Thursday, December 6, 2012

2012: The Year in Ska - Keith Duncan (The Shifters/BluebeatDC)

Editor's Note: As the end of the calendar year sneaks up on me--as it always does, since the fall is always so damn busy!--I always scramble around to put together my "best of" lists of the ska singles, albums, reissues, books, etc. that I really enjoyed over the past year and want to highlight for all the ska fans out there. But I also thought it might be interesting to feature some other opinions, so I approached a diverse group of ska musicians, bloggers, DJs, and label heads to find out what their favorite ska things were in 2012. And thus the "2012: The Year in Ska" series was born! Thanks to everyone who is taking the time to participate--I really appreciate it!

Keith Duncan is the trombonist for the stellar Washington, DC ska/rocksteady outfit The Shifters. He's also one of the organizers/hosts of BluebeatDC, a monthly ska night in our fine nation's capital that puts on some amazing live shows. Since I always love his very opinionated thoughts about things ska and otherwise, I'm very happy to be presenting his entry in the 2012: The Year in Ska series!

2012: The Year in Ska - Keith Duncan/The Shifters/BluebeatDC

Top 5 Favorite Ska Releases

1) The Times We Had – The Bandulus. Easily the best thing I’ve heard this year. In fact, if you’re reading these words now, I’m sure you’ve read a lot of other people’s Top 5 lists and they probably don’t have this record listed. They’re wrong… Very wrong. So wrong they should have their listening rights revoked because they don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.

This is the only record that matters for 2012.

2) I – The Pinstripes. Hint: it sounds better on vinyl. Also, best live ska/reggae band I’ve seen in this century.

3) The Radio – The Slackers. I have a feeling this is going to be on everyone’s list. Yeah, it’s a cover album and sometimes it’s hard to stomach buying a bunch of tunes you’ve heard a thousand times (in this lifetime and probably some previous). But y’know what? It’s pretty great and stands on its own as a Slackers release.

4) The Forthrights – The Forthrights. There’s an intangible greatness to this release. This CD has been permanently lodged in my car since September.

5) Monobound – Jorge and The Landladies. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt this album was sorely overlooked. Great songs. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G production. If you find yourself liking retro sounds, in general, you’ll be very happy purchasing this CD.

Honorable Mentions: The Pandemics, The UltraInfidels, and The Amalgamated.

Top 5 Favorite Live Ska Shows

1) Reggae Hit The Town featuring Greg Lee, Brian Dixon, and Teddy Boy Garcia – June 23rd, Mexico, DF. Suck it, haters. I was there and I got to play a few songs with Greg.

2) The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Have Nots, The Attack – August 9th, Washington DC.

3) Hub City Stompers, The UltraInfidels, Funkface – November 30th, Clarendon, VA.

4) The Pinstripes – May 25th, Rockville, MD.

5) Sammy Kay and The Snails – July 28th, Brooklyn, NY.

Top 5 Favorite Ska Merch

I don’t really buy a lot of stuff these days. Usually bands playing BlueBeat DC end up inadvertently deciding what t-shirts I’ll be wearing for the next 6 to 12 months. I’m always buying vinyl if that counts. I really like the Moondust seven inches that I’ve had people send me from back home… And from the Big Ska Gamble, The Georgetown Orbits release is really tight. Other than that, a lot of typical represses and some used stuff.

Top 5 Ska Regrets

Live life with no regrets.

Top 5 Ska Wishes for 2013

1) I'd like to see band reunions and reunion tours banned by law. I know this will offend some people, including friends of mine. Sorry, folks, I’m not nostalgic – I don’t need to relive 1989, 1999, or 2009. Band break-ups can be sad and painful to witness. However, what’s even more depressing is when most bands get back together they do it for only one reason: money. 2012 was riddled with this kind of activity. Please stop.

2) We need more clubs catering to all-aged events. People ask me sometimes, what’s the difference between Southern California and DC? Or, why is the ska and reggae vibe more prevalent in Southern California?

Simple answer: kids can go to shows. San Diego has at least five venues catering to all music genres, and ranging in sizes from small to gigantic. If you live in an area lacking a ska or reggae scene, I’m willing to bet your city doesn’t have many, if any, all-aged venues.

Face it – most of us learned about these kinds of sounds by going to a sweaty show surrounded by teenaged peers, and seeing 5-10 bands on any given weekend. Then we got excited and picked up instruments and tried to imitate what we saw on stage. It’s the circle of life, people. In our 20s, 30s, and beyond, we tend to forget where it all starts. This genre is banked on the live experience. If we live in a world where people have to wait until they’re 21 to witness this experience, it’s too little, too late.

3) I’d like to see DJ nights with less frequency. I find myself thoroughly annoyed with DJs who think they are somehow on equal footing with bands and musicians making music. I like DJs. I like hearing songs, song mixes, hidden gems, etc. And I think there’s room for a cooperative spirit, especially considering many venues who host DJs cannot support live music. However, in my travels, I find DJs are typically human iPods who have an expensive vinyl habit and incredible egos. Buying expensive recordings does not equal talent; it means you have more disposable income.

4) As a fan, you should be doing more. Yes, you, reading this right now.

You are lazy.

I’m calling you out because if people were proactive we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now. Every year, it’s fewer bands. Every year, it’s fewer shows. Every year, it’s more of the same. This isn’t me declaring martyr status, by the way – I’m nobody and I’m perfectly fine with my nobody-status. Objectively speaking, too much is carried on the backs of too few.

“What can I do?” you may ask. The answer is anything because anything would be better. If you need suggestions, here’s a few: once a month, go see a show of a band you’ve never heard of before; buy a CD or record from a new band; start a band; if you’re already in a band, try to network with other bands; start a club night; offer to review shows for local print; start a podcast (if you have radio talent of some sort – actually, forget I mentioned the podcasting)…

Really, this isn’t rocket science. There are plenty of things to do. The problem is few are doing anything, or doing anything of significance with any amount of frequency. Stop being so damned cynical and DO SOMETHING. Oh, and by the way, logging into Facebook or jumping around blogs and social media websites doesn’t count.

5) I think 2013 could sneak up and surprise us. I’m really looking forward to output from Sammy Kay and The (fill in the blank), The Amalgamated, The Scotch Bonnets, The Delirians, The Pressure, The Evokatones, The Snails (WATCH THESE GUYS!), and whatever else is coming up around the bend. I think some of us on the East Coast need to take a good look at the 2012 All-Star shows on the West Coast and in Chicago and find inspiration. And of course, I hope to see all the veteran groups and artists around the US and beyond continue on and NOT FORGET DC IN THEIR TOUR PLANS.

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