Returning to Dr Martens for Fall 2014, alongside their continuing #standforsomething campaign, the brand take a moment to look back, delving into the early days of skinhead culture, where the boot truly came into its own, with a short film from Mike Skinner of The Streets. Focusing on the golden era of ’69, Skinner employs his trademark poetry monologue style to explore a very British subculture with its roots deeply set in all things Jamaican. To celebrate, the brand release a collection of era-approriate clothing including MA1 jackets from Alpha, shirts from Brutus, denim from Edwin and record boxes from Trojan. Here, we sit down with Skinner to talk original skinheads, keeping Ska alive and the decline of the mod.
How did you first get involved with this project?
I’d been doing a lot of narrated montages for music videos, something which Dr Martens thought would work for this. Skinheads, that’s pretty out there. I started to research and my opinion changed about those early skins. It was really important to make it clear that it was about ’69 and everything that lead up to it.
What was your approach in that case?
I was initially worried, but seeing and hearing about the first wave of skins, I mellowed, it made me excited, there was a story there I didn’t know about. I was an outsider but I identified with aspiring to be Jamaican, especially when I was growing up, everything about Jamaican culture appealed to me. I’m a history geek, the ‘60s in general is fascinating to me too. I came to the conclusion that you can’t compare your worldview to that of your grandparents, nothing’s that simple. That’s true of anything. Time washes away a lot of things, everything becomes ‘downton abbey-d.’ Skinheads are still relativey unknown. There’s nothing new to say about mods, punks…skins, its such a potent concept, I wanted to tell that story.
How much did you know when you started?
I didn’t know about that era really. I was more ragga, Elephant Man, dancehall, that time. It’s all the same thread though. Back then ska was, from the Jamaican point of view, ‘mum and dad music’ but the British took it on in a different way. The skinheads prolonged ska in a way. There was this undersanding between the British working class, with their struggle at the time, and families who’d originally made their way from the West Indies. They both experienced a sense of ‘otherness’.
Were there any surprises?
Not really. It was a different time. There’s no one story that does it justice. ’69 was just at the cusp of a lot racial tension, we hadn’t quite got to that part of the story so the scene was still quite multicultural I guess.
Given its history, did you feel you had to explain ‘skinhead’ to your audience?
I think the youth don’t have those hang ups, those links, perhaps they’re not that aware of it. For my generation they still remain, but time does that, washes away those rough edges, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, there’s rough edges on all sides. I mean, there were some quite alarming ideas coming out of that scene but that isn’t the whole story.
What was your research process?
I started with the obvious books – Nick Knight, Gavin Watson, although that’s a bit later. I went into the ’60s in general. You actually learn more about skins by reading about mods. A lot of the skinhead commentary was post 1969 and I’m not interested in that to be honest. Mod culture and mod decline lead to skinhead. Mod was a secret society, guys who wore suits to work during the week but would make tiny alterations, almost unnoticeable, that let others know they were part of the club, a code almost. Once 1966 came, the riots, mod became mainstream so it was over. I think skins were the mods who couldn’t afford to be that sharp, perhaps they didn’t quite fit in with ‘the faces’ on the scene. Skinhead culture was different though because it was overt, it’s almost clownish. They’re trying to create a working class uniform because the working classes were shrinking and they certainly didn’t make the grade as middle class. They were inspired by Jamaicans and so it all began.