Thursday, August 29, 2013

Feminist Oi

My daughter and I have been listening to Hard Skin's Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear all week. Hard Skin are an oi band that have been around since the mid-nineties. The band plays in the vein of classic oi/street punk bands like Sham 69 and the Angelic Upstarts, while both celebrating and taking the piss out of skinhead culture. From what I can tell, the members both sincerely appreciate early street punk, but also realize how ridiculous it often is, not to mention the latent chauvinism and racism of the scene. (Most street punk bands describe themselves as "apolitical," but they tend to be apolitical in the same way that Tea Party Republicans aren't racist.)

Hard Skin's lineup includes members of 90s punk bands Wat Tyler and Thatcher on Acid, and their original drummer was in 90s shoegaze band Lush. Their first album was called "Hard Nuts and Hard Cunts," and contained songs like "Oi! Not Jobs!" and "Bunch of Pissed Up Cunts." They have the mix of punk rock, pub rock, and glam rock that are the cornerstone of oi, complete with shoutalong choruses and hooks. Lots and lots of hooks. For their latest album, they've released two versions. The first, Hard Skin on the Balls, contains twelve songs with Fat Bob's gruff vocals. The second version, Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear, contains the same twelve songs with a rotating lineup of female vocalists singing instead of Fat Bob. It's pretty amazing.

First off, the vocalists range from obvious (Beki Bondage, who's band Vice Squad was part of the original wave of Oi in the 80s), to really surprising (folk singers Joanna Newsom and Alela Diane).  The female vocals soften some of the rough edges of the songs, and add an ironic twist to the lyrics. Some of them are kind of stunt-ey: Joanna Newsom doesn't totally sell herself as a cockney punk, for example. But most of them are spot on. Veronica Falls singers Marion Herbain and Roxanne Clifford's sweet voices work perfectly with opener "Council Estate," the one millionth street punk song about council estates. Lush's Miki Berenyi proves that she could have been a punk singer on "You Still Here?" My favorite song is "Another Terrace Anthem," sung by Fucked Up's bassist Mustard Gas. Her vocals have a tunefulness that Fat Bob's version is missing, and add a lot to the song. It's not that the female vocals make the songs softer, it's that they offer another opinion, another take, another example of what it feels like to be pissed off about being marginalized. Diversity has become a cliche, but it is important not because it is politically correct, but because it makes life richer and more interesting. As illustrated so beautifully by Hard Skin.

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