THE AGGROLITES with the AQUABATS and WHOLE WHEAT BREAD at the Reverb (651 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, June 15), 7 pm. $15. All ages. 416-504-0744. Rating: NNNNN
Even though The Aggrolites have been playing their own style of roots reggae around their home state of California for much of the past four years since the group was formed in Los Angeles, some people still think they're a ska band.
Okay, the Aggrolites tend to favour instrumentals, which might be the source of the confusion, but the rhythm, structure and tempo of their music clearly owe more to the sound of the Crystalites than the Skatalites.
Yet despite all the their' attempts to present themselves as a reggae band, going so far as to call their debut disc Dirty Reggae (Axe Records) to underscore the point, during the recent round of interviews to promote their self-titled debut for Tim Armstrong's Hellcat label they still found themselves having to correct journalists who insist on calling them a ska band.
"It's not just some people. Everybody calls us a ska band," snarls frontman Jesse Wagner over a cellphone. "I've even seen a few reviews that refer to our music as 'skinhead ska,' which is just ridiculous and it pisses me off because we play a very specific style of reggae inspired by Jamaican groups like the Aggrovators and the Crystalites - that's how we got our name.
"We've always played reggae and we always will, so it gets a bit frustrating to keep having to explain to these writers who tell me how much they love Sublime that we don't actually play ska."
Southern California might not seem like a modern mecca of roots reggae, but Los Angeles has had a thriving scene for years with groups like the Rhythm Doctors and the Vessels, whose members amalgamated as the Aggrolites in 2002. Still, you have to wonder how this group of contemporary musicians ever hit on playing an early 70s style of reggae that would be looked upon as weirdly anachronistic if they ever played a gig in Jamaica.
"Members of the group found their own way to reggae, whether it was from hearing a Two-Tone label group or maybe something by the Clash and then going backwards to check into the source of their inspiration.
"For me, it was listening to the Trojan Singles Collection, Volume 2. The passion of the music and the soul of it connected with me immediately. This was music of everyday people dealing with the issues that affected their lives in a way which could appeal to people all over the world - even some white boy from California like me.
"From then on it was reggae music exclusively, especially the stuff from between 1968 and 1972. There was just so much amazing music recorded during those years, I could spend my whole life trying to hear all of it and never come close."
It might be a bit premature to talk about a roots reggae revival, but Wagner has noticed the crowds are only getting bigger for their raw, old-school sound and there's no shortage of concert bookings.
"There are a few bands playing roots reggae in Los Angeles right now, and I see more and more groups on MySpace doing this kind of music all the time," says Wagner, "so there's more coming.
"The great thing about playing reggae is that you can get on a hiphop bill one night, do a gig with some ska bands the next night and then play a dancehall reggae show right after that and get the same respect from all of those different audiences.
"I mean, who doesn't like reggae?"