Blazing Brixton soundclashes in cult UK reggae movie Babylon (1980)

I‘m getting into the zone preparing to interview Don Letts – cult and cultural icon, DJ, film director, writer, Big Audio Dynamitee and the UK’s most eminent reggae and dub historian of the last 40 years.

Brixton boy Letts could dine out on stories about the late-70s UK counterculture for the rest of his life, as the DJ who first infiltrated the punk scene with hardcore dub and reggae, and documented those early pogo-fests with his super-8 camera.

Franco Rosso’s 1980 film Babylon is a good place to start trying to pin down the London that Letts was soundtracking after punk imploded and the up-yours mentality was still mainlining through the youth. It’s easy to forget the reggae soundsystem scene in early 1980s London was just as rowdy as punk and readied the bass bins for the rave culture that followed in its wake. After years in the cult movie wilderness, this stunning portrait of a young gang of second generation Jamaican immigrants was restored for DVD in all its red, gold and green glory a few years ago.

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It follows toaster MC Blue and his Ital Lion crew through a crumbling Brixton captured perfectly by cinematographer Chris Menges and a rumbling soundtrack by Dennis Bovell score full of echo chamber cues.

Blue is played by Aswad singer Brainsley Dan and his crew’s lethal soundclash weapon is the track Warrior Charge, set to annihilate all comers. Blue has to deal with a dead-end garage job (with mechanic Mel Smith as his bigoted boss), racist cops and the National Front before the Lions’ clash with arch rivals Jah Shaka — a final redemptive showdown that’ll leave you with goosebumps long after the credits roll.