Friday, January 15, 2010

Acid Ska - A Look Back At A Late 80's U.K. Ska Phenomenon

Depending on how much of a ska purist you may or may not be, the late 80's U.K. acid ska (or skacid) phenomenon was either 1) a highly danceable ska resurgence which gave the remnants of the 2-Tone scene one last chance to shine or 2) an incredibly annoying and vapid fad that sullied ska and 2-Tone's reputation to no end (I'm in the former camp - I've always loved acid ska). Whatever your position, acid ska had its short moment in the sun in 1988 and 1989 when cheap ecstasy and rave parties were all the rage in the U.K. and house music producers saw a chance to put a twist on acid music (house music in the U.S.).

For the uninitiated, acid ska features the signature characteristics of house and techno, namely a Roland TR-909 drum machine, a Roland TB-303 bassline synth and an MC vocalist/toaster. Where acid ska was different than straight techno and house music was that it replaced the classic breakbeat sample with a ska or pitched-up reggae rhythm guitar sample. The most sophisticated of acid ska tracks had melodic horn sections in the same arrangement that a typical ska song would include them. Historically, acid ska is the predecessor to jungle, dub step and other reggae hybrids that have proliferated in the U.K. in the last 20 years.

Longsy D, a UK-based producer, is widely acknowledged as the very first acid ska artist and his track 'This Is Ska' (particularly his remix featuring Buster Bloodvessel from Bad Manners) remains the best and brightest of the batch of songs that suddenly sprouted up following its release. The name acid ska/skacid most likely originates from Longsy D's earlier release 'Mental Ska' in 1988, where the lyrics repeat the word skacid in the second verse when he raps about his new style of 'hiphop-reggae'.

Other notable acid ska tracks that were released in 1989 include Ranking Roger and Lynval Golding's collaboration 'We Play Ska' with The Children Of The Night further cementing acid ska as a short term refuge for 2-Tone era musicians looking for safe harbor for a bit while ska in the U.K. was transitioning to bands like The Loafers and Maroon Town. One of the best and most overlooked acid ska tracks is Double Trouble and the Rebel MC's 'Just Keep Rockin' which features a sample of 'I'll Take You There' by The Staple Singers and the bass intro from "Mr. Big Stuff" by Stax label artist Jean Knight which is sampled and pitched/sped up.

Below are videos of some the best know acid ska tracks including 'Mental Ska', 'We Play Ska' 'Rock To Dis' Just 'Keep on Rockin and 'Musical Scorcha'.

Here is the track listing and download link:

Longsy D - Mental Ska (The Rap)
Double Trouble & The Rebel M.C. - Just Keep Rockin' (House Mix)
Roughneck - Force Ten From Navarone
Rackit Allstar - Musical Scorcha (Kung Fu Mix)
Maroon Town - Resolution '99
Jamaica Meantime - Rock To Dis (House Mix)
Children Of The Night (feat Ranking Roger) - We Play Ska (The Trojan Horse Mix)
Longsy D (feat Buster Bloodvessel) - This Is Ska (Buster's Original Ska Mix)
Ministry Of Ska - Skanking With The Toreadors
The Rude Boys - The Rude Boy Shuffle
Flowers Ltd & BMG - The Swingin' Thing (Swing To Dis Mix)

Ska Beats 1 - Street Sound Of Freestyle Ska

Believe or not, but there has been a very minor resurgence in acid ska (I know I was incredulous when I discovered it). Nevertheless, the Swedish electronica duo REVL9N (pronounced Revlon Nine), shared a copy of their song 'Waiting For Desire' in 2008 with their favorite re-mixers, asking them to remix the song in the acid ska style. According to the band's Facebook page, some of the producers didn't know what acid ska was. To make it simpler, REVL9N attached Longsy D's "This Is Ska" as an inspiration and recommended them to play around with their original files.

According to the REVL9N, "The results were a revelation. REVL9N were hit with a set of remixes far beyond their imagination and expectations. Some of them managed to put REVL9N in a time machine – all the way back to London, 1989 – and some took a more futuristic approach. Others fused nostalgia with modern technology."

Below is the download to the nine mixes. Some include classic elements of 80's acid ska, others the barest hint. Have a listen for your self...


Joe Scholes said...

What a great post. Thank you, Marco. It's a bit sad that Skacid only became such a footnote in Ska's history. The idea had more potential I think. Maybe one reason for the "failure" is that Ska musicians were and still are very conservative when it comes to sounds. Which again was partly a concession to the tastes of the hardcore fans. I remember Laurel Aitken howling "Skaciiid" on stage at the 1. International Ska Festival in London. He saw the fun in it.

Marco On The Bass said...

I completely agree with you Joe. I think ska purists were turned off by skacid. Though In many ways skacid was the first step in the progression through jungle, dub step and all other forms of electronic reggae music.

Kipod Animation said...

Thank for this one Marco. I am a Ska and Rocksteady Dj and I always wondered if there some kind of electronic/ska fusion that keep the original spirit of ska. I will look for 45s of these.

dublinsax said...

I have to say I thought the whole skacid thing was terrible and fortunately there wasn't any interest from within the ska scene at the time...or beyond it either as things turned out. There were a host of very good ska bands in the UK in the late 80s, a scene was building again and it could be argued that the introduction of acid ska took attention away from those bands, it certainly didn't help 'the scene', that's for sure. Ska was being tipped as making a comeback late 1988, then acid ska came along and the media generally looked upon it all as a bit of a joke

Marco On The Bass said...

Thanks for the comment dublinsax. I understand the sentiment you shared about acid ska, though I always looked at it as an interesting novelty. I also like aspects of dance and big beat so I liked that it was a way to incorporate ska in a new way.

dublinsax said...

I know what you're saying Marco but you put your finger on it with one word...'novelty'. And unfortunately that 'word' has haunted ska for many years over here. With ska being 'used' in that way, or on novelty records, on cheesy TV adverts, in cartoons etc., alot of people and media often look upon ska as this happy silly type music that you jump around to at a wedding. And that does have a knock on effect for all new bands who are trying to play the music well, they're often not taken seriously

Matt Wixson said...

I've heard very little of this, but it has always intrigued me. I'm downloading that compilation now and I'm excited to listen! I've been making some amateurish electronic ska hybrid music for a while now (though considerably different from this kind of stuff). I can see why ska fans would reject this type of warping, but I think it's an awesome testament to the malleability of the genre. I love traditional ska, but I also love finding (and if possible, creating) new and interesting ska- and reggae-influenced sounds.

Anyway, some stuff I've done can be heard at and all of the releases are available online for free.

Marco On The Bass said...

Thanks Matt. Glad you've found my little slide of ska heaven here. I would be very interested in hearing your electronic ska experiments and I think the acid ska genre is very well suited to you and your one man show. Bring it on!

Adam for all Seasons said...

Thank you so much for this. I've been looking for Force ten from Navarone for a while now!

punk-cho said...

Maybe You'll Like This! Peace

DoctorBastardo said...

MARCO HELP ME MAN!... I am currently trying to rip my vinyl Copy of SKA BEATS STREET SOUND OF FREESTYLE SKA... and all but 2 tracks jump... (my fault for DJing it to death) PLEASE could you re-up the LP to mediawotsit as megawotsit is no more... Also 3 more Trax worth mentioning (not counting the mighty dub katz) ARE Ska Train by the Beatmasters on the B Side of the 1989 Hey DJ 12"... A very hard to find Skacid remix of the latter day Specials Pressure Drop (think its 12" promo, I had it but some scooter boys saw it at a record fair I was trading at, in my DJ box.. by the time the bidding got to £25 I gave in thinking I'd easy find another... NOT)AND the much harder and newer technoskank Tiddles & Geezer North London Skank 12" repleat with its mock Walt Jabsco label... Interestingly enough Acid ska had a minirevival on the 90s free party scene as most "crusties" love to skank and many had been 2 tone kids... I remember Ska Train getting plays and being danced to by at least on the peeps who recorded the London Skank tunes for the Stay up Forever Collective. I'm currently prepping a torrent of acid ska, skacid and what I've called raggatek... So I'm really hoping you can re up the Ska Beats comp... Incidentally I remember folk at the Hacienda laughing at my love of the Rebel MC stuff as poprave, no it turns out acidska is very underground... PS where can I get a dayglo stingybrim?

DoctorBastardo said...

PLEASE RE SHARE THE L.P. I D.J.d at a Toots gig the other night and was gutted not to be able to play some of these tunes after the gig!!!! The trax are on i-tunes but no-one pays DJs these days lol. As Pato says... my opinion:- One mans "novelty" is another mans "electic". If you wanna be a real purist surely "real" ska can ONLY be from Jamaica 1962-65. In that case where did shuffle become ska, when did ska become rocksteady etc. 2-Tone fused Punk with Ska just as Skacid is a fusion. What of Culture Shock are they not just as ska as the Toasters. Ska is a beat, originally New Orleans RnB until Ernest Raglin emphasised the off beat to create Jamaicas own 60s sound. A sound or style of music now hugely popular, and rightly so. I reject the whole novelty idea. When Jimmy Smith's hammond jazz or a Motorhead tune is used in an advert its the same reason a Ska tune is. COS ITS POPULAR and it will sell the product. PS Please re-up the LP Marco, mine is shot to pieces!!!!

Marco On The Bass said...

Hey DoctorBastardo! Thanks for the comments! Email me at and I can arrange to get you the LP.

DoctorBastardo said...

Hi Marco, I emailed you a few days back did you get it! I found a few of the tracks in other places but the Trojan Horse Mix of We Play Ska ft Rangin Roger only seems to be on this LP.....
Personally I dropped out of the ska/scooter scene when I got sick of arguing with racists. For every 10 ska fans there seems to be one or two misguided skins who will zeig heil to a desmond dekkar record (only 4 years ago) or to the great man himself (25-30 years ago). In Acid Parties and Free Festivals I found hundreds of Skank fans who despised racists as much as I did and still do. Yes I know many of the orig 66-69 lads werent and the style has been stolen BUT I got pig sick of people, OFTEN GOOD PEOPLE, tolerating it cos it was their mates saying it. The important thing about the skank is your feet doing their thing. Also It should be noted that the novelty has continued steadily with numerous Ska/Dance music crossovers ever since. Fatboy Slim and Groove Armada have produced poppy yet occasionally underground trax and the Tiddles n Geezer tune I keep bangin on about. As Marco said the late 80s Acid Ska tunes directly led to Ragga and Jungle and influenced any number of Genres. Just as Count Machukis first amplified words have influenced so much. Purism in Ska is a luxury no white geezer can enjoy. Da beat of da offbeat is something that millions have, do and will enjoy.

skin-tone 7 said...

I have the ska beat's-freestyle ska on vinyl lp, it's a great record, I think it would have to be roughkneck-force ten from navarone & resolution 99'-maroon town that are best, along with rock to dis=Jamaica meantime, they aren't really a departure from ska, just an evolution, but then I was a skinhead, are mod-suedehead nowaday's, I think acid ska fit's into the late 80's ska revival, as you had the rap of maroon town in ska, experimental synth of reburial-potato 5, an unmistakeable synth ambience in 'the thing's that I do'-potato 5 with laurel Aitken,
not to mention suggs/chas smash of madness as the fink brothers-'mutant's in mega city 1',so it wasn't that removed from 2-tone either, considering the ruff 'n' tuff remix of 'on my radiio'=the selecter, tic tac toe mix of 'mirror in the bathroom'=the beat, 'ghost dub 91/let us unite'-the specials, r.i.p madska radio mix of 'one step beyond'=madness, an experimental edge to 'two tone party'=buster's allstars, but ever since you've had a good cross over of jungle/dance influenced records and song's like-'ska child'=rebelation, 'sideline below' (nutter mix)=the splitters, 'travelling man'=studio 02, 'rudeboy rock'=lionrock, all great number's, so with ska, now, late 80's or 2-tone, it has alway's needed to move forward and the skacid sound has, all these latter song's prove it, plus i'm into skinhead reggae, which often included backing track instrumentals as b-sides, which were in many way's the predecessor of the acetate dub plate's of dub, so when you look at it.....acid ska wasn't that far from what has come through ska since, just as skinhead reggae version's aren't that far from dub, street beat's-freestyle ska?...marvellous record, to be included in ska in general, also worthy of mention with a acid type mid section is 'space patrol orion'=the busters, so acid ska can't be that bad.....I mean 2-tone & bad manners were looked at as a novelty, but that goe's to show how wrong people are and don't have a 7.