Throughout history, many musical cultures have affected others. Whether it be by new governmental forces coming into power, or through migrations of populations into a different areas, music travels just as well as the humans that produce it do. In the mid 1990’s, the relaxed beach towns of Orange County rose to be one of the major hotspots of the 3rd wave Ska generation in the United States, being the hometown to well-known bands such as Reel Big Fish, Sublime, and No Doubt.
Ska music is known for its energetic beats, melodic horns, and reggae vibe. The third wave ska scene in Orange County attracted young kids from the suburbs out to a community, developing a unique sense of style and culture — celebrating individuality, fun, and a carefree attitude, staying true to the Orange County beach culture.
The beginnings of the Ska genre can be traced to the island nation of Jamaica in the mid 1950s. Initially, it was defined as “a kind of ham-fisted combination of American rhythm and blues and Caribbean folk styles, such as calypso and mento” (Selvin).
This melting pot of sounds was credited to the fact that post World War II, the inhabitants of Jamaica were able to listen in on American radios due to American soldiers’ stationings. Tourism and other outside forces have always had an influence on Jamaican music, with textbooks coining that “Caribbean musics have participated in significant ways in globalized networks of music-making… that have historically emerged in response to travel in the Caribbean” (Nettl 345). With Jamaica’s music culture being accepting and adapting to outside instrumentation and styles, they were able to create a genre that appealed the to United States as well.
With warm weather found in all twelve months throughout the year, a relaxed coastal feel throughout the area, and a strong teenage population, Orange County in southern California made for the perfect location for a brand new era of Ska music. With many rock alternative bands such as Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Stone Temple Pilots emerging in the late 1980s and early 1990s, their hardcore, energetic music did not completely comply with the easygoing demeanor of Orange County. The rise of rock alternative though did create a gateway for the new, third, wave of ska. Compromising both with the popular alternative scene and with the relaxed reggae-centric vibe of conventional ska, the Third Wave Ska movement was formed.
Throughout the 1990s many small ska bands loosely formed. Rooted from childhood friends to garage parties, the initial intentions of this genre were to create a subculture for teenagers to escape and somewhat rebel from Orange County’s conservative norm. As the neighborhood concerts and beach music festivals grew and grew around this time period, so did the genre of music itself. Seemingly overnight, the once seldomly known style of ska became a growing fruit, ripe from the county of Orange.
Recognition of this craze continued, both by word of mouth as well as in the media. “The Orange County Register first mentioned the invasion in May, 1996, with a piece that asked ‘Is ska Orange County’s next big thing’ Many OC acts were now benefiting from the success of No Doubt, and Sublime, including ska-punkers Reel Big Fish and Goldfinger” (Apter 164). Once Orange County local acts were now topping Billboard Charts and receiving much airplay across the nation. Anaheim native band No Doubt’s smash 1995 single “Don’t Speak”, a mellow ska-centric song, was at the number one spot on Billboard’s “Hot 100 Radio Airplay” chart for sixteen weeks and was also nominated for Song of the Year at the Grammy’s. Along with No Doubt’s success, other Orange County ska bands such as Sublime, The Aquabats, and Slightly Stoopid were able to follow.
Despite its tremendous success, it is important to remember ska’s humble beginnings and that it still is prevalent in its birth area. With an aggressive alternative scene in the Los Angeles area, the relaxed ska appealed to most teenagers living within Orange County. Events such as the Van’s Warped Tour and summer beach concerts made it easy for the third wave ska movement to be seen by many throughout the area. Due to Orange County’s conservative culture, there exists a bit of animosity from parents whose children listen to the liberal genre.
Composed with fast paced reggae-influenced instruments and with lyrics hinting to marijuana usage, alcohol, and even sometimes drugs, many were disrupted by the controversial messages the songs gave to the teenagers that listened to them. Aside from the belligerent ideas that may come from the genre, ska is mostly known for being a high-energy style with a hint of rapping vocals mixed with a few harmonies that all transform into having a feel good time with others.
The history of ska still is prevalent in the beach areas of Orange County. Even though it is not as popular as it once was, it has branched out and gave rise to more reggae based bands nowadays. Teenage offspring trying to go against conservative mindsets of their parents have always found a musical outlet, as will their offspring. This outlet can have both negative and positive effects on oneself, depending on how they interpret this high energy, beach-vibe style. An alumni of this culture may still be dressed in board shorts, a ripped up tank top, a pair of Rainbow sandals as well as a pair of cheap sunglasses. Even though some have outgrown the style, it will be remembered from them that ska was the source of their most memorable teenage experiences.
Apter, Jeff. Gwen Stefani & No Doubt: A Simple Kind of Life. London: Omnibus, 2008. Print. Nettl, Bruno. Excursions in World Music. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2011. Print. Selvin, Joel. “A Brief History of Ska.” San Francisco Chronicle 23 Mar. 2008: n. pag. Print.