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Check the #skinhead tag on Instagram and you’ll find a mass of like-minded individuals sharing their style, gig pics and record collections from around the world. While most hashtags showcase the human race’s insatiable capacity for vanity and amateur food photography (guilty), it’s actually truly heartening to see so many people from very different backgrounds embracing old school skinhead culture in a raw and direct way, via the simplicity of a point and click photo sharing app.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover a world of skinhead, rudeboy and punk subcultures thriving in countries where repression, poverty and even dictatorships have ruled at one time or another. Just as UK skinhead culture was born out of instability, riots and change throughout the late 60s, 70s and 80s, it remains an important counter-culture backlash against similar oppressions, or even just the oppression of the mainstream. Plus, it’s still cool as owt.
Speaking with members of these global scenes gives a fully-formed insight into what life is like as a committed skinhead boy or girl on the other side of the world, and everyone is keen to share their ideas, favourite local bands and latest Brutus purchases. One of the first people to respond was Lee_Spexs, a self-confessed punk of almost 20 years. Admitting that he’s been moving over to the skinhead way of life since 2012, he says interest in skinhead fashion has made way for something bigger in his hometown of Kuala Lumpur.
Lee_Spexs (second left) and some of his KL crew
“It’s been a sibling tradition,” he said. “My brother was the instigator; at first the scene was just about the fashion and the music back in the early 90s. After a few years it became an ideology war. I follow both the fashion and the ideology but I’m not rebellious. I listen to a lot of old school ska and the scene has really started to grow over the past two years. In the early 2000s our government didn’t like us, they tried to hold us down by raiding our gigs. There were bad stories spread about us all the time. Now people like the look, there are young mods and skinheads all over and when Dr Martens opened their shop the scene just exploded.”
Lee_Spexs has the enviable job of merch man for Malay skinhead band A.C.A.B
As a scene that’s enjoying a lot of new interest, Lee_Spexs sees it as his role as a veteran to educate the masses of newcomers.
“An indie movie came out about Skins called “Ophillia” last year. It went mainstream. A lot of veteran skins started to lace up their boots after that. There are a few kids in my neighbourhood that have got into the scene and I try my best to guide them. I don’t want them to think being a skinhead means being a hooligan, rebelling against the government, being racist. I don’t want that. Antifa (the Anti-Fascist movement) is starting to pick up here, but I’m a trad skin. I don’t have an ideology in my mind. I hang out with anyone, for me it’s about the music, not the political agenda. We just want to enjoy life to the fullest.”
Lee_Spexs (far left) and fam
Muhammed Shamil, otherwise known as cakkcikkcukk is one of these newcomers to Lee_Spexs’ scene. Aged 21 he was lured to the scene by the distinct look of old school skinheads and got hooked.
“All the images I had seen of skinheads had been in old pictures. I wanted to be a rudeboy because I was drawn to the fashion and then I found the music easy and fun to dance to!”
cakkcikkcukk – middle right
“Rudeboy culture isn’t seen around here, sometimes I think I’m the only one, so I’m really trying to learn and deepen my knowledge of jamaican culture. There’s so much I don’t know. I’m friends with all the skinheads where I live, we go to gigs together but sometimes there are only three or four of us.”
Malaysian rudeboys – (cakkcikkcukk – centre)
In Venezuela, 25 year old Oi! fan xrosmelx got in touch to talk about his country’s very different take on the skinhead scene.
“I became a skinhead when I was 14,” he says, “a friend showed me a CD of Oi! music back in Spain and I started to look up everything about that way of life immediately.”
Venezuela has had more than its fair share of political and economical unrest, so it makes sense that skinhead culture being used to counter racism and discrimination, just as it was in the UK way back when.
“I never see NS skins in our group but you can see their graffitti on the walls. There are only 10 to 15 skinheads that you can see in each city in the country, so they are out there, but we never see them. In Caracas where I live now, there are about 40 skinheads. We’re a mix of SHARP, RASH and traditional but always antifascist.”
Unlike Lee_Spexs’ Kuala Lumpur scene, the music trends in Venezuela don’t follow the rules of the old school, and for most of the skins in the country punk, Oi! and hardcore bands make up most of their record collections.
“Most of us travel to Bogota in Colombia for hardcore concerts,” xrosmelx explains. “In Venezuela the punk scene is huge but bands don’t play here often. Going to Bogota means we can watch bands like Evil Conduct and Last Resort.”
On the other side of the planet, skinheads in the Philippines also enjoy thriving undercurrent of subcultures. Paolo, otherwise known as Skanurse, a nurse by day, brass player by night from Cebu in the centre of the country, was excited to talk about his scene.
“I’ve been a rudeboy since my highschool years and I’m proud,” he sent over Instagram DM immediately. “Ever since I discovered ska I’ve been actively supporting it and keeping its flame alive, especially in our small but beloved scene in Cebu.”
Paolo aka skanurse and his Cebu scene – (centre right)
“I love traditional ska, rocksteady, 2tone and skinhead reggae but the scene is scattered all over the islands, different everywhere, and we respect each other nonetheless. My love for the skinhead subculture started when I first listened to The Specials. I read the book “The 2 Tone Story” and the clothes, the attitude and the passion for Jamaican music just about summed up what I love about skinheads and the very core of what they stand for.”
It might be tiny but the scene is intense in Cebu, and homegrown music is at the heart of it all.
“It’s a small scene,” Paolo explains, “but we’re a solid bunch. Bands help each other out and support the scene as much as we can. We have bands who play trad ska, 2tone and punk ska and we always lend our full support to everyone in the scene. The skins here are mostly into Oi! but they are also avid supporters of the ska scene and the go wild whenever a 2tone song comes along. We even held the Philippine Ska Festival in 2012 and the Korean ska band Kingston Rudieska came to play in Manila and Cebu. It was an unforgettable experience!”
A typical night in Cebu
It’s also important to their small scene that political views don’t separate or alienate members even further. “We keep the scene apolitical,” Paolo insists. “We don’t mix politics with what’s really important, which is the music, due to the fact that it’s what mainly divides the scene. We definitely don’t associate ourselves with any forms of racism though. So far it’s peaceful in Cebu.”
“I will continue to support ska music and the culture that surrounds it and will keep the flame alive. I will always be a rudeboy as long as I live.” – Paolo aka. skanurse
Push off across the sea back to Malaysia and tengku_junior’s scene is a very different experience, even to fellow Malaysian lee_spexs’ version of events.
“There aren’t many skinheads in Malaysia outside of Kuala Lumpur. I’m 22 and I’ve been a skinhead for about 5 years. I walk solo and go everywhere alone. I don’t care about the people talking about me, I do what I want because it makes me happy. The scene is quite far from my country, so I meet other skinheads at gigs or parties but rarely anywhere else.”
“Use this picture – it shows us united. Punk, vintage and skinheads” – tengku_junior (far left) meets likeminded Malaysians at a gig.
So, while the rest of us think nothing of shaving our heads and heading out to our local, it’s not easy being a skinhead in some parts of Malaysia. “I’m happy and proud to be a skinhead where I live,” Tengku says. “I enjoy it. You know why? Because it’s not easy to live in a country where some people hate us whether you’re good or bad. Mainstream style is the only way here, but I like being different.”
tengku_junior faithfully polishing his boots
Tengku touches on a massive part of being a skinhead here – the fashion that underpins the whole subculture. Wherever skinheads are in the world, what brings them together is their love for that unique sense of style. But is it different depending on where you live?
xrosmelx says that in Caracas, Venezuela, the skinheads mainly dress casually to get by throughout the week. “We kind of dress casual in Venezuela because we need to in order to work and study. We wear Adidas Samba, jeans and a Fred Perry or Ben Sherman polo shirt. Then as soon as the weekend begins, we put on our Dr Martens and braces and hang out together.”
In Kuala Lumpur, lee_spexs’ scene is going from strength to strength, with independent clothes shops opening and more young people than ever getting into skinhead and even mod fashions. “My friends run a clothes shop called Hardwork Klang Valley and the size of their following shows how big brands like Brutus, Britac, Warrior and Upsett clothing are. And most of that is down to their hard work!”
For skanurse’s scene in the Philippines, fashion is secondary to the music. “We’re mostly just traditional. We wear Fred Perry, Ben Sherman, Dr Martens boots and then mix it up with our own personalities. The skinheads take it a step further though, they go full gear. DMs, Fred Perry, Ben Sherman, Lonsdale, flight jackets, the lot.”
Connecting with prominent members of these exciting counter-culture pockets of rebellion, finding out about their countries, their friends and their music scenes is a brilliant way way to open up the world. Every single person on the other end of that hashtag is friendly, sound and excited to share their experiences as an equatorial skinhead.
The misunderstood, reggae-loving skinhead also lives and works near paradise-perfect beaches and polishes his or her boots while the monsoon crashes down outside, somewhere across the other side of the world to where it all began. 40-odd years later and people are still faithfully living the old school way thousands of miles from the epicentre. That’s a massive achievement, for roots reggae, ska and skinhead culture and for the people who love it.