2 Tone Ska

The year was 1980. The air in Shinjuku Ward’s Carnival was stuffy, and the heat was scorching. The performers were ready for action and the crowd was enraptured. High on the fumes of reefer and punk rock, they eagerly waited for the next set. Out of the silence emerged a rocksteady beat which quickly inspired a rhythmic sway, captivating the audience. Bradbury, who was on the drums, subtly nodded to the man on his left, and in an instant, the twang of Panter, Golding, and Radiation’s guitars joined the ranks. The cheerful clamor of their fans intensified: they knew what was coming up. After a meter or two, a triumphant horn riff from Cuthell and Rodriguez grounded the piece. The men behind the horns skillfully manipulated air and metal to their will. The stage was set, waiting only for Hall and Staple’s hypnotizing vocal drawl on the mics…

“This town

is coming like a ghost town

All the clubs have been closed down

This place (town) is coming like a ghost town

Bands won’t play no more

(Too much fighting on the dance floor)” — (“Ghost Town”, The Specials)

Punk is considered to be “a loud, fast-moving, and aggressive form of rock music, popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” While there was no singular moment when rock became punk, the consensus is that its origins are very much grounded in protest. England was far from the never-sun-setting Empire it once was; instead it was characterized by high poverty and unemployment rates. Its people were angry, and much like the rise of the black power movement during the civil rights era, punk music spoke the minds of the English youth and how they felt. In the aftermath of World War II, which left much of Britain in disarray, the British called upon its colonies to help rebuild. The resulting influx of immigrants from Jamaica laid the groundwork for the kinds of integration and amalgamation that led to the creation of art mediums like “2 Tone Ska”, which blended reggae and modern punk themes to bring a sound that brought the messages of both genres to a new generation.

“Sheriff John Brown always hated me

For what I don’t know

Every time I plant a seed

He said kill it before it grow

He said kill them before they grow

And so, and so

Read it in the news” — (“I Shot the Sheriff”, Bob Marley)

Bob Marley is arguably the most well known Reggae artist of all time. He specialized in themes of revolution and spirituality, much like the revolutionary themes of the Punk bands of the era. When this art form reached London via Jamaican immigrants, people discovered that the working class British were experiencing some of the same strife. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Ska’s “chunking sound of the rhythm guitar that comes at the end of measures acts as an ‘accompaniment to emotional songs often expressing rejection of established ‘white-man’ culture.’” Its guitar effects are symbolic of the ricochet of gunshots in Kingston’s ghettos — the product of “rude boy” culture. From two very different parts of the globe, the youth’s disillusionment for bureaucracy rose to a fever pitch. While they were seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum, the British being the oppressors and the Jamaicans being the oppressed, they found common ground in the same place at the same time. Working together in the desegregated, poorer neighborhoods of England, bands such as The Specials and Bad Brains fueled that spark of rebellion with skengay beats and acoustic guitar riffs.

-Noah Wright