Like many of our WILT subjects, Nikki Graham has always been musical.”I don’t really remember a specific time that ‘got me into music.’ It was just always a part of my life,” says the Trouble In The Town organizer, Class System singer/guitarist, and curator this month’s WILT playlist.
Graham started Class System in the summer of 2013 with her friend Duncan Bender. The name was their way of calling out the “society in which Americans are forced to live. We don’t have equality. We have people at the very top taking advantage of the ones at the bottom. And the middle is almost non-existent now. We’re plagued with all different types of class systems here – economic, racial, gender, etc. and things need to change.”
At the time, Graham had only ever sung vocals, including a lead vocal stint in a band called The Abuse (2002-2007). And while Bender could play drums and guitar, “we agreed he’d play drums because we figured that finding a guitar player would probably be easier than a drummer.” It wasn’t. Eventually, Graham, who had never played an instrument before, picked up a guitar and “learned some chords to get things going.” Soon they had their first bassist, Sophia Flores (now of Crude Studs) and by January of 2014, were playing their first show.
The line up has changed since then, seeing Flores leave and Mike Miner take her place briefly before ultimately being replaced by Graham’s husband Tyson. Bender moved to Los Angeles and now plays guitar for Vicios. He was replaced by Tommy Ghiorso, and while Graham still plays rhythm guitar, Jakobe Moreno joined the band to take lead guitar slot.
Class System plays UK82 and Oi!, fast, hard styles of post-seventies punk that talk a lot about social issues. The word “Oi!” is the Cockney equivalent to “Hey!” The genre is “for the common people, working class, skinheads, and people struggling to get by.” Meanwhile, UK82 references 1982 in the UK, a time when the country was in a recession. “People were out of work. They were angry and resentful of what their government was allowing to happen.” While the genres both started out in the UK, Graham says lots of American bands play them and “the sentiments are transferrable.”
In addition to Class System, Graham has also founded Trouble In The Town, an all-vinyl dance party named after the Dandy Livingstone reggae song of the same name. Graham started the event in July of last year. “I used to go out to the Bay for reggae or soul nights and was really missing them since I can’t get out there as much. I needed to have something like that here and I realized from talking to other people, they did too.”
Beyond booking a few shows, Graham had never put together an event like this before. Her husband helped her organize that first party and Matthew Marujo from Café Colonial let them use the venue as a trial. “It turned out great! I thought Café Colonial would be the perfect spot because it’s an all-ages venue and I wanted it to be as inclusive as possible. Plus, their food is great.”
Now Graham does the event quarterly “to keep it fresh. I didn’t want to overdo it. I want it to be an event that people plan for and look forward to going to.” She tries to book a mix of local and out of town reggae and soul DJs. “It’s really just about everyone coming together to support our scene and subculture and having a good time. We’ve had people learn to DJ for the first time at a couple of these, too.”
The shows focus on the genres of Northern Soul and Skinhead Reggae. “Skinhead Reggae is the early reggae from Jamaica, around the late 60’s,” says Graham, “I get a lot of questions about the Skinhead part of it so I’ll briefly explain: Skinheads came out of the mod culture in England and the Rude Boy culture from Jamaica. These were working-class people who loved to dress up and to go to dancehalls on the weekend and have a good time, blow off steam. Original Skinheads were not racist… White nationalists and neo-nazi adopted the style and soiled the name.” [editor’s note: For more information on this, check out this well-cited Wikipedia page.]
And for those of you worried about the other kind of skinheads at the event: “I want to be very clear – Racism is not tolerated at Trouble In The Town. We will not tolerate bigotry of any type.”
Northern Soul is American soul music from the early to mid-’60s. “It’s kinda like Motown, but not so much the mainstream groups that were big in the US. It’s called Northern Soul because it gained a lot of popularity in Northern England.”
So what is Class System and Trouble In The Town founder Nikki Graham listening to?
Class System will be releasing a new 7-inch record Civil Unrest through Crowd Control Media soon, with the help of Joe Cooper of Pleasant Noise Recordings and Pat Hills of Earth Tone. “CCM has been putting out a lot of awesome stuff and doing great things for the U.S. Oi! scene. Definitely check them out if you like that style of music.” The band has recently released a new track off the album “Resist and Unite,” you can listen to it here. There is no drop date for the album yet, but they are hoping for a summer release.
The next Trouble In The Town will be on June 16th at 8 pm. It is all ages and free but donations to Café Colonial are welcome. You can get more info about the show here and about the Trouble In The Town event series here.
Words: Katta Hules. Photos courtesy of Nikki Graham.