and most experimental style of ska. After producing a few albums that were strictly ska punk, Big D and the Kids Table decided to pursue a different avenue as they essentially pioneered their own perspective of ska deemed ‘stroll’ which appears in their album Fluent in Stroll. Much like reggae ska, the vibes emanating from stroll are very laid back and placid, which is uncharacteristic of ska. If you’re into indie, jazz, and even blues, stroll ska is right up your avenue.


            Flaming Tsunamis – “Refuse to Die”

I’m going to be completely honest, this type of ska speaks for itself. As the name implies, this genre combines hardcore with ska in what can only be classified as interesting and aggressive. Although the ska genre as a whole tends to be dominated by pop and punk ska bands, there is a significant following that are die-hard fans of ska-core. If you’re into music that incorporates screaming, heavy instrumentation, significant guitar presence and aggressiveness, I would definitely suggest checking out ska-core.

The Fourth Wave?

            Streetlight Manifesto – “If Only For Memories”

To elaborate on the title of this type of ska because it’s not as self-explanatory, ska has come in several waves/revivals dating back to the 60s and 70s. Currently, the ska scene seems to be settled in the third wave of ska which encompasses a majority, if not all, of the bands previously mentioned. However, with the emergence of Streetlight Manfiesto and their innovative interpretation of ska, there has been discussion of the coming of the fourth wave. Moreover, Streetlight layers their songs with a plethora of intricate instrumentation and meaningful lyrics that require precision and ample effort as it takes them years to release new albums. I’ve seen this band live twice and the performance was simply mesmerizing. This is probably the most talented group of musicians I have ever seen and their passion and raw emotion radiates from the stage as they perform. From listening to the song provided above, you can tell instantly there is something different about this band when compared to the rest.

Overall, as you can see, ska proves to be an exceptionally diverse and experimental genre. Despite its flexibility and ability to appeal to a wide array of listeners it is subdued and underrated as a result of lack of exposure. I hope my synopsis of ska can provide you with a solid foundation to explore the vast network of ska music. If you come across any solid bands or want more suggestions, leave a comment. For now, keep on skankin’.

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