The evolution of music in Skate culture

If you skate, you know how important music is to the culture. But how much do you know about the history of skate music through the ages?

Skate culture has been part of our lives since Vans was founded in 1966 – and it's had a huge influence on not just skateboarding but also fashion and music ever since. The Van Doren Rubber Company officially opened for business in Anaheim, California, in March 1966, with what's now known as the Vans Authentic as the first shoe to launch.

Vans' famous "off the wall" slogan made its debut some ten years later, in 1976. During this period, skateboarders were landing new tricks in empty pools by skating off the wall. As skaters were on the fringes of society, expressing themselves through their passion for their sport, "off the wall" felt like the perfect slogan for a brand that helped skaters live and breathe creativity through skating, art, music, fashion and culture.

Skaters all over California had already been seen sporting Vans shoes thanks to their durability, grip and comfort – all features designed with the demands of skateboarding in mind. Vans' place in skate culture was cemented with the introduction of the "off the wall" slogan and logo, which was inspired by the son of one of the founders, who'd created the logo as a stencil to be spray-painted onto his skateboards.

Vans has been a key part of skate culture ever since, and music has always been a big part of that. The Vans Warped Tour was the largest travelling music festival in the USA and always kept its finger on the pulse of what was relevant in the world of skate music. The tour began as a skate punk and third-wave ska festival but later morphed into a pop-punk and metalcore tour.

What is the history of skate music culture?

Skateboarding and music have long been linked with skaters pumping out tunes to get them amped up as they're hanging out with friends or simply listening to their favourite tunes on a solo skate.

In the last 20 years, skate music became even more prominent as Tony Hawk's video game was released in 1999, accompanied by a pop-punk soundtrack. The game was followed by online skate videos from pro and amateur skateboarders alike, and of course, gross-out prank show Jackass hitting our screens in 2000. Let's look back at the history of skate music and some of the biggest influences within the scene.

Skate music = reggae?

Skating has always been associated with counter culture, so it makes sense that skateboarding music is also rooted in rebellion and opposition to the mainstream. Whilst today, skate music is usually thought of as being punk music, back in the 1980s, it was reggae that was synonymous with skateboarding. The SMA Rocco Division skate group greatly influenced this, with many of those involved in the skate industry recording reggae songs, including "I N I Style" by Jef Hartsel, Jamie Zebulon and Albert Naphtali.

Even outside of skateboarding, skate culture was still making an impact. Around the time Vans' famous checkerboard print was being developed in the 1970s, the second wave of ska music was happening in the UK, along with a movement to transcend racial tensions in the country. Bands associated with the movement, including The Specials, used the checkerboard patterns to symbolise racial unity, and supporters soon started to wear the Vans Checkerboard Slip-On in solidarity.

Punk defines the culture

From the late 1980s and early 1990s, punk music became the mainstay of skateboarding music, with many skateboarders creating home videos of their tricks soundtracked by their favourite songs. In the days before Spotify, these skate playlists helped to define what's cool – if a band featured in a skate video, then they were worth listening to. Many of the bands in these videos, like Black Flag, the Descendents and the Faction, were skaters themselves.

Just as skaters determined what was cool in music, musicians also helped boost skateboarders' profiles. Sonic Youth used skateboard video director Spike Jonze for the music video for their single "100%" in 1992, which also featured skateboarder Jason Lee.

From hip hop to skate punk

In the 1990s, hip hop became ingrained within skate culture, with artists like Nas, Gang Starr, and Mobb Deep featured in skate videos. This coincided with the rise of street skating as the most popular form of skateboarding instead of the earlier freestyle boards that reigned supreme.

However, hip hop was only a small part of it – the bigger part was skate punk bands. Influenced by punk bands of the 1970s and 1980s, like Buzzcocks and Adolescents, skate punk took a more melodic approach and broke into the mainstream in the 1990s. Bands like NOFX, Pennywise, Bad Religion, No Use For A Name, Green Day, and The Offspring were icons of the skate punk scene, with many seeing great success after appearances at the Vans Warped Tour.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was first released in 1999, and with it, a soundtrack that harked back to the decades of skate music gone by, as well as the sounds of current-day skate favourites. Those who played the game back then – whether they skated or not – are still transported back to a place and time where they felt the game really "got" them.

Pop-punk dominates the scene

The 2000s continued to champion punk, skate punk, grunge rock and hard rock as the ultimate in skate music, influenced in part by Jackass and Bam Margera's Viva La Bam. One of the most enduring icons of skate music culture is CKY, who released their first album, "Volume 1" in 1999. They gained exposure through their inclusion in Bam Margera's skate stunt videos – and with this family connection (Bam is the brother of CKY drummer Jess), their popularity grew. Pop-punk also took off in the 2000s, with bands like Blink 182, Sum 41, New Found Glory and Alkaline Trio fuelling skate sessions throughout this decade.

The skate music culture of today

Today, anything goes when it comes to skate music. You'll hear lots of different skate music influences down at the skatepark, from classic skate bands like CKY and Black Flag to hip hop icons and even more sedate music like indie.

Vans x Spotify

Whether you're keeping it old school with hardcore and punk or listening to more modern beats when you're in the skatepark, we want to know what's on your skate playlist.

We have a whole collection of playlists over on Spotify inspired by skate music throughout the ages. From the Old Skool playlist to get you reminiscing about skating days gone by to the Next Era playlist, a collection of new artists who are truly off the wall, there's something for everyone.

We want to know what skate music means to you. Submit up to five songs that you consider a staple of skate culture, and we'll curate a special playlist of skate songs made for skaters by skaters.