welcome to the Skinhead Nation Hated by many, understood by few, the skinhead cult is a very different animal to that portrayed in newspaper headlines. Skinhead Nation takes you on a journey through the back streets of Britain, America and Europe to hear the skinheads' own story.

skinheads rule okay!
The Big Apple Bites Back

Part One
The Big Apple Bites back

Part Two
Among The Mugs

Part Three
Bring Back The Skins

Part Four
No Mean City

Part Five
Here Comes Johnny Reggae

Part Six
Violence In Our Minds

Part Seven
Ghost Town

Part Eight
Neither Red Or Racist

Part Nine
One Law For Them

Part Ten
Tougher Than Tough

Part Eleven
No One Likes Us

Part Twelve
Us And Them

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Saturday, August 13th, 1994. New York, New York. The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps and all that. Dinosaur rockers, The Rolling Stones, are in town to play a series of sold out gigs at the Giants Stadium. Not far from the city, an incredible 350,000 modern day hippies and related simpletons are paying a small fortune to relive Woodstock, 25 years after the original event. It rains and rains, and whether they like it or not, countless soap dodgers are having their first wash in years courtesy of God Almighty.

New York itself is hot and humid, and as sticky as an iced bun. Outside a record shop called Bleecker Bob’s on West 3rd Street, skinheads are beginning to gather before heading off to where the real action is this weekend. Oi! band, The Business, have flown in from London, England, to play their first ever gig in the States. There was no media fanfare to herald their arrival. No expensive advertising campaign. But thanks to word of mouth and the underground grapevine, 600 lucky bastards would find their way to Tramps nightclub later in the day to see their heroes in action.

Already, there will be people reading this who have added the words Oi! and skinheads together and come up with a Hitler Youth Rally. If you’re one of those people, think again my friend. The skinheads drinking beer and fooling around outside Bleecker Bob’s that Saturday afternoon would have done the United Nations proud. There were black skinheads, white skinheads, Chinese skinheads, Filipino skinheads, Puerto Rican skinheads, Mexican skinheads. Choose a skin colour and it was there. This is, after all, New York City, the gateway to the melting pot that is modern day America. A city of 80 different languages. Home to more Italians than Rome, and more Irish than Dublin. And despite what you may have heard or read elsewhere, Oi! music isn’t a rallying call for the Fourth Reich and never has been. It’s just street punk music at its very best (and worst, depending on the band). Nothing more and nothing less.

If the mugs in the media wanted to look hard enough, they could no doubt find some white power skins in NYC. In New York state it would be even easier. There were probably even a few at The Business gig, but if so, they were keeping very quiet about it. The media has a nasty habit of seeing only what it wants to see though, and despite the large numbers of multi-racial skinheads who walk the streets of downtown New York, even Big Apple journalists seem content to trot out variations on the old chestnut that all skinheads are Nazis and a danger to society. Just like most journalists do the world over. Lazy bastards. It makes you wonder what else these self-appointed fountains of knowledge get wrong.

Away from the ivory towers, some of the skinheads hanging out are dressed very traditionally. Button down shirts, sta-press trousers, polished boots, the works. One skinhead girl, with her hair in a long feathercut style, is wearing a suit that would have been at home at a Desmond Dekker gig at the local Mecca ballroom back in 1969 Britain. Most of the skins though are wearing jeans, army greens, boots and braces, and a t-shirt or polo shirt. Bleached denim is a favourite as are football shirts. The Cockney Rejects have a lot to answer for judging by the number of West Ham tops. Oxblood t-shirts are another popular choice, and one skingirl’s shirt boasts "American Skinheads - The East End Is Everywhere".

Most are happy to call themselves New York Skins, although within their ranks are smaller gangs like The Uptown Boot Boys from Harlem, The Bronx and Washington Heights, the DMS from Jackson Heights, and the Sunset Crew from Brooklyn. The common bond between all of the skinheads present is the shaven head and a sense of belonging to the greatest youth cult of all time. That and an awesome collection of beer bellies.

Beers are bought from the nearest convenience store and kept in the brown paper bags they come in. The shop-keepers know the game and open the bottles for you. It’s illegal to drink alcohol on the streets, but all the skinheads do it because the bars are either too expensive or don’t think a skinhead’s money is good enough. The two police officers who ride by on horses don’t bother to stop, but on another day they might move you on or fine you for breaking the law. Apparently their mood depends on the availability of donuts. Later in the day, a skinhead from Portland, Oregon called Pan gets a ticket for pissing in a doorway. Drinking on the streets of America has its drawbacks, particularly if you have a weak bladder.

The talk is of records, gigs, girls, band rehearsals, the usual sort of thing. One skinhead is busy selling the latest issue of his fanzine, one of many voices of the street that gets printed on the office photocopiers of this world when the boss isn’t looking. With the mainstream press offering little if any positive coverage to street music, fanzines have really come into their own as the place to look for latest record releases news, tour dates and the like. A lot of fanzines are pretty average affairs, but there are always a handful in circulation that are truly superb either in terms of quality or content or both.

An Oriental skinhead shows off his latest tattoo, and it isn’t long before others are displaying their works of art too. Both skinheads and skinhead girls join in, some demonstrating why American tattoo artists are held in such high esteem around the world, and others showing why letting a drunken friend loose with a needle and a bottle of Indian ink usually produces artwork associated with five year olds and crayons. Not all skins have tattoos, with some preferring to have no distinguishing marks - a clever move in some circles, particularly if you’ve always got the law breathing down your neck. At least one New York skin, Noah, doesn’t have any tattoos because of religious reasons. He’s Jewish. “When I started going to the shows it was a great intimidating experience - all these kids with shaved heads, big boots and flight jackets, and I’m just this fat podgy Jewish kid from the outer boroughs. As a Jew I was kind of nervous of these skinhead people. I knew as much as my parents knew - skinheads are the Nazis you see on TV and that was the end of it. And I assumed that to be true until I started going to these shows.”

Passers-by either quickly walk past the gathering, or cross over to the other side of the street, thereby avoiding the growing number of skinheads who are now spilling onto the road and sitting on nearby parked cars. A couple with a baby in a pram actually turn around and head back the way they came - just in time too because everybody knows that skinheads eat babies. Not that the skinheads were paying the slightest bit of attention to who came and went. Unless they happened to be blonde, female, early twenties, with big tits and long legs. Even a few hairies risked getting the piss taken out of them by creeping by, heads down, on their way to the safety of Bleecker Bob’s record racks. Nobody died.

Someone jokingly does a sieg heil salute for the camera. On another day that same photo might appear in an article exposing the “Nazi threat”. In another place, the saluter might have been meant. Yeah, some skinheads do see themselves as a modern day Hitler Youth, but the simple truth is that not all skinheads are Nazis, just like not all coppers are bastards, not all priests are child sex offenders, not all journalists are village idiots, and not all football referees are blind.

New York was actually the birthplace of SHARP - Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. It was started in the mid-Eighties by three skinheads from the city, namely Marcus (now a tattoo artist in California), Troy and Bruce. At the time, the skinhead scene was scraping along the bottom of the barrel - you even had black Nazi skinheads. The media feeding frenzy that goes on to this day was already in full swing and so SHARP started handing out leaflets and putting up posters to let people know that contrary to what the media was saying, not all skinheads are racist.

Initially, it gained widespread support in the city, giving it the momentum to spread throughout the USA and then beyond - today there are SHARP chapters throughout the world. Another organisation, SPAR (Skinheads and Punks Against Racism) also made a brief appearance in New York, but never caught on like SHARP did. Slowly, but surely though, SHARP lost its way in New York. Some say it became too positive, trying to paint skinheads as angels. Others tell you it became too elitist and violent, with only SHARP skinheads being tolerated. Others still say that it was totally ineffective and you are fighting a losing battle if you think the general public are even remotely interested in hearing the skinhead’s own version of events. And then there was the left-wing infiltration, taking it away from its original stance towards the murky world of politics.

SHARP still lives on in New York to this day and has basically returned to its founding roots, but is nowhere near as large or as influential as it once was. If you have grown up in and you are part of the New York skinhead scene today, the colour of somebody’s skin just can’t be an issue. “I wear a SHARP patch and I come out to the city,” says Pete, who was in the band Vibram 94 until it relocated to Cleveland, Ohio, “and everyone is like, ‘what are you wearing that for? Why do you have to label yourself?’, but nobody understands that where I’m from, out in the sticks, you have to or you’re pinned as a Nazi.”

The city has a long history of gang culture, even if today South Central L.A. is the place to be for drive-by shootings and the like. As the mythical murder capital of America (it’s actually currently Gary in Indiana where the murder rate is nearly six times that of New York), a killing doesn’t even make the news in the Big Apple, but it will be chalked up on the electronic scoreboard in Times Square that charts gun sales against deaths by shootings. Maybe, one day, someone will actually look at it and see the connection.

Virtually all of New York’s street gangs are territory based - the so-called neighbourhood or ‘hood, which can be anything from a sprawling housing project to a single street corner. That’s been the case since gang warfare first captured the public’s attention in the late Fifties when gangs like The Sinners, The Jokers and The Demons fought for control of the city’s darkest streets. A world romantically captured in the musical, West Side Story, but not so entertaining if you were one of the teenagers on the receiving end of a bullet or a blade. Crime and drugs were the driving factors behind the gangs of old, just as they are for the current generation of homeboys.

The skinheads in NYC are a totally different ball game. They come from a gang tradition, but have little in common with other American street gangs, with the possible exception of bikers. Born in the city’s Lower East Side when the Seventies gave way to the Eighties and as punk rock mutated into hardcore, the first skinheads could be found hanging around a club called the A7 on Avenue A. There were maybe a hundred or so skins in the city back then, and as the hardcore music scene grew, so did their numbers. Bands like Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law and The Cro-Mags quickly developed a skinhead following, and touring helped spread the skinhead cult to other cities. The Lower East Side Skins, or Lower East Side Crew as they became known, were drawn together by a love of music and the skinhead style which was imported and adapted from their British counterparts. It was a hard uncompromising uniform and it suited hardcore perfectly. There was no territory to defend and no drug wars to fight. Just a music and style that gave them a sense of unity and of belonging to something that mattered. From this came the same pride that is shared by skinheads the world over, regardless of what else they may have or may not have in common.

The kids who turned up at gigs at the likes of CBGB’s on a regular basis often had nowhere else to go and sometimes had no family worth speaking of beyond their skinhead brothers and sisters. When violence reared its often ugly head, it was usually in defence of one another, the good name of the skinhead cult, personal differences, what have you. Fists and boots were the weapons of choice, not assault rifles and hand-guns. The biggest battles were in the late Eighties, around Thomson Square Park, New York’s squatter ghetto. If it wasn’t squatters against the authorities, it was skinheads against the squatters. Little rich kids begging for money in the street while mummy and daddy live in a big house in the suburbs do tend to get up people’s noses sooner or later. A boot in the face seemed to do the trick though.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the days when CBGB’s was a focus for skinhead activity, and a lot of the old hardcore skins are now ten a penny hoodlums, but New York still boasts a healthy skinhead scene. Hardcore has more or less been abandoned by today's NYC skinheads to crusty punks, skateboarders, body piercers and college students, but there are still a lot of good people involved in it, including skinheads. The day after The Business gig, there was a matinee benefit to raise money for the family of a hardcore band member who had recently been shot dead. Agnostic Front, Warzone and other NYC bands played to a full house, but the long queue outside the venue before the gig was home to only a handful of skins.

Hardcore was originally just a development of punk, but today it has drifted more towards metal and is available in more flavours than Wall’s ice cream. Speedcore, hatecore, metalcore, deathcore, queercore and so on and so on. A lot of American skins still have a lot of respect for the original sound of hardcore though, not least because it was homegrown, and bands like Warzone, fronted by skinhead and ex-Agnostic Front drummer Ray Bies (RIP), remain true to the original hardcore ideals.

The music that has captured today’s New York skinhead generation is Oi!, as demonstrated by the fact that The Business were being supported by a handful of local Oi! bands, including The Templars, Oxblood and Battle Cry. The whole atmosphere of the New York scene perfectly mirrors the excitement and raw energy of the London Oi! scene of early 1981 when everything was fresh and happening and hadn’t been ruined by the glue sniffers, the stiff right arm boys and media hysteria. Not that Oi! is the only music that skinheads listen to in NYC. The city also boasts one of the finest ska and reggae scenes of today, thanks largely to the efforts of Moon Records and a band called The Toasters. Both were started by an old skinhead from Plymouth, England, called Rob Hingley who went out to America to work for a few months, and has never quite made it back. It really is a small world, but as someone once said, I still wouldn’t like to paint it.

Ska in the States has gone from being seen as “a funny little musical genre” to becoming one of the biggest underground scenes, constantly threatening to breakthrough into the mainstream. Hybrid bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have already made it, and if nothing else American ska certainly offers variation by the dozen on the Jamaican sound of old. Moon’s success - The Toasters’ 1994 album, Dub 56, had an initial pressing of 15,000 copies - is based on ten years of its bands constantly touring, great support from college radio and a belief that ska music deserves to be out there, big and proud. Moon even has its own retail shop, currently situated at 150 East 2nd Street, off of Avenue A. “When I first got here in 1980, there wasn’t a scene at all,” says Rob who is known to one and all as Bucket. “Most of the New York skinhead scene really kicked in with the hardcore thing in the Eighties and that translated into ska skinheads. It’s difficult to crystallise the difference between the skinhead factions in the US, but the New York skinheads - there’s a lot of them and they’re pretty cool.”

On the way from Bleecker Bob’s to Tramps, a dozen or so skins steam into another convenience store, grab a bottle of beer each, and leave without paying. One skin picked up a bottle of American beer by mistake and tries to get the shop owner to exchange it for an imported brand. The owner obliges.

Around a hundred skinheads have set up camp outside Tramps, soaking up the sun and knocking back the beer before the gig. A startled shopper who parked her car in a quiet back street comes back three hours later to find a group of heavily tattooed skinheads using the bonnet and boot as a three piece suite. Everyone gets off no problem as she fumbles with her keys, praying to God that she gets out of their alive. She lived to tell the tale.

As well as people from all five city boroughs, skinheads have travelled from Pennsylvania, Kansas, Michigan, California, Kansas, Illinois, Hawaii, Canada and even France to be present at what at the time looked like being maybe the one and only opportunity to see The Business play live on American soil. Such is their standing in street punk circles though, the band actually returned to the States in 1995 and completed a six week tour, playing to packed houses everywhere they went.

The New York gig has been organised by United Front, a non-racist organisation started by three skinheads while serving in the army in an attempt to unite the American skinhead scene. It puts on Oi! and ska shows, produces its own newsletter and has no time for politics within the scene. “By choosing the term non-racist, it shows we’re not racist and we’re not anti-racist, and it’s not that we’re on the border, it’s just we don’t care,” explains Bohdan, one of the founders. “We’d rather worry about being skinheads, carrying on the skinhead culture, than worry about who called so-and-so a nigger or who beat so-and-so up because he was white power. You could spend your whole life chasing racists around, but we’d rather concentrate on skinhead. We don’t care about the right, we don’t care about the left.”

Most of those present at the gig are skinheads, but there are also a few punks, and even the odd normal too. A good proportion of the audience is also female which makes a pleasant change. The American Oi! bands sound a lot better than they do on some of the ropey demo tapes that had made it to Europe earlier that year. The Templars, Oxblood, Vibram 94 and Battle Cry all turn in decent sets of hard-edged street punk. The locals have seen the bands countless times and provide a backing choir for both the sprinkling of covers and the original material on offer. Phil Templar, a black skinhead from Long Island, seems to be a permanent fixture on the drum stool, and even a depleted Pist N Broke from Detroit manage to bang out a few numbers with the help of Perry from Carry No Banners skinzine. While Vibram 94 were on stage entertaining the hordes, Perry was downstairs in the dressing room with Ben and Scotti learning the chords.

With the exception of Oxblood’s psychobilly fanatic, Frank Bruno (the real one, not the heavyweight boxer), all of the band members are skinheads, and when they’re not on stage, they’re in the crowd, dancing and singing along with everyone else. There’s no room for rock star egos in this game. Between bands, reggae and ska classics are played.

One of the Long Island mini-skins complains about the price and quality of the beer on sale, and the fact that he can’t get served. The barman wants proof that he’s 21. He’s actually 12. His worries are soon forgotten though as The Business make their way to the stage.

For Oi! fans, they don’t come much bigger or better than South London’s finest. The Business kick off with Suburban Rebels and the crowd becomes one as the us against the world chorus echoes around the sweating walls. “You don’t scare us with your badges and banners, you know fuck all about heavy manners!” Real Enemy, Handball, Product, Saturday’s Heroes and other street classics are spat out with the same venom as a sub-machine gun discharging its ammo. Chants of “Skinhead! Skinhead!” fill the air between songs. The Business are superb as usual, even if the band feel they are below par after the long flight over. One poor sod came by Air India so the odd bum note could be forgiven.

Anyone reading this who hasn’t heard The Business’ brand of melodic street punk should do themselves a big favour and get on down to their local record shop and pick up a CD or two. That said, the chances are you’ll have to order them because quality music is no guarantee of shelf space. That’s almost permanently reserved for major label acts. Bands like The Business and Cock Sparrer are every bit as good as ANYTHING the mainstream music world has to offer, and it’s beyond belief that they don’t enjoy the wider success they deserve.

The gig is trouble free - just like most skinhead related gigs. Stage diving and crowd surfing is about as rough as things get. In fact if you’re looking for a good kicking these days, my money would be on going to any local nightclub full of High Street fashions and false smiles. But afterwards and outside, a street fight does kick off between local skinheads and a much smaller group of skins from California. Exactly what started it depends on who you talked to, but the sound of breaking glass, the thud of boot against flesh, and the shouts and screams of those involved lasts a good four or five minutes. A visit to the nearest hospital is on the cards for one or two of the combatants, but nobody is seriously hurt.

Not all of the skinheads outside the venue were involved in the trouble. Some hung around on the fringes, putting in the boot only when they felt it safe to do so. Some just watched. Others were appalled. Skinheads shouldn’t fight skinheads said some. Skinheads shouldn’t fight anyone said one or two. “I don’t know what happened,” said a Brew City Skinhead who had travelled all the way from Milwaukee to see the gig. “All I know is these people got beat up. It’s fuckin’ bullshit. If you’re fighting for a reason that’s cool, but when you’ve got 20 on one that’s not a fucking reason. I’m from Milwaukee and in our town it doesn’t happen like this. Trust me, if you want to have a fun time, skinheads together, Milwaukee. Milwaukee, fucking Wisconsin.”

The following day, ska and rock steady outfit, The Slackers are playing at a small pub on the Lower East Side. A lot of skinheads turn up, but most choose to stand around outside the bar rather than pay to get in.

A black guy walks past, his eyes popping out of his skull. He’s either on something very good or very cheap. He starts talking to a skinhead girl called Val, and wonders why everyone is hanging around a usually deserted street corner. He doesn’t want to believe everyone there is a skinhead.
“But you ain’t real skinheads” he says, before explaining that he thought real skinheads were “bald headed, rowdy, disrespectful, dirty muthafuckas.”

“I know who you mean,” says Val. “Skinhead girls and skinhead guys, they have the bald heads and the big boots, and the way that you can recognise them in a crowd is that they are burning a cross on your lawn.”

When TC, a black skinhead who does a lot to bridge the gap between Oi! and ska in the city, steps forward and says, “I’m a skinhead, I ain’t no Nazi”, those bulging eyes came close to popping out. A confused space cadet must have woken up the next morning vowing never to touch whatever he was on again.

“You get white people saying, ‘Oh cool, you’re a skinhead, you hate people’,” says black skinhead Phil Templar with a look of disdain on his face. “And you get black people saying, ‘Are you a skinhead? You got no respect?’ I just say, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’ve been watching too much Geraldo or Oprah Winfrey or something. People don’t know shit. They just go along with what’s on TV.”

Another day, another dollar, on the streets of New York. Music, style, a sense of history and tradition, a brotherhood and sisterhood, pride and passion, laughter and anger.

This is what we are about in New York just as we are in Newcastle. In Berlin and in Buenos Aires. In Moscow and in Montreal. We are everywhere. We answer to nobody, but still have our side of the story to tell.

Ladies and gentlemen, we bid you welcome to the skinhead nation.
In the United States Of America, a nation is an alliance of street gangs. This website is dedicated to the skinhead nation, a true family of brothers and sisters that spans the globe.

Joe, New York skinhead

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