It’s easy to get academic when talking about skate punk and skater rock; to focus on definitions and trends and subgenres rather than the music itself. After all, how do you talk about music designed to be listened to rather than mulled over without slowly migrating up your own behind?
To that end, rather than messing about with the circumstantial stuff, here is the history of skate punk as told over the careers of eight bands; a list of the genre’s titans and their scuzzed-out, uncompromising achievements.
Born out of the rebellious slop of the Texas punk scene, the Dicks were one of the first bands to combine poppy choruses, incisive political lyrics, and thrashing instrumentation. Unlike the hypermasculine, often vaguely sexist approach taken by other bands of the era, the Dicks offset the brutality of their music with dark humour and surprising doses of self-reflection – their song ‘Off Duty Sailor’ openly confronted the homophobic element to the punk scene.
Although the group broke up in 1986, a few years before skater punk made the leap to the mainstream, they nonetheless inspired a bevy of the artists that followed, and the stinking, greasy mark they left on the genre can still be seen to this day.
They might have eventually abandoned their roots and transformed into a fully fledged hardcore band, but Propaghandi’s early albums remain the high point for skate punk as a genre. Well-regarded for their sociocultural hot takes – the band members are committed vegans, not to mention outspoken critics of institutionalised religion – their music is as boppy as it is barbed, and they have always known how to craft choruses that can prompt mosh pits and furious political discussions in equal measure.
Their song titles are pretty fucking great too: how can you not love a band that produces tracks like ‘Stick The Fucking Flag Up Your Goddamn Ass, You Sonofabitch’ and ‘Haillie Sellasse, Up Your Ass’.
It would be remiss of any critic not to at least include one band from skate punk’s big mainstream breakout in a list like this, and of all the groups that cashed in on the phenomenon, Green Day are probably the most adept. Though they are the very definition of a hit-and-miss band – some of their lesser records are hot garbage, and they fumble as many songs as they nail – one cannot deny the sleek pleasures of Dookie, their greatest achievement.
A crammed-together collection of puerile jokes, headbanging choruses and barked lyrics, it’s not hard to see why the work flew off the shelves the way that it did. There’s a reason the thing sold 20 million copies worldwide, after all.
One of the lost titans of the skate punk genre, Jay Reatard’s music blurred a thousand different genre boundaries. His songs alternated between Replacements-esque rancour and the jittery joy that defines skate punk, making him a truly unique proposition: each of his songs set a different trope in their sights, and he spent his short career confounding even the fans who tracked his every move.
Blood Visions, his first record, is maybe the genre’s most perfect achievement – a magnum opus that makes his death at the tender age of 29 that much more tragic.
One of the key groups involved in skate punk’s recent resurgence, FIDLAR (their name is an acronym for Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk) are yet to release a dud single. Over the space of their two albums, the Californians have dropped a series of deliciously dumb paeans dedicated to surfing, skating and getting stoned, and their raucous live shows are already the stuff of legend.
But for every ripe punk hit they have turned in, FIDLAR have a surprisingly heartfelt ballad to offset it – ‘Awkward’ and ‘I Just Wanna Die’ are both shot through with incisive doses of self-depreciation, and they know that no matter how high you get, there’s always a comedown to follow.
Speaking of raucous live shows, you’d be lucky to make it out of a Wavves gig with all of your limbs intact. Moshpits don’t just form when Wavves play – the pits practically split venues down the middle, and the band spends its 90 minutes onstage edging things closer and closer towards abandon.
Wavves’ packed catalogue helps them perfectly with this chaotic intent of course – lead songwriter Nathan Williams knows how to write the kind of chorus audiences can’t help but scream back into his face – and their self-titled album is one long, bloodied, fuzzy howl.
Scabz don’t only mess around with skate punk tropes – their music also pays due homage to garage rock and post-punk too – but the Newtowners are nonetheless one of a few select groups breathing new life into worryingly tried and true punk-pop propositions.
Their vigorous singles combine a bleak, recognisably ’Strayan sense of humour with the kind of choruses that have venues heaving – and, perhaps most excitingly of all, they’re only just getting started.
Byron Bay weirdos Skegss are one of Australia’s freshest breakout skate punk acts: their most recent EP Holiday Food is a gutsy, bold collection of tunes that fans have already taken to like flies on honey.
And, like the best skate punk acts on this list, Skegss know how to throw a party or two: their recent shows have been deliciously chaotic, sweaty mosh-fests. A band to watch.
Skegss’ EP Holiday Food is out now through Ratbag Records. See them at Oxford Art Factory on Thursday June 15 and Friday June 16. Grab your tickets here.