2019 SF DOC-FEST’s Schedule To Include Music Documentaries On Ska Music’s Second and Third Waves #MoviesMusic

Posted by Billyjam, May 23, 2019 09:51am | Post a Comment

Jamaican derived ska music’s second wave and third waves are each the subjects of a double-feature in the upcoming two-week long  2019 SF DOCFEST with the June 9th screenings of Dance Craze: The Best of British Ska...Live! and Pick it Up! Ska in the 90s at San Francisco's Roxie. As such they are among several music history themed documentaries scheduled for the 18th annual San Francisco Documentary Film Festival (May 29 - June 13) that also include a revisionist look at the impact of MTV in the 80’s (scroll down for details). For Bay Area movie goers, a region with historically strong ties to ska, it likely will be the ska documentary double feature that should be of most appeal, especially considering that so many California bands including the East Bay’s Dance Hall Crashers and Fresno’s Let’s Go Bowling are among the subjects of one of the documentaries.

Ska music was born in Jamaica in the 50’s and popularized by the early 60’s with a unique sound that melded elements of calypso and Caribbean mento (Jamaican folk) along with American rhythm & blues and jazz. Among its earliest purveyors were The Skatalites who defined this since called “first wave” of ska. Their album Ska Authentic is a recommended intro to this landmark group.  It is also important to note that, like later ska wave’s links to such political movements as Rock Against Racism, the original first wave of ska was historically linked to the 1962 independence of Jamaica from Great Britain.

Back then the uptempo dance music was not only phenomenally popular in its homeland but it also symbolized national pride for Jamaicans; thanks in large part to DJ/producer and leading ambassador of ska/reggae music "Sir Coxsone" Dodd. Equally legendary is Coxsone's Studio One record where (among countless others) ska music's first global crossover hit was recorded in 1964. That unlikely hit record, which reached #1 in the UK and #2 on the US pop charts in '64, was "My Boy Lollipop" by Jamaican teenager Millie Small (see video below).  Note that at this time in England ska was routinely referred to as "blue beat" music. Regardless of categorization Millie's hit record can be credited with introducing music fans all over the world to reggae/ska. Consequent global reggae/ska global hits included the 1968 hit "The Israelites" by Desmond Dekker & The Aces which was arguably more "rocksteady" than ska; the reggae sub-genre that overtook ska in popularity as the music began its continual evolvement over the years and decades.

Millie "My Boy Lollipop" (1964) 

Essential Artists of Ska: First Wave, Second Wave & Third Wave

First Wave Ska

1:The Skatalites

2: Prince Buster

3: The Wailers

4: Jimmie Cliff

5:  Byron Lee

6: The Maytals

        Skatelites/Ska Authentic
  & Byron Lee & The Dragonaires /Best of Ska

Second Wave Ska

1: The Specials

2: The Selecter

3: Bad Manners

4: The Beat (aka The English Beat)

5: Madness

6: The Bodysnatchers
   Madness The Ska Collection CD      +    The Best of The Specials 2LP

Third Wave Ska

1: Operation Ivy

2: Mighty Mighty Bosstones

3:  Reel Big Fish

4:Less Than Jake

5: The Toasters

6: Catch 22

     The Toasters 2 Tone Army LP     +      Operation Ivy Energy LP

The music born  in Jamaica out of Caribbean meets American music in the 1950's would two decades later have a revival across the Atlantic in England, at first in the northern city of Coventry.  Great Britain was a place where (after the USA) the most Jamaicans had immigrated to. Further the late 70's was a period in popular music  that came immediately on the heels of the UK’s punk explosion. At the time it was not referred to as second wave but more typically as Two-tone (or 2-Tone), the new musical movement was aptly named after the famous 2 Tone Records label that released the most prominent ska acts of that era including The Selecter,  The Specials and The Beat. [Music history side-note: Elvis Costello & The Attractions, while by no means ska, were signed to the label for one unreleased single "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" that, as well as appearing on his 1980 album Get Happy!, was among the songs/artists on the 1993 compilation The Best of 2 Tone ].

The 2-Tone, second wave ska movement was defined by young energetic inter-racial bands playing an in-your-face rock-fused reggae that melded punk’s revolutionary tone with a raw upbeat reggae rhythm. While ska's second wave melded its Jamaica ska roots with UK punk and new wave, then its next US-grown third wave picked up where British ska left off, only speeding up the tempo and often adding more distorted guitars into the mix.

Ska’s celebrated third wave took place across the ocean in the States in the latter half of the 80’s although NYC’s The Toasters, who formed in 1981, were arguably the original third wave act even though their sound was more rooted in the second/2 Tone wave. However it wouldn’t be until into the following decade when this US wave of ska was fully recognized due to the commercial success of such crossover bands as  No Doubt and Sublime. It is this era that’s the focus of Taylor Morden’s Pick it Up! Ska in the 90s (7pm June 9th @ Roxie with repeat screening 9pm June 12th at the Roxie). Although referred to here as "third wave ska" many of these American groups are routinely categorized, including here at Amoeba, as "ska revival" or "reggae/rock."  

The seeds for third wave ska were sown in the 80's by groups like Let’s Go Bowling, who formed mid decade in Fresno, and the 1987 formation of  Operation Ivy (OP IV) in Berkeley CA. Morphed out of previous Berkeley group Basic Radio, the short lived (albeit highly influential, seminal) "ska-punk" pioneers' dissolvement in 1989 was soon after followed by the formation of Dance Hall Crashers (DHC) by OP IV members’ Matt "McCall" Freeman and Tim “Lint” Armstrong. That was in 1989 when the original DHC lineup played their first show at 924 Gilman Street.

That same year is when SoCal ska band Hepcat formed who, while categorized as part of the third wave, practiced a sound more faithful to the ska's Jamaican origins. Meanwhile up in the Bay Area DHC's Armstrong and Freeman went on to form Rancid in 1991 but DHC would continue with an altered lineup. Integral to third wave ska, Dance Hall Crashers are among the featured subjects of Taylor Morden’s 90’s ska historical film. Among others in his engaging 100 minute documentary, that chronicles the rise and fall of third wave, are Let’s Go Bowling and members of Reel Big Fish, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No DoubtSublime, Less Than Jake, and Fishbone. For added historical context The Specials are also included in the film.

Meanwhile the long out of print Joe Massot made Dance Craze: The Best of British Ska...Live! (June 9, 915pm at the Roxie) is more of a concert film document than a traditional talking heads type documentary. Capturing the second wave in its authentic live setting, Dance Craze is an essential historical document. Recently uncovered and restored, the 85 minute film is widely considered to be the single best document of the 2 Tone era. The film’s many raw high energy performances include such U.K. ska legends as The Beat (aka The English Beat in the US),  The Specials, Bad Manners, The Selector, and Madness. A highly recommended release on vinyl is The Best of The Specials 2LP set released a few months ago. While all of these iconic UK two-tone ska acts enjoyed success in the US, those who remained prolific into the 80’s enjoyed the most commercial rewards. Examples included Madness who benefitted from the wide exposure they enjoyed thanks to the then burgeoning music television network known as MTV whose heavy rotation of any artist acted as an extension tool of record company promo departments.

Coincidentally MTV, once the music industry’s leading influencer, is the subject expertly examined in another music-themed SF DOCFEST entry; I Want My MTV that screens June 13th at 7pm plus Q&A with the filmmaker and then followed by an 80s music video karaoke event (I Forgot What 8 Was For: The 80s Alt Rock Sing-A-Long Show). Another SF DOCFEST entry with the 1980’s music industry as its backdrop is Jonathan Sutak’s 86 minute Dons of Disco that screens June 1st at 9:15pm at the Roxie (its SF premiere) where the filmmaker will be present to discuss his film that revisits the (pre-Milli Vanilli) music industry lip-sync scandal surrounding Den Harrow.

For more information and tickets on these films in the May 29 to June 13th 2019 SF DocFest, whose subtitle is “Because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction,” visit SFDocFest2019 

5 minute edited promo of the 84 minute 1981 film The Best of British Ska...Live!

#MoviesMusic is the hashtag for 2019 Amoeblogs on movies and TV soundtracks and music themes.

Relevant Tags

Bad Manners (1), Rudeboy (1), Ska (5), Ska First Wave (1), Ska Second Wave (1), Sf Docfest 2019 (1), #moviesmusic (1), Moviesmusicamoeblog (1), Madness (3), Prince Buster (1), The Specials (5), Operation Ivy (5), Op Iv (2), Sublime (3), The Selector (1)