Haymaker — FIRST TO DIE

And when you’re all used up, no one gives a damn

“We are Haymaker! Who the fuck are you?” The crowd chants to kick off First To Die, a hard-charging number from this Prague-based Oi revivalist quartet.

They certainly look the part. Like many groups within the Oi! genre, Haymaker has scrupulously refined their image and their sound to tightly fit classic late 70s, early 80s skinhead rock & roll. The kind of music that formed the soundtrack to dust-ups between teds and skinheads versus the punks and the dreadlocks. Does this kind of dichotomy exist within this skinhead crew’s native Prague? The same kind of left-right political dynamic certainly does (and will continue to until the end of days) but the band intends for its music to come across at the global level, framing their songs within a classic working-class against the establishment elite dynamic. Heady stuff. Audiences can benefit from examining this dichotomy through different kinds of perspectives, whether it’s bottom-up or top-down.

Despite this, Haymaker seems hellbent on portraying an aggressively apolitical outlook and portrays every struggle (all of their songs are about struggle) within a linear proletariat/bourgeoisie model. While this is certainly a valid perspective, it comes across as slightly one-dimensional and certainly beneath the talents of this behemoth rock band.

And they certainly are talented, not just in terms of carving out a niche audience within a niche genre, but also in their songwriting, which borrows as heavily from folk and country story-telling, sloganeering and melodicism as much as it does from late 70s British punk. Haymaker stitches together working class sloganeering with a classic verse/chorus songwriting. Topping it all off is a jaunty two-part guitar break, where the second part is neatly harmonized. This is sturdy, solid craftsmanship.

The self-created mythology of Oi! music and skinhead culture is well-documented and has included everyone on the political map from Paul Simonon to Ian Stuart Donaldson to Nicky Crane.  The community itself is an increasingly complex world to navigate. Perhaps, as a result of this stylistic gridlock, any attempt at transcending the rigid aesthetic confines of the genre can be viewed by followers as a betrayal. True believers within the genre work hard to live up to the image, both in terms of the visual and the sonic. It seems as though modern Oi! has declared itself through with innovation, which begs the question as to where the genre will go if it has already perfected itself.

When evaluating any Oi band, the first thing that enthusiasts do is try to triangulate where it falls on the political spectrum. In this exhaustive process, who could blame Haymaker‘s weariness with participating in a political dialogue when the genre’s global audience politicizes polo t-shirts and shoelace colors. In the end, it shouldn’t matter either. Perspective is perspective and none of us have any political power to actually change things.

That being said, any group that pays as close attention to the nuances of working-class culture (skinhead or otherwise) must know a little more about the human lives being lived within it. However, they seem to be holding back from fully articulating their observations or expressing any commentary beyond documenting the (unjust) suffering of the working class at the hands of an economic system that doesn’t benefit them. Hopefully, the next time around, Haymaker will fill us in on the details beyond the clothes and the slogans and get to the real pain that these people go through. Their group, under the clear leadership of its vocalist, seems primely positioned to their story.

By the way, do you think these dudes like reggae?

RIYL: Cock Sparrer, Sham 69, analyzing-underrated-fashion-movements