By Nick Clark
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How Don Letts brought punks and dreads together

Interviews, photographs and archive footage paint an exciting picture of the melting pot of 1970s London
Issue 2794
Don Letts stands next to a radio, some tapes, and televisions featuring reggae, ska and punk musicians

The ‘Rebel Dread’—Don Letts

Rebel Dread is the story of Don Letts—DJ, film maker, and music and style trailblazer—who brought the worlds of punk and dub reggae together.

With interviews, photographs and archive footage Letts and the film makers paint an exciting picture of the melting pot of 1970s London—and in particular King’s Road, Chelsea. Home to all manner of boutique clothes and record shops, it was a magnet for London’s many subcultures.

At the intersection of them all sat Don Letts. He remembers working for punk stylists Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren in their shop on King’s Road. But it was when he managed a shop himself, Acme Attractions—dub music constantly blaring—that he began to stitch those subcultures together. The shop became more like a social club, attracting punks, dreads and glam rockers alike.

For Letts, none of this can be separated from the “backdrop of social crisis in the 1970s—it was absolute turmoil. We were feeling the pressure on the streets, specifically under a law called sus which gave a policeman permission to pull up anybody they want to if they look suspicious. And of course everybody black ‘looked suspicious’.”

Don Letts has a proud joy in rebelling, whether fighting back against the police at Notting Hill Carnival, or defiance through music. In music, he found spaces that cut across racism. So when he started DJing at punk club The Roxy, he almost inadvertently brought together black and white people from two otherwise separate subcultures.

As his partner at the time Jeanette Lee remembers, “That scene made it easier for people to actually be friends with each other and communicate instead of in tribes.”


Rebel Dread is in cinemas from Friday 4 March. Go to rebeldread.com

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