Two Tone and Ska: The Rhythmic Roots of British Cultural Fusion.
We take a deep dive into a uniquely British subcultural movement that globally influenced music, fashion and culture. The culture clash in 1970s Britain saw the merging of punk with dancehall, thus Two Tone was born. A unity between black and white working class people to form a new movement, who's ripples are still felt today. We've seen it influence the likes of Japanese labels WTAPS and Neighborhood, and now Nicholas Daley's latest collection has Two Tone at it's cultural forefront. Explore below...
The origins of Two Tone and Ska music can be traced back to Jamaica in the late 1950s, where a vibrant musical scene was emerging. Ska, characterised by its upbeat tempo, syncopated rhythms, and horn-driven melodies, was the precursor to reggae and played a pivotal role in shaping the soundscape of the Caribbean. It blended elements of traditional Jamaican mento and calypso with American R&B and jazz, creating a unique and infectious sound that resonated with people far beyond the island's shores.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, as immigration from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom increased, so did the influence of Ska and other Caribbean musical genres. Jamaican immigrants brought their music and culture with them, introducing Ska to British cities like London, Coventry, and Birmingham. Ska's catchy melodies and danceable rhythms quickly gained popularity among both Caribbean and British communities.
The term "Two Tone" emerged in the late 1970s when a new wave of Ska revivalists in the UK, led by bands like The Specials, Madness, and The Selecter, incorporated elements of punk rock and new wave into the Ska sound. The name "Two Tone" represented racial unity and harmony, with black and white musicians coming together to create music that transcended racial boundaries.
Two Tone not only fused musical styles but also reflected the social and political climate of Britain at the time. The late 1970s and early 1980s were marked by racial tensions and economic hardship, and Two Tone's message of unity and tolerance resonated deeply with the youth. The movement promoted racial inclusivity and celebrated multiculturalism, influencing fashion, art, and youth culture.
As well as being a musical revolution, Two Tone’s statements of cultural rebellion and unity resonated with Japanese designers, evident in brands like Tetsu Nishiyama’s WTAPS and Shinsuke Takizawa’s Neighborhood. Two brands from the East with a reputation for their exploration of subcultures, often embodying the spirit of rebellion and social commentary synonymous with Two Tone.
Both WTAPS and Neighborhood have paid homage to the iconic black and white checkerboard motif associated with 2 Tone bands. This pattern, symbolizing racial unity, has been reimagined in their clothing lines, blending it with their distinct Japanese aesthetic.The punk and mod influences of Two Tone are also evident in the designs of these brands. WTAPS and Neighborhood often incorporate sharp tailoring, military-inspired pieces, and punk-style graphics into their collections. These design elements reflect the rebellious, DIY ethos of British subcultures.
The impact of Two Tone and Ska on British culture was profound. It paved the way for subsequent musical genres, such as the 1980s' 2 Tone-influenced ska punk and the 1990s' ska revival. Furthermore, it left an enduring legacy of multiculturalism, tolerance, and the power of music to bridge divides in British society. Today, Two Tone and Ska continue to be celebrated as essential chapters in the rich tapestry of British cultural history, reminding us of the enduring power of music to shape and unite communities.