What is Oi! ? Is it punk rock? Of course. Is it a subgenre of punk? I think not. With a distinct history and evolution of it’s own – albeit one that developed in parallel to other veins of punk – Oi! is an entity all it’s own. Oi! takes what it wants from punk and throws what it doesn’t need into the gutter. It’s sometimes glam rock, sometimes garage rock, part rockabilly and part heavy metal, yet still a thing unto itself. It’s big boots and a #1 crop and Oi! doesn’t want you to like it. So while the first wave of punk was crashing and washing up onto the shores of new wave and other more palatable pop deviations, the skinheads were pushing their brows down over their eyes and reaching down to drag their knuckles on the pavement. Many have tried to pin down Oi! and explain it definitively. But it just can’t be done. The best explanation of Oi! is like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s take on pornography.
I’ll kick it off here for the woefully unintiated or those that simply need a good dose of nostalgia.
1982. The Last Resort. A Way Of Life. This record was influential beyond measure. On these tracks you can hear the sound of young skinheads who thought “fuck it, let’s just rock.” No frills, no bullshit, all attitude. Or as they’d put it No Mess No Fuss Just Pure Impact. From right in the thick of the 1980’s England fray, it’s the slow-march punk with working class snarl and gritty visceral sound.
One year later in 1983 legendary Oi! band The Business exploded the earth with Suburban Rebels. More than any other album from the golden era this record demonstrates The Sound in all it’s perfection. Military-esque drumming, stick-in-your-brain chants, and power riffs that ring out for days. If I had to point to a classic and say “that’s the sound” this is where I’d point. Before going Hardcore Hooligan and all the rest, The Business was straight up, unabashed Oi! music. Nothing more and nothing less. Declaring war on pretentious art fag punk and putting the boot down for working class rock and roll – Suburban Rebels changed the landscape forever.
Bands like Cockney Rejects and The 4-Skins are undeniably influential to the genre. But when their discographies are taken as a whole, they more often depart from The Sound than they stick to it. So they only get honorable mention here.
Leaving Jolly Old England Oi! went to Sweden and in 1991 Agent Bulldogg kicked out this slammer – Livsstil – in proper Oi! style. Trudging, ugly, infectious. You don’t need to sveak the svedish to get your steel caps stompin’ with this.
Now Oi! was in the States almost immediately after it’s British birth. But of course we had our own take on punk rock exploding all over the wall at that time, namely hardcore. There were a few bands in that scene that stuck to the Oi! template, but by and large the US skins were more than happy to go loud fast and balls to the wall with the rest of ’em. So it took a little time for our boot boys to slow it down and start banging out an American version of The Sound. Bands like YDL, Bad Rep and Youngblood laid the foundations. While the Brits came from a glam and pub rock angle, the American skins took those basic ingredients and smashed them through a filter of garage rock, hardcore punk, and rock n roll and squeezed out our own manifestation of The Sound.
More early US Oi! – Best Defense – Bad Rep
But US Oi! didn’t really start to become an independent force until the 90’s. Here’s a posthumous compilation of lo-fi demos from largely unknown act Bricks & Bottles. Pulling in eclectic influences from the prior decade, this obscure gem is a rough and tumble dose of rust belt US Oi!
More US Oi! & More of The Sound – First Strike – On Trial
Released in 2000 as a compilation put together by the infamous Captain Oi! Records here’s Blood On The Streets a boat load of lesser known Oi! classics from Criminal Class. These boys had The Sound oozing out of their eyelets. Made up of demo recordings, comp. tracks and songs from an early EP, this material is probably from 1981 and 1982. But I’m sticking it in here just because. This is The Sound with grit and gravel and crushed concrete poured all over it.
Formed by members of Platoon 14, Definite Hate, and Hated & Proud this 2005 album from Blood In The Face shows a gang of skins dedicated to the true sound of Oi! at a time when most other American bands were veering off into heavy hardcore and gay “street punk.” Stompers like Bulldog Skinheads and title track Strength Thru Hate demonstrate Blood In The Face‘s short lived mastery of the genre. This is the 2015 re-edition of the album from American Defense Records.
Released by the once mighty SkinFlint Records in 2012 Broken Heroes‘ This Is Oi! is fucking legit. With a title like that you’d expect the record to be a dud. When I see some shit boldly claiming “This is Oi!” I automatically think “yeah right.” But this is where Broken Heroes really came together. After Scott Davis, previously of Armed Suspects, joined the band they got really good and really Oi! Their follow up Make Oi! Great Again was also a solid album, but it saw them flexing their more developed musical talent, speeding things up, and just generally showing their chops. So while it was not not good, that’s not The Sound. But this album definitely is. Slow punk with a belligerent attitude.
There was an interview somewhere with Scott of Broken Heroes in which he said that they parted ways with SkinFlint because the label had released a record by a “white power band.” Looking at the catalog I can only assume that he either meant TMF or Para Elite. Although Broken Heroes aren’t PC, they “don’t associate” with those beyond the pale. But this is Condemned 2 Combat and we sure as hell do! So dig this killer US Oi! album from latter day titans, LA’s Para Elite: Push On. Now the Para Elite boys are explicitly anti-PC, and this album title is a reference to the Skullhead song, but they’re still a far cry from a White Power band. This is straight up Oi! done right, and while it’s definitely political, there’s no racialism to the content. Of course you could say it’s Rock Against Communism. But so was Condemned 84 (with whom they briefly shared a drummer), and no one calls them a White Power band. Anyway this album gets it. It’s that power packed pure impact shit with the off-tempo drum licks and crude in yer face style courtesy of the madman Coop. Blast it!
Putting England back on the Oi! map B Squadron came roaring in with Sons Of Tigers in 2017. At the height of what I often reference as the third wave of Oi! the B Squadron boys showed their roots and forewent any of the unnecessary experimentation many other bands were fooling around with. Intimate associates of The Sound, B Squadron had already banged out instant classics on their previous EP Saturday’s Soldiers. But all of those tracks and several more appear here on their full length debut.
Bringing up the rear is another release from the indomitable American Defense Records. 2018’s American Bulldog by the somewhat mysterious Pennsylvania band Birthrite. Of course the mystery is understandable when you play unabashed RAC in present day America. But unlike many other contemporary bands Birthrite sticks to The Sound tried and true. Rung out mid tempo power riffs with the occasional garage-y lick mixed in march alongside plodding rock n roll drums, and you’ll be joining the gang for the hard hitting political gang vocals after the first listen. Taking cues from iconic US Oi! acts such as Arresting Officers and Best Defense – but somehow managing to be even more Oi! – these boys know what’s up and are keeping The Sound alive.