Monday, September 29, 2008

The Only Limits We Set (What Can We Get Away With?)

Call me old-fashioned, but I fondly remember a time when people paid bands for the music they made. All in all, it was a pretty reasonable deal. Musicians wrote a bunch a songs; went into a recording studio, put it all down on tape, and the tracks were then mixed and mastered and printed onto LPs, cassettes, and CDs by record companies--who then made sure that these recordings found their way into record stores and were reviewed in magazines, played on the radio and/or music video shows; and often supported the band as they toured in support of the recording. The fan would hear the song/see the video/go to the show and then head off to the record store to purchase a copy of the LP, cassette, or CD for their own personal enjoyment. And some musicians could actually make an okay, even decent, living off of being a musician.

Sure there were problems with this arrangement. For example, CDs were way overpriced (considering they cost only a few dollars to manufacture--much less if you are printing them in massive quantities); some labels hacked away at their artists' royalties by nickeling and diming them to death; indie bands and labels had great difficulty getting their releases distributed; and forget getting your record played on commercial radio without some form of payola. The list of legitimate gripes was long and sordid. I should know, I was part of the music industry for a decade and saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. (For the record, Moon should be filed under 'good.')

But when you distilled it all down to its essence, music fans paid bands to own a recorded copy of their music.

[Yes, back in the day, some people would make a couple of cassette or CD copies of an album for their friends--copyright law actually makes allowances for you to make a few copies of an album you've bought to give, not sell, to your buds--but nowadays any idiot can rip a CD and put a perfect digital copy on the web for potentially millions of strangers to download without any of them paying a penny to the band/label. This is very different from making a copy just for your friend and it is illegal.]

After all, one of the cornerstones of a capitalistic society like ours is that whenever someone creates something unique to sell in the marketplace, he or she is protected by a copyright that gives them ownership and complete control of their creation. This allows them to license or manufacture and sell authorized copies of their original idea--and go after those who create pirated or bootleg versions of something they own.

So, what changed this basic equation? The brave new world of the internet didn't void all copyright laws--it just made it easier to cheat the musician (and in many cases, their record label--well, what's left of them) out of the money that they're due. It's that simple.

Whenever someone rips a CD and uploads it on the internet via some file sharing site like Rapidshare (making it possible for thousands, hundreds of thousands, or potentially millions of people anywhere in the world, to download a copy of an album for free), he/she is a) violating the band's copyright and, b) denying them income that could help them continue to function as musicians and produce more music that he/she supposedly likes and wants.

I could go on about how musicians have bills to pay like the rest of us (you know, rent, food, gas, health insurance--the basics) and how music file sharing can be particularly devastating for bands involved with small, underground music scenes, like ska's, which have limited numbers of potential album buyers to begin with, but you get the gist of my argument.

So don't be an ass. Do the right thing (legally, ethically, and morally) and buy a band's album from iTunes or their CD from their website or head to your local indie record store and maybe even accidentally come across some other albums that you didn't even know you wanted...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Duff Review: RiceRokit -- Hang Loose

When I first heard RiceRokit's Hang Loose (released on Megalith Records), my first thought was that its compelling mix of guitar-driven modern ska, rock, reggae, and hip hop did Sublime one better (by a long shot, actually). So I found it kind of appropriate that it turns out that Kendo (singer, songwriter, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, drummer--who also self-produced the album, well, I might add) used to be in Dubcat, which was comprised of members of Hepcat, the Long Beach Dub Allstars, and, wait for it, Sublime (d'oh!). This release probably won't go down too well with ska traditionalists (there is turntable scratching throughout--a nice touch, actually!), but if your musical horizons are a bit broader, you'll find a stellar album jam-packed with well-crafted, catchy tunes.

For a record titled Hang Loose by a Hawaiian-born surfer, there sure is a lot of anxiety and tension, conflict between good and evil, and temptation of the flesh in this batch of songs. And the inevitability of death and decay is always present. "All the Pretty Things," which Kendo sings practically in falsetto, laments the fact that beauty is ephemeral, even though he's very much in the now, lusting after a hot lady ("Your pretty voice/your pretty style/just like a movie star/And just the way/you wear your jeans/makes me believe in God!/Why do all the pretty things/always fade away?"). Backed by a driving ska beat, "Dull Boy" is written from the point of view of Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining, as he slowly loses his mind and becomes the mad, killer caretaker ("I get the feeling that something's on the other side of this door/I could have sworn that I've been here in this place before/Feels like I've been here before/All work and no play/makes Jack a dull boy"). Work is trying to write the book; play is "chopping his family to bits."

"Dance with You" (catch the video below) is pure pop-reggae-skank perfection as he's torn between the intense physical desire he feels for this woman and the complete absence of love for her in his heart ("Girl, I could dance with you/but you're not my dream girl/You're nothing.../nothing like that," which directly quotes a John Travolta line in "Saturday Night Fever"). And I don't think 'dance' here means dancing, if you catch my drift. "Dinner and a Movie" savors the thrilling emotional high (hopefully) you've experienced at some point in your life when you've just start dating a certain special someone and it seems like nothing can go wrong (and you want this amazingly surreal feeling to last forever). "Monkey See, Monkey Do" subtly admonishes the listener that we need to set better examples for each other and the impressionable. The menacing "Something Wicked" directly references Ray Bradbury's fantasy/horror novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (where an evil carnival comes to a small Midwestern town, led by Mr. Dark--most likely the devil--who tempts people by granting people the power to indulge their innermost fantasies, but they end up trapped as freaks in his sideshow), while "Howling at the Moon," with its nice touches of country-ish guitar amidst the mid-tempo skank, warns the listener to "run for your life/if you wanna to survive," because he's going to sink his bad werewolf teeth into you. The reggae-fied cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand" (essentially a song about how everything in life is transitory) gets the Kendo touch and is all the better for it. As you can see, there are some pretty interesting things going on in Kendo's head that he's happy to share with us (can't wait to hear what he's got in store for us with his follow-up CD, Pidgin English).

I have the feeling that I'll keep coming back to this record for a long time, since the more I listen to it, the better it gets. Hands down, RiceRokit's Hang Loose is one of the best, fully realized, and unique debut CDs I've heard--making it one of the top ska/reggae albums of 2008. Be sure to pick it up.

Grade: A

RiceRokit's "Dance with You" Video

Monday, September 22, 2008

Caribbean Moonstomp Preview with Jump Up Records' Boss Man Chuck Wren

DGTS: What motivated you to put together the Caribbean Moonstomp at this point in time? Are you seeing a significant uptick in the popularity of ska in Chicago and the Midwest--or this more of a 'it's the label's fifteenth anniversary, so we're going throw a party?'

Chuck Wren: Basically, I think it's important to throw an event at these milestones in the label's history. We're pretty much the only label that has lasted this many years that has actually released new music in EVERY year of our existence. We never went dormant--we kept going! Yes, ska and reggae shows do pretty good here in Chicago. And bands like Deal's Gone Bad are finally getting the recognition they deserve on a national scale. But I didn't want to do a weekend with the same old bands time and time again--I wanted to do an event. That's why I decided to fly in Roy Ellis and do a one off show in Chicago. Roy is a living legend--and now that labels like Hellcat are making the "skinhead reggae" sound more well known, I figured it was time to bring in one of the genre's top marquee artists!

DGTS: What's your connection with Roy Ellis and how did you convince him to headline the festival? Is he one of your all time ska/skinhead reggae faves?

CW: Well, we released Roy's ("aka MR SYMARIP") album here in the states. Of course, getting into ska and reagge in the 80s you were heavily exposed to the skinhead subculture. Bands like SYMARIP were so influential with the 2-Tone generation, etc. And Roy's voice is still top notch and he is full of enthusiasm--just see his performances on YouTube. He was a natural choice--and I had been trying to get him to come to the states for the past two years!

DGTS: The other acts on each night's bill are all pretty incredible; how did you come to select them--are these some of you favorite acts on the scene, or were they the ones that were available and willing to participate?

CW: The list was longer! But, of course, not everyone can come. We were glad to have Eastern Standard Time step up to the plate to play and back Roy--and the whole Monkey (Jump Up will release their trad album this year) backing Dr. Ring Ding and then dragging his ass back to Cali for a full tour--well, that was some amazing timing and it worked out perfectly! The Large and in Charge band was my wacky idea because every year the indie rock festival, Pitchfork got seminal artists to play a specific classic album side. Public Enemy did "It Takes A Nation of Millions," Sonic Youth did "Daydream Nation"....why the hell can't the 1998 lineup of Deal's Gone Bad do their first album "Large and in Charge?" Now that's FUN!

DGTS: How many people are you expecting to show up at the Caribbean Moonstomp?

CW: If I had that information before each event, I would be a rich man that sleeps well! We picked the new Bottom Lounge because it can hold over 500 people comfortably--so let's go for that! Tickets are selling great, people seem to be traveling from all across the USA, so we hope that this will be quite huge!

DGTS: What's coming down the Jump Up Records pipeline for the next few months?

CW: New Pressure Cooker, Dub Is A Weapon, and who knows? I take each day as it comes! Thanks for the interest--come all to Chicago! Plenty of cheap motels on Lincoln Avenue!

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The Jump Up Records' Caribbean Moonstomp Fest is taking place on Friday, October 3rd; Saturday, October 4th; and Sunday, October 5th at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago. Details can be found at Jump Up Records; tickets may be purchased at

Thanks to Chuck Wren for taking the time to do this interview. If you can, go see these bands!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ska News from Around the World: Back to the Future with Bad Manners and The Beat

Editor's note: this feature highlights some of what the mainstream press is writing about ska music these days.

The Edinburgh Journal has a great overview of Buster Bloodvessel's career with Bad Manners. Fatty always has a good turn of a phrase to offer, too:

One of the most extravagant stage performers of recent decades, Buster’s frequently lunatic antics will be forgotten by few who have witnessed them. All publicity is good publicity, I suggest. “So they say,” he [Buster] muses. “But you wouldn’t say that to Gary Glitter, would ya?”

(If you don't get the reference, kiddo, Google him.)

+ + + +

London's Metro tries to sort out (in a rather snarky way) whether it's worth one's time to see The Beat; this incarnation sports only Ranking Roger.

From the article, it looks like the 'cons' win the day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jump Up Records' Caribbean Moonstomp Fest

If you live/work/exist anywhere remotely near the Chicago area, you owe it to yourself to go to Jump Up's Caribbean Moonstomp Fest on October 3, 4, and 5 at the Bottom Lounge (how randy of them!). This ska festival has three nights (!) of stellar trad-leaning bands--including Roy Ellis of Symarip-- from all over the US (and a couple from Europe, too, like Dr. Ring Ding)--all organized and sponsored by DJ Chuck Wren's Jump Up Records (this fest marks the label's 15th anniversary!). Chuck has never lost faith in ska, rocksteady, and reggae; has been a steadfast promoter of the bands and scene-and is a hell of a nice guy to boot. Needless to say, he deserves our support (go and order some records from him, dammit!). If I had the time and $$$ to catch these shows, I'd be there in a New York minute.

(Having said that, if there is anyone out there who is going to the Caribbean Moonstomp Fest who would be interested in taking photos and writing up a review on all this for The Duff Guide to Ska, please get in touch with me!)

Monday, September 8, 2008

McCain for Obama!

The Toasters' former drummer, Jonathan McCain (aka J Mac), apparently is confusing voters with his support for, and resemblence to, the Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The New York Daily News article is here.

The Gothamist piece is here.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ska News From Around the Globe: The Specials, LGB, Bad Manners, and Derrick Morgan

Editor's note: this here is a round-up of recent articles generally from the mainstream press that relate to ska music. Read on, rudies!

A posting on Virtual Festivals wonders whether the original line-up of The Specials will perform as the surprise act at Bestival on the Isle of Wight on September 6th (Madness filled this slot last year and Terry Hall is likely to perform with the Dub Pistols, so he'll be there anyway... ). I guess we'll soon find out. (Also, when is that new Madness album being released? I can't seem to find much about it on-line...)

* * * * * *

The Fresno Bee reports that Let's Go Bowling will be playing a show this weekend in celebration of their 22 years together. The article also notes that the band is considering entering the studio to lay down new tracks.

* * * * * *

The Essex Echo (UK) has a great feature on Buster Bloodvessel, who is turning 50 on September 6 (Happy Birthday Fatty!); recently dropped a mess of pounds (via gastric bypass surgery--they cut out 2/3 of his stomach!); and, as the accompanying photo proves, he sports the, ahem, longest tongue in show business (suck on that Gene Simmons!).

There is a similar article on Fatty in the Manchester Evening News.

* * * * * *

The Boston Globe recently published an article about ska DJ Generoso Fierro who is producing a documentary on ska/rocksteady great Derrick Morgan. Over the summer, Fierro arranged to fly in Morgan to perform at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA (backed by Void Union) in order to capture him in action and interview him afterwards. Fierro previously has made a doc about the rocksteady guitarist Lynn Taitt, which was screened in Jamaica at the first Reggae Film Festival in February.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sir Horace: Goa Blues b/w Depleted Uranium Dub

Yes, this single is by that Sir Horace Gentleman (aka Horace Panter), the bass player for The Specials and General Public--and what an amazingly good slab of wax it is. Sir Horace and friends deliver two terrific cuts of top-shelf, dubby instrumentals. "Goa Blues" sounds like something The Specials might have recorded with Rico and Dick Cuthell between their debut LP and More Specials (I kind of hate the "sounds like a great lost single" cliche, even if it is apt here)--it features an awesome ice rink organ; a great, propulsive, danceable rhythm (check this one out, DJs!); and killer horn solos. (Goa, by the way, is a small state in India, and this track does have a trippy, foreign-ness to it.) The flip side, Depleted Uranium Dub, is a more contemporary sounding tune, with a cool, slightly menacing geiger counter-ish sound effect to boot (indeed, depleted uranium is a highly toxic, radioactive dense metal--it's a waste product from the uranium that fuels nuclear reactors--which has been used in conventional munitions utilized by the US in the first Gulf War and in the Balkans that seems to poison both soldiers and civilians--and many other nations have these weapons in their arsenals, including the UK, Russia, France, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and others). I highly recommend this single, which is a limited edition of 300 (plus the sleeve is hand painted--rasta colors!), so pick one up while they are still to be had...

"Goa Blues" is available through Rockers Revolt Records (Pama International's label) in the UK. (I ordered one through their website and received it in a little over a week--pretty damn quick for an overseas delivery!)

Grade: A

PS: I'm half way through Sir Horace's "Ska'd for Life," his book about being a member of The Specials. So far, it's a great read.