I knew it couldn't last. Ska, as seen in the mainstream media since 1996, wasn't going to become a long lasting musical force, but wimp out and disappear as the fad it was. As you've heard before, and you'll hear a million more times in zines, in interviews, and at shows, ska died in 1998. Or at least the pop-ska of Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris, Goldfinger, et.al.
But what happened to the real ska? A little bit of that died too, with the deaths of Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, and Judge Dread. As a modern music, ska has been around for a ridiculously long time, and its become easy to take for granted the continuing presence of its pioneers. An interview with Judge Dread may run in the same magazine as an interview with the Adjusters, and the fan reads the one after the other, without the living history of it all being fully noticed. If this year brought home anything, it was that time moves on, and that those musicians who were at the start and are still here today are more than just musicians - they are living connections to the past, a past that we, the fans, the new musicians, the ska lovers, will not always have access to and should not take for granted.
1998 was disillusioning for a lot of people. It's got to be hard to be a promoter and find your shows getting smaller and smaller; to be a label and find the orders trickle in instead of gush; and to still see Gwen Stefani in every People magazine fashion spread. As 1997 ended and 1998 began, it became apparent that Reagan's "trickle-down theory" wasn't going to work with ska either. Save Ferris got snapped up in the post No Doubt/RBF frenzy, while trailblazing bands like Bim Skala Bim continued to languish in relative obscurity. This was obviously not ska coming into its own, but exploitation at the highest level. I wrote in another zine about seeing RBF open for Bim at Coney Island High, a pretty small club in NYC. The place was packed to near-suffocation for RBF, but as soon as they finished their set, the place cleared. It went from not having room to walk three steps, to having extra room to dance. From that point on, you could count the days until ska's downfall.
The nice thing about this was that the real fans and labels came together to protect what was theirs. 1998 saw the 2nd Annual New England Ska Fest, the Ska Against Racism Tour, and the Independents Day Tour. It saw the growth of the zine Ska-tastrophe to a magazine, and the launch of Rude International, another ska magazine proper. And most importantly, it saw the continuing growth and development of new bands having their own conversation with the music. Old warhorses like the Busters kept releasing quality music, while newer bands like the Adjusters polished their sound and helped keep the quality of ska up. Sure there was a lot of crap pumped onto the market in '98, but there were also more bands getting better. It's these bands that insure that ska will keep on to see fifth and sixth waves, no matter what Interscope or Mojo might say. In the words of the Independents Day Tour, "Ska is Dead. Long Live Ska."