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The Selecter: ‘When you reach our age you don't give a f*ck…’

Inspired by punk but drawing from Jamaican ska, THE SELECTER helped transform the 80s and inspired US ska-punk. Today, says frontwoman Pauline Black, they’re as angry and relevant as ever.

In some ways, the world was a simpler place in 1979. Rockers liked rock. Soul boys liked soul. Punks liked punk and mods liked, erm, The Jam, usually. And never the twain would meet very often. You chose your tribe and you stuck to it. Even when The Clash began fusing their furious rabble-rousing punk with reggae stylings, the fans weren’t really feeling it, and kept on shouting for ‘White Riot’. And the days of rock fusing with rap, funk and soul were still some way off.

But something was happening that was attracting fans from every camp, and its name was Two Tone. It became known as ska because of the inspiration it drew from 1960s Jamaican music like Prince Buster and the Skatalites. But this was decidedly different – the tempo was cranked up, the backbeat beefed up and the attitude unashamedly in-your-face, reflecting the punk scene that had spawned it in the first place. 

This was high-octane, furiously intense music that suited moshing as much as dancing, and since the scene's first flowering in the late 1970s, it has pioneered the cross-pollination of musical styles to the point where now it's now rare to find anyone who restricts their listening to just one form of music, and it's commonplace to find rock bands drawing on influences from a whole range of different genres in their music. 

The Two-Tone style of ska itself, meanwhile, proved hugely influential on ska-punk and ska-core bands like Rancid, Sublime and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, as well as informing the punkier side of American alt-rock like The Offspring. 

Two Tone's tentacles have reached far and wide, then, and that's one reason why reformed leading lights of the original scene, The Selecter, have called their new album Subculture, as singer Pauline Black explains: 

"We were a subculture, but we were also an umbrella for all sorts of people who just bought into the energy and attitude of what we were doing: punks, Northern Soul fans, rude boys, skinheads, mods – they all came to our gigs, and I think that was the beginning of music starting to cross-pollinate and diversify. I mean, we didn't get everything right: I guess we influenced that twerp Olly Murs! But even if that doesn't appeal to me because it doesn't have the edge or the alternative philosophy we had, it shows how far Two Tone spread.”

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