Friday, March 5, 2010

Ska in 365 Degrees

Sorry that we missed the February ska almanac (a particularly significant month--more on that later), but March is new and good, too--so make sure to check out the next 20 or so odd days in ska history at the always compelling and interesting Hoi Polloi Skazine.

If any date marks Day One of the 90s ska boom, it was February 23, 1993: the night of the sold-out Skalapalooza show at The (new) Ritz (aka the old Studio 54; the old Ritz is what is currently known as Webster Hall) with Bad Manners, The Skatalites, The Toasters, The Scofflaws, Ruder Than You, and The Skunks on the bill! When Bucket and the promoters involved in mounting this concert were putting it all together (I was along for the ride to talk about what Moon would be doing to help get the word out about the show), they had no real idea how it would go over--the odds were probably in favor of it being a complete bust. Sure, there had been minor victories here and there--yet nothing that clearly indicated that ska might break out of its deep underground scene. But it turned out the timing was right (that the promoters were willing to pony up the cash for a radio ad on WLIR advertising the show in the pre-internet era throughout the metro area was nothing short of a minor miracle--and I'm sure it played a large part in the success of that night) and we gave the kids--loads of 'em--exactly what they wanted.

I was stunned as I watched the show from the side of the stage and looked out at more ska fans (2,500) than I'd ever seen in one place in my life. It was obvious that it was a watershed moment in the NYC--if not American--ska scene. Everything had changed: the years of The Scofflaws playing TGIF on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, and The Toasters dodging batteries thrown at them on stage, and Moon struggling to stay one step ahead of failing distributors were going to begin to pay off. More importantly, it revealed the potential of ska music to be a money-maker for promoters and booking agents (if you wanna see your favorite bands play live, these people need to make some real cash in the process).

One portent for the success of Skalapalooza took place during last few hours of 1992, with the broadcast of the "New Year's Eve Ska Party" on the "USA Up All Night" cable show. It featured The Toasters and The Scofflaws (taped at The Palladium that November) performing minute-long versions of their tunes with various NYC scenesters in their ska finery dancing on stage in front of the bands. (These segments served as the bumpers that aired before and after the ads during all three glorious "Porky's" movies.) It was a bizarro-world "American Bandstand," with ska blaring out of the amps; rudies, skinheads, and mods replacing the generic, whitebread teens--and Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Scheer hosting the mayhem instead of Dick Clark (not sure if that is actually an improvement). And that year would culminate with the first and wildly popular national ska package tour known as Skavoovee--which was a direct result of the success of the Skalapalooza show, since the same promoter was involved--with The Skatalites, Selecter, Special Beat, and The Toasters, plus a slew of local ska talent that opened the show at each stop along the way.

I managed to shoot some black and white Super-8 footage at Skalapalooza (film, but with no sound; sue me, I did some arty filmmaking in college) before my camera was confiscated by some Ritz security goons. Didn't matter that I was from the label that helped organize the night, it was their house and I had to play by their rules (no unauthorized filming, no exceptions). At the end of the night, I had to go with one of the promoters to beg the club's manager for the return of my gear. After much groveling on my part, I got it back--with the film cartridge still in it! (Suckers!) These reels of film are waiting for me to dig them out of one of the boxes of ska memorabilia in my apartment. At some point, I'll have them digitized and put them up on the net for y'all to see...


Marco On The Bass said...

Great stuff Steve! Should be a featured chapter in the book we discussed!

Anonymous said...

That was a great show. I remember the Sax player for Bad Manners crowd surfing with his sax.


Unknown said...


Thanks for posting that. I was at that show and remember it very well. The most amazing part of the night for me was standing at the back and watching that entire mass of 2K+ ska fans running left to right during "William Shatner." Unbelieveable. It was also the first time many of us ever had a chance to see the Skatalites, and I'm talking THE guys: McCook, Alphonso, Brevette, Knibb. The energy from that one night definitely powered the whole scene for a good couple of years.

Can't wait to see what you have on the camera.

Steve from Moon said...


Thanks for your comments! I had completely forgotten about the whole crowd moving back and forth during the "red alert"--truly an incredible image from that night (and The Shat deserves all the glory for his hammy acting in Trek!). And you make a great point about The Skatalites--it was the real deal back then (RIP Tommy and Roland).

If we polled everyone who was active at some point in the 90s NYC ska scene (in a band, writing a zine, or spinning ska on the radio), I bet most of them were at The Ritz that night...

I'm going to try to find those reels tonight!