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Excuse Me Mister: No Doubt Announces Coachella Reunion, and Why a Ska-Punk Revival Must Be Stopped At All Costs

Updated: Feb 5

The highly anticipated 2024 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival lineup was announced last night, and according to the Los Angles Times, the festival has produced "[it's] most L.A.-centric bill of headliners to date," with Los Angeles resident Lana Del Rey set to headline Day 1 of the weekend, and California natives Tyler, The Creator and Doja Cat are slotted to mast Day 2 and 3 respectively.

Coachella has always has also been host to a mixed bag of bands and artists, oftentimes crafting whiplash inducing sets. Past years have gone so far as to slot Travis Scott with Father John Misty, Blondie with Metro Boomin; Billie Eilish even got mixed in with Danny Elfman one year. The 2024 lineup is no different, as this year's lucky few promise to reach every corner of the sonic universe; with sets from Peso Pluma, Blur, Tems, Purple Disco Machine, Ice Spice-- the list goes on and on. Arguably the most interesting signee, however, you'll find farther down the list in the not-so-fine print. As 2024's special guest, ska-punk outfit No Doubt will play their first show together after nearly a decade of inactivity.

If you could sum up the Mid-90's in a single picture...

Some of our readers may recognize No Doubt as Gwen Stefani and Co, or you might know them from that one disgustingly navy blue band tee their snob friend swears they didn't get off of AliExpress (c'mon, you guys, they really have been longtime fans, "Just A Girl" is really just their favorite song, honest). Regardless of how much you love "Just A Girl," or how regrettably deep down the ska rabbit hole you are, we can all find some common ground with No Doubt.

Originally the brainchild of Stefani's older brother, Eric, and his friend and Dairy Queen coworker John Spence, the band formed haphazardly in 1986 as an eight man garage-ska band. Tony Kanal, current bassist for No Doubt, discovered the band at one of it's early shows and would become their forever-bassist soon after. Kanal and Gwen would also start dating for a bit, but kept their relationship a secret as it was an unspoken rule in the band that no one in the band should date her. In 1987, John Spence tragically committed suicide days before the band was to play at The Roxy theatre in front of record industry employees and label scouts. No Doubt would disband briefly following Spence's passing, before reforming with John Meade as the newly christened lead vocalist. Gwen would take over shortly after. In 1988, Tom Dumont took over as lead guitarist after leaving Rising, the metal band he was a part of with his sister, because the Anaheim metal bands "were into drinking, wearing Spandex" and he wanted to focus on the music. In an interview with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Dumont said that after joining No Doubt "that was the first time people actually came to see the band." That same year, Adrian Young would replace Weber as the band's forever drummer and cement the band's core lineup.

During the band's brief original run, No Doubt released five albums before originally going on hiatus in 2004. Their first eponymous album was released in 1992, a super ska-heavy album considered a commercial flop by their label, which usually wasn't available in most of the cities they played in. They would then release the snippets and outtakes from previous recording sessions as their second album, The Beacon Street Collection, in March of 1995, which showcased a darker, grungier side of the band. Beacon Street sold almost three times as many copies as its predecessor.

Later that year, they released Tragic Kingdom, their most commercially successful record to date, which included some of their now most well-known songs, "Just A Girl," "Spiderwebs," and "Don't Speak." Tragic Kingdom was arguably their least ska-reliant album yet, and the argument could be made that the album's punk and pop rock sound contributed significantly to it's success. The album went platinum eight times and won No Doubt two awards at the 1997 Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Rock Album. "Don't Speak" was also rereleased as a single and won them two more Grammys for for Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and was certified diamond in 1999. No Doubt released two more albums afterwards, Return to Saturn and Rock Steady, neither of which had the same commercial success as Tragic Kingdom. The group went on hiatus in mid-2004 after performing at the Super Bowl XXXVII halftime show, then toured once more in 2008-2009 to promote the release of their then upcoming 2012 album, Push and Shove. No Doubt went on hiatus one more time in 2013, before quietly disbanding in 2015.

Flashforward to 2024 and here we are once again, talking about another band from the 90's or the early oughts on a comeback/reunion tour. Is No Doubt's Coachella reunion show any better or any worse than say blink-182 phoning in mid-life crisis pop-punk album and subsequent tour? Most would argue that this is a good thing, Gwen Stefani is performing again, she's going to perform "Just A Girl" again and probably get to sing a lot of her solo catalogue with her old band and most likely her brother-- yeah, all good things. Unfortunately, when bands like No Doubt , blink-182, KISS, you name it, reform and start touring again, it's never just them. Build it and they will come.

Outside of Tragic Kingdom, the ska-punk fanbase is a mess; full of former or current band majors that heard London Calling and got totally lost in the sauce when they got to "Rudie Can't Fail." Ska-punk, in particular, does not fall into either category of ska or punk, and is usually categorized by it's distinct use of horns and wind instruments, such as trumpets, trombones, and saxophones. The genre originally emerged in the UK during the late 1970's and 80's, when many of the punk rock bands of the time started incorporating Jamaican ska into their songs. The Clash spearheaded and largely popularized the sound, among many of their other influences. Other British bands like The Deadbeats and The Specials would walk alongside The Clash in creating the 2 Tone Ska movement. “Two-tone, the model for so much American ska, was all about making you dance and think at the same time," said Kenneth Partridge, author of Hell of a Hat: The Rise and Fall of ’90s Ska and Swing. "And those bands were operating at a very dark time in England." Subsequent British ska-punk bands in the late 80's, like Operation Ivy and Fishbone, fully embraced the political spirit of 2 Tone and Jamaican ska. Combining radical politics with ska-punk dance music kept the bands running at full steam into the nineties. “Politics and ska have always been intertwined,” said Heather Augustyn, writer of the 2019 documentary Pick It Up!: Ska in the ’90s. “Because Jamaica gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962, a number of songs both chronicling the road to independence and expressing optimism over this new freedom and national identity were written around this time. Still others channeled the oppression of the colonizers and issues of slavery and African identity.”

Across the pond, however, it wasn't until the 90's that ska-punk started to gain traction in the US mainstream, with bands like Sublime, Goldfinger, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less Than Jake, Rancid and of course, No Doubt. The ska-punk scene in North America could be characterized by and categorized into three groups. The first of which were the Southern Californian stoners, your basic Sublime and Red Hot Chili Peppers. A bit uppity and used to having it their way, but nothing wrong with them in particular. Next were Canadian punk rock bands that didn't know they were supposed to be punk rockers. These are the No Doubt's and Garbage, bands that should have started out as true blue alternative rock and punk bands. Lastly, you have your Rancid-adjacents, the crustpunks with all the leather and spiked effects of an 80's trad-punk but none of the musical inclinations, or all the musical inclination with none of the effects. There's also usually one White member that ends up sporting dreads at one point. These are your NOFX's and Less Than Jakes's.

But as with all genres coopted by White dudes, what's bad eventually gets worse. Reel Big Fish started peddling some pretty misogynistic messaging in their songs, and who could forget Ace of Base's Nazi propaganda piece, "The Sign." Ska-punk began to move further and further away from its political and punk roots, losing the edge it once had and the connection to the original Jamaican ska it could now barely be likened to. As the genre became further steeped in embarrassment and superficiality, it continued to dwindle and move further out of the spotlight, falling back into an underground niche.

From then on and through the early 2010's, fledgling ska hopefuls in Southern California (not-so-coincidentally the home of American ska pioneers Sublime) such as Slightly Stoopid, Long Beach Shortbus, Long Beach Dub Allstars, and Tribal Seeds worked to keep the ska and Caucasian reggae rock flame alight. To that end, we have narrowly avoided a ska-punk revival a few times over the last few years, as a few new ska-punk bands began squeaking onto the alternative and rock charts back in 2018. The Interrupters, the least stupidly named ska band out there, landed themselves a fluke hit with "She's Kerosene", which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. You have to understand though, 2018 was a great year for bad music. "Thunder" by Imagine Dragons was still charting and they kept throwing it up there alongside half of Brendan Urie's Pray for the Wicked. Even outside of that, however, The Interrupters never stood a chance with the game changing albums that were being released in 2018; Pusha T's Daytona, Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer, Mac Miller's Swimming, IDLES' Joy as an Act of Resistance-- ska music did not stand a chance that year, even between the terrible music that was coming out.

As attempts continue for a 4th Wave of Ska music, the original messaging of the genre is continuously misconstrued. In addition, the ska bands of today keep getting shinier and whinier as the metrosexuals continue to discover DMT. Most modern ska bands likely grew up on The Strokes and too many Brittany Spears music videos, evidenced by their skinny twink suits, leather pants and high cheekbones. Their zeal, and dare I say, eagerness to sell out under any circumstances has changed the genre into something toxic and harmful to music culture and to society at large. And that may be an extreme brush to paint The Interrupters and ska-punk bands with, but the truth of the matter is the last time someone had anything important to say in pants that tight with hair that greasy, he was still on Happy Days, aayyyyee!

At the end of the day, I'm not here to tell you what you should or should not listen to or enjoy. The heart wants what it wants, music is subjective, blah, blah, blah, all that. But what I can leave you with is this: if you want to listen to Jamaican music, you want to listen to fun tunes that make you want to dance, you want to smoke some weed and chill out, go listen to Natty Dread or Catch A Fire. Queue up the last Little Simz album, I'm begging you to listen to any Texas, Memphis or Louisiana blues records, some Twisted Sister even, you twisted little fuck. There are better mediums to make you think and dance. It's bad enough we let them bring back pop punk at our grown age, we cannot let them bring back ska. Listen to "Just A Girl" as many times as you want, but for all our sakes, let it stay dead.

Rob Lucchesi


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