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Posts tagged as 'Don Letts'

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This is Now - Film and Video After Punk at the BFI

A unique season of films opens at the BFI this Friday, celebrating the rise of DIY films that emerged as an aftershock of the punk movement. Focusing on work from the early 80s, This is Now includes a selection of rare Super8 and 16mm films, many of which have been out of circulation for 30 years. Fred Perry collaborator Don Letts will be showcasing some of his original Super8 footage of British punk bands, including The Slits and Public Image Limited on Saturday 12th April.

Post Punk

Other featured filmmakers include the artist Grayson Perry and pop video directors Sophie Muller and Tim Pope. By producing independent VHS tapes, the filmmakers managed to bypass censors and create a cheap yet impactive new medium. Many artists became friends, developing new techniques and styles whilst squatting in flats together and enjoying the post-punk club scene. The BFI will host a salon discussion on the 14th April, with many of the filmmakers in attendance to talk through their work.

Find out more on the BFI website.

This is Now - Film and Video After Punk will run from the 4th - 17th April.

Don Letts - Culture Clash, Final Chapter

Last Word

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.

Don Letts Final Chapter 1

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.

            Don Letts Final Chapter 2

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.

Don Letts Final Chapter 3

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.

              Don Letts Final 4

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.

Don Letts - Culture Clash, Chapter 20

Behind the Lens

I’ve made nearly 400 music videos to date, don’t make ‘em anymore but between the end of the seventies and the end of the nineties I directed video’s for a diverse range of acts including The Jungle Brothers, The Pretenders, Sly and Robbie, Elvis Costello, Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Slits, Big Audio Dynamite, The Pogues, S’Express, Beenie Man, Apache Indian, Yaz, Bob Marley and, of course The Clash. In 1982, fledgling UK reggae band Musical Youth decided to give me a shot at their debut single ‘Pass The Dutchie’. The song title was taken from a Mighty Diamonds’ track called ‘Pass the Kutchie’ as in a herb pipe. Obviously these little Brummie kids couldn’t be seen to be singing about weed. So they decided to find a word that rhymed with kutchie and decided on ‘dutchie’ (a Jamaican cooking pot). Since the lyrics were rendered non-sensical I decided to ignore them and came up with a vague story about them skipping school. But the most important thing was the location of their performance. At the start of the song one of the kids sing “this generation rules the nation with version” the camera pulls back and you see them playing in front of The House of Parliament! Just my way of showing a new face of London. During eighties I worked in Los Angeles for a while and ended up living in Hollywood for six months. The first video I shot there featured an up-and-coming youngster known to you as Ice-T.

Don Letts - Video Shoot, LA, 1982

Next up an American heavy metal band called Ratt. The video for their single ‘Round and Round’ came out when they were on tour supporting Mötley Crüe and  did so well that Mötley Crüe ended up supporting them! Cut to Venice Beach I’m shooting the Gap Bands ‘Party Train’. These guys were so out of it when they arrived all they could do was walk twenty yards along the beach and that was it. I made an asset out of my problem and the video smashed it. But there were changes afoot driven by MTV and soon it was all about the gloss of videos like Duran Duran’s ‘Rio’ which wasn’t really my speed. The last group I made a few videos for was Shaun Ryder’s Black Grape formed three years after Happy Mondays split up. We went to Jamaica to shoot the promo for ‘In the Name of the Father’ and needless to say Jamaica’s never been the same. In the current climate it’s hard to find people with any attitude at all and if you don’t look good and you can’t dance then you are a truly screwed. 

Don Letts - Video set Hawaii, 1984

The corporate politics of pop video making soon got the better of me so I opted out for documentaries. After my first film the admittedly rough and ready ‘Punk Rock Movie’ it was Chris Blackwell who really got me back into a more documentary style. I did several projects for Chris over the years including ‘Legend’ (Bob Marley) and also my first featuring film ‘Dancehall Queen’. Shot entirely in Jamaica it's the story of a humble street vendor who, through the world of dancehall, escapes to make her life better and features performances from Beenie Man and Lady Saw. The film went on to smash the Jamaican box office and although ‘The Harder They Come’ will always be the Jamaican film for my generation, for the new generation its Dancehall Queen…trust me.

Don Letts - Dancehall Queen

Shortly after that I got to direct ‘Planet Rock’ for the BBC. It focused on hip-hop and the effect of black music in the eighties. I returned to New York to film artists like Africa Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, Chuck D, De La Soul, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Frankie Knuckles and the Detroit legend Derrick May. The premise of my episode was how black music gave new life to the dying carcass that was rock’n’ roll. No shit! Now The Clash had talked about doing a film over the years but never had the time or the inclination but in 2000 I got the call. You know as much as I’d love to take credit for making ‘Westway to The World’ I think you’d have to be a complete idiot to make a bad film about ‘the only band that mattered’. As it turned out I got a Grammy for it.

My next film “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was a piece I’m particularly proud of, as it was the last word from the one and only Gil Scott-Heron before he passed away in 2011. On the strength of that I got to do ‘Brother From Another Planet’ a documentary on Sun Ra. He is to jazz what Lee Perry is to reggae and broke new ground mixing electronic sounds with jazz, long before Miles Davis did. Funny, I just can’t escape punk rock, ‘cause as far as I am concerned, that is exactly what Sun-Ra was. I followed that with ‘Tales of Dr. Funkenstein’ the story of George Clinton. Once again here was someone that ticked all the required boxes to get me fired up. In 2004, some thirty years after the first stirrings of the UK Punk movement, I was approached to make ‘Punk: Attitude’. It occurred to me that the over-emphasis on the late ’70s punk incarnation undermined a bigger idea. What we’re really talking about here is counter-culture, which has a tradition and a heritage i.e. punk rock didn’t start and end in the late seventies. I wanted to show that punk was not something to look back on, but something to look forward to and if you are brave enough and you have a good idea you can be a part of it.

I directed the final part of a series called ‘Soul Britannia’ for the BBC called in 2007. Starting with the arrival of the Jamaican immigrants in the fifties, it looked at the impact of black music from that time till this and the social and cultural impact that has followed in its wake. It really drove home and touched on many of the themes running through my journey and our part in creating a new British identity. For my episode I roped in people like Jazzie B, Norman Jay, Daddy G (Massive Attack), Rebel MC, Amy Winehouse, Goldie, Roots Manuva, Mica Paris and Rodney P. These artists are all proof that the cultural exchange was very much a two-way street. They have had as much impact on Britain as Britain has on them.

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.