Let’s talk about war: Güerra album review and interview

Güerra: Quanta fame hai? LP
(Hellnation/Radio Punk)

Photo: Gabriele Nastro

The first time I heard about the band Güerra (the Italian word for war, but with an extra Motörhead umlaut) was when my tattooist was inking something that contained the word ‘war’ into my skin. This prompted him to tell me about a “great band from Romagna called Güerra that sounds like Blitz”. I downloaded their first, pre-pandemic album off Bandcamp, but was only partially convinced. While it contained a few catchy tunes, many songs were sung in English and the vocalist’s accent was so strong as to be grating. I also had the impression that perhaps the band had rushed into the studio too early, i.e. before it had enough songs from which to compile a truly strong and consistent album.

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Blank Generation: The Untold Story of a High Wycombe Oi band

Though not often brought up today, there was something of an Oi revival happening in the early 90s. In England, some of the foremost acts were Boisterous, Another Man’s Poison, Braindance and Argy Bargy, and the must-have compilations of the hour were Oi! The New Breed and British Oi! – Working Class Anthems. The latter album also comprised a band of youngsters from High Wycombe, a market town some 30 miles west of central London. Named Blank Generation – though not after the Richard Hell song, as we shall see – the group managed to record a demo, a single and the album Out Of My Head during its four-year existence.

The core of the band were the industrious brothers Benny and Chez on vocals and bass respectively (alongside Kneill on guitar and soon joined by Don on drums). Today they’re both based in London, and if you live north of the river you’re likely to bump particularly into Benny – for, no matter how much he insists that he’s through with the skinhead world, he’s magnetically drawn back to it time and again. Recently it struck me that the story of Blank Generation has never been told, but probably should be, as it offers a glimpse of the British Oi scene at a particular moment in time. So I decided it was time for a historical interview with Benny and Chez.

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It’s not unusual to see someone described as an original skin, but for now original bootboy seems less of a thing. Although I caught the end of the skinhead reggae boom via the tunes that made the UK charts off the back of that scene in the early seventies, I was too young to embrace its fashions. When I started secondary school in 1973 bootboy gear was all the rage but the look was more associated with football than music. What did we listen to? Some of the bands on Mark Brennan’s Where Have All The Boot Boys Gone? (Cherry Red) compilation – like Mott The Hoople, Sweet and Slade.[1] But there’s also stuff here I didn’t hear at the time and other tracks that belong to a later era.

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Tchernobyl, Cran, Claimed Choice and others: Record Reviews

Abdul Bleach Boy, who used to do the bulk of our Record Roundups, has been incommunicado lately, i.e. off social media and doesn’t reply to messages. Maybe he’s going through some kind of spiritual crisis – hope not. Instead of a more comprehensive Record Roundup, then, here’s just a few reviews of vinyl that people have sent me, above all the continuously excellent Une Vie Pour Rien, once the best Oi zine and a big influence on Creases Like Knives, now the best Oi/punk label. Plus some random picks I came across over the past few months.

If you want to send us vinyl for review, contact us at creaseslikeknives [at] gmail.com. We don’t normally review digital files sent to us. Cheers!

Matt Crombieboy

Tchernobyl: Face au mur 7’’ EP
(Une Vie Pour Rien)

I wrote quite a bit about this Paris band’s previous releases, and although my reviews were thoroughly positive, I imagine a few things I said may have annoyed the band: persistent invocations of Brutal Combat, for instance – a key influence that Tchernobyl have long since transcended. It would probably be unfair at this point to liken their music to what I described as Brutal Combat’s “moronic, leaden Oi”. Yes, there’s a certain relentless uniformity to the basic structures, but within the rigid form there’s space for ideas and innovation. As time moves on, Tchernobyl immerse themselves deeper in what our guest writer Andrea Napoli has called the ‘Oi wave‘ and others have dubbed ‘cold Oi‘. Some of the sounds – e.g. the guitar lead in the chorus of ‘Unis‘ – even convey a Goblin-like vintage soundtrack feel, though Sisters of Mercy or Joy Division may be more obvious points of reference (unless you’re a French cold wave expert, which I’m not). Tchernobyl subtly expand the boundaries of the genre, losing perhaps some of the rawness of the 2019 demo in the process, but none of their hardness or severity. In a sense, they’re doing to French Oi what bands such as West Germany’s Razzia or Poland’s Armia were doing to hardcore punk when they infused it with bleakness in the second half of the 80s).

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Pride of London: John King about his new book ‘London Country’

It’s fair to say you’ve made it in your writing career when your books are as anticipated as those of John King (The Football Factory), who as the saying goes needs no introduction to any sussed reader (though this is a good start).  London Country (London Books, 2023) is a familiar canter through King’s authorly hinterland of West London (“Herbert Manor”), not only spliced and infused with more punk references than you could shake a mic stand at but revisiting three of his most popular and successful ‘cycle’ novels, Human Punk, White Trash and Skinheads.  

London Country centres on familiar characters from those earlier novels, their personal crises and brushes with the judicial system, collapsing healthcare and occasionally boss sounds on tape and vinyl.  Readers will be pleased to know that skinhead cabbie Hawkins makes an appearance amid the ruminations on the state of the nation, as Brexit hurtles from pinstriped gentlemen’s clubs and electoral fringe politics into daily life (King was once a leading light in the ‘Lexit’ No2EU coalition of trade unionists).  Working class history writer and original skinhead Martin Knight was on hand to hear more.

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Letter: ‘Skinhead’ bands without skinheads

A reader’s letter has reached us last week:

“Hey guys, first of all: I love your blog! Keep up the good work!

I got a question: there are quite some bands out there mocking the skinhead subculture, some bands do it with style like Hard Skin, but some are quite annoying like Oidorno. But there’s this new phenomenon coming from the hardcore scene with bands like “Conservative Military Image” and “Skinhead” (!) with not one single skinhead in the band but they make it their whole topic. Me and some friends are left in the dark about this. So I decided to ask your opinion about this, since you are the last defenders of the cult!”

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Krylons and Doc Martens: the world of skinhead graffiti writers

The idea of card-carrying members from the skinhead tribe being part and parcel of street graffiti culture can seem an urban myth to some or a far-fetched, unlikely crossover of subcultures at best. Having grown up in the NYHC scene, I saw this synthesis first-hand and have followed the trajectory of others in the US and the world at large that inhabit both scenes, seamlessly bending disparate influences into a cohesive whole. Graffiti’s ethos and the skinhead way of life can seem to be an unlikely pairing at first glance, but the shared mindset of following a particular set of values and methodology, while maintaining a distinct visual aesthetic indifferent to mainstream trends, can lead to cross-pollination in an under-the-radar fashion.

I have chosen to profile seven skinhead writers that fit this particular phenomenon. Some play in bands, some don’t. Others share the embryonic hip-hop scene as a reference point and some do not; what they all do have in common is finding a kinship in what are often maligned and misunderstood subcultures, making a strong case for inhabiting both worlds, all the while staying true to each group’s individual essence. I talked to the following: Core 2, Tatu Paul, Hand Selecta, Oaks FCS, all from the US, Meatdog and Swarm from Australia and The Firm from Brazil.

Freddy Alva

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Hostile but principled: Dalila of Italian Oi band Ostile

Attending Oi and punk gigs in Italy, it’s impossible not to encounter skinhead girl Dalila as she seems to be at all of them. A native of the Varese province in Lombardy, north Italy, she is also fronting her own band Ostile, who have been active since 2017 and have released the album Cresciuti In Fretta on the Milan label Rockout Fascism, known for releases by bands such as Zeman, Feccia Rossa and Les Trois Huit. Valentina Infrangibile spoke to her.

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Pride and prejudice: Alexandra Czmil’s photos of skinheads and working-class memories

Few subcultures are more visual than skinheads, and if we have any way of knowing the history of the skinhead cult in its entirety, it’s also thanks to those who have documented certain important periods in photographs. These photographs are testimony to the way things were – the faces, the places, the atmosphere, the style, the joys and tensions. Where would be, for example, without photographers such as Derek Ridgers and Nick Knight, who made skinheads their main subject – or Gavin Watson, who photographed what he also lived? Fortunately, they left that trace for us. And equally luckily, there are those who do the same thing today: leaving traces for the future, for the next generation of skinheads. Francesca Chiari spoke to Alexandra Czmil, a photographer based in the French city of Nantes.

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Kortatu in Warsaw, again.

I was surprised to learn that the Polish magazine Alerta, which is published by an antifa group known as 161 Crew, ran an article about Kortatu’s 1987 visit to Warsaw. After all, I had written a piece on the exact same subject last year, focusing heavily on the skinhead presence at the Kortatu show. Had Alerta (“Anti-fascism, anarchism, music, DIY”) stumbled upon any information that was lacking from my own humble attempt at reconstructing the events, I wondered? Would their account contradict mine? They didn’t seem to be shipping the magazine outside Poland, but luckily a friend from Wroclaw helped me out.

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