Yes, 100 gecs are ska
Now bring on the electro-ska revolution
This past Christmas, anarchic pop duo 100 gecs have joined the chorus of musicians who wanted to celebrate the holidays with their own Christmas tune for 2020, “Sympathy 4 the Grinch.” The song takes an anti-Santa stance, an approach much less important than its pro-ska vibe. There’s even a “pick it up,” right at the front of the song. But its blend of recognizable skank guitar, uptempo electronic beat, demented melodies, and auto-tuned vocals make it an odd take on the genre.
Pitchfork says of the track, “Laura Les and Dylan Brady embrace ska on their anti-Santa track.” And, of course, tons of ska fans scoff—It’s not real ska! Pitchfork has rarely, if ever, embraced ska, so what do they know? Indeed, a popular, hyped-up Pitchfork-approved band mixing electro-pop and ska, makes for a tough sell for many fans of the genre. But even if Pitchfork aren’t the arbiters of ska-taste, why brush off a good song and an interesting spin on ska? Maybe Electronic-trap-hyper-pop ska is the future.
“Sympathy 4 the Grinch” isn’t the duo’s first ska song. That distinction belongs to “Stupid Horse” from 2019's 1000 gecs. “Stupid Horse” is one of the most unusual ska songs to come out in the past decade. It takes all the elements of weirdo-electronic music and filters it through a ska lens. And their live performance of the song on Skullcandy's YouTube channel is sublime strangeness. The duo hops around and sings in front of ugly yellow and green horse cutouts. Their vocals are drenched in so much auto-tune it sounds like Martians commandeering Top 40 radio and demanding all humanity to skaaaaank.
100 gecs ska press photo
“A lot of people in ska rank on 100 gecs for their sound, but at the end of the day, they're doing quite a bit for ska,” Skatune Network's Jeremy Andrew Hunter tells me. Last August, Jeremy covered “Stupid Horse” on their channel to many fans’ requests, a delightful ska-punk rendition. “It's obvious 100 gecs have a love for ska, and they did what the bands of the 2 Tone era did: mix ska with other music they loved. Are they purely ska? No, but ska itself is a mutt genre. You can't be purist of a genre [that] mixes with other [genres] when its entire history is mixing with genres."
Jeremy says that 100 gecs' music has taken off on TikTok. Fans share it and love it. Between 100 gecs’ music and the TikTok app itself, ska’s younger fanbase is growing. “People on TikTok were sharing that song saying it's ska and teaching folks who never heard the genre what it is,” they say. “There's def more youth discovering ska through that medium [TikTok] than anything else.”
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A lot of people my age had a knee-jerk negative reaction to electronic ska, just because we’re used to ska bands having ten band members, with drum machines not being a component. Though it shouldn’t be a big deal for anyone who remembers the acid ska movement in the UK in the late-80s, where artists mixed house, techno and ska to amazing results.
“Stupid Horse” is very much a modern mix of electronic-pop elements and ska. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a great, creative song, and realized that it was the next logical step for ska. I sat back and waited for a new wave of kids to pump out chiptune and electro-trap ska songs. Not much followed.
Although, in 2020, an old friend of mine, Russ Wood, started releasing electro-ska tunes under the name Eichlers. I knew Russ from a decade earlier when both of us were part of the San Jose punk scene. He always loved ska. Then three years ago, he discovered East Bay band Vantana Row, who is a weirder, more aggressive version of 100 gecs that even foregoes the standard club show format for surprise, drive-by performances from their van. It blew Russ’s mind.
Eichlers’ debut album i may b cute, but im dumb af
This led him further down the rabbit hole and see how a segment of electronic artists were remixing and repackaging guitar/drum-based music from their childhood.
“In 2018 I got hooked on emo rap/emo trap. The production especially seemed so accessible; these producers were taking emo guitar riffs and even full samples of bands I loved and turning them into their own songs. The formula was so simple and so nostalgically visceral that I knew I needed to try it for myself,” he says. “And people like Charlie Shuffler and Fish Narc could take Blink-182 and other mall punk (“uncool” back then) riffs and make bangers, why couldn't I do the same with ska? I figured it could tap into the same nostalgia the way that auto-crooning over an 808-laden Hot Topic band riff could, but with ska guitar/riffs. This was my shot to make catchy, skankable, emo bangers.”
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The idea to mix these elements started for Russ before “Stupid Horse” was released. He had been considering calling the genre different names like “Trap Rock Steady,” “Hyperska,” and "WTF This Isn't Ska." On October 16, 2020, he released his first “hyperska” LP, i may b cute, but im dumb af. Ska elements only appear on a few songs. For his next album, he intends to dive further into the realm of electro-ska and see how far he can push its limits.
The wave of electro-ska continues to be only a tiny splash. However, Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny (A huge name in the Latin pop world) recently contributed to the ska-trap genre with “Maldita Pobreza,” and Colorado-based DIY musician Tape Girl is releasing music she's dubbing “Laptop Ska,” which could become ska’s answer to bedroom pop. So maybe the electro-ska revolution is just beginning.
Tape Girl’s …and You’re Doing Nothing EP
Even if older ska fans scoff at electro-ska, many of the younger fans have fully embraced it. Jeremy gave both Eichlers and Tape Girl a shoutout in their “20 New SKA Releases in 2020” video on their YouTube channel. So far, Russ says that the ska fans supporting these new bands have been supportive of his unusual take on ska.
“I can't believe how passionate, supportive, and enthusiastic these folks are about ska and their community. It's inspiring and I feel so fortunate to be making music that fits into that scene,” Russ says.