The only way for the tenets of a subculture to survive is to polish them up and wear them proudly. That’s why traditional skinheads always come to a party dressed to the blue collar nines. Giving their Fred Perrys, Sta-Prest slacks, Doc Martins, and close-cropped hairdos a chance to shine has always been about more than just looking sharp. It’s about showing an ironclad allegiance to the spirit of '69—working class values, reggae, rocksteady and the soul of a classic UK movement that can’t be diluted by outside trends that come and go.
It’s a scene that still courses through the backyard shows, blue collar clubs and bars of Southern California, branching into communities that original skins like Cliff Shirk and Tim Loungeway—who grew up with the culture in the ‘70s and ‘80s—had no clue about.
“Tim took me to a show in LA five or six years ago…I go to this show and there’s all these Hispanic skinheads dressing proper,” Shirk says. “I was like 'where did all these people come from?' They were playing records that we could never get, clothes that we could never get back then.”
Prior to that, Shirk was organizing annual skinhead reunions every five years since 1993 and continued his ties to the scene he grew up in. Together with Loungeway and Kelley Bates (co-owners of Galaxy Scooters in Long Beach), they hatched an idea for an annual meetup for the traditional skinhead community. Three years later, the Boss Weekender was born— a three-day event that’s part skinhead culture celebration, part Oi punk party, and part Northern Soul revival all under the roof of Alex’s Bar. The event includes two nights of live bands on Friday and Saturday as well as a custom scooter show, wrapped up by the Sunday Social, an afternoon of DJs and drinks that’s become a staple at Alex’s for the past three years.
“It’s kind of a celebration of the whole subculture in Long Beach and Southern California,” says Doug Kane, frontman of Friday Night’s LA punk rock headliner The Generators. “These are some relationships that have been going on for 35 years since the beginning of the 2Tone scene and punk and Oi scenes and those people who were originally involved will be celebrating this weekend. That’s pretty cool 'cuz that hasn’t happened ever.”
Despite being a major cultural hub for all of the scenes represented in the Weekender, it took some extra doing by Lougeway, Shirk, Mark Morales of Angel City Records, as well as DJs Tommy Gunn and Nelson Rome of the weekly Sunday Social at Alex’s Bar to bring everyone together. The logo for the event was designed by Hepcat drummer Greg Narvas, who also created an autobiographical mini-comic about his experience as a teenage Filipino skinhead in the ‘80s.
“Everyone we’ve reached out to has really chipped in and did something,” Loungeway says.
After moving the event from its originally intended location in San Francisco to Long Beach due to scheduling issues, Loungeway and Shirk tapped Morales to put together a bill that represented all the subcultures involved. It was important to retain a Long Beach flair on the bill, represented through bands like The Confessions and Feo Casanova.
“For me the biggest thing is bringing the old cats in with the new cats,” Shirk says.
Morales already knew he had the perfect headliner—former Motown star Brenda Holloway, an-LA bred soul singer whose sultry vocals on hits like “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “When I’m Gone” vaulted her into the limelight at age 17. Now at age 70, her Saturday night set at Alex’s gives an extra level of authenticity to the Weekender, especially to those like Jackie Mendez, a young LA reggae and rocksteady songstress who grew up letting Holloway and other classic soul artists seep into her sonic pallet.
“When I first started out singing, all I wanted to do was share the stage with someone like that,” says Mendez, a red-headed, rocksteady powerhouse who recently shared the stage with Holloway at shows in LA and Mexico. “When it actually happens, it’s a cool feeling and when you see them respect you and see you as an artist and appreciate you, that’s awesome.”
The traditional vibe and fashion mixed with a multi-generational music lineup is the ultimate way to honor a music scene that thrives on looking as sharp and cool as the music they play.
“It’s nice to go to a show where all the band members are really dressed up and they’re playing their instrument like it’s their passion. It’s really neat to see that, it gets you pumped up,” Loungeway says. “No one wants to see a jazz band in t-shirts and flip-flops.”
The Boss Weekender at Alex's Bar featuring The Generators, Brenda Holloway, Jackie Mendez and more is on Oct. 14-16. For full show and ticket info, click here.