The legendary DJ, Don Letts, whose unique contribution to mix Reggae with Punk is still talked about for generations. He was born in London in the 1950s to Jamaican parents at a time when immigrants were still few and unusual. Since he was growing up among different cultures, he became unique figure not only for his musicality but also his appearance.
In the late 1970s, together with the flourishing Punk scene, Malcolm McLaren had left a powerful influence and legacy. But there was nobody other than Don Letts, who supported a real scene behind that Punk movement. When talking about Don Letts’s style, his hair will be the first thing everyone thinks about if we define style=appearance. Extremely long dreadlocks. If you ask someone who Don Letts is, most people will answer that he is a reggae musician just because of his hairstyle.
Letts’s style can work as a business card. He told us why he chose to have dreadlocks. “I am the first generation of black people who was born in England. In the sixties when I was a child, this concept was hard to understand. I was something different to the others…. I was searching for my own identity. It was then when I discovered Reggae music through Rastafari. For Rastafari believers, Bob Marley was an important style icon. And I thought this is it! That’s why I decided to grow dreads to shape my identity.” The decision meant that Don Letts was an outsider in London at that time. But the encounter and decision created his identity and as a result it led him to discover his own tribe.
“During the 60’s and 70’s, Rasta was very important for many young blacks while leaning about their culture through Reggae.” For Don Letts, who was surrounded by whites during his school days, music taught him where his roots came from. It was the time when The Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Kinks had become popular. “That was when Reggae came into my life, with such artists as Big Youth, Bob Marley or Dennis Brown. I was also interested in white rock ‘n roll while white classmates showed their interest in Reggae music. Musically, we became equal and made a cultural exchange. Through music, I could make friends in my school days.”
Don Letts says that he is made of music. The reason is because music can be a gateway to various other forms of expression. “Music is tied to style in England. They will never separate. When I was young, for many working-class people there were only two ways to obtain one’s own identity through expression. Which was music or fashion. But normal fashion is not good. Style is much more important than fashion, like Silver magazine. Fashion can pass by, but style remains forever. You can buy fashion but cannot buy attitude. Fred Perry I’m wearing today isn’t fashion but style. That’s why it has a long history. If it is just fashion, people always need something new. But if you have style, that remains forever.”
Then, how can one establish style? “If you have style, you don’t need to consider style at all. Because it is natural thing. You shouldn’t think difficult. If you thought too hard, it would become fashion already. It is not good enough just to copy somebody. The most important thing is that if you think something is cool, let it inspire you to express something original. My 7 feet-long dreadlocks can be copied by anyone if they grow their hair longer. But more importantly is to grow your brain. One day, I decided to call myself Don Letts. There is only one of me. Without being restricted by a definition of Rasta or Punk rock, I was searching for further growth. So, I think it’s not good that you only follow Western culture. You should fuse Japaneseness into it. The combination of different cultures can always create something new.”
During 70’s, Don was active DJ at the Roxy, a legendary punk club in UK, and famous for mixing Reggae with Punk. He is also known for collaborating with Big Audio Dynamite, a band formed by Mick Jones from the Clash.
|Photo Kiyotaka Hatanaka (UM)
Text Takayasu Yamada
Translate Fumie Tsuji