Celebrating five years this August, the annual Mass Ska Raid at the Masquerade (get it?! Say it out loud: Mass-Ska-Raid, Mas-Que-Rade) has grown into one of the largest annual gathering of ska bands in the country, and the only one of its kind still kicking in the Southeast.
A long-time bassist for disbanded Atlanta ska band 50:50 Shot, Benedict took some time to talk about the spastic evolution of Southern ska, 50:50 Shot’s Mass Ska Raid reunion, and where the ebbing genre may go from here.
Plus, he taught me how to skank.
Clay Duda: So, as far as I know there’s really not another show like this in the Southeast. What makes the Mass Ska Raid unique and keeps people coming back year after year?
Austin Benedict: Well, like you said, there really is no other ska festival in the Southeast like the Mass Ska Raid. The whole thing behind Mass Ska Raid is to reward the hard-working and really unique bands by putting them in front of as many people as possible.
What’s cool about Mass Ska Raid is you’ll get the local bands that everyone knows and likes — like the Taj Motel Trio, which is definitely the most popular — and then there are other bands from the region people specifically come to see like Chilled Monkey Brains (from Tallahassee) and Joystick (from New Orleans). But the one thing that I think keeps people coming back is that I try to bring in really good bands from anywhere in America that are great acts and hard working.
So I bring in these bands and literally no one in the crowd has ever heard of them, and every year there’s four or five bands that people just go crazy for that they’ve never even heard of. So I think people come because they want to see what’s next, “what did Mass Ska Raid bring in this year that I can discover?”
So I’ve got to ask. Can you teach me how to skank?
I’d love to teach you how to skank.
Can you do it right now? Over the phone?
If I wasn’t driving I’d be doing it right now...
Alright, five years is a long time. How has the Mass Ska Raid changed or progressed since the first show back in 2008?
Well, I didn’t know what I was doing when I first started. Definitely the level of professionalism in the show has come a long way. The first couple of years it was all kind of scattered and kind of unorganized, but now it’s much more streamlined.
At first, I was just kind of booking all the bands I liked and helping out friends, but now I’m really trying to give people what I think they want to see. I’m trying to bring in new bands that they don’t know they’ll love, and then the bands everyone requests, and then the local bands to help them build their own following.
Your band, 50:50 Shot, is calling this a “reunion show”. What brought you guys back together for this shindig?
We didn’t really have a real last show ever. We played a show up in Athens, Ga. in early September of 2010. We brought up Paranoia Dance Party for the weekend, and we were playing the shows with Taj [Motel Trio].
The next day we had a show at the Masquerade with the same bands, and everything just literally fell apart in front of my eyes. We didn’t even play that night. I had to go on stage and say “I’m sorry, but our bands not here. People left and we can’t play.”
We wanted to give ourselves one last time to get on stage and play the songs we wrote and put so much time into, and we wanted to give all our fans that didn’t have a chance to see us one last time a definitive chance.
The history of ska is generally broken down into waves: Loosely speaking, first wave came out of Jamaica in the 1950’s, then 2 Tone in the late 70’s and into the 80’s. Third wave ska, which most people are more familiar with, was more of a fusion of punk rock and ska sounds that really rose to prominence in the 1990’s. It seems ska is kind of in-between waves at the moment. Where do you see it heading?
For a long time I thought it was going to go into the harder stuff. I saw a lot of really good skacore bands coming up and progressing, but I’ve seen a lot more experimental ska going on [in recent times] — ska influenced by different sounds like synth or jazz. So it seems like ska is really diverse right now. It’s no longer just the third-wave up strokes, and the same horn lines you’re used to hearing.
Ska is definitely expanding and reaching new sounds it didn’t have 10 years ago.
The Atlanta ska scene has seen its own share ups and downs over the years. What does the current scene look like and where do you see it going from here?
Currently, I’d say it’s on a little bit of a downward trend, but it’s nothing to be alarmed about. There are still some really good bands in the area that are playing. The Hermits of Suburbia [for example] are playing a lot of shows in Atlanta. They’re doing a lot of good stuff just trying to keep people coming into the shows.
Me personally, I’m just waiting for that next big thing in ska. I feel like for the past five or six years, as far as the national circuit goes, it’s been the same bands carrying all the weight as far as putting on all the big ska shows. So I’m just waiting for the next band or two to break out and start going on these national tours and packing the house.
On that note, are there any bands you have your eye on that might make that break out move?
There are, and they’re actually playing Mass Ska Raid this year.
The first one that comes to mind is the Last Slice. They’re out of Oklahoma, or one of those weird states in the Midwest. They just have a great sound.
It seems like a lot of ATL ska bands hail from the suburbs. You played in a [Atlanta ska] band for years. How do intown shows and support differ from the suburbs?
It’s weird because there are different little pockets of the city where people [from the 'burbs] will go to a show, or they won’t go to a show.
You’ll see a lot of people from the suburbs come to Atlanta for a show, but you will not see people from downtown Atlanta go to the suburbs for a show. People in downtown Atlanta hate going outside the perimeter for a show, and I definitely get that as I sit here in traffic on 400.
But yeah, a lot of the stuff going on in the suburbs... you see a lot of younger kids living in that area. They get their friends to follow and then they eventually get their own fans. If they [eventually] move to Atlanta a lot of them are able to transition their fans into coming down to seeing them here.
Well, I’m about out of questions. Are you sure you don’t want to teach me how to skank? It might kill some time in traffic.
Ha! Alright. First you got to get a nice fast “chicka chicka chicka” drumbeat going. Then put your arms about 90 degree angles each. So, then you’re going to kind of duck a little bit and bring your right arm forward.
Ok, I’m trying it.
And then, as you do that, you’re going to take you left leg and bring it up toward your right shoulder.
Do that one time, then put those back and do the exact same thing with you left arm and your right knee. Then bring those up. Try to get that as fluid as a motion as possible.
Can you give me a drum-beat again so I can try [the whole thing] here in the office?
Chicka chicka, chicka chicka, chicka chicka, chicka chicka, paka-po paka-po pa.
Hell yeah, I think I got it.
Perfect. Can’t wait to see it.
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