How Orange County is Making Ska Great Again

Reel Big Fish
Reel Big Fish
John Gilhooley

Even with our extensive alt and punk rock roots, OC will always be recognized as the birthplace of 3rd wave ska. It's been part of the fabric of the OC music scene for decades. The locals have embraced their place in ska lore, and over the years, they continue support the bands that make the scene what it is. They police themselves, and call out any band or person that isn’t true to the music, or bring drama to the scene. As a result, they’ve become a powerful and vocal community.

Of all the 3rd wave ska-punk bands that are still around from OC, Reel Big Fish are probably the biggest stars of  our ska community today. The Aquabats, Starpool and Suburban Legends also mean a lot; there’s also Voodoo Glow Skulls and the Untouchables. Voodoo is from Riverside, Untouchables are from L.A., but they both have a special place in the hearts of the locals. All things being equal, we have to circle back to the Fishies. They’re the big name band that has been the constant. They’ve played and played, and then played again, while promoting ska and Orange County. For this, Aaron Barrett and the Fishies deserve all the accolades they get. Even in the decades since Barrett wrote the famous line “The record company's gonna give me lots of money, and everything's gonna be alright!” from their mega-hit “Sell Out”, more prophetic teen words have never been spoken. More than a quarter of a century later, ska is still alive and well. Local L.A. ska-punkers like the Interrupters are blowing up, and shows like It’s Not Dead fest and Like Totally 80’s fest feature ska bands.

To know where ska is headed, you have to know where it’s been. Brian Mashburn is in Starpool; he’s one of the most respected ska icons in Orange County. Back in the 90’s, he was in Save Ferris. Brian told me a very funny story about what things were like back before the OC ska scene turned into this juggernaut it is today. Way back before Save Ferris exploded and OC’s ska community was just finding itself, life wasn’t like it is today. It was literally a time before the internet and social media. The only way you heard about shows, other than listening to Swedish Egil on KROQ’s all night radio, were fliers… that’s right, FLIERS! Egil provided SoCal with that progressive/industrial sound from bands like Front 242, KMFDM and the Revolting Cocks AND he also played ska!!! Local Universities were ahead of the curve. They were putting on great shows that featured cool bands way before Non-Swedish Egil terrestrial radio caught on.

Starpool show at House of Blues Anaheim
Starpool show at House of Blues Anaheim
Mary Bell

One place you could always catch cool small shows was CSU Fullerton. Then again, you could always find some band playing a parking lot gig at Bionic or Tower Records. Back then in the OC, ska kids were going to places like Goodies and the Ice House in Fullerton, Viva Las Vegas in Orange, Old World and the Rhino Room in Huntington Beach, there was also Metropolis in Irvine. Going back a little further; local haunts included Videopolis at Disneyland and Studio K / Cloud 9 at Knott’s Berry Farm. Before it became the landmark it is today, Medieval Times was the place kids were skankin’ … but then, it was called the Kingdom of Dancing Stallions. These places attracted everyone; normal school kids, the cool crowd, the jocks, the geeks, the skaters, the goths and club kids. It was an eclectic group, just like out of a John Hughes film. That’s something that Mashburn remembers well; it reminds him of what he sees today. That is, kids from all races and walks of life getting along and support each other in their common love of all things ska.

There are other stories whispered about, such as the Save Ferris house. It was a place where all the big-name bands would come to party and play their tunes. It’s not clear if the house had an official name, but it had a swimming pool in the shape of a star. Therefore, it was just always known as the Starpool house… but that’s a different story for another day. About the time the Starpool house was operating at warp speed, Tazy Phyllipz had a show that was broadcast from UCI called Ska Parade. It was radio shows like this that got the word out as to where to go and who was playing where, but more importantly, to be heard on shows like Ska Parade was a very big deal back then. Phyllipz recently told me that he believes that for any scene to thrive, bands have to support other bands and the scene itself; that’s what we see happening today.

Tazy Phyllipz at the Skacademy Awards
Tazy Phyllipz at the Skacademy Awards
Nadya Diaz

Over the years, Phyllipz, the Rodney Bingenheimer of ska, has put on Ska Parade show after show at places like the Slidebar in Fullerton. Events like that create a sense of community. With that in mind, it’s been places like the Slidebar, the House of Blues, the Doll Hut, Chain Reaction and the Observatory that have been where the locals go to see their favorite ska bands. Over the last few years, another player has emerged, it’s a venue called Out of the Park Pizza in Anaheim. Like Goodies, Old World and Viva Las Vegas before it, Out of the Park is becoming a second home for the ska locals. They teamed up with ska-centric production company Pocket Entertainment (created by Cameron Hallenbeck and Whitney Dunkle) in 2016 after a string of successful shows. Their first hit was the first annual Orange County Skacademy Awards. The event was a hit, not just locally, but it captivated the entire ska world. As a result, they became regular booking partners and the Skademy Awards might just be a regular thing. Pocket Entertainment (along with Dan Smith, owner of Out of the Park) is also responsible for Ska-MicCon, the first really big ska festival to hit the OC in some time. Now in its second year, the jolt this festival could bring just may bring the spotlight back to the OC as being the ska capital of the world.

Skacademy Awards at Out of the Park Pizza
Skacademy Awards at Out of the Park Pizza
Courtesy of Pocket Entertainment

Obviously as the name suggests, the  ska-punk themed festival pays homage to Comic-Con in San Diego. It’s a two-day, all-ages festival. Ask anyone who covers the local music scene, and they’ll tell you, the Ska-MicCon lineup reflects OC’s ska roots, and highlights it’s very bright future. This year, through luck and a lot of hard work, the organizers were able to cobble together their dream lineup. The event on July 21st lineup features Reel Big Fish, Suburban Legends, the Maxies, Codename: Rocky, Be Like Max, Kill Lincoln, Light Em’ Up, Failed to Victory, Fairhaven, The Big News, and L.A. ska-core legends, Matamoska! The July 22nd lineup features Less Than Jake, Phenomenauts, GoGo13, The Ziggens, Jelly of the Month Club, Half Past Two, Wank, Stupid Flanders, For the Record and the Moan.

Of all the shows out there, Ska-MicCon may be that show that launches the 4th wave of ska, making Orange County Ground Zero again. Since it'll probably be packed there are a few things you should know. The event itself will cap out at 1,000 concert goers for General Admission and 200 VIP’s, there will be no bags allowed in unless for medical or childcare purposes. It’s an all-ages show; however, there is no daycare provided, and there is no event parking in the venue parking lot. Event Parking will be at the Vineyard Church of Anaheim, which is a short walking distance to the event. Parking is $2 if you buy it beforehand and $5 on the day of.

How Orange County is Making Ska Great Again
John Gilhooley

Truth be told, juggernaut bands like Rancid, Reel Big Fish and newcomers, the Interrupters, will always be heroes to the ska community. But for OC, it’s the everyday heroes like Starpool, Suburban Legends, Codename, Stupid Flanders, Half Past Two, Hooray for Our Side and the Maxies that are its collective soul. Much respect to Phyllipz, Smith, Hallenbeck and Dunkle for what they do. You gotta’ love ordinary people who risk everything for others, and as a result, achieve the most extraordinary things. It takes an army to make something special; you don’t have to look further than within your own community to see why ska is the next big thing!

People like you and I don’t have to do anything more than buy a ticket and show up to any show. For those who make the shows happen, the question always is… will this work? Will people show up; and can I get paid? For Smith, Hallenbeck and Dunkle, they’re willing to take that chance. Because, as in anything else in life, if you’re not willing to take a chance you settle for the ordinary. For these promoters, Skamic-con, just like the scene it represents, promises to be anything but ordinary.


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