SIMON SPENCE – What Have We Got? The Turbulent Story of Oi!
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What Have We Got? by author Simon Spence is a most illuminating, thought-provoking, and perfectly balanced overview of the origins and evolution of the Oi! music genre and the whole scene revolving around that both in the UK and abroad. In some ways highly controversial and infamous yet also underappreciated and misunderstood in other respects, Spence guides us through all the avenues and alleys of its labyrinthine history while neither overlooking nor neglecting some its uglier or less attractive aspects.
The mere mention of the phrase “Oi!” undoubtedly evokes negative thoughts in the minds of many, and certain spheres of the public obviously associate the movement with extracurricular activities such as violence, hooliganism, radical politics, and extreme points of view be they left- or rightwing. Such connotations and stereotypes are dealt with and discussed thoroughly throughout, and the idea of the skinhead as a thug or an aggressive individual is certainly contested and debated in a highly engaging manner. In other words, contexts differ as do individuals and their motivations and agendas. Perhaps it is its nuanced perspective and ability to get underneath the skin of the Oi! movement both old and new that makes Spence’s account of its rise, fall, and revival such an interesting read. Some of the newer and more recent additions to the scene such as Crown Court and Takers and Users have ensured that Oi! has enjoyed quite the revival and that it is once again flourishing in terms of creative thinking and productivity. Then there is the diffuse “grey zone”, which is an outright frustrating or troubling term to many, and although What Have We Got? never truly manages to offer a decisive and clearcut answer to what exactly constitutes this particular branch of the Oi! scene, the pages chronicling said phenomenon nevertheless lend themselves perfectly to further study and research.
Although a number of arguments lack persuasive power and conviction not to mention that a few somewhat vital questions are left unanswered, there is no denying the fact that Spence has composed a well-written, immaculately researched, and thought-provoking piece on a much-debated genre whose musical merits have often been overlooked or ignored. Is Oi! the music of the working classes and their musical response to the human condition and the everyday struggle to survive? Fans of crude punk rock and punk rock history in general ought to devote some proper time to What Have We Got? as it speaks volumes about society, politics, living conditions, and the deep-seated urge to influence the three of them.