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Aaron Carnes launches In Defense of Ska book/tour

“I understand ska is not taken seriously”

Aaron Carnes isn’t skared of skandalizing ska-haters.
Aaron Carnes isn’t skared of skandalizing ska-haters.

Aaron Carnes started working on a book about ska in 2013. He didn’t have a game plan; he just loved the genre and “wanted to contribute something about ska to the narrative that was lacking.” He compiled numerous interviews and stories, but about five years into the project, he found he was spinning his wheels, and decided the only way he would finish the book would be if he secured a publisher. It was in the act of drafting the sales proposal that he zeroed in on the concept of defending the oft-maligned genre.

“I was forced to clearly define what the book would be and [what] exactly I was trying to say,” Carnes explained. “It was in that process that I was thinking it would be interesting to acknowledge right up front in the title that I understand ska is not taken seriously, and that I am going to address that. I’m going to use that as an ice-breaker to talk about this whole era of ska and these stories and all these bands that are largely ignored.”

Originating in Jamaica, ska is fast-tempo dance music that melds rhythm and blues with jazz and calypso, with a strong accent placed on the off-beat. Early in the book, Carnes takes the reader on a trip down memory lane by detailing various ska-shaming instances (primarily from the 2000s) in which the ska pasts of indie musicians were exposed and mocked in publications such as Pitchfork, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and Stereogum. Musicians guilty by ska-association and targeted for credibility assassination included members of The Bravery, The Walkmen, and Franz Ferdinand.

“The only other genres that I think get shit on in the same way are genres that are just sort of trends,” Carnes argued. “They’re sub-genres like nu-metal or rap-rock. These kinds of things get made fun of, but ska is an entire genre that goes back to the ‘50s. I can’t think of an entire genre with such deep roots that has such positivity in its history — stuff like inclusion, anti-racism, and multi-culturalism. That the entire thing gets dismissed is just so unique to ska. It’s so bizarre.”

Past Event

Buck-O-Nine and Mustard Plug

  • Thursday, January 13, 2022, 7 p.m.
  • Soda Bar, 3615 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego
  • 21+

Jeff Rosenstock’s Ska Dream (a reimagined makeover of his 2020 album No Dream) received an 8.0 rating on Pitchfork earlier this year, which shows how much the times have changed. Locally, filmmaker John Arquilla at Almost Famous PBTV is working on a period documentary about the history of ska in San Diego. The genre may not be experiencing the U.S. commercial peaks it reached in the mid-’90s when bands such as No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were all over MTV and the airwaves, but it’s still chugging along, and is very much alive. And it’s not just being defended in book form. The In Defense of Ska Tour (featuring long-running local outfit Buck-O-Nine, Mustard Plug, and Omnigone) will be flying the ska flag loud and proud at west coast venues in early 2022, kicking off with a January 13 date at Soda Bar in City Heights.

This past fall, Buck-O-Nine played their first gigs since late 2019. The nearly two-year break from live shows was their longest time away from the stage since the band formed, according to guitarist Jonas Kleiner. The group seems to have made the most of the lockdown though. Working remotely, they managed to hammer out demos for over 20 new songs, which could eventually form the basis for one or two new albums.

“The next process for us is to woodshed some of these songs in batches and see which ones have the best legs, and which ones we want to record,” Kleiner explained. “I anticipate us going back into the studio to record this stuff starting probably in February of next year, right after we get back from doing these In Defense of Ska Shows.”

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Aaron Carnes isn’t skared of skandalizing ska-haters.
Aaron Carnes isn’t skared of skandalizing ska-haters.

Aaron Carnes started working on a book about ska in 2013. He didn’t have a game plan; he just loved the genre and “wanted to contribute something about ska to the narrative that was lacking.” He compiled numerous interviews and stories, but about five years into the project, he found he was spinning his wheels, and decided the only way he would finish the book would be if he secured a publisher. It was in the act of drafting the sales proposal that he zeroed in on the concept of defending the oft-maligned genre.

“I was forced to clearly define what the book would be and [what] exactly I was trying to say,” Carnes explained. “It was in that process that I was thinking it would be interesting to acknowledge right up front in the title that I understand ska is not taken seriously, and that I am going to address that. I’m going to use that as an ice-breaker to talk about this whole era of ska and these stories and all these bands that are largely ignored.”

Originating in Jamaica, ska is fast-tempo dance music that melds rhythm and blues with jazz and calypso, with a strong accent placed on the off-beat. Early in the book, Carnes takes the reader on a trip down memory lane by detailing various ska-shaming instances (primarily from the 2000s) in which the ska pasts of indie musicians were exposed and mocked in publications such as Pitchfork, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and Stereogum. Musicians guilty by ska-association and targeted for credibility assassination included members of The Bravery, The Walkmen, and Franz Ferdinand.

“The only other genres that I think get shit on in the same way are genres that are just sort of trends,” Carnes argued. “They’re sub-genres like nu-metal or rap-rock. These kinds of things get made fun of, but ska is an entire genre that goes back to the ‘50s. I can’t think of an entire genre with such deep roots that has such positivity in its history — stuff like inclusion, anti-racism, and multi-culturalism. That the entire thing gets dismissed is just so unique to ska. It’s so bizarre.”

Past Event

Buck-O-Nine and Mustard Plug

  • Thursday, January 13, 2022, 7 p.m.
  • Soda Bar, 3615 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego
  • 21+

Jeff Rosenstock’s Ska Dream (a reimagined makeover of his 2020 album No Dream) received an 8.0 rating on Pitchfork earlier this year, which shows how much the times have changed. Locally, filmmaker John Arquilla at Almost Famous PBTV is working on a period documentary about the history of ska in San Diego. The genre may not be experiencing the U.S. commercial peaks it reached in the mid-’90s when bands such as No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were all over MTV and the airwaves, but it’s still chugging along, and is very much alive. And it’s not just being defended in book form. The In Defense of Ska Tour (featuring long-running local outfit Buck-O-Nine, Mustard Plug, and Omnigone) will be flying the ska flag loud and proud at west coast venues in early 2022, kicking off with a January 13 date at Soda Bar in City Heights.

This past fall, Buck-O-Nine played their first gigs since late 2019. The nearly two-year break from live shows was their longest time away from the stage since the band formed, according to guitarist Jonas Kleiner. The group seems to have made the most of the lockdown though. Working remotely, they managed to hammer out demos for over 20 new songs, which could eventually form the basis for one or two new albums.

“The next process for us is to woodshed some of these songs in batches and see which ones have the best legs, and which ones we want to record,” Kleiner explained. “I anticipate us going back into the studio to record this stuff starting probably in February of next year, right after we get back from doing these In Defense of Ska Shows.”

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