Arguably, Southern California ska music was born in part because the long-haired dude behind the deck in the Whiskey a Go Go on the Sunset Strip played too much classic rock.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was a great club, but if you went there to watch the Specials or Elvis Costello, you would have some hippie sound engineer playing the Dubi brothers on an audio system,” says Howard Paar, who at 1980 founded ON Klub, an early 1960s ska, mod and soul spot seven miles east on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, which burned brightly for four years. “It was so ridiculous, especially in those busy, fast-paced days.”
ON Klub, and the vital West Coast ska punk scene that sparked it, are featured in a number of new books and podcasts that bring a unique moment of cultural clash to Los Angeles today. On October 23rd, the Grammy Museum celebrated the convergence with a personal group dedicated to the roots of ska in Southern California.
Nearly a dozen insiders, fans, and academics participated in the conversation, including Paar, whose new book Top Rankin ‘is a self-proclaimed “punk / ska noir romance,” which uses ON Klub as a backdrop and a scene in which he was born. A new book by writer and musician Mark Wasserman and its accompanying podcast, Ska Boom! An Oral History of American Ska and Reggae, “which tells about the ska of Los Angeles and Orange County. The event was hosted by DJ and reggae scientist Junor Francis, co-host of the History of LA Ska podcast.
Members of local ska groups Fishbone, The Untouchables and Boxboys shared their memories of their work, and actor Laurence Fishburne recalled his early years in Los Angeles as a self-proclaimed “censter”.
“I had a big radio and looked like I came from Brixton in London. I played Specials and walked Hollywood Boulevard, ”Fishburne told the crowd.
As central to Southern California as Dodgers and Skateboarding, ska, the Jamaican upbeat predecessor of reggae in the early 60s, has seen a renaissance almost every decade since the early 1980s, but here – and throughout the Golden State – never happens. … gone away. More than 50,000 fans follow the Alameda-based Ska Punk Daily Facebook page, and Long Beach-based label International City Recordings recently released “4th Wave Ska”, a compilation of 25 bands from around the world.
The initial wave of ska in SoCal was fueled by the British ska craze in the late 1970s, when 2 Tone Records artists including Specials, Madness, English Beat and Selector popped out of working London and hit the charts by bringing punk energy to music that was pioneered for the first time. played by Skatalites, Prince Buster and Wailers. Los Angeles outfits including Boxboys, the Untouchables and Fishbone have amplified this unique Jamaican rhythm with teenage energy.
Unlike the predominantly white punk scene, ska was an integrated movement and this trait remains an important distinguishing feature. In Southern California, this sense of purpose helped spawn ska-aware bands that took the charts by storm in the 1990s, including No Doubt, Save Ferris, and Sublime.
Paar, who over the following decades became a successful music director and music director, was a young British expatriate living in Los Angeles. He obtained the keys to a former Vietnamese restaurant called Oriental Nights near the intersection of Silverlake and Sunset Boulevards after the owner discussed opening a punk club. “I started a passionate tirade,” Paar recalls. “It was the beginning of hardcore and punk was becoming very sexy and misogynistic. Children who were into football in high school suddenly found themselves in the mosh pit. ”
Paar’s presentation: Unlike the crowded punk club line-ups, ON Klub “played with only one band per night – ska, soul or reggae – and then I stayed as a DJ until the end of the night and played tapes that matched it.” Through a combination of what Paar calls “passion and despair,” the owner agreed. Among the most popular bands were the Boxboys, considered the first ska group in Southern California, and the Untouchables, the first Los Angeles ska group to sign to Stiff Records.
As Jerry Miller of The Untouchables said during the panel discussion, “By word of mouth, people from all over Los Angeles County and Orange County gathered at ON Klub. I thought, “Where are all these people from?” I thought we were the only ones who did it, and now, no. “
The Untouchables, a group founded by Miller, Chuck Askerniz, the late Clyde Grimes and others, earned the most attention when they appeared with their Vespas in a scene from the 1984 sci-fi comedy “Repo Man,” where they prevent with a few quick blows on the belly, the character of Emilio Estevez, who lost ownership of the wagon of a relative. The group’s most popular songs “I Spy for the FBI” and “What Went Wrong” were regional hits but didn’t make the charts.
While Boston, Chicago and New York had variations in the 1980s, writer Wasserman says Los Angeles “brings together not only music, but style, which is not the case in many other countries. ska city. The weather is great, so you can grab a scooter, ride it and look cool. ”
Fishburne described the ska scene at Silver Lake as “straight out of Quadrofenia,” referring to the iconic and classic 1979 film Who, about the battles between mods and rockers in the working class of Brighton, England. The film highlights the Vespa scooter culture that fostered the development of modifications, and the youth of Southern California chose a particular mode of transportation. As with the lowrider culture, the Vespa obsessed have adorned their scooters with stylish accents. A local Los Angeles news segment has reported since the early 1980s that scooter sales in Orange County have jumped more than 20% due to the fashion scene.
The movement also borrowed the fashion of Quadrofenia. Stylistic prerequisites included surplus army trench coats decorated with pins and badges, pork pie hats and anything with a checkerboard pattern. Unlike the sloppy punks, the crowd favored short, clean haircuts and tight-fitting suits.
The style of the ska movement and the city’s mods was prominent enough at the time to merit a mention in the fashion section of The Times. Mods: Stylish Code Makes a Movement described its members as “a new breed of well-mannered young people whose trademark is the shiny Vespa scooters.” One of the ON Klub attendees asked if this scene was more than just a passing fad and answered confidently.
“I know I will continue to do this when I get older,” the teenager replied. “I’m just starting to shine on my scooter.”
Along the way, ON Klub got its share of big names. Parr recalls the night Tom Waits and Ricky Lee Jones paid for cover, started walking in, “and pulled back the battered curtain. [Jones] looked at the madness on the dance floor, slit his throat, and they had a big argument about it. She left, he stayed. ” Paar added that members of bands such as Blondie, English Beat and The Clash came after the Palladium concerts to hang out. Years later, Jodie Foster told Paar that she used to go there to dance.
“It was fun. He was free,” Paar said.
By 1984, Paar had met so many music professionals that his own possibilities had expanded. After booking several other clubs, he switched to publicity in the 1980s. Since then, Paar has become an award-winning music director, receiving accolades for his work in films and TV shows, including Women of the 20th Century, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and The L Word.
As he did so, the sound he helped create at ON Klub grew into a multi-million dollar business, spawning festivals, clothing lines and record labels. Although the dominance of the third wave ska in the late 1990s subsided for several years, the backyard concert scene in Orange County and the San Fernando Valley continued almost unabated until the pandemic, fueled by renewed interest in Berkeley ska legends Operation Ivy and Rancid.
“Mexican and Central American children are driving a lot of this,” Wasserman says, adding that “Mexico itself is one of the leading ski countries in the world.
“The beauty of ska is that it was always rebellious music,” he adds. “And it still attracts these kids who heard it from their parents or even from their grandparents.”