I went to the TNT Festival to interview Skinheads about art when I bumped into Irvin.
In what can be possibly be the only other immediate link between British and New York City youth of the 1980s (besides jerking off to Madonna videos), the Skinhead movement completely battered the face of underground music and steel-toed its way to the surface of popular culture worldwide (even Russell Crowe played one in Romper Stomper). But while the kids of the East End of London were mainly angry and poor, white kids turned onto a culture that grew from reggae, the kids of Jackson Heights, Queens, were equally angry and poor.
They were a diverse bunch of Irish and Latin American immigrants already reeling from the impact of hip-hop and hardcore. I had gone to the TNT Festival in Connecticut to interview Skinheads about art when I bumped into Irvin and the B49 crew. Since I couldn't find anyone who agreed that Vincent Van Gogh was possibly the first ever skinhead, or had an opinion on Mitt Romney's proposed art funding cuts, I ended up pounding beers in the parking lot with these the B49 Skins.
VICE: Can I interview you for VICE?
Irvin: Well you know, we skinheads are not trustworthy of anybody, especially the media but your brother here is cool so, OK.
Do you think I'm a pussy because I have long hair?
Nah, nobody said that. To me you've chosen a weird way of fashion, but to each his own. I don't judge anyone!
Skinhead culture is typically portrayed as that of a bunch of racist white guys, but obviously you guys aren't racist white guys.
Well, skinhead started out in England through reggae culture. We all know the history, but with punk rock it exploded around the world. We're all from New York City, and are very proud to be one of the few who added a new genre to the skinhead movement, which is hardcore. It's evolved into many things, and is now multi-racial and diverse as ever. Of course with any subculture you are going to have different political views, or even extreme views on either end. To me if you are a skinhead, you are a skinhead before any of your political beliefs. But I still do believe that racism exists in everybody. A form of nationalism exists in everybody. Anywhere you go around the world: here, Cali, England, Brazil, Japan, Chile, there are skinheads who are proud of who they are, but we are all unified to the politics of the streets.
What do you feel is the common voice of the skinhead movement?
Being broke, fucked up, no hope and no future. Doing what you gotta do. That's really the voice of Oi! and skinhead.
Where did you first become introduced to skinhead?
In my neighbourhood, Jackson Heights in Queens was DMS. They were Doc Marten Skinheads, and they lived across the street from me. I grew up in a Spanish neighbourhood so we were all big on hip-hop, Shabba Ranks – real street shit. Later, I got into metal through my cousin. I grew up in a Catholic family so what a way to rebel then fuckin' worshipping Satan, you know what I mean? Venom, Motörhead, shit like that, you know? Then I met the skater kids in my neighbourhood, they showed me Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Rest In Pieces, and that led me to New York hardcore and the Lower East Side. Those were the dudes who had the same mentality as me, that street mentality. Working class kids, getting fucked by the cops, that was the true skinhead way and I was like "Fuck this, this is me and I'm gonna sell my soul for this shit." And that's it. I love it and represent it. That all happened in 1991.
You were saying that nationalism exists in everyone.
Yeah, nationalism and Oi! To me, especially growing up in that time, you could mirror it to hip-hop. Fuckin' Public Enemy, NWA my nigga you feel me? I loved that shit, still do! Getting back to music though, hardcore music back then was more positive, and I was an angry motherfucker, so I got down with hip-hop. We were just trying to find that street shit with the angry slant you had from hip-hop. Don't get me wrong; I loved that straight edge shit. Youth of Today, Bold, Judge, but I wanted something angrier, something more street, so I stole the Oppressed record Dead and Buried from a record store. Man, I heard that song "Victims" and that was it. My boy and me took all our heavy metal records, smashed them all in a drunken rage and threw them out my fifth floor window. All I had left was my Oppressed record and my 4-Skins record. We said, "Fuck this other shit, we ain't never going back." But fuck, man, even now I kick myself in the ass cause those records are worth money now!
As a crew of Latin skinheads how did you find yourselves received in a dominantly white scene?
Well, yeah we were a crew of Spanish cats, my family is from Guatemala, [points] my boy here is from South America and this dude is Mexican. We're a band of Latin motherfuckers. At that time in the hardcore scene, Latin motherfuckers was looked down upon; they weren't feeling us. We felt ostracised, so we got into that RAC shit, and those European bonehead bands. We thought Europeans had a right to say "get the fuck out" to people, but at the same time we weren't going to let these white motherfuckers say that shit to us. Because, while we were all Spanish dudes, we were all born from this soil and in our hearts we are American. Some of us fought for this country in Afghanistan, some of us went to jail and some stayed on the streets. Jackson Heights was wild. Man, we had beef with every motherfucker: Spanish, black, everybody. Of course, there are more hipsters there now. It's gentrified.
How do you feel about the gentrification of New York City?
Man, I'm not totally opposed to it. Fuck that, make the neighbourhood safe! My mother lives there. I want her to be able to walk down the street at night, go to the grocery store and be safe. So I'm all for that shit.
Do you find it ironic that some white American Skinheads, specifically right-wing ones, identify with the movement as it originated in England?
In terms of politics, of course, but at the same time you got cats in Europe using hip-hop slang. Slang is slang. If you identify with a culture, that culture isn't necessarily of one country, so you use that slang. The proof is in the pudding. A guy may talk like a fuckin' dork, but if the time comes and he's down to get down… and we get down together, yo, I'm gonna respect you, you know what I'm saying? The craziest motherfucker can be the dorkiest looking dude, and the biggest mammoth can be the biggest pussy, you feel me? You can't judge a book by its cover.
The politics of America are probably at the most divisive these days…
I don't follow politics, man. All I know is some black motherfucker got elected and I am cool with that. That means change. I'm a felon, I can't vote and honestly I don't care. I don't think my vote counts. I don't think anyone's vote counts. I feel the motherfuckers with money are the ones who control it. Money talks and we don't got it. If Joe Hawkins could be president I'd vote for that motherfucker. Other than that, Obama can suck a dick, Romney can suck a dick, yo both of them can fuck each other, do a 69, I don't give a fuck. Nothing is gonna truly change. Drink, have some pussy, you know what it's all about dog! You feel me? Enjoy life before you die. Take care of your mum, drink, fight, fuck, enjoy your life!
Follow John on Twitter: @JohnLiam