Jeremy Hunter’s YouTube success began by accident. After purchasing some recording equipment, Hunter began demoing ska songs, a genre of popular music originating in Jamaica, and posting them on Facebook.
“I recorded a Christmas cover in 2016, ‘Feliz Navidad,’ and that got a half a million views on Facebook. It wasn’t even that good, but it got so many views,” Hunter said. “I posted a New Year’s one and that got like a million views. I was like, ‘You know what, I should make a channel.’”
Now, the 24-year-old musician, who goes by the name Skatune Network online, has amassed more than 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, is playing their own set at FEST 18 and is finally a full-time musician.
Hunter’s first introduction to playing music wasn’t as natural as most would think, as they were forced to join band in sixth grade and play trumpet.
“I wasn’t the best band kid. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do at first,” they said. “Over time I slowly became ‘the band kid.’ I guess it’s the curse that eventually engulfs your skin after you do two or three years of it.”
After their initial success on Facebook, Hunter had another bout of good luck when their next cover of the song “January 10th, 2014” by The World Is a Beautiful Place was shared by the band’s social media.
Within a week of launching their channel, Hunter had more than 2,000 subscribers.
Over the next year and a half, Hunter continued the video-making grind, creating ska covers of songs across genres and more, including covers of TV show theme songs,the Jackson 5 and movie soundtracks.
In April 2018, Hunter caught their big break when their version of the Mii Channel theme went viral.
“When that blew up, that’s when this became my full-time job,” Hunter said. “That whole time I was doing it as a side thing, because it wasn’t making me a lot of money. It took me a year to make money through it. But once that blew up, I gained a huge following and since then it’s been doing pretty well.”
Hunter’s first experience with ska music wasn’t so typical. They found the band Less Than Jake through a song in “Digimon: The Movie” when contemplating their music favorites.
“I liked the Digimon movie soundtrack, so I downloaded that and found Less Than Jake,” Hunter said. “Then I found a Reel Big Fish song by accident, I thought it was a Less Than Jake song, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there are more bands like this.’”
After graduating high school, Hunter started school at Broward College before eventually transferring to Santa Fe, but that wasn’t the only reason Hunter decided to come to Gainesville.
“FEST was probably 35 percent of why I moved to Gainesville,” they said. “I love FEST and the culture that surrounds it.”
Hunter had their first experience performing at FEST in 2015 playing with Detroit-based ska band We Are The Union, who coincidentally were Hunter’s favorite band.
At the time, We Are The Union had been playing as a four-piece without a horns section. Lead singer, guitar player and songwriter Reed Wolcott, 32, saw a video Hunter had uploaded covering one of their songs and invited him to join the group.
“A mutual friend of ours sent me that video and said, ‘Jeremy should play trombone with you at the FEST.’ I watched the video one time and went ‘Yup,’” Wolcott said.
Wolcott reached out to Hunter and asked if they wanted to play. Since then, Hunter has performed in almost every We Are The Union show, which Wolcott said helped revitalize the band.
“Jeremy was genuinely excited to play the shows. It brought a fresh energy to everything,” Wolcott said. “It really made it fun in a way that it hadn’t been in the past few iterations.”
We Are The Union went on to release their fourth studio album titled “Self Care” in 2018 with Hunter writing most of the horn lines. Wolcott said that he noticed Hunter’s great writing skill and ability to put together melodies and felt that he would be better at putting together the instrumentation section.
“We saw not only is Jeremy a sick trombone player, but they are also a great writer, and their melodies are great, and their sense of what a horn section should be doing is incredible,” Wolcott said. “There was a point where we all kind of realized that Jeremy might be better than all of us at our instruments in this band.”
While their relationship was successful for many years, this year’s FEST performance will show a different side. This year the roles are reversed and We Are The Union will play as the backing band to Hunter’s solo project, “Skatune Network.”
Currently, Hunter is preparing to release a collection of ska covers with an album titled "Pick It the F--k Up", through Boston based record label Counter Intuitive Records.
Jake Sulzer, 26, founder and label head of Counter Intuitive Records said he is excited about the upcoming release.
“Jeremy is one of the most talented musicians I have encountered, and their specific style led me to believe they would be able to make a fun and interesting project,” Sulzer said.
Hunter’s musical involvement expands even further as their side band 11:59 finished a brief tour around Florida and the Southeast last month.
Pedro Sanchez, 28, drummer for 11:59, connected with Hunter in 2018 after they reached out and asked him to join the band. Hunter had been working on the project for years but had never been able to get it fully off the ground.
“Once I joined, we were able to start playing out live. The project and the songs under that project name have existed for years, it just never had been able to be as consistent as it is now,” Sanchez said.
Over the past few years, Jeremy Hunter has found success playing a genre of music that most people would say peaked in the ’90s before fading to near irrelevance.
Hunter disagrees with this sentiment.
“So many bands have been playing before and after the ‘90s and it’s been relatively the same size [in exposure],” they said. “I think it's more of people’s perception of the genre. People think it died, but I don’t think they pay attention to anything outside of those big bands that blew up in the first place.”