Whoever said “there’s nothing new under the sun” clearly never listened to Eichlers. Their loss, too, because it’s not every day that a new musical subgenre is created, especially one like hyperska.
“I feel at its very core [hyperska] is hyper punk and ska,” says Russ Wood, the artist behind Eichlers. “But there’s a lot of Midwest emo and hip hop influences.”
Wood would know: he created the unhinged subgenre. An unlikely mix of emo, ska, beatmaking and pop music, hyperska is a lot of things, often all at once. It’s the kind of music you either love or hate. There’s no in-between.
This Friday, Eichlers drops their latest addition to the hyperska canon, My Checkered Future. Released by Alameda-based Bad Time Records, the album is packed full of hooks and horns, electronic beats and auto-tuned vocals. Heavily incorporating ska music (sampled or otherwise), Eichlers scouts an uncharted musical landscape for a generation who grew up bouncing between Soundcloud, video games and the constant threats of a post-9/11 world.
Before creating its newest subgenre, Wood was introduced to ska by his parents as a kid growing up in Counta Costa County.
“My dad bought me the Ultimate Madness CD by Madness when I was eight or nine in elementary school,” he recalls.
In the 2010s, Wood played in San Jose indie/noise rock band Koi before moving to Salt Lake City. There, in 2016, he began writing and recording songs as Eichlers (named after Joseph Eichler, whose midcentury homes and residential subdivisions around California bear his name).
“I wanted to keep writing songs, so I started Eichlers as a solo project because I didn’t know anyone at the time,” Wood recalls. “It kept evolving from there.”
Since 2016, Eichlers has released a steady stream of EPs, singles and albums, all of which have begun to define the boundaries of hyperska.
“I make music that sounds exactly like what I want to hear,” Wood says. “I hope to inspire others to make this music that I want to hear in the world. More wild ska with hooks on auto-tune? That sounds awesome!”
Despite being written off as a joke in the late ’90s and early 2000s, ska has deep roots dating back to the Jamaica of the late ’50s. Long before reggae began swinging dreadlocks to smoke-filled riffs, bands like the Skatalites and the Wailing Wailers—Bob Marley, Peter Tosh & Neville “Bunny” Livingston back in the days of short hair and suits—were integral to creating the genre’s off-beat sound. The 1980s saw a ska revival in England with Two-Tone (aka 2 Tone), rock infused ska with anti-racist and political messages played by bands like The Specials, The Selecter, Madness and others.
The 1990s gave ska its “Third Wave” form, often mixing pop punk with the traditional horns for a faster version fans could skate to. Goldfinger, The Aquabats, No Doubt and Sublime are just a small number of the bands who claimed ska, drawing the attention of MTV, major labels and the mainstream media.
“Major record labels and trend setters of the mid-to-late ’90s are to blame for people writing off ska,” Wood says. “They just picked it up hard and threw it the fuck away. I feel like that really crushed public perception of this really incredible genre.”
Now, a new generation has picked up the torch. Though Wood claims his own subgenre for Eichlers, the project is also representative of a movement called New Tone. In ska music, New Tone is reflective of the current generation: anti-racist, anti-transphobic and willing to accept anyone as long as they aren’t a jerk. Eichlers track “Anthem for A New Tone” exemplifies the movement’s political lean with lyrics like “Brushing up on Leftist theory doesn’t mean shit / If you’re not sharing information with folks in the back who can’t access resources you can” and “eat the rich, feed the kids, don’t grow up to be a capitalist.”
“I feel so fortunate to be a part of the New Tone movement bringing politics back into ska,” Wood says. “Looking out for people with marginalized identities and being all inclusive. People who love ska want to talk about it and you have an instant connection that you wouldn’t have as a fan of another genre.”