The skinheads are coming to New York City. The second installment of the “NYC Oi! Fest” will likely draw fewer than 200 skinheads and receive little attention. To outsiders, this concert could be recognized as nothing more than an occasion of drunken machismo and bumper-sticker patriotism.
But that would miss a crucial development in the more extreme sector of American skinhead subculture.
A critical examination reveals how “hate music” – a scene long associated almost solely with neo-nazis – has been morphing into a subculture that is more difficult for many to recognize than its Hitler-worshipping companions and predecessors.
For example, some bands from different countries and even ethnicities now treat one another’s work as projects of ethno-nationalism that should be mutually celebrated. Far-right skinheads of different races who harbor shared bigotries are now occupying the same spaces.
From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, the dominant brand within the far-right sector of skinhead subculture was neo-nazism, and such interracial co-mingling would have been unthinkable. In truth, there have always been skinheads of varying degrees of “whiteness” across the world who have sought to uphold strains of far-right politics.
A prime example of how race is falling away as the dominant organizer within the extremist skinhead music scene occurred in 2013.
Bound For Glory, one of the first neo-nazi skinhead bands to emerge here, toured Japan with Aggro Knuckle, one of that country’s oldest skinhead bands. The two also released a split-record together. In that way, NYC Oi! Fest is an important microcosm of the landscape of “hate music” worldwide. Last year’s installment brought bands to New York City from as far away as Finland and Mexico.
“Oi,” after all, encapsulates a broad range of skinhead-oriented punk and rock ‘n’ roll. Most Oi! fests and concerts book bands who offer little-to-no political overtones or messages. Their songs and the shows themselves often revolve around drinking and other subcultural markers, like banal expressions of patriotism. By inserting “Oi!” into its title, the fest’s promotors –– Dennis Davila of United Riot Records chief among them –– are putting forth their version of what skinhead identity and music should exist as, while directing hostility towards outsiders and those they deem “other.”
There is, of course, historical precedent for this. Efforts to reframe skinhead identity and music were first undertaken by the neo-Nazi political party National Front in England in the early 1980s. The efforts of those organizing NYC Oi! Fest –– a long-standing crew calling itself the 211 Bootboys, of which Davila is a member –– aren’t wholly dissimilar from the National Front’s attempts to attract skinheads to their worldview.
Those driving this scene in US today, like Davila, are motivated by varying far-right movements and events –– none more so than England’s “Rock Against Communism” (RAC) skinhead music scene.
The first of its kind, “RAC” is what the National Front titled its campaign to interweave skinhead subculture and music. Its success hinged on one band: Skrewdriver, led by Ian Stuart Donaldson. Donaldson would go on to found the neo-nazi skinhead network Blood & Honour (B&H), which to date has cultivated convicted terrorists and fosters innumerable acts of hate violence.
Certainly, the photos and videos of original RAC shows are an archive of the extremist skinhead music scene’s center of political expression and ideologically motivated violence. As happened after last year’s NYC Oi! Fest, media will likely emerge of attendees clad in an array of extremist paraphernalia – though, most of which will be obscure and codified. And invariably, many of its attendees – though not all, as committed neo-nazis are welcome at these shows – would defend themselves against accusations of bigotry.
To do so, however, they must dismiss the fact that bands playing this year’s fest such as Offensive Weapon (made up of 211 crew members), Close Shave, Queensbury Rules, and The Firm have in recent years played shows in Europe that were either organized by promoters involved with B&H and/or alongside bands active within that network.
They must also dismiss that some of these bands, like Close Shave, have simply shrugged when members of their bands have been proven to be active within the neo-Nazi skinhead scene, either presently or in the past.
Some, like Cody Hoebel, an attendee of last year’s NYC Oi! Fest, will do more than shrug. Hoebel is a long time member of the violent New Jersey-based neo-Nazi skinhead crew the AC Skins, whose members have been convicted of hate crimes. And there are others, like “Mongo,” whose band Brassic played last year.
Mongo has bragged in interviews with European webzines that he and his band are friends and have shared the stage with neo-Nazi bands like Youngland, one of the several bands that neo-Nazi mass murderer Wade Michael Page played in.
Brassic have played shows for racist and neo-Nazi connected promoters in Portugal, Germany, and Scotland, and the band makes no bones about its politics with songs like “Benders,” during which Mongo calls for the lynching of LGBT individuals and people with AIDS.
From this, such lyrics and the scene connections that bands like Brassic and so many others maintain should be remembered when members of the 211 Bootboys point out that their crew is multi-racial and that non-white skinheads have and will attend their fest — their go-to “get out of jail free card” when attempting to deflect criticism of their activities.
Perhaps Alex Ellui of Battle Zone, who will reunite to play this year’s NYC Oi! Fest stated it best in a 2006 interview, saying of his days in England’s RAC scene: “I regret the ‘racist’ (lets be completely frank here the term RAC is a kind of ‘nice’ way of saying ‘racist’; at least with the UK bands of the time) aspects of [Battle Zone].” Like the aforementioned shoulder shrugs, Ellui’s regret is dubious at best.
The far-right, extremist skinhead music scene in the U.S. has changed along with many of its counterparts internationally. Though the swastikas have been replaced by other more obscure symbols, the promotion of bigotry and the attraction of others to extremist politics is still the purpose of shows like NYC Oi! Fest, just like the “RAC” shows of old.