The Aggrolites Talk Skinhead Reggae

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The Aggrolites are a skinhead reggae band from Los Angeles.

With a faster pace than the ska and rocksteady that came before it, the style got its name from its old-school UK fans, the black Jamaican rudeboys and white mod factory workers who pioneered the original skinhead subculture.

We spoke to the Aggrolites about their music before tonight's show at Churchill's Pub. Here's what founding member Roger Rivas had to say.

Crossfade: How important is that organ to your sound? What is the specific model?

The Aggrolites: It's a Hammond M3, chopped. A Hammond is heavy as heavy can be, and it's hard to move it around and take on tour. But it really gets that sound, and definitely beats a keyboard.

The Aggrolites formed in 2002 as a live backing band for reggae icon Derrick Morgan. How many shows did you do with him?

We did a handful of shows in Los Angeles, about three shows. And that was the beginning of how the band started. We all came together with a common interest in skinhead reggae. And it was history from that point on.

They just busted a neo-Nazi crew around Orlando the other day. What can you say about non-racist skinheads in America?

I think that over the years a lot of people have wised up to what a skinhead actually is. Pre-Internet, all you had was word of mouth and books. The name skinhead gets a bad name from the National Front and white power supremacist movements. The skinhead has really got that menacing look. So it's no surprise it was taken and packaged in a racist form. But its origin in the black and white working class of the UK in the '60s and '70s is where it actually comes from. The word and the fashion belong to them, not some boneheads that get together behind closed doors and hang a Nazi flag up. Just type skinhead into Wikipedia, or a lot of other sites that are doing a good job in adressing non-racist skinheads first.

Who is your favorite Jamaican producer?

I could say Coxsone Dodd with Studio One or Lee Scratch Perry with Arkology. But I'll say Clancy Eccles with Clansone Records, and his house band The Dynamites. That's obscure. Look it up online. It's really infectious reggae, really groovey stuff.

Are you familiar with the role of Miami radio in Jamaican music?

Nah, how so?

The islands were able to pick up Miami radio stations to tune into early American R&B music like Sam Cooke. And that's where they got half their sound.

That's really cool. I think it's great how things evolve. And that's something that's not planned. So to hear that really adds to the story of Jamaican music. Something like that happens naturally, and that's a testament to it. The ska, rocksteady, and reggae pioneers were heavily influenced by boogie woogie, R&B, and rockabilly. But they started emphasizing the upbeat. That shuffle sound would not have existed without it. Or it would have taken a way different turn. That American influence was definitely crucial.

Do you do any covers?

We do all kinds of covers -- this one Delroy Wilson rocksteady tune, an instrumental tune by The Blenders. It actually depends on the set. We throw one in here and there. But back in the day, we did nothing but covers, so we tend to favor originals. I always like to hear familiar tune when I go out to a show. So you'll probably hear some classic Studio One tunes.

How long is your set?

We've been playing like an hour and change. It's a nice party. This is gonna be the first time anybody hears this new set. It's got songs people have been requesting over time, and we kept in the favorites. We're really stoked. It's fresh to us and the feedback has been great.

How did your band name come about?

We didn't actually come up with it. This guy from a band called the Sandollars was throwing it around and we were looking for a name that sounded cool. Aggro can mean tough or upset. So that's like The Upsetters. And -lites is, like, back in the day, a lot of bands had that in their name like Skatalites, Crystalites, even the Chi-Lites. It suited us, so we went with it.

Cool, thanks. Any shout outs?

Look for us on AggroReggae.com, facebook.com/theaggrolites, and on tour with 311 and Slightly Stoopid this summer. We're writing for the new album and we're always doing things. So look out.

The Aggrolites with Old Man Markley, Askultura, The Wholetones, Sped the Dub, DJ Rudeboi Shuffle, and DJ Los Treces, presented by Idle Hands. Wednesday, May 9. Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $15 at the door. Call 305-757-1807 or visit churchillspub.com.

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