The genre of ska, and more specifically ska punk, used to be an almighty genre within in the music scene. Combining elements of blues, jazz, punk, rock and reggae, bands like No Doubt and Sublime crafted upbeat and punk-as-hell music that was like a friendly punch in the face. Don’t actually punch your friends in the face; that may not be the best idea. The ’90s then ended and ska faded into the background of rock music with the growing popularity of nu-metal, Nirvana-inspired grunge bands – of which most crashed and burned – and the metalcore and post-hardcore explosions on the early 2000s. Despite this international decline of the genre, ska was still going strong within South Africa. Bands like Fuzigish and Hog Hoggidy Hog still wave the ska flag proudly. South Africa has recently produced another ska act to add to the list of South African bands that proudly uphold the genre, and that band’s name is Grassy Spark.
Grassy Spark has been blowing minds for the past two years and nothing seems to be slowing them down. They’ve dominated the main stage at major festivals like Synergy, Splashy Fen and Rocking the Daisies. Pretty good for a young band. To add to their list of accolades, their debut album The Virtual Kids was recorded entirely from their bedrooms. Yes, that is right – THEIR BEDROOMS. They’ve created some of the most infectious and downright marvelous songs from the comfort of their bedroom. Talk about living the life, right?
The Virtual Kids kicks off with the mellow yet upbeat “Magic Potion”. This song sees Grassy Spark really digging deep into ska’s Jamaican reggae roots and then blending it with some funky punk rock guitar riffs. For a song that is entirely about Cape Town, they manage to reflect both the mellow and energetic natures of Cape Town simply by constructing the song’s sound to imbue an energetic nature while maintaining a mellow facade.
“Thank the Skank” opens with a wave of drums and all-sorted brass instruments that immediately set the tone of this song as being a ska-punk tune at heart. The tempo is akin of that to a punk song yet the presence of the brass instruments manages to turn what could have been an angry song into something a lot happier and more upbeat one. The guitar riffs chug beneath an infectious combination of brass and drums. There is one lyric that resonates with the entire ska genre and that is, “Don’t tell me my music is getting old.” Ska has been frowned upon as one of those genres that is “old” and “uncool”. Grassy Spark proves this wrong.
“Excuse Me” is a low-key reggae-based song that should find its way onto everybody’s summertime playlist. It is the perfect song for one of those amazing summer days where it should just be spent outside with a handful of good friends. The song slips between a low-key, brass-infused reggae section before launching into a more risqué and upbeat ska section upon the chorus and then eventually breaks down into a mean guitar solo from Yanick Bathfield. Rules for this song: windows down, volume up.
“Feeling That I Just Can’t Shake” has punk rock lyrics, a latin sound in the background, reggae-styled chord progression, rock ‘n roll guitar riffs and a funk beat. This is the epitome of ska – blending every feel-good genre into one to make a creature that oozes with happiness. Grassy Spark states the desire with this song through the lyric, “I want to see this music making changes for the betterment of humankind,” and they achieve that desire by simply creating an infectious feel-good song that is impossible to hate.
You know how most closing songs tend to be quite calm and relaxing? Yeah, Grassy Spark didn’t get that memo. They instead decided to create a monster of a ska-punk song that will make you want to jump up and start dancing. The guitars snarl out from behind the wall of brass instruments while the drums smoothly shift between reggae-style and typical crashing punk rock snares. They even throw a bit of a saxophone solo in for the fun of it.
Grassy Spark started strong, maintained that strength and then just smashed it out of the ballpark. They finish on such a high note that it is almost impossible to not mash the replay button each time The Virtual Kids finishes. Numerous South Africans are of the disposition that the local music is pathetic. Well, Grassy Spark delivers a healthy dose of: “Sit down, shut up and listen to how awesome we are and then go out and embrace the South African music scene.”
You can download a copy of The Virtual Friends for free right here.