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Oi! Punk band Stomper 98: The Pride of the Working Class

The Oi! Punk band Stomper 98 shows how diversified the skinhead scene is today. Its members are bald or short-haired, but they all agree on one thing: anti-racism

These are the men of Stomper 98, advocates of proletarian Oi! Punks for ten years now and at the forefront when it comes to the Nazis. Image: promo

A few months ago, being skinhead suddenly became a problem again. Then it started again, the delimitation, the explanation, the correcting. A few months ago, Sebastian Walkenhorst was really annoyed. "That shit," he says, "might piss me off!"

The internet is to blame for this shit. There was and still is because the network doesn't forget to see a picture of Walkenhorst. In the photo taken at a concert, he is hugging an old friend whom he had met for the first time in years that evening. What has now been documented: a certain joy of seeing each other again, but above all the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. No problem, one would think. But: "Sebi" Walkenhorst is the singer of Stomper 98, an Oi! Punk band well known in the skinhead scene. And the old friend was Jens Brandt from Endstufe, a notorious right-wing rock band.

The result: hectic discussions in the internet forums of skinhead culture. Some sensed neo-Nazi activities in their just barely rehabilitated scene. The next complained about the political correctness of the first. And then there were those who found the whole distancing dance basically superfluous anyway.

But this dispute was not limited to the relevant circles: The most controversial was a long-planned Stomper 98 concert in the Leipzig youth cultural center Conne Island. Left groups identified a "right-wing gray area" and mobilized against the performance, the Berlin electro punk band Egotronic threatened to cancel their concert. Stomper 98 felt compelled to publish a distancing statement, and the Conne Island makers finally managed to hold the concert in November.

This episode reflects the current state of skinhead culture in Germany: On the one hand, the well-known prejudices are often reactivated if necessary. On the other hand, dealing with short-cropped people has basically become much more relaxed. In fact, the public has now abandoned the longstanding equation that every skinhead is a Nazi. In the official German of the last report on the protection of the Constitution, it reads like this: "Within German right-wing extremism, there is a sustained turning away from the classic skinhead subculture."

This subculture is more diversified than ever before. One wears a bald head or a short haircut, a suit or bleached jeans. People are demonstratively apolitical, vote left-wing or act radically anarchist. You can hear Ska or Oi! -Punk, Hardcore or Reggae. The scene is so fanned out that even a well-known Oi! Band like Stomper 98 can only be pursued as a hobby, despite appearances in the USA or Great Britain.

Even in a single band, the definitions of skinhead can be far apart: with short blonde hair, tattoos on skulls, arms and fingers and a penchant for hard guitars, singer Sebi represents the former punks who are frustrated by its commercialization of the Spartan Oi! - Have turned to punk. The father of four, who will soon be four times, is 33 years old, works as a warehouse clerk, has lived "straight edge" for four years, that is, without drugs, alcohol, nicotine and meat. Politics hardly interests him. When he became skin at the age of 16, he depended on right-wing to apolitical skins, because there were no other skins in his hometown Delmenhorst, later in Göttingen with more left-wing ones. There was always stress with everyone, "with Nazis, with gangs, with the police. First and foremost, I was always a rebel." Guitarist Tobias Flacke, on the other hand, with an accurate side parting and white shirt, represents the trend that prefers a classic, neat outfit. At home he listens to traditional ska and reggae, but also jazz. The trained stonemason is also 33, works as a restaurateur, smokes homemade Schwarzer Krauser, wears nickel glasses and used to sit on the city council of Bad Iburg for the Greens. In the meantime he has resigned from the party - because of the foreign assignment in Afghanistan. His cousin is a member of the Bundestag for the Left Party.

"There is only one basic consensus," says guitarist Flacke about the skinhead scene, "and that is anti-racism." That applies first of all to his band, in which Phil Rigaud has been on the drums for a good three years, African American and founding member of the New York Oi! Legend The Templars. But also for the majority of the movement, which consciously continues the skinhead traditions. The German national dumbbells, on the other hand, who patrolled small towns in combat boots and bomber jackets for a long time, not only in eastern Germany, are noticeably changing their appearance. "The fascists are now walking around more like autonomous people," says Flacke, "I'm glad that they are increasingly leaving us alone."

You want to be left alone. Wants to be spared "all this political skirmish", as Sebi calls it. That is still the general attitude in large parts of the scene, which Flacke considers "severely traumatized". The heated discussions of the last decades saw many skins as being imposed from the outside. Because the traditional skinhead saw itself as apolitical. The fact that the first skins in England heard ska, black music, at the end of the sixties, was considered an automatic anti-fascism ID. When the right-wing adopted the classic, strict fashion and the public finally opened the equation skin = Nazi, many turned away. The rest had to learn how to behave, had to start setting boundaries.

It then looks like Stomper 98 monitor as closely as possible who comes to their concerts. Thor Steinar clothes are enough to deny entry. "People can think of me as a complete idiot or an asshole," says Walkenhorst, "but it is important to me that everyone knows that I am not a Nazi." Nevertheless, his band gives cause for misunderstandings. For "Tage Deiner Jugend", the double CD that celebrated the band's tenth anniversary at the end of last year, Stomper 98 covered important classics for them. Including "Dance on your grave" also a song by the Böhse Onkelz. Because they are still considered pioneers in the German Oi! Scene, even if Walkenhorst qualifies: "I don't want anything to do with what the Onkelz did in the early eighties." He means the right wing tendencies of the band at the time. "Dance on your grave", however, originates exactly from this time and was released on the first, later partly indexed Onkelz album "The Nice Man" from 1984 - alongside pieces like "Germany" and "Football & Violence".

This is why left-wing skinhead circles have repeatedly accused Stomper 98 of not clearly delineating themselves. But the Onkelz belong to the movement's legacy like the latent proximity to violence. The Oi! - or street punk of the eighties distanced itself from the colorful, commercial punk and new wave, which was dominated by art students, and stylized itself as an honest alternative from the street. As a skin you were an outsider, a proletarian and proud of it. The proximity to the hooligan scene was only logical. Walkenhorst was also a regular in the stadium in Göttingen 05: "And when Eintracht Braunschweig came with a horde of fascist hools, there was something on the mouth. That was my youth: football, beer, girls, rioting." Logically, he sees himself to this day "fighting against the image of the mindless thug that haunts every skin".

Walkenhorst now lives with his family in a small town near Göttingen. For him, being skinhead means "in addition to the style, which still plays a major role, above all a class consciousness". However, in this country - in contrast to Great Britain, the origin of the skinhead movement - there is not too much solidarity: "In Germany, the little worker still hits the Hartz IV recipient on it." For Flacke it is primarily about "such a burdened term as pride. I am proud of where I come from. I am proud that my father is a plumber. I am proud that nothing has been given to me." This need for pride is one of the unifying elements of the scene. In the case of some skinheads, he may refer to the fact that there is now a consensus to resolutely counter right-wing extremist tendencies. For others, on the other hand, it is important that self-confessed gays are accepted to some extent these days. An association like "RASH - Red and Anarchist Skinheads" is proud of its anti-fascism, one Redskin on its Marx-Engels complete edition on the bookshelf, the next on its beer mat collection. The scene is not homogeneous, and pride remains a diffuse, easily manipulated feeling.

So the discussions will continue. "I'm really fed up with the mess," groans Walkenhorst, "but when there is stress somewhere with Nazis, then I'm right at the front." And then it starts again, this demarcation. If necessary with tangible arguments.