Ska vs Ska-Punk; The Debate Continues

In my most recent episode with Babylon Party Machine’s Matt Wixson, he said that Ska-Punk was “loosing ground” in the mid-west and predicted that the style of music was not long for this world. Mark from The Green Room Rockers made a similar sentiment in the episode before it, and you’ll be hearing a little more criticism form The Impaler’s Lars Nylander in next weeks episode.

All of this Punk-Ska nay-saying didn’t sit right with my new listener, Steve. He wrote:

I’m not sure Punk-ska is going away any time soon. I’m a bit confused as to why traditional ska fans dislike punk ska. I liked (didn’t love) Bid D’s last album, and don’t see them going away.

I can’t answer for all of you, but I formed a few thoughts on the matter and sent it off to Steve in the hopes of enlivening a debate. I responded:

I appreciate you listening and especially commenting. I really don’t hear enough from my subscribers.

I’m not going to tell you that you are wrong. Tone can be misinterpreted in emails, so I don’t want to sound argumentative- I just want to state my point and ask a few more questions.

I was brought up on Ska-Punk. MU 330 and The Urge are big 3rd Wave style Ska bands from my city, St. Louis. I still love Skankin Pickle, The Bosstones… too many to mention. However, I realized around ’98 that there was a huge deficit between Ska-influenced and traditional style ska. As the Ska-Punk bands stopped touring around the same time, I started looking back on older recordings. Discovering what was special about two-tone (no pun intended) also made me appreciate the distinctions between Ska and Ska-influenced. This older music spoke to me on a much deeper level than any ironic “ska” cover that Big D will ever crank out.

It wasn’t just the older ska that stuck with me after the third wave; bands like The Slackers and other bands playing in the traditional style were giving me something new to enjoy while staying authentic. I noticed that most of the newer bands were playing this True Revivalist Ska, Jump Ups catalog started filling up with neo-Trad artists, The Aggrolites hit the scene- I wanted to start a website with a focus on Trad, and I new that there would be an audience for it. I was correct.

I’m not trying to be divisive, but I am critical. I don’t want to run a site that simply loves all things ska, I want a site that recommends good music- that has interviews with great artists. I’m not going to listen to another Big D record- I’m not going to interview a guy from Less Than Jake- because I don’t like it. And I’ve found that there are a few hundred people in the world that seem to agree with me.

There are TONS of Ska sites that love everything Ska. Checkerboard this, and Rude Boy that, and Ska-Punk all over the place. Check out Silly Gillman, Ska Skank Radio or Just Add Ska for people doing cool things with a broader focus.

But tell me your story. You’ve made the move to defend this music, and I’d love to give you an opportunity. What’s good about Ska-Punk now? Am I wrong, and there are some Trad respecting Punks playing still? If you didn’t exactly love the new Big D album- are there any other new releases that you do love?

Write back. Tell me I’m wrong. Write me a new asshole if you want- I’ll publish our correspondence on SBB and see what people think.


Steve responds:

“The Shit is Goin’ to the Dogs” –The Supaflies

Hey JJ,

I appreciate your e-mail back. I was under the assumption that your blog/site encompassed all aspects of ska, but it seems like in your response that your site is more towards trad ska. Which is fine, I personally like both types, or all types for that matter..

I have been a ska fan for years. It is all I listen too (aside from some hardcore), and all I will listen to. I vividly remember the first time I heard “ska”. I made a painting about it. It affected me that much. (I’ve attached the pic.)

This was my senior year of high school, so we are talking ’89. Bloomington Illinois (not too far away from st. louis) I was hanging out with some “punk rockers”, although how punk rock can someone from the Midwest be? Someone put Operation Ivy on the turn table and the rest is history. I now live in Evanston with a wife and two kids, but I’ve never let go of ska.

My experience is not “special”, there are thousands of little suburbanites who listen to Op Ivy. But the hectic tempo effected me like heroin, and I’ve tried to match that hectic beat since. Some bands have it, most do not.

For me, ska is about the beat. Either trad ska or punk ska, I’ve tried to gather music that makes you jump. It can be heard on “Do the Dog”, “Too Much Too Young” but I’ve found that the punk ska captured closer to the initial feeling. Bands like MU330, Slapstick, and Suicide Machines come close.

This is just my opinion, but a lot of the trad ska right now is too groove oriented. It doesn’t sound like a beat you can dance to. It sounds like reggae. In my opinion, ska should be danced to. Now, it’s hard to dance to punk ska, but a lot of it makes me jump.

I don’t want to go on too long, but there is a lot of trad ska that I love. Recent stuff that makes me dance include “reggae hit la” and “lucky Streak”. But a lot of it is instrumental, which makes me want to slit my wrist. “Strictly Rude” was uneven, but for some reason the beat on “Shining on” makes me jump more than any of Dr. Ring Ding’s latest.

It’s all about the beat.

I could go on and on. But It’s just my opinion.


What do you guys think? Are you a fan of both styles? Do you love one and not the other? Does Neo-Trad need to overpower Ska-Punk to be successful or can they both exist in harmony? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Thanks again, Steve, for sharing your thoughts and art with all of us- I hope you find your dancin’ groove in some of the music here on Ska Blah Blah.


  1. Vance Says:

    I think this is a great debate, and I really like the question you pose of overpowering. I don’t believe Neo-Trad Ska needs to overpower Ska-Punk but I think right now it does overpower it. Ska Punk these days is a very scarce thing to find, especially any band that does it well. I am a fan of both. But when it comes to quality new music coming out from either side of it, Neo-Trad ska has the upper hand.
    With the material Larger “ska-punk” acts such as Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake put out it lacks the feeling or energy the older records did, and trust me i hate to be that guy who says “their old stuff is so much better” but in this case unfortunately it is. There are few acts putting out ska-punk records i pick up, Streetlight Manifesto and Mustard Plugs are the only two acts that come to mind, And they were for the most part previously established from the ska-punk craze from the 90′s. Also there are no new bands really breaking through to the foreground of the movement, Suburban Legends is the only band I can recall gaining any new notoriety or following.
    On the opposite side, neo-trad ska is on the upswing. Jump Up, Megalith, and The Pietasters new Label are putting out a steady stream of Neo-Trad Ska records, the bands are doing new things and putting out exciting records. I have to completely disagree with Steve on the aspect of ability to dance to Neo-Trad ska, you might not be able to find a beat to jump up and start a circle pit to, but you can definitely move to the music.
    So since i can feel myself starting to stray from the topic at hand, I do believe that Neo-Trad ska is overpowering ska-punk, as to why, well I’ll leave it to you, could it be that all the kids who where starting ska-punk bands are starting dance-punk bands? is it that after it’s commercial success the following divided and the majority of people who liked the punk aspect of it rejected it and the majority of people who liked the ska aspect of it embraced it? just a theory or two.
    My final verdict is that they can co-exist but someone needs to start making a quality ska-punk record again.

  2. Andrew Lyons Says:

    With the research that I’ve done for my podcast, World Ska Radio, it is clear that many new bands are choosing a more traditional sound over ska-punk. Not like Hepcat or The Skatalites, but definitely an emphasis on a dancable ska beat.

    From a marketing standpoint, I lean towards traditional ska over ska-punk because roots ska appeals to a larger audience, whereas ska-punk seems to be the domain of the Under 21 crowd. And therein lies the paradox.

    Ska-punk is seen as the gateway to a later appreciation of roots ska. Bucket Hingley seems to be keenly aware of this, which is why his Ska Circus and 3 Floors of Ska shows offer a mix of both ska-punk and roots ska acts.

  3. Robby Says:

    Interesting discussion. I never really got into the third wave thing, so I don’t have a whole lot to add on that end. The first ska tune I heard was “The Guns of Navarone” performed by The Skatalites, and I fell in love with it right then and there. Imagine my suprise when I found other people interested in this obscure Jamaican music…and then imagine my further suprise when I was invited to my first show and heard loud distorted guitars playing angry power chords. Of course, I later learned to appreciate what these new guys were doing, but it was still a shock the first time to hear what people were calling “ska”.
    I’ve been watching the Aggrolites play live since before they were the Aggrolites. (Remember Rhythm Docs? Still got their stuff on vinyl! If it does not fit, you must acquit…) It’s all reggae, all the time with that group now, except for little funky Meters breakdowns here and there.
    It’s strange, then, that Steve says ska bands nowadays sound too much like reggae and are too groove oriented, since he later says the among the new stuff he likes is “Reggae Hit L.A.”, an album recorded by reggae band that’s loaded with groove-based composition reggae.
    I guess the argument can be made that with the inclusion of heavy-sounding group vocals that the Aggrolites are making themselves more appealing to a punk crowd, and by extension the ska-punk crowd. I know when I listen to the newer albums like “Reggae Hit L.A.” and the self-titled one, I hear a lot of vocals that sound like they were recorded for a punk album. It’s a great source to draw from, since there’s a lot more punks that there are old-school reggae fanatics.

  4. steve Says:

    Yah, I can see where I say “me love punk ska but not trad ska or reggae” then later say I liked “Reggae Hit L.A.”. But the point I was trying to make was I really really LOVE punk ska, but there is some other ska/reggae stuff that I do enjoy. There is a similarity to the music, that if you like one style, there is some great stuff on the other side that’s good too. A lot of it is not my cup o tea.

    I’m not sure that I agree that punk-ska is for those under 21. (I’m 36). I think it’s if you can handle the aggressive beat, rather than a more smoother one.

  5. Moons Says:

    I agree with vance saying that there not so many good releases of ska-punk and ska-core in this days … French scene had the same fate that american scene and became awful shitty pop (old ruda salska, babylon circus or kargols stuff were great and kids started there). While writing this i just remembered that mad caddies made ‘duck and cover’ … and howards alias released ‘the chameleon script’ …
    From my point of view here in france, it seems that the few good ska punk bands touring here have a bigger strictly punk audience than a trad ska audience … I hope bands like goldblade ( – 16 tons is great) or the restarts ( – big rock candy mountain rocks) will start a new wave of energic ska punk and get back to the punk roots ! Or it will die just like capdown ( … last show today … too bad i didn’t had any chance to see them live.

  6. Matt Wixson Says:

    I said ska-punk was fading away, and a majority of my songs are an acoustic variety of ska-punk! I got into ska music via Goldfinger, the Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, and Mustard Plug. I opened for Mustard Plug this past weekend and they played one of the best sets I’ve ever seen from them (and I’ve seen many). I actually would probably say that a lot of ska-punk has a better vibe and energy than the 2-Tone bands. I’m still partial to trad and neo-trad ska, though. Just as an example, Streetlight Manifesto’s ska completely lacks the bounce of the original ska beat. The up-and-down, back-and-forth bounce of the music in ska is inherently dancey but when you speed it up it feels more like a pumping piston. A Less Than Jake song just lacks the natural boogie of a Hepcat song.

    There ARE still punk bands who show respect to the older stuff, though. Rancid obviously knows their way around the Jamaican sound. I would even say that, as punk- and hardcore-oriented as they are, Leftover Crack is more of the same. Hell, they’d better get it right, because they share a drummer with the Slackers anyway. The Fad are a ska-punk band coming up who follows in those traditions as well. Their sound owes as much to 2-Tone ska as it does to early hardcore punk. I would say Bomb Town and Hub City Stompers both demonstrate a solid knowledge of ska and reggae, while presenting it in a punk rock fashion.

    Like I said, I can’t dismiss ska-punk at all. It just seems to be the trend that fewer and fewer ska-punk are coming up with sounds that are both new and faithful, and that people are turning to the bands with the more classic sound to hear earnest tunes, good players, and something to shake their ass to.

  7. TheBrixton Says:

    Myself, I am much more into trad ska than ska-punk. It just appears to be easier to jack up ska-punk than trad, (or maybe it’s just that green-’round-the-gills youngsters starting bands are more inclined to play ska-punk). A lot of the recent ska-punk I’ve heard is just sloppy, redundant and uninspiring …lyrics, vocals, and musicianship, all seem to be lacking these days. The sad thing is I see a lot of people eat up this warm shat like it’s creme brule’e!

    What I find to be a bit of an oddity, is the lack of “classic” third wave style ska bands; the “bridge” between trad and ska-punk. There seems to be no new bands forming in the vein of The Toasters, Bim Skala Bim, King Apparatus, Dance Hall Crashers, The Planet Smashers, etc. Trad and ska-punk can be fantastic when done right, but here’s hoping for a resurgence of this type of ska!!

  8. JJ Loy Says:

    I like your style.

  9. Jake Gilliam Says:

    I believe the coexistence of the genres is an individual thing. i understand that you, JJ, aren’t into the punk/ska thing. and that’s fine!

    I’m in a punk “band” that has what i would call strongly ska-influenced, though you may think otherwise if you listen to the stuff on my profile.

    we’re 21 and 22; we were raised on green day and blink-182 and other shitty pop punk. so when we realized what ska was, it was the bosstones, NOFX (when they felt like it, of course), and reel big fish. more recently, we’ve got into the modern “scene”—or lack thereof—in the Midwest, catching tours as they come through. Bomb the Music Industry!, Streetlight Manifesto, newer bands like the Heat Machine and the Magnificents (both very small dive bands.)

    but at the same time, we’re delving into revival/old school sounds. Go, Jimmy, Go; Deal’s Gone Bad; Slackers; hitting the Specials and the Skatelites for the real roots.

    As an aside, i have noticed that most ska/punk shows are very…all-ages oriented. but i still skank/mosh harder than all those young bucks.

    in closing, though we may be a punk band that may never actually write a “real” ska song, you can tell we listen to and love the gammut. and i believe that an appreciation for it all is all you need, but if you love something that much more, go for it.

  10. Dave Says:

    Ska/punk, like any kind of music, changes with the tides. Overtime, of course times are gonna change and with it comes new versions and styles of old music favorites. This can be good and also bad, depending on where you look. Hell, I feel like anytime I play a song from any local ska/punk band in St. Louis it’s some kind of hardcore/screamo version of ska that makes me want to hurt something innocent, but that’s what it’s moving towards. These bands I’m talking about include BAMF!, Disturbing Lou, Mahi Mahi Shakedown, etc. These bands appeal to their fans in a different way than most first and second wave bands appeal to their fans. It’s just a different style of music.

    I’m in a beginning ska/punk band in St. Louis called Skagway, and what we do has been greatly influenced by both trad ska and ska/punk. We don’t expect to gain the favor of many trad ska fans, because our music has more of a “ska influenced punk” feel. However to say that trad ska overpowers ska/punk is ridiculous.

    I’m a firm believer that trad ska and ska/punk can and should coexist. I’m a fan of both, perhaps leaning more toward ska/punk, but it all depends on what kind of mood I’m in. If I’m excited, pissed, or ecstatic, ska/punk has that energy and that kick that I need to match whatever I’m going through. If I’m feeling mellow, groovy, relaxed, or I need to be inspired, the groovy offbeat of first and second wave is just what I need. It all depends on how I feel…

    I’ll agree that most ska/punk these days doesn’t hold much of a candle to the original ska/punk from the mid 90′s, but it’s all still pretty good stuff. Everyone rags on Big D’s “Strictly Rude” album but I love it! If that makes me immature and juvenile for loving the energy and the kick of their music, then okay…I’m immature and juvenile, but I know what I as well as thousands of other skanks/punks from across the globe love. I don’t think anyone can make the argument that ska/punk can be denied.

    I’m not saying, nor do I believe that trad ska has a power over ska/punk or vice-verse. For me, they are two styles of the same message that get listened to depending on the mood I’m in. Both are great, held to the same stature as two genres or sub-genres or whatever of music in my heart. .

    Long live ska!

  11. Bassman Says:

    This is a very interesting debate indeed and I have enjoyed reading various people comments about it. Obviously, since musical preferences are entirely subjective, there is no right answer to this debate.

    Like many people I know, I came across ska music through the genre of punk. I had listened to punk for many years, especially rancid, nofx and op ivy, all bands that had ska influenced punk songs. When “give em the boot I” came out, I was given a taste of the trad-ska style and was amazed. I had no idea that traditional ska was so refined, swingy and jazz-oriented until I heard “Watch This” by my favorite band The Slackers. After this I was hooked and became obsessed with the roots of ska, listening to skatalites, desmond dekker, prince buster, etc, becoming less interested in ska/punk. Personally, as I matured, I just grew out of skapunk altogether. Unfortunately, it is easy to play bad ska and there are a lot of bands that don’t take the time to get it right; distorted guitars and cheasy marching band style horn sections. It is because of these bands that leaves many people to have a negative association of “ska”. Lots of people think ska is this weird music played by punks that like horns. I recently took my girlfriend to see the slackers play live and she was totally blown away. She had no idea ska could sound like that after hearing many skapunk bands with shotty musicianship. I am glad that there are so many great bands today that are keeping the groovy, jazzy, 60′s jamaican sound alive. Thanks for listening and peace.

  12. silly gillman Says:

    thanks for the Silly Gillman plug! I just interviewed goldfinger

  13. Ska Blah Blah » More Ska Deprication Says:

    [...] – Ska vs. Ska-Punk: The Debate Continues Bookmark It [...]

  14. Kim Says:

    I love nearly all sides of ska! I say nearly cuz there are a couple bands that i dont like but i stil like the genre. I enjoy a good skank to all: 2-tone, neo, ska punk, punk ska (yes there is a difference), 3rd wave, etc. Any where from the slakers, streetlight, and reel big fish (i don’t care that their seen as sellouts cuz they still make me wanna skank). No one needs to outshine the other. After all, its about unity.

  15. JJ Loy Says:

    Never stop dancin, Kim. And thanks for stopping by the site.

  16. Joe Says:

    Ska is music, and music evolves. This is shown in bands like Streetlight Manifesto, ASOB, and the Suburban Legends. What matters the most is not how loyal you are to your genre and keeping it alive, it’s cradling and nursing that Ska spirit to live on into the later forms and evolution of ska that is important. Music can tell you one thing, but the artist’s intent will be completely different. As long as you find love in the music, Ska lives on.

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