I thought I would share these 3 documentaries I found during my research. All 3 touch on the relationship between pop culture and race relations in modern Britain, and all are about the birth of Ska music as a mixture of British and Caribbean culture and its revival in the early 1980’s.
This BBC documentary by videographer and DJ Don Letts is the most explicitly London-centric. He tells the story of his own interest in the music scene, as well as exploring how the Skinhead movement grew within London as a cultural phenomenon, eventually spreading out across the country. More importantly, and interesting however, was his investigation into how the movement began as an intercultural one, started by black and white musicians, and yet became the most iconic symbol of racism in pop culture, both in Britain and overseas. If there ever was a contentiously political youth culture, THIS is it!
The above 2 programmes focus more specifically on Ska, in particular The Specials and the influence of their 2Tone label on pop culture in Britain. The first one (2Tone Britain) is particularly interesting because of the wide variety of people from different races who were interviewed who felt welcomed and included in pop culture because the music allowed them to be themselves.
The second documentary is very interesting because it shows how Ska and 2Tone spread across Britain but also across the globe, and how it’s influence is still felt today by a massive cross section of people from different backgrounds and cultures.
Having grown up listening to this genre of music , I took the sound for granted and hadn’t really considered the cultural importance and implications that this type of music had, or in fact, how groundbreaking it was to have multicultural groups performing together in a country which was still marred by poor race relations, until I sat down and examined the history myself.
I think these kind of visual, oral and aural histories are really important both in examining pop culture movements in London, but also in understanding the modern history of the city. If we can gleam anything from the city it is that fashion, style and music are as reflective of contemporary London society nowadays as a Hogarth etching was 300 years ago.