How did the band 23 Skidoo contribute to music?

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Karyth Cara | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Contributions of 23 Skidoo

  • Laid the foundation for the trip-hop and techno genres of music.
  • Brought electronica out of its infancy.
  • Were "sampled" by and had elements "lifted" by other artists: Ice T "sampled" 23 Sidoo's music in his song, "Peel Their Caps Back"; Chemical Brothers "lifted" 23 Skidoo's "funk workout" "Coup" to use in their own "Block Rockin' Blues," a song that won an Grammy Award for Chemical Brothers.
  • Were among the first to combine "jazz, ethnic music, and synthesized sounds" that were "rhythm-based sounds."
  • Influenced graphic design through their album cover art designed by Neville Brody as is documented in The Graphic Language of Neville Brody. 
  • Made social comment against the turmoil of the 1980s by using "tape loops, metallic noise, and electronics to expose the hollow core of post-industrial society" and by using "urban funk and ethnological sounds to reveal ... Western cultural complacency." (Laura Hightower, "23 Skidoo" on Gale Cegage)

Brief History of 23 Skidoo

The trio, Alex and Johnny Turnbull, Fritz Catlin (also known as Fritz Haamann), and bassist Sketch formed the band in London, England, in 1979s--Sketch replaced occasional members and joined in 1983--as a cultural and political reaction to the economic and social adversity and turmoil raging in the United Kingdom, including "Thatcherism," in the 1980s. Their opinions were anti-imperialist, anti-traditional, anti-industrial and anti-cultural complacency, and they used extreme sounds and sound techniques (e.g., tape loops, metalic noise) to give vent to these sentiments and opinions.

The Trumbull brothers--descendant from the ancient Scottish clan Trumbull--are percussionists who studied Burundi and Kodo drumming and who were fans of and heavily influenced by Fela Kuti and The Last Poets. Fela Kuti is a Nigerian musician and conductor who combines African sounds and rhythms with a big band jazz sound. The Last Poets are a politically oriented rap-techno group that emphasizes percussion rhythm. Both Fela Kuti and The Last Poets speak of "the revolution," political and financial, as significant thematic elements in their music. Groups that were contemporary to 23 Skidoo that were similarly mixing disco, ethno and funk beats to express socio-cultural political-industrial sentiments were Pop Group, A Certain Ratio, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and This Heat.

The Turnbull's and Sketch chose their name, 23 Skidoo, from the late 19th and early 20th century slang expression "23 skiddoo!" which has an origin and meaning that are hard to track down. Yet the best consensus is that the expression may have originated as a combination of two terms with "23" associated with the race track and "skiddo" associated with an old folk expression meaning "bad luck." The slang expression "23 skiddoo" may have most commonly had a meaning something like "Uh oh--I got caught--I gotta go": bad luck requires fleeing fast like a horse. That the Turnbull brothers selected it as their band name reflects more on its unusual sound qualities than on its early somewhat elusive meanings.

23 Skidoo Performances and Recordings

The Skidoo trio is another band of the 1980s English political and socio-cultural unrest era that developed a reputation for musically violent live performances (not physically violent like when Damned performed). 

"We were so aggressive because we really wanted to antagonize people who came to see us, to make them think about what they were doing. We'd try and unhinge them by the performance we did." (Johnny Turnbull interviewed by David Stubbs, Wire Magazine.)

When the band returned after a hiatus, during which they ran their Ronin recording label and developed their music for their 2000 release, their violence was subdued by maturity and by the changing times, since it was so integrally tied with the social, cultural, and economically violent times of the 1980s in England.

Their first single release was the 1980 double "Ethics" with "Another Baby's Face." Their second single was the 1981 song "The Gospel Comes To New Guinea," which is said to have revealed their developed "vision" for their contribution of protest to the music world. Johnny Turnbull made a point of explaining in his 2000 Wire interview with David Stubbs that, while the trio had decided statements they made about the times they lived in, they did not see themselves as "clever" intellectuals. The atmosphere of protest and violent turmoil they generated in performances was the result of "siren blasts of trumpet, funk guitar, industrial bass, and manic percussion instruments [blaring] in a fury under a haze of smoke and projected images" (Hightower, "Skidoo"). 

1981 also saw the release of their first album Seven Songs. The dominant tracks were:

  • "Kundalini"
  • "Vegas El Bandito," funk-inspired
  • "Mary's Operation"

The less inspired album Tearing Up The Plans was released in 1982, though the Turnbull brothers were traveling in Indonesia, and contained one noteworthy track: "Just Like Everybody." It is when the Turnbull's returned to London that they and Catlin brought Sketch into the group in 1983 while dismissing occasional 23 Skidoo participants guitarist Sam Mills and vocalist Tom Heslop. "Coup" was then released in 1983 featuring the new quartet of Turnbull, Turnbull, Catlin and Sketch. The album The Culling Is Coming was also released in 1983; the single "Coup" was included as one of the tracks. The album was notable for its combination of recorded live performances on one side with gentler songs stemming from their Indonesian travels on the other.

Their last album of the 1980s and 90s was Urban Gamelan released in 1984. Prior to dissolving the band in 1984, energies were put into running their newly opened recording label, Ronin, through which they nurtured the rising hip-hop musicians like Roots Manuva, Deckwrecka, Skitz and Rodney P while also recording advertisements for corporate entities like Smirnoff, Nike and Wrangler. In 2000, an agreement with Virgin Records resulted in the release of an album that took four years in the making. 23 Skidoo (2000) is "combined funk, wayward jazz, and ambient and industrial textures" (Hightower). Noteworthy tracks are:

  • "Interzonal," free-form
  • "Kendang,"  urban gamelan 
  • "Dawning," featuring jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders 

Interest in the 2000 release led to the decision to re-release the 23 Skidoo catalog in 2001.

Source: Laura Hightower. "23 Skidoo." Contemporary Musicians. Vol. 31. Gale Cengage, 2006.

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laurto | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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23 Skidoo are a British band that played a combination of industrial, post-punk,alternative dance, rock, and world music. They combined many kinds of music to create an original sound of which many artists today sample from. 

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