Ska is not dead, and these ten bands are testament to that. Whilst ska's moved on since the two-tone days, and Madness have been replaced by Mad Caddies, the genre is still thriving, both in the UK and US. Here are some of our favourite modern ska bands.
10. New Riot
They’re new, but set to become huge in the third wave ska scene when they support Reel Big Fish in February. It’s always good to hear UK ska, although New Riot are definitely more third wave than two-tone. There are flashes of influence from older acts like The Specials, but it’s more for fans of more contemporary bands featured higher up in this list.
9. The Skints
There’s more to ska than guitar upstrokes and fast skanking. Sometimes, we need some chilled reggae to remind us where the genre came from. Thankfully, The Skints are fronting that side of the wider ska scene in the UK. It’s unfortunate that the UK bands are still relatively young, because with a few extra records they’d be taking on the big guns in our Top 5. As it is, The Skints manage to make a retro sound feel fresh. Plus, more reggae is always a good thing.
8. Big D and the Kids Table
The contemporary ska scene is undeniably dominated by third wave ska-punk acts, and Big D and the Kids Table are no different. That’s not to say they aren’t very good, although it is more in the live setting that these guys excel. The lyrics aren’t terribly deep, but up-beat tracks about how tough it is trying to make it are always welcome.
7. Suburban Legends
It may be a surprise when you find out that Suburban Legends are, technically, a Disney band. Based in California, the ska group play hundreds of shows each year at the nearby Disneyland Resort. They even throw in live covers of songs like ‘Under The Sea’ and ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’. Their 2005 album Rumpshaker should they’re not really a proper Disney band, just one who happen to perform there. 2008’s Infectious was clichéd and best skipped, but when they’re on their game, they rival some of the top bands in the genre.
6. The King Blues
Like The Skints, Camden-based The King Blues aren’t clear-cut ska. More than any other band on this list, The King Blues are incredibly hard to define. Taking influence from ska, reggae, punk, folk and UK hip-hop, they create a very interesting hybrid. It’s political and alternative, but still classes as ska. If they were more clear-cut, they’d be a lot higher in this list, although their diversity is what makes them so wonderful.
Another UK act, [spunge] turned down almost definite mainstream success to keep their integrity and control over their music, which is truly admirable in today’s climate. Although best known for their less serious songs like ‘Kicking Pigeons’, underneath it is some perfect ska musicianship, particularly on ‘The Skanking Song’.
4. Streetlight Manifesto
Whilst it’s true that Streetlight Manifesto’s best album is a re-recording of Keasbey Nights by Catch 22, they are still one of the most exciting bands in the genre. When Catch 22 ended, Tomas Kalnoky started Streetlight Manifesto, re-recording his previous band’s iconic record. However, they’ve gone beyond that with some great original material which places them as one of ska’s best acts.
3. Less Than Jake
Less Than Jake are probably one of the bands most people thought of with this topic. It’s a bit predictable, but they’re well known for a reason: they’re really good at what they do. Although 2006’s In With The Out Crowd was a bit of a departure, it still had some great tracks. They returned to form with GNV FLA, which is a phenomenal punk-ska record. They recently released TV/EP, featuring covers of TV themes and adverts, but we’re eagerly waiting for some proper new material.
2. Mad Caddies
With the release of Consensual Selections, Mad Caddies have cemented their place as a vital part of the third wave scene. It’s quite an achievement, considering none of the members particularly like the ska genre. You wouldn’t guess, though, with their nice blend of reggae and punk-ska. They throw in a bit of everything, including sea-shanties and polka music to make an identifiable sound.
1. Reel Big Fish
Pretty much the face of the third wave, Reel Big Fish are still going strong after nearly two decades. They’re one of the most exciting live bands across any genre, and have a don’t-care attitude that befit’s the ska genre. A new album’s expected for later this year, although it’s the classics people will be turning up to shows for. Any band that can open their gig with their biggest hit (‘Sell Out’) and still keep the fans up for the next hour and a half deserves credit.
By Alistair McGeorge