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The Aggrolites, a Gritty Reggage Band
Every genre of music has its dark side and its light side. Punk kids have the angry speed of anarcho-punk on the one hand and the whiny angst of folk punk on the other. Metal has got the intricately controlled technical focus of mathcore and the erratic thrash of death metal with all of the subcategories of the calm-chaos spectrum in between. Even country music has the lightness of pop country and the flip side of progressive outlaw country. That’s because within every genre of music, there are all kinds of different listeners from the ones who love melody (or at least yearn for a little peace in their lives) to those who think music is a way to get the ugliest of their feelings out into the toxic air of their lives. Dark and light; that chiaroscuro can be found in all music.
But what about reggae? Now there’s a genre that really has only one side to it right? It’s a specific type of music associated with the airy lightness of Caribbean beaches and the fantasies of those who dream by the pipe. There is no such thing as “dark reggae” right? Wrong. Meet The Aggrolites, a Los Angeles based reggae band that brings grittiness to reggae and takes it back to its historical roots as a genre that was once loved by America’s skinheads.
Yes, you read that correctly. A press kit from the band supplies us with some historical information about the reggae genre, providing us with the information that reggae was once “discredited as simple and crude because it was directly affiliated with the skinheads who were the most avid and loyal fans”. This was back in the hippie era; but while others may have been dancing around with flowers in the hair, those purveyors of the reggae genre were taking the dark side of funk and putting it into a style of its own. When asked, The Aggrolites say that they of course they don’t call themselves a “skinhead reggae” band but the influence of this darker, grittier, funkier side of reggae is apparent in their music. Using technology that helps achieve that old-school sound, they play what they refer to as “Dirty Reggae”.
The band formed in 2002 and released a CD on Axe Records the following year. It was appropriately titled Dirty Reggae. The band didn’t gain widespread attention at that time. Shortly after they switched over to working with Hellcat Records where they started to have more success in the music industry. The word began to spread about their music.
The Aggrolites’ 19-track self-titled CD was released in 2006 to reviews that widely agreed that the band had that deep funk sound. However, the reviewers were divided as to whether it was more appealing to fans of punk, lovers of ska or people who just love to boogie to reggae. Their next CD, the 16-track Reggae Hit L.A. produced by Hellcat Records, was released the following year. This CD won an IGN award for Best Reggae Album of 2007. During this time the band was featured on several different Hellcat Records compilations.
The Aggrolites toured aggressively to spread their music. There was a slight change in band membership in 2007 when original bassist J Bonner quit the band and was replaced by David Fuentes but the band continued to keep playing their music for live fans. They were part of Warped Tour 2008 and were featured on the compilation CD for that tour.
Touring is a big part of what these guys do, hitting the road about eight months out of the year to give reggae fans around the globe a taste of both the old and the new in reggae music. That’s the thing about these guys; fans of the old school reggae (the ones who might not say that they like “skinhead reggae” but know what the term refers to) can hear the influences of the band’s collection of old vinyl records in the songs they’re playing today. And fans of modern reggae can hear innovative musical experimentation that takes the edges of what it means to be reggae and pulls those edges aside to reveal a broader definition of the genre.
In 2009 the band released its fourth studio album simply titled IV. This album didn’t gain as much attention as the earlier two releases but there are a lot of different tracks for reggae fans to sink their teeth into on this Hellcat Records release. In fact, there are twenty one different tracks on the album and they showcase a diverse array of the band’s musical talents along with a big range of reggae influences.
Every music fan needs that dark side of their genre, whether they embrace it wholeheartedly or simply cling to it when the night goes black. They need that space where they can take the rougher, edgier, seedier side of life and begin to understand it. Giving it a sound allows for that. Sure, it’d be nice to just be loungin’ on the beach, relaxing with your light reggae. But life isn’t all peaches and cream. At least with The Aggrolites, your exploration of the darker side of things comes with its benefits. Namely, you get music which gives equal attention to smooth vocals and complex instrumentals and which lets you expose the gritty side of the music while still listening to fun, danceable tunes.