welcome to the Skinhead Nation 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!
Neither Red Or Racist

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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The kids they come from everywhere, the East End’s all around, claimed the back cover of the Carry On Oi! LP (Secret). Never was a truer word spoken, and as far as the skinhead cult is concerned, it’s more applicable to the cult today than it has ever been.

Few people are surprised that their are still skins in the UK and Ireland, or even countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa because of their long-standing connections with the motherland. The media has seen to it that virtually everyone is aware that there are also skinheads in Germany, Eastern Europe and the USA, but that really is the tip of the skinhead iceberg. In fact, the skinhead cult must represent one of Britain’s most successful exports in recent years.

Prior to shutting up shop in early 1995, Skinhead Times had subscribers in 44 countries. As well as readers in every Western European country, much of Eastern Europe including Russia and other former Soviet states, and North America, copies of the quarterly newspaper that covered skinhead news, street music and sport (mainly combat sports and football aggro) also found their way to far-flung countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, The Philippines, Singapore and Zimbabwe. Maybe surprising to outsiders, but some of these countries are well known to other skins as homes of large skinhead communities - Brazil for example, can count its “carecas” in thousands, while Japan boasts as many Oi! bands as the UK does these days.

When you actually sit down and think about it though, it’s quite incredible that what must be the most British of youth cults has now been adopted by kids the world over. The British Embassy staff in Manila must have thought they had had one gin and tonic too many when it was discovered that skinheads had sprayed DON’T PAY THE POLL TAX on the building that houses them. Even when you think of closer to home, and the richer countries of Europe, it’s difficult to imagine the bovver brigade at home in the streets of Milan, Paris and Geneva, but that’s exactly where you will find them.

Oslo in Norway is one of the most expensive cities in the world - a hamburger, chips and a can of coke cost around £10. It looks a prosperous city too and is one of only a handful of countries where the royal family can ride about on bicycles without any real problems. It is home to around half a million people and not surprisingly a few of them just happen to be skinheads.

“I first became a skinhead ten years ago mainly because of the music and because I didn’t want to be like everyone else,” says Kjetil, who as well as being one of Oslo’s longest serving skinheads is also front man of street punk band, The Fuck Ups. “In the early Eighties there were some skins in Oslo, but it was basically punks shaving their heads because they were into Oi! music. There wasn’t many. It wasn’t until about ‘86 that real skins started to show up in Oslo, me and some friends, three or four of us.”

Another one of the first skinheads in Oslo now fronts the city’s other street punk band, The Whalers - so called to annoy those who protested when Norway decided to resume whaling in 1992 and not in honour of Bob Marley’s band. “I first became a skinhead in 1987. I had always been listening to 2 Tone and Oi!, but I used to be a punk, but then it became too involved in politics. I didn’t know much about the skinhead cult as there weren’t any skinheads in Oslo. When I became a skinhead, I was the second one so there were only two! We didn’t know too much, but we knew what skinheads looked like and we knew the music, and then we met some skinheads from Sweden and got some fanzines to keep updated.”

Within a year or so, a handful of others had joined the ranks of the Oslo Skins and by 1990 there were around 20-30 in the city. It was in that year that SHARP - Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice - first came to the city too. “This bonehead leader came to Oslo and tried to recruit from our skinhead scene,” remembers Kalle who first became a skinhead in ‘89, “and we felt that we didn’t want to have anything to do with this Nazi. Norwegians, they don’t like Nazis. We were occupied by the Nazis during the war and feel they should be kept away. So we made this SHARP patch and we told our friends, you wear this patch or you fuck off.”

It wasn’t until 1991 that racist skinheads, known as the Boot Boys or Norwegian Skins, started to appear regularly in Oslo. Initially they were more into drinking than politics and there was little division between the two gangs. That summer saw the first outbreaks of trouble, but any remaining links were severed that September. The Boot Boys had been on a Nazi demonstration which had ended in violence, and the media were falling over themselves to give coverage to the Nazi skins. To add a measure of balance to the coverage, members of SHARP-Oslo went to the media to let it be known that not all skinheads were racist, and some positive coverage followed. One of the interviews featured Kalle and Erik, and in it Erik made it clear that Nazi boneheads would not be welcomed in Oslo’s Old Town, the part of the city (the East End naturally enough) where most of the SHARP skins lived.

To the Oslo Skins, SHARP was “just a badge, just a statement against the growing Nazi scene,” as Marin, one of only two skingirls in the city explained. The media could only see things in strictly political terms though, and assumed that SHARP must be left wing. Just to make sure a Communist newspaper understood exactly what the score was, Erik bought a SMASH COMMUNISM t-shirt especially for an interview and was pictured wearing it, standing beneath the SHARP Oslo logo. “Because of all the Nazi skin bullshit in the media, several skins in and around Oslo contacted us to join us,” Kalle said, “because they knew we weren’t racists or commies and because we kept the traditional skinhead style alive. All the skins in our SHARP section are 100% skinhead, and we don’t allow non-skinheads to wear it. Even punks who maybe look like skins don’t get the button. Loads of people have asked to join us just because they have short hair and maybe a bomber jacket, but we told them SHARP is for skinheads to show they are not Nazis, and not for punks to show they are not Nazi skins.”

A month or so after the media attention, The Boot Boys fanzine carried an article on SHARP saying that they had to be “crushed once and for all”. Addresses of SHARP skins were given as were details of a pub used by them. Following this came an interview in Norway’s biggest newspaper in which the leader of The Boot Boys, a Nazi called Ole who had done time for throwing bombs, repeated threats against the SHARP crew.

November came and the SHARP skins heard rumours that a large gang of Boot Boys had attacked anti-fascists who had been leafleting in the city centre. That evening a pub used regularly by the SHARP skins was attacked, but at the time there were only punks inside. Later that evening, a 30 strong mob of SHARP skins and punks went looking for the Boot Boys, but only managed to find Ole and another bonehead at the railway station - both (together with a have a go hero who tried to help them) ended up in hospital, and soon afterwards Ole lost interest in politics.

The trouble spilled over into 1992, with rumours that The Boot Boys were to call on VAM skins from neighbouring Sweden as reinforcements in their war against the Oslo SHARP skins, but there has been little serious trouble between the two factions since (Sweden is home to a very well organised and growing white power movement, with VAM standing for Vitt Ariskt Motständ - White Aryan Resistance in Swedish). Today, the skinhead scene is still firmly divided between white power skinheads who number around 150 and tend to come from outside of Oslo, and skinheads with no interest in extreme right wing politics, who number around 50 and are largely concentrated in Oslo and the port town of Stavanger.

“The really big gap is between the right wing skinheads and everybody else and then there are small gaps between the other groups, but we don’t fight each other,” explains Erik, who no longer wears the SHARP patch and sees himself now as “a skinhead, plain and simple ”.

Mats, another Oslo skinhead, agrees. “Most people in Oslo are aware that the Oslo Skins aren’t fascists. There are fascist skins in Oslo, but they are all cowards. They won’t dare show their faces in the streets unless there are at least 20 of them. Our scene is not so divided. Unpolitical skins, SHARP skins and the few who are red skins all go to concerts together and hang out together, but we don’t mix with racist skins.”

This divide can be found more or less the world over, with the white power scene leading a largely separate existence from the rest of the skinhead scene. Occasionally you come across skinheads who embrace all aspects of the scene and are as happy to watch No Remorse as they are to find an old Trojan single, and in some places racist skinheads and non-political skins will be part of the same scene, but that is increasingly the exception rather than the rule.

Like Erik and a number of other skins, Mats no longer supports SHARP. “I started out as a SHARP skin in ‘90-’91, but a few years ago I got bored with the whole SHARP thing. It became more and more political so I took off the badge.”

Kjetil, one of the first to call himself a SHARP skin also no longer supports it. “The reason I thought SHARP was good was because I personally wanted to show people that I wasn’t a racist. But after a while, we started getting a lot of shit because people thought it was a group fighting against fascism and so I quit. I’ve got better things to do than spend my time fighting Nazis. In Oslo, we’ve got no Nazi skins, or at least you never see them. We have SHARP skinheads and your normal skinheads, but we all stick together because there aren’t that many of us and we’re all old friends.”

Others continue to wear their SHARP patch though. “For me it’s different,” explains Thomas, another skinhead convert from the Norway punk scene. “To me, SHARP has never been a political group. I have never discussed politics with any of my SHARP friends. If a person comes up to me and asks me if I’m a SHARP skin, I still say yes.”

“Politics shouldn’t have anything to do with the cult, but when the media says all skins are Nazis you have to take a stand against that,” argues Marin. “The Nazi skinheads see us as very political just as we see them as very political, but it all gets coloured by the media.”

True enough, SHARP is seen by white power skins as their opposite number on the skinhead scale, and of course the media, never slow at jumping to conclusions, naturally places SHARP on the left of the political spectrum. In some places, SHARP has been bastardised to resemble a politically motivated anti-racist organisation, but that’s not what SHARP was originally intended to be. Initially, SHARP had no place on the political spectrum whatsoever. It was a simple statement that not all skinheads were racists. Full stop.

“Politics fucks the skinhead cult up,” says Kalle. “There’s nobody into ideologies or stuff like that in SHARP Oslo. If that comes in, then people can sit there having discussions about Marx or Hitler and it’s just bollocks.”

“When you do an interview, you want to talk about style, you want to talk about football, beer, going out with friends and all that,” adds Thomas. “But the problem is, the media just wants to know, ‘which side are you on?’. There’s always going to be a Nazi on the next page so it sets up the divide again.”

It is very wrong that the Oslo Skins, and skinheads the world over, have been driven to the point where they are continuously asked to take sides in a political debate many just aren’t interested in. No other youth cult is subjected to the same bullshit. The sensationalist aspect of the media is partly to blame for always seeking to define skinheads as political foot soldiers of one army or another. The extreme right wing also shares some of the blame for targeting the skinhead cult, aided and abetted by its number one recruitment tool, the mainstream media. The left wing is no better because sections of it are only too happy to keep the ‘all skinheads are Nazis myth’ alive because it suits them better than the truth.

And of course, some skinheads are to blame too for acting out the media stereotype and for allowing their own political views to infringe on the traditions of the skinhead cult. It’s got to the point where skinheads, who have never been looking for society’s blessing anyway, don’t see why they should have to keep explaining themselves when they would get more response banging their heads against brick walls. “You can sit down with people for three or four hours and tell them you’re not a racist, tell them the history of skinheads from the Sixties and all that stuff,” Kjetil sighs, “and still they think you’re a Nazi.”

In fact, the role of SHARP, politics and media bullshit play only a small part in the lives of the Oslo Skins. Just as with skinheads the world over, life mainly revolves around style, drinking, gigs, drinking, football, drinking, aggro and, er, more drinking. Style-wise, nearly all of the Oslo skinheads dress smartly. In fact it is perhaps the only way the general public can tell them apart from racist skinheads in Norway, very few of whom dress traditionally in skinhead terms (not that the general public sees anything beyond shaved heads and boots anyway).

Another small distinction between the two camps is that white power skins tend to wear a Norwegian flag patch on their jackets, while the Oslo Skins don’t - although the Norwegian flag will appear on their football scarves and so on. “Nazis use the flag as a political statement,” says Thomas, who could be talking about the Union Jack if he was British and not Norwegian. “They can’t really walk around with swastikas and things like that, so they steal the Norwegian flag and use it.”

Both The Fuck Ups and The Whalers gig regularly, as do Oslo ska band, MC Hammond (Skavenger is also home to another ska band, The Skanxters and the Oslo crew regularly travel to see them). Even better, the Oslo Skins are fortunate enough to drink at a pub that has its own upstairs function room complete with bar and stage. When we visited the city to film for World Of Skinhead, a gig was arranged with just a day’s notice, allowing us to see for ourselves that The Fuck Ups really are one of the best street punk bands of today as hinted at by their debut four track EP, Al’s My Pal (Jala Records and Knock Out Records). What’s more, The Whalers were well worth seeing too, with their hard driving Oi! sound going down well with the decent size crowd.

For the Oslo Skins it was a near perfect night. Norway beating Luxemburg live on TV in the downstairs bar followed by a gig upstairs, and then by an early morning visit to the Pitbull Club (for those who didn’t have work in the morning and for those who did have work, but who were past caring). The Pitbull Club is actually a members only after hours drinking den and is frequented by the Oslo Skins and others from the city’s alternative scene.

It’s illegal, but the police turn a blind eye to it. It’s the usual story of it being better to know where the skinheads are than close down the club and have them roaming the streets. It has a pool table, bar football, good music and of course a well stocked bar, but you know immediately that it’s a haven for skinheads because of the large Clockwork Orange droog and 2 Tone man painted on the walls. The music coming out of the speakers - Oi!, punk, ska, skinhead reggae - gives a good indication to what the Oslo Skins listen to.

Before the Pitbull Club, the Oslo Skins had another place to call their own called Harry’s Hangar. It was big enough for gigs and was also used as a gym for those into kick-boxing, a popular martial art amongst the Oslo Skins. Now with Harry’s Hangar gone, they have managed to rent a room in an old factory building and this has been turned into a gym, complete with punch bags, speed ball and partly mirrored walls. “People just used to drink all the time, but as they get a little bit older, they want to stay in shape,” explains Kalle. “For the last three years a lot of people have been going to the gym to lift weights, and others have started Thai boxing which is quite popular and we have our own place where people can train.”

And train they do too. The standard of work produced in the small gym is really good, as demonstrated by the height, quality and accuracy of some of the kicks on display - the hardest part of any martial art to master. As well as for fitness, they train for street fights and because a number of the Oslo Skins work as bouncers in the city’s nightclubs. “A lot of people see a skinhead and want to fight you,” says Thomas. “A lot of Oslo Skins work at nightclubs and you get people thinking, if I can beat a skinhead up I’ll be a real man. So you get a lot of fights.”

“We don’t organise fights,” adds Erik, “but they happen. Every year we have an annual Oslo Skins Christmas Bash and at Christmas 1993, there were about 35 skinheads at a club drinking, and we left to get more beer. We went into a street with discos and fancy pubs and we started fighting with everyone. The bouncers in the street co-operate with each other and they all came to fight us. In the end the coppers came and arrested ten of us.”

Another opportunity for trouble comes with following Vålerenga, who are not only a football team, but have an ice hockey team too (complete with ice hockey hooligans). A lot of the Oslo Skins support Vålerenga and a club scarf is permanently on display in the Pitbull Club. “I’m a little bit extreme,” says Kalle. “Violence can be fun sometimes, it gives you adrenaline rushes, but most of us don’t use blind violence. It’s just that we don’t take shit from anyone. So sometimes it’s fighting in the town centre at weekends. People come to hastle you because you’re a skinhead. They don’t care if you are a Nazi, anti-Nazi or whatever you are. They keep bothering you so it comes to a fight. Lots of people, the only language they understand is violence. Like if a big guy wants to fuck you up, you can’t just sit there and talk to him. He’ll just laugh at you and you’ll lose face. Violence is a way of getting respect.”

There are arseholes the world over who think it’s hard to have a go at skinheads, bikers and similar gangs. If someone spills your beer it’s bad enough, but in Oslo where each pint costs three times what it does in Glasgow, it takes on a whole new meaning. Not that all of the Oslo Skins see violence as the answer. “Violence is fucking stupid,” says Kjetil. “One day you’ll get killed or kill somebody. It’s okay to fight when you win, but one day you can’t win and one day you get beaten up really bad, and I think that’s the day people realise that violence isn’t fun.”

Partly because of the small size of Oslo and partly because of the close friendships that bond the Oslo Skins together, they have one of the best scenes to be found anywhere in Europe, and one that is more or less self-sufficient too. The only thing it lacks is enough skinhead girls. “Most people don’t see you as a skinhead because you have hair,” says Marin, “and so think you must be a punk or just someone who hangs out with the boys. You are a little on the outside when you’re a girl because you don’t talk about the same things all the time or want to do the same things, and there’s a comradeship between the gang and sometimes you feel on the outside. There are so few skingirls here and it’s a very masculine cult.”
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