The Only Way Is Off

I was poised to post something about The Members’ Pennies In The Pound as a kind of after thought to the dancehall delirium we’ve been experiencing this week but luckily our stateside hombre Mr Zed stopped by with something much skankier. So, over to you Edward…

Although it may be dancehall week at Skank Towers, and although it may also state in our brief that we tend to steer clear of ska punk, today I’m going to brazenly wave two fingers in the face of our self-imposed rules, for two reasons: Firstly, not being overly familiar with the dancehall end of things I was unable to conjure up a suitable spiky dread marriage for the occasion. Secondly, while not being overly keen on ska punk, there is one notable exception I’ve been meaning to pay my respects to for some time, and hearing their herky-jerky strains earlier today provided the inspiration.

Long before mohawked moneyspinners Rancid and their ilk inflicted themselves on our musical palates, San Francisco’s The Offs were ska-ing the young face of punk with a sonic switchblade that predated even 2-Tone.
Their debut, a boisterous cover of The Slickers’ Johnny Too Bad, is a rare example of punks playing reggae in a punk style; it vibrates with tinny, ramshackle guitars, yobbish vocals and is backed by a fabulously morbid vision of a faceless future, 624803, on the b-side.

The follow-up, Everyone’s A Bigot, provided the blueprint for the angular, socially conscious ‘skunk’ that was to characterize the remainder of their output, and was considered something of a controversial statement at the time (rumour has it that the lyrics stemmed from intolerance  suffered by openly homosexual vocalist Don Vinil).

After migrating to New York in 1980, the boys swiftly became a minor sensation on the downtown scene, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Basquiat (who designed the sleeve for their First Record LP) and the perennially lovable Richard Edson, who frequently tooted his trumpet with them at hipster hotspots the Mudd Club and Danceteria.

Despite the urgent, brass-led dance attacks they developed in the Big Apple, there is an indefinable darkness that permeates almost all of The Offs’ material. Even their most upbeat output, such as 1980’s My World and the polished funk of their LP seem moments away from melancholy—fittingly, perhaps, as their career was cut short by Don Vinil’s tragic death from a heroin overdose in 1983.

Ain’t no melancholy here, however:

And the fabulous You Fascinate Me from First Record. Anyone for Edson?

(Dread Zed)

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