Don Letts - Culture Clash, Final Chapter
Monday, 17th Dec 2012
At the beginning of 2006 I was off filming Franz Ferdinand in South America. They were supporting U2 and did their own shows in Rio, Chile and Argentina. My last few films had been very controlled stylistically so it was a great opportunity to return to my punk roots. Later that same year I was on the road again documenting the birth of The Good, The Bad and The Queen, a ‘Dickensian’ dub combo created by Damon Albarn and featuring Paul Simonon of The Clash and Tony Allen who was actually Fela Kuti’s drummer. The following year they released their debut album; shaped by this city it was a classic London record, subtly reflecting the mix that rocks our mutual boat with Damon’s voice putting a quintessential English stamp on it. It couldn’t have been made anywhere else. It was the perfect soundtrack to the movie that is London. Pure technicolor! In Spring 2007 I get a call from BBC 6 Music offering me a regular late night radio show. I’ve been hosting Culture Clash Radio on the station from that time till this and I got to tell you it’s one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. Now some would have you believe I’m at home listening to reggae 24/7 but that’s not the way I roll. The worlds a big and beautiful place and I embrace it all (although it helps if it’s got a wicked bass line). So my show crosses time space and genre and in my 5 years of broadcasting I’ve never played a record I don’t like.
I get my bass fix d.j’ing both here and abroad playing a reggae based selection. We’re talking the history and legacy of Jamaican bass culture. It’s very much in the spirit of what I was doing during my days at the Roxy - using my culture to turn people on. I come from a generation whose soundtrack helped empower the listener, helped people to be all they could be and reveled in individuality. I’m living proof that music has that potential. When I was starting out, music was an anti-establishment thing, now it seems like a lot of people get into music to be part of the establishment. I mean how radical can you be if that's what you want? The future’s all about new values. We live in a cultural climate that feels like punk never happened and Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame has become a nightmare of people that can’t justify three. For the most part Western culture has become increasing conservative, if not darn right stagnant. Nevertheless I remain optimistic. The punk spirit is like the force in Star Wars—you can’t stop it. There’s always something going on, you just got to look in new places and like Joe Strummer said, ‘make sure your bullshit detector is finely tuned’. Look to the amateur and the naïve for the new ideas in the future, everyone else is reading from the same book. Personally a punk attitude still serves me on a day-to-day basis. As I’ve said all along, a good idea attempted is still better that a bad idea perfected and I’m still turning my problems into my assets.
In 2011 I was presented with the opportunity of treading familiar ground. Big Audio Dynamite reformed for a 6 month tour and if nothing else it was a great way to deal with mid-life crisis (and much safer than riding a motor-bike!). We played some seriously high profile festivals around the globe as well as sell out gigs on our home turf – and yes I still had coloured stickers on my keyboards. For my part I had a great time, it was cool to me standing on stage with Mick Jones and the boys again. It some how felt like the third act of Big Audio Dynamite ‘the musical’ and I count myself as a very lucky man indeed for being presented with the opportunity.
As it turns out I’m still hustling my way through the 21st century, o.k so it’s a creative hustle but a hustle never the less. Like many I survive by juggling several different things. So in that respect I’m ahead of the game cause I’ve spent my whole life doing that – and luckily I enjoy it, as for me it’s all part of a whole. And in my book if you can make a buck doing something you enjoy you're a winner. By the end of this year I will have seen fifty-six summers. I guess I should be both older and wiser, but I think I got screwed on the wiser part. What I have learnt is that the evolution of mankind is painfully slow. I know this by looking at myself. Now you might look around the bubble that you’re living in and think otherwise, then you turn on the news and it's a reality check. But when I think of what my parents achieved in their lifetime and the selfless sacrifices they made to set us up, I’m pleased with my part in the process. I’ve learned that for the most part we have to work towards goals we probably won't live to see. That kind of sucks, but the small changes I see in my bubble get me through the day. I still want to paint a new portrait of London on film—every city should have a great movie (as well as a great song). I want to celebrate the cultural mix, the juxtaposition of old and new, the very duality of my existence. I want to reflect on the input we as immigrants have made as I believe that it is this influx that has put the Great back in Britain. Hanging on to an island mentality ain't going anywhere. It’s the creativity that comes out of the multicultural mix that makes London swing.
P.S As luck would have it at the beginning of 2012 I was approached by Fred Perry to create a film celebrating the labels heritage for its 60th anniversary. 'Subculture' traces the journey of British style driven youth movements from Teds n’ Rockers to Mods and Skinheads through Soul-Boys, Punk and Two Tone right up to Casuals, Rave and Britpop. I realized while making the film that in one way or another I’ve actually been touched by, or involved in, nearly every one of these tribes (yes I’m that old!). But most importantly it re-enforced the impact of my culture from the time of my parent’s arrival to this very day. Funnily enough I’ve been so busy being a part of it, I’d never really had time to think about it.
Click HERE for all posts by Don Letts.
As part of our 60 Year Anniversary Celebrations, Don Letts has created six short films exploring British music and street style. The Don Letts Subculture Films are now avilable to watch on Fred Perry Subculture HERE.