When Sebastian Nutter from local Oi! band 99 Bottles was booking acts for this weekend's Punk Rock Block Party, it was only natural he should enlist Denver's recently resurrected Total Annihilation.
"The guys from 99 Bottles, Sebastian especially, kept encouraging us to come back," says Total Annihilation frontman Jimi Yamamoto, whose own Oi! band had gone on hiatus when he went back to school for his second B.A. "They always credit us for keeping the skin scene going in the mid-2000s, and I always appreciated their respect and friendship."
For those who've forgotten their pop music history, Oi! is a punk subgenre that originated among British skinheads in the late '70s. Total Annihilation and 99 Bottles will both be representing the Oi! contingent at the Zodiac this Friday, sharing the bill with a bunch of bands associated with Streetpunk, another scene with roots in early British punk.
"Streetpunks tend to have the studs and mohawk fashion," says Yamamoto, who admits that his band went through its own Streetpunk phase early on. "Not my thing anymore, but I appreciate the attention to grooming," he jokes.
Oi! lyrics also tend to be more overtly working-class and, in the case of a few early bands, racist. The best-known among the latter is Skrewdriver, who headlined '80s Rock Against Communism concerts, a right-wing response to the Rock Against Racism movement.
While a number of Oi! bands go out of their way to distance themselves from Skrewdriver's legacy, Total Annihilation isn't one of them. The band recorded a cover of "Streetfight," which in one Skrewdriver version included a "white power" shout among its otherwise anti-communist sentiments. The band also features the song in live sets, although they take liberties with the lyric.
"I don't shout 'White power,'" says Yamamoto. "In fact, I typically shout 'Banzai,' as a tip of the cap to my own racial heritage. When we covered it in the studio in the early 2000s, we actually shouted 'Red power' as sort of a joke, because our bassist at the time was communist and I had a lot of Marxist leanings at the time. For the record, I have long since broken with Marxist and leftist politics."
Still, why cover Skrewdriver in the first place?
"If music is good, I like it and it doesn't necessarily mean I subscribe to the band's politics," says Yamamoto. "I happen to think that they were a talented band that played music in the style that I like. Also, shock value is fun and used to be very punk. So I guess the cover is also, in a lesser way, a tip of the cap to true and original punk values that didn't give a shit. Sid Vicious wore a swastika for shock value."
The singer does have a point. Blondie and Siouxie & the Banshees were also fond of Nazi regalia, while the band Joy Division took its name from concentration camp bordellos.
"I am not a racist, nor are any of the members of our band," says Yamamoto, pointing out that he is of Japanese descent, the band's last guitarist was of Jewish descent, and the current bassist and guitarist are of Hispanic descent. At the same time, he says, "I feel that being overtly anti-racist just for the sake of outsiders is bullshit. I'm not out to educate the world unless they ask me, as you have, about what it means to me to be a skinhead."
Yamamoto also adds that his group doesn't sing racist lyrics, in their own songs or others. "But if anyone is super-concerned about it, they probably won't be into us in the first place."
This weekend's shows are the successor to last year's Front Range Punk Fest and will take place over the course of two nights at two venues. Between the Triple Nickel and Zodiac, nearly two dozen bands will be playing Friday and Saturday nights. More details at tinyurl.com/punkrockblockparty.