Is 4th Wave Ska a Thing?

4th wave ska 500by Mark Anderson

No other music but Ska I feel quite has the power to evoke either pure nostalgic memories and/or fury intent on inciting riots at the same time.

For those of us that danced into the depths of a skanking pit, we might look back to a simpler time when we craved blaring brass and checkering everything in sight.

But it’s been over a solid decade since that time for me and I fell out of it. As I’ve slowly, SLOWLY, gotten back into ska on an international level I became curious if the fourth wave of ska ever hit anywhere, and what exactly it would be and sound like.

Now, in case there are those who might not know exactly to what I’m referring to, ska music is generally spoken of in waves. The first wave began in Jamaica in the early-mid 1960s. The second wave took place in England during the mid-late 70s. And, finally, the third wave started in the early-mid 80s with bands from all around the world from Japan to Germany to Argentina before crashing in the United States where ska’s popularity in the ’90s skyrocketed into the mainstream music industry.

And, although it may have gone out of fashion here in the States, it’s only gained more and more momentum in other parts of the world. New bands are popping up all over the place representing that rude sound in the 21st Century.

I thought I was pretty familiar with the Valley’s ska offerings until last year when I found out about Mr. Incommunicado, a new act claiming to be 4th Wave Ska, right here in Phoenix.

So I reached out to them and asked: could you tell us what it is about your guys’ brand of ska that defines it as 4th Wave?

Saxophonist Aaron Goodman got back to me with this, “Mr. Incommunicado tries to bring out influences that aren’t simply ska such as jazz and rock music including Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and Dave Clark. We often refer to ourselves as ‘progressive ska’ since we try to expand outside of conventional ska instrumentation and structure. Ska should be fun to listen and dance to, however, and we focus on good songs first, being unconventional second. When we call ourselves 4th wave ska, it is more a positive outlook that ska music is or will again be popular and that the music will continue to progress.”

His answer had me thinking further on the subject of 4th Wave Ska and if such a thing truly exists yet so I decided to hit up some other ska heads I knew around town and and ask them: do you feel at that any point a 4th Wave of Ska began? If so, when do you feel it started and what bands/regions brought it along?

Here’s what they had to say.

Aaron Goodman, Mr. Incommunicado:

“Any wave of ska is typically characterized by a surge in popularity or a stylistic change that separates it from what we’ve heard before in the ska genre. Any 4th wave that would come about starts with bands and musicians that have been around a while and keep at it such as The Slackers, The Skatalites, Fishbone and even third wave bands like Reel Big Fish. Newer bands and musicians then hopefully come along and try to do something new; that would be the 4th wave.”

Jett Smith, The Linecutters:

“I feel like the fourth wave of ska, if it exists, started with bands like Streetlight Manifesto, and Choking Victim/Leftöver Crack. Coming right off the heels of 3rd wave of ska, these bands from the East coast brought more innovative and creative things into ska, bringing sounds anywhere from hardcore punk, folk punk and crust punk, to songs based on European folk songs to make something different than your run of the mill third wave stuff like Reel Big Fish and Skankin Pickle (Love these bands, not hating whatsoever!). So if I had to say it started anywhere, that’s where, in my opinion, the 4th wave of ska began.”

DJ Beat Betty, Phoenix City Sound System:

“I really don’t think we’ve experienced a ‘4th wave’ of ska, at least not yet. Each of the first 3 waves brought their own unique take on it: first wave was more island and mento in its roots, second wave took first wave and added 70s punk and mod rock to it, and the third wave took off in two directions in the 90s, SkaPunk (Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, Voodoo Glow Skulls, etc.) and modern rocksteady (The Slackers, Hepcat, etc.). Really, we haven’t had that new breakout style yet that can really define a 4th wave.

I think it started when people started saying Streetlight Manifesto was the beginning of 4th wave, and I disagree, because they were really jusy a punk-heavy SkaPunk band.

If you had to break it down at all (though, why should you?) I think the 4th wave is more generational than style driven, and if it does exist it’s not in SkaPunk, but more of that modern rocksteady. Those who model themselves after The Slackers instead of Less Than Jake. SkaPunk is still going strong but admittedly a little stagnant in the overall scene, but I feel modern rocksteady is really where the momentum of the genre is right now.”

Shane Baskerville, School of Rock//Aunt B:

“There definitely is a 4th wave of ska right now. It kind of slipped in through the back door and is gaining momentum. It started in about 2004 or so with bands like Slightly Stoopid and Pepper. They are a mix of reggae, hip hop, punk and ska. But that kind of opened the doors for bands to think it was cool again and fun.

In a nutshell, the 4th wave sound is very chill and laid back. Beach ska. The newer sound was more of a laid back hippie vibe of reggae and ska, but bands like the Interrupters and Streetlight Manifesto are kicking it old school by putting out a more produced version of the 3rd wave. Also, what is cool…the 90’s bands like Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris, Fishbone etc…are making a comeback and have an audience again. There are ska revivals and festivals happening all over.”

Garyn Klasek, Andy Warpigs//Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists:

“I personally don’t think it has started yet but wouldn’t be surprised if we’re on the cusp of it starting.”

Ryan Avery, Related Records//Father’s Day:

“I am happy you asked me but I gotta say, I have always hated the ‘wave’ theory of ska music. It doesn’t work because ska music has always been mutt music, that focuses on the back beat and that people can dance to. So ska bands have always been doing a mix of things or just trying to imitate the sounds that have been made before and to group all of that under one giant umbrella and call it a “sound” bugs me.

The ‘wave’ theory also relies on ska music being big or making a big impact on what was going on in a certain country and I don’t think that has happened with ska music since the 90s or will happen again to the same degree it did in Jamaica (in the 60’s), England (in the late 70s-early 80s) or the United States (in the mid to late 90s).”

I also asked them what other bands from around the world they would define as 4th Wave Ska and do you feel there are any 4th Wave bands in the Valley?

Here’s what they said.

Aaron Goodman: “There are so many bands that could identify as part of a potential 4th wave right now and so many more that I haven’t even heard yet. There’s a vibrant ska scene in LA with bands such as Viernes 13, Matamoska and The Steady 45s. I would also include bands that have a soul influence such as The Aggrolites and The Bandulus. Locally, 2Tone Lizard Kings have been playing for a while and continually impress while Bowcat have great potential.”

Jett Smith: “As far as the Valley goes, I think bands which would fit the 4th wave of ska are few and far between, but my band, Jack the Cat, Sarah Amstutz and maybe Bad Times? As far as National/International bands go, I’d say Atrocity Solution, Days N Daze, Ghetto Blaster, Stupid Stupid Henchmen, Mad Conductor, Positive Junk, and Night Gaunts are pretty good examples of what could be deemed 4th wave, again, if that exists. Whatever it is, I believe we’ve all got something really cool going and are creating an era of ska/punk that’ll be remembered for generations.”

Beat Betty: “Nationally you have bands like The Steady 45s, The Soul Radics, The Prizefighters, Tha Bandulus all keeping that traditional ska alive with their own flare and it’s all working! Phoenix SkaProm last year featured almost entirely modern rocksteady bands and all the fans and attendees danced the night away with no need for pit and without feeling like they got ripped off for it.

Locally we have The Effects, while not modern rocksteady, are keeping the 2tone sound alive, much like our other locals the 2tone Lizard Kings. We have Mr. Incommunicado who have managed to mix 2tone and modern rocksteady pretty dang well. BowCat I think would be the closest to the ‘modern rocksteady’ category as they tend to blend most of the ska sub genres.”

Garyn Klasek: “I can’t really think of a current ska band developing a 4th wave of ska but, with the way that music is moving, I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes a more electronic/synth-driven direction. Apparently, Bomb the Music Industry was going that direction so, unless other bands are aiding in a new pop development of ska, it could be at a stand still or, more likely, we’re in the early stages of its development.

While members of BtMI have likely been working up other ska projects around NYC, I wouldn’t be surprised if other regions aren’t also working towards a 4th wave. Between ska bands both East and West staying true to Jamaican music while taking on outside influence around them, it’ll likely be only a matter of time before ska picks back up in popularity. In the meantime, I’ll keep digging on the heavy soul influence that ska bands have been pushing while catching a surprising number of eighties and nineties ska bands.

I’ve heard people say that The Interrupters could bring in the 4th wave but who knows?”

Shane Baskerville: “I think the closest thing we have to 4th wave here is probably Nomada…they are a Latin ska, metal, funk band out Phoenix or the Color 8 (Hip Hop, Funk, Reggae, Metal, Ska). They rule. AZ also has throwback ska bands like the Linecutters, (More Op Ivy sound), 2Tone Lizard Kings (More like the Toasters).”

Ryan Avery: “Bowcat Ska is the only local ska band that I dig right now. Razika is my favorite ska band to come out of the last 15 years. They are Norwegian and they are honestly more of a indie/pop band but they also know what they are doing when they write a ska song. Oreska Band is from Japan and they got that late 90’s ska revival sound down. They are also pretty new too (formed in 2003, eh okay maybe they aren’t that new, but I only heard them within the last 3 years). The Pepper Pots are super underrated in the States too. They are from Spain and are more of a Soul/Rocksteady band I saw them play the rhythm room in 2008? 2009? They were amazing.

The other newer ska bands that I have heard are pretty boring honestly or homophobic or sexist and that shits boring too.”

So what do I think? I think a “wave” of ska occurs when the music is intertwined with popular culture in an unavoidable way and I don’t believe that’s happened again yet. At least not in the States.

However, I think the stone has been thrown and the ripple of fourth wave of ska is happening right now and it’s happening all around the world. If a wave of ska is nothing more than when it rises into popularity, I certainly believe it’s doing that more everyday.

In my travels vast and deep into the web of new ska music I’ve witnessed the music take on many transformations and permutations from crabcore metal versions of the genre to hiphop and psychedelia with everything in between.

Here are some area’s and bands I thought worth mentioning.

There certainly is a ton of good, new, rocksteady out there. My favorite are the Frightnrs though I don’t consider it 4th wave ska.

Hiphop and skapunk are merging more and more around the world but the UK is definitely the hot spot. Here’s a band I would have absolutely gone apeshit for when I was kid, Popes of Chilitown. They kinda’ remind me of a London Playboy Manbaby actually… but is this fourth wave or just a really good third wave sound?

Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Islands have a bountiful ska scene right now. Melbourne’s The Bennies are just one tiny example at the more pop-punk end of the world-wide ska spectrum. There new album, Natural Born Chillers, dropped last week.

Finally, combining the world of music into their brand of ska-alternative-Balkan-dub-hiphop, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Dubioza Kolektiv is my favorite new find. Although they’ve been around since 2003, I feel they have been highly overlooked here in the West. And though they don’t mention any sort of 4th wave silliness in any of their bios, I think they are the best example of a 4th wave sound — a sound based on music from around the world. They just released a new album in November, Pjesmice za djecu i odrasle, but it’s their 2015 masterpiece Happy Machine (and my first introduction to the band) that combines songs in English, Spanish, Punjabi, Italian, and their native Balkan to form a ska sound unlike any other I’ve heard.

So that’s it. If you’ve made it this far, you truly are a ska nerd so big props to you. Nothing left to say except I know we’ll all watch with interest as to where the music goes from here.


For more reading check out the hilarious “Doomsday Preppers Ready for Fourth Wave of Ska” from The Hard Times.

%d bloggers like this: