AREA-7 Next to The Living End (at least initially), Area-7 were Australia’s biggest and best contribution to ska’s third wave – a bounding ensemble of musos that first came together as a Madness cover band, called Mad Not Madness, in 1993. When they took a brave step towards original material about a year later, they became Area-7, taking their name from a lyric in The Specials’ song Dawning Of A New Era. It was an apt title; Area-7 were on the doorstep of a whole new epoch in the history of ska – though it didn’t look like it from where they were standing.
“It’s only the press that ever talks about ska being a resurgence,” smiles Area-7 frontman Stevo, “I’ve been in and around the ska and alternative scene now since ‘81 – ska is always around. It’s just the media that jumps on this ten year cycle and starts noticing it and then all of a sudden it’s popular again.”
The reality however, is that the sound of ska had evolved. In the mid-‘90s, while mangy pop acts like Blink-182 and Pennywise were re-inventing punk, bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish and Operation Ivy set about bringing the funky, peppy Two Tone aesthetic back to the alternative music charts. They took the horny bounce of second wave bands like Madness and the Specials – themselves influenced by Jamaican reggae-meets-r’n’b sounds of the sixties – and injected a even more more energy into it, creating a kind of punk-ska sound with a shiny pop edge. This became known as the third wave of ska.
The third wave bands and their pop-punk brethren appeared side-by-side on the bill of the nascent Vans Warped Tour, which started in the US in the mid-‘90s and came to Australia in 1998. That was the year it really blew up, especially for Area-7.
“I think timing in most things in life is crucial,” says Stevo, “Our first CDs were ignored by Triple J, then we just happened to have a song out about racism, No Logic, which coincided with the birth of One Nation. Next thing you know we have a high rotation airplay on all the indie stations and national air play on Triple J.
“At the same time, Rancid, No Doubt and the ‘Bosstones were gaining big reputations in the ‘States and the next thing you know, the Aussie music industry is looking for their local ‘ska/punk’ act. Enter Area-7! Right place, right songs, at the right time.”
Over the next few years, Area-7 rode high on the third wave, releasing successively more popular singles including Bitter Words, Second Class Citizen and Start Making Sense from the gold-selling debut album Bitter And Twisted. They appeared at every festival we had back then, including Warped, Big Day Out, The Falls and Livid, and supported the likes of NOFX, Reel Big Fish and the Bosstones. They were nominated for an ARIA, too.
Things got altogether ridiculous around 2002, when Area-7 released a song called Nobody Likes A Bogan. It may not have been their highest charting track, but it’s probably their most memorable – which isn’t bad for a song that wasn’t meant to be a single.
“From memory we had actually almost finished recording or second album, Say It To My Face, when it dawned upon us that we were really missing a genuine all-round ska tune. Chucky T, our main songwriter and guitarist, just disappeared and tuned up twenty four hours later with that song, almost ready to record,” Stevo explains.
“We put it on as a bit of a gag and then Triple M decided they wanted to use it on a national competition to find ‘Australia’s Biggest Bogan’. In return they offered us high rotation for our next single, Save Yourself. Unfortunately, we never released that next single.”
This is where things went pear-shaped for Area-7, and in a fairly big way. They were contracted to Zomba Records, which unceremoniously shut up shop, leaving the band in a strange legal limbo, unable to release their existing record and unable to record another.
“We sat in limbo for about two years waiting for our release. Two years is a long time in music. In that time, Aussie Idol was born, the alternative scene moved into emo (oh woe is me) and the next thing you know, the demand for a happy-go-lucky ska band has gone into its usual ten year hibernation,” Stevo shrugs, then laughs. “Ah well. It was fun while it lasted.”
By Stevo’s count, the world may be due for another ska renaissance soon, but the boys from Area-7 are pretty happy to let another band lead the pack. While they haven’t split up, they’ve been extremely selective about which gigs they’ll play over the last five years or so, and they’re happy to continue making every appearance a very special event.
“We did eventually release an EP on our return from touring in East Timor, followed by an independent album recorded by Troy Trigwell at Woodstock Studios in St Kilda, but we just never got the same level of exposure,” Stevo says. “That’s ok though; we had our fun and now it’s someone else’s turn. So check out The Resignators and King Cannons – two fantastic Aussie ska bands who deserve some more recognition.”
Meanwhile, when Stevo and the guys play the pressure is off. They get to dive in a get sweaty with their friends and fans, and play ska for no other reason than a life-long love of the genre.
“Back in ‘79/’80 I was a little punker, but I saw Madness in ‘81 at Festival Hall and that gig seriously changed my life,” grins Stevo. “To me, ska offers a bit everything, and so that makes it great. It has history, credibility, a great social message about equality and damn it, its really good fun. When you have three hundred people in a skank circle and you’re watching it from stage and the crowd is just going nuts, it’s a great thing to be a part of.”