Oi! Division: Punk’s Forgotten Stepchild

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Punk may be eternal, but one of its earliest, most explosive subgenres has been largely ignored for decades. The Oi! movement emerged in England at the tail end of the ’70s, just as the initial surge of British punk was receding, and was founded by bands who wanted punks to walk like they talked. For all its proletarian ethos, the first wave of UK punk was largely fomented by middle-class, art-school kids, but the Oi! scene was populated by working-class youth who longed for something that spoke more genuinely to their own experience as council-flat kids in a country with a crumbling infrastructure.

The first phase of Oi! was led by the likes of Cockney Rejects, Sham 69, and The Angelic Upstarts, who took the basic, three-chord roar and stomp of punk and added messages of working-class pride and youth-culture unity, with choruses often delivered en masse, football-chant style. The Oi! kids copped their image from the previous generation’s ska-loving skinheads: Doc Martens (hence the appellation “bootboys”), button-down shirts, suspenders, and buzz cuts.

The initial Oi! movement flourished into the early ’80s, but before long, the violence that had always been lurking on the outskirts of the scene began to overwhelm live shows, and things began to unravel. National Front forces tried to infiltrate the movement and spread their nationalist, racist agenda, an ideology that had nothing to do with what Oi! was really about. The conflict contributed to the scene’s destruction.

But even though the first wave of Oi! petered out after just a few years and has seldom been celebrated in any widespread way since, its spirit refuses to die. Each subsequent generation has had its own Oi! revival bands, keeping the sound alive on an international level, from Swedish bands like Perkele and City Saints to New York Hasidic punks Moshiach Oi!