Rudy's Return: Houston's Latest Ska Revival

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Billy Munoz wants to reassure you would-be skankers to just get on the dance floor and do your thing. He won't judge you.

"It doesn't matter what you look like as long as you're moving," he says. "The goofier the better. We feed off our audience."

Andrew Garrigan agrees.

"Is there really a way to skank that doesn't look a little wonky?" he asks.

Munoz and Garrigan are Houston musicians, both well-qualified to speak on the subject. They're members of area ska bands and both agree they are seeing more fans attempting to skank because they're seeing more fans at shows.

"From our perspective, with six years in the scene, we've definitely seen a rise in our local ska/punk movement," says Munoz, the towering yet suave frontman for Always Guilty. "And it's definitely because of the fact that we and all the other bands we play with put a lot of effort into making people move."

Garrigan is the drummer for Molotov Compromise, which formed in 2006. In his mind, Houston has long had a love affair with the genre.

"When I was like 14, I would go to Fitz with my friends and we would watch ska shows with like 20 bands on them and I always wondered where they all went," he says. "Either way, ska is making a resurgence and I think a lot of people are going to take notice."

People are taking notice, and not just in Houston. Molotov Compromise was tapped to perform on the main stage at the Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival later this month in Las Vegas. They'll share main-stage honors with Devo, Bad Religion, Flag (the Keith Morris-fronted band playing Black Flag songs) and others.

"What a great opportunity for us to get in trouble," Garrigan says. "We have never been more excited about a show before. We're doing our best to not lose our shit and get it together."

The hard work put in by himself and bandmates Jeremy Pacheco, Steven Jolly and James McDowell -- the bulk of which was done in Houston -- got them the gig, Garrigan adds.

This city is growing new rude boys and girls all over again, according to Isaac Rodriguez, bassist for Fuska, one of the newer ska bands to emerge.

"Ska comes back in waves and I guess this is just another wave," says Rodriguez, whose band formed in 2010. "The shows are getting better and better and the kids are coming out and bringing their friends with them the next time."

That growing audience is finding more to choose from when the bill is ska-filled. Joined by newer groups like La Skandaloza and The Failed Attempt, these bands have invested the time, money and energy to push their brand closer to the forefront of Houston's musical community.

Of course, anyone familiar with local bands could argue ska has never fully departed as long as stalwarts Los Skarnales have been around. That band's co-founder, guitarist Jose Rodriguez, says he admires these bands and others like The Suffers and Indiginis, who are working to bring the music back to local prominence.

"I remember the ska scene in the mid '90's," he reflects. "All ska shows were packed and it was pretty damn cool. I think what's cool about the ska scene today is that the bands are in it because they love it. Not saying there were fakes in the '90's, what I mean is that if you play ska today, you might struggle more to get shows. You do it because you love it."

Los Skarnales have been doing it successfully nearly 20 years now. Rodriguez says he'd like to see these young bands have a good run too, but knows it's up to fans to support them and move the scene along.

"Houston has so much potential," he says. "This city is huge. There's no reason people shouldn't be out there looking for live music. When we were young, we were checking out shows almost every weekend. It was our life, but we were the rare few that were big music geeks."

It helps to have supportive venues, and everyone agrees Houston's club scene embraces the music.

"Mango's and Walters are very cool with us," Munoz says. "They both seem like venues that understand what we're doing."

"We played our first show at the White Swan, then like a million more," Garrigan adds. "Places like Walters and Fitzgerald's have always had some of the more epic stuff there. If there was one thing I would change it would be to get up a DIY venue, although the Ballistics Skate House has been tearing it up with shows."

All these groups share a common love of music that spans genres. Isaac Rodriguez said he and his Fuska bandmates -- Andy Delgado, Julio Bonilla and Joey and Richard Molina -- grew up listening to ska, punk, metal and Tejano.

Munoz said his band's influences include everyone from Fishbone and the Beach Boys to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to Mr. Bungle and "last, but not least -- Chubby Checker."

These diverse influences add to the flavor of what these bands do. For Always Guilty, you're as likely to see Munoz flowing on the mike or guitarist Nicco Martinez doing a Beatles medley as watching them play straight-ahead ska at any show. The guys from Fuska (Spanish slang for the word "gun," in case you were wondering) are a little truer to the form, but sing many songs in Spanish. Molotov wears its punk influence on its sleeve.

"I don't consider us a ska band by any means first, which is funny because the element of ska is probably the most important to our act," Garrigan says.

"Our most memorable shows are the ones we've played with bands from each wave of ska," says Munoz, whose group also includes Gino Sanchez and Jon and Jacob Garcia.

Isaac Rodriguez says Fuska also has played with some of the genre's big names, trailblazers like Voodoo Glow Skulls and the Skatalites. Every show has a role in growing a new ska market in Houston.

"We're out there every other weekend making shit happen or supporting a touring act or playing a benefit show," he says. "When you go to one of our shows, or an Always Guilty or La Skandaloza show, what you see is what we've built up on our own and that means a lot to us. Believe me, it's been a long road, but the shows keep getting better and better so that's cool and exciting."

Munoz and Garrigan agree the shows are improving, not just because of a renewed appreciation for ska, but because of crossover fans they attract when playing with other local bands that don't classify as ska.

"I've always loved our scene here. There's plenty of fuck-ups and we still love them and we all make this up together," Garrigan said.

But, there's always room for more, urges Munoz.

"We definitely have a core audience and we know who most of them are," he says. "But because we're in the fourth-largest city in U.S., it has a lot of potential to grow. There's always a new face in the crowd.

"It's up to Houstonians to get out of their homes and into local venues to support any kind of local music in general, not just ska," adds Munoz. "That would help the scene greatly."

Always Guilty and Molotov Compromise join Talk Sick Brats, Los Gritos, The Ballistics and many more Saturday at the Ballistics' Skate House behind Houston House of Creeps, 807 William in the Warehouse District. Doors open around 3 p.m.

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