Oi! and anti-racism don’t go hand in hand in many people’s minds – who remember the far off days of 1980 and 1981. But, dear reader, there were Oi! bands that were keen to show their anti-racism credentials. Especially after the 1981 Southall riot.
The 1981 riot in Southall was sparked off by a gig headlined by the 4-Skins. It ended with local Asian youth burning the pub venue to the ground. In the days that followed the idea of associating anti-racism with the Oi! scene seemed absurd and yet…
FIND OUT MORE: That 4-Skins gig in Southall in 1981
Ever since, supporters of the Oi! scene have denied the neo-fascist National Front had tagged on to the event – although their graffiti was on shop windows in Southall that day. And it’s undeniable that the area had been attacks on young British Asians for years in advance of 1981 and a high profile murder in 1976.
The Southall riot gave everybody who hated the Oi! skinhead movement the ammo they needed to take fire and aim. The New Musical Express had never been a fan and ripped it to shreds in its coverage of the riot. Sounds had championed Oi! and even given the sub-culture its name. Angered by coverage in the Daily Mail of events at Southall, they issued a libel writ in the aftermath.
The riot was toxic for record companies, music radio and many fans. Oi! had its work cut out improving its public image. Supporters claimed that critics of Oi! were class snobs who just didn’t like working class youth having a voice. The opposition countered that the voice they were hearing was too often racist or legitimising violence.
Oi! sets out to burnish its anti-racism credentials
With these accusations ringing in their ears, some skin bands decided to show their anti-racist credentials by taking to the road which would include two anti-racist gigs and an appearance on the Right To Work campaign march.
Playing at Rock Against Racism gigs seems to have been too much for most of the Oi! bands – with one accusing RAR of being a Trotskyist front – so they set up Oi! Against Racism. This was a short lived anti-racism campaign enlisting Oi! bands prepared to counter the poison of the National Front and British Movement.
According to Gary Bushell, chronicler of the Oi! scene and originator of the term “Oi”, the band Infa-Riot did play an RAR gig while Blitz, the Partisans and the aforementioned Infa-Riot played an Oi! Against Racism gig. Blitz also played at the Right to Work march.
Despite their best efforts, Oi! fizzled out and in a cruel twist of fate, the skinhead look was appropriated by the gay scene in the mid-80s. Oi! had been tarnished by the activities of some of its fan base yet some of the bands appear to have done their bit for anti-racism.