By Aaron Maiden
First off, I just wanted to mention that it’s currently the annual CKUT funding drive, and Roots Rock Rebel, the ONLY ska show on the FM dial in Montreal, and one of the top ska podcasts in the world, needs YOUR support. I pour my heart and soul into this show, each and every week. I do it as volunteer work – a labour of love. So please show your love for this music, this scene, and make a donation to Roots Rock Rebel here: https://secure.ckut.ca/fddb/donors/webpledge
So I have been heavily into ska music for over 15 years now. In fact, I would really say it’s more of a love story between me and the city of Montreal than anything else. But the story begins in Toronto. I went to my first ska show in the summer of 1998. It was an awesome free show with The Planet Smashers, who played for about 2 hours in a beautiful outdoor show in Nathan Phillips Square, just outside Toronto’s city hall. I skanked so hard in the sun that I got a bad heat stroke and then spent the rest of the afternoon puking.
That was only topped off by the next time I saw the Planet Smashers play in Toronto at the legendary El Mocambo, probably a year later, and their singer Matt Collyer got food poisoning just before the show. They almost cancelled, but they ended up playing anyways, with Matt sitting down the whole set, and puking into a bucket a couple times on stage.
But enough about vomit…
Toronto had some great bands in the late 90s and early 2000s – Spinecracker, Flashlight, Mugshot, and many others. But our scene just didn’t hold court to Montreal’s ska scene, which had flourished in the mid-90s with Stomp Records. It was always a treat for me to see Montreal bands when they would come down the 401 to Toronto. I fondly remember many all-ages shows when I was a teenager, several Ska Ska Oi nights organized by the Anti-Racist Action, with great Montreal bands like The Kingpins, Street Troopers, and of course General Rudie.
There were also some really fun road trips I took to Montreal when I was a teenager to catch ska shows here. Specifically, I remember coming to the Montreal Jazz festival in 2000, when they had several ska bands in the line-up, including the Kingpins and the Slackers doing an amazing double-bill at Metropolis, and the New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble and Stomp Allstars playing great outdoor shows.
As much fun as I had going to ska shows in my youth in Toronto, I always felt it was kind of my destiny to move back to Montreal, the city where I was born. More than that, I felt it was a real calling for me to do a ska radio show. I would really credit CIUT radio (the University of Toronto’s radio station) for being one of my main influences – especially JC and the show Mods and Rockers (a punk show I listened to religiously on Monday nights), and later DJ Skip Viitala and his show Ska Party. Even though I was some pimple-faced teenager, Skip invited me to come on his show a few times, opportunities that really changed me forever.
So when I moved to Montreal in 2002, CKUT radio was one of the first doors I knocked on, knowing that I eventually wanted to have a ska show there. The very first interview I ever did at CKUT was with Chris Murray, when he played at the now-defunct Jupiter Room on St-Laurent in 2003. In 2004, I got my first show on CKUT, a crazy overnight slot Tuesdays from 3-5am. The show at the time was called Rude Rude Radio, and I was convinced that the only people who were listening were truckers jacked on coke, unemployed alcoholics, my ex-girlfriend, and my friend who worked the graveyard shift at a homeless shelter.
Then finally in late 2005, my show moved into the current time slot it’s in now, Wednesdays from 10pm-12am. With a more reasonable time-slot, I knew there would be more people listening, and this would open up a lot of opportunities. So I changed the identity of the show a bit, starting with the name, Roots Rock Rebel (inspired by my favorite Clash song, “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”). Having an earlier show also meant I could have bands in for live interviews, which I’ve done pretty much every week since the show started.
Some of the most thrilling interviews I’ve done since starting the show would have to have been Jimmy Cliff, Marcia Griffiths, Bucket from the Toasters, and Lynval Golding from the Specials just before he took the stage at the Sound Academy in Toronto.
Another great achievement was of course helping to start the Montreal Ska Festival, alongside Val, Cath, and Lorraine. I was involved in helping to organize the festival in its first year, but sadly came to the realization that I didn’t have enough time in my life to fully commit to it. I think especially Val has done an amazing job carrying the festival forward into its 6th edition this year, and she deserves some mad props.
The Montreal ska scene has changed a lot even in the last 12 years that I’ve been living here, but its still awesome. It’s always been hard to make a decent living as a musician, specifically a ska musician, but today’s digital environment seems to make it all the harder. “Fans” download music for free, and probably worst of all, don’t go out to support live music as much as they should. So here’s my pitch – if we want a healthy ska scene here in Montreal, we have to keep going out to shows, supporting our ska festival, supporting our local bands, and supporting Roots Rock Rebel and CKUT.
Had to throw in a shameless self-plug there.