On my radar: Don Letts’s cultural highlights

The BBC 6 Music DJ on Afrofuturism, Father John Misty, and why he owes his show’s success to the crew at Rough Trade West

Born in London in 1956, Don Letts is a film-maker, musician and DJ who straddled the dub-reggae and punk scenes in the 70s, introducing the latter to the former through his King’s Road shop, Acme Attractions, and influential DJ sets at the Roxy. He directed music videos for the Clash and in 1984 formed Big Audio Dynamite with ex-Clash member Mick Jones. His documentaries include the Grammy award-winning Clash: Westway to the World (2000), and most recently The Story of Skinhead for BBC Four. Letts hosts a weekly Sunday night show, Don Letts’ Culture Clash Radio, on BBC 6 Music.

1. Film
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (Dir James Gunn, 2017)

Rocket Raccoon and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
‘One of my favourite movie characters of all time’: Groot, with Rocket Raccoon, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Photograph: AP

I love this film. It’s a superhero movie based on Marvel characters – one of many, obviously – who romp around the universe getting involved in all kinds of shenanigans. The team includes a foul-mouthed raccoon and a tree-like, humanoid creature that can only say the words: “I am Groot.” He died in Vol 1 and it almost had me in tears. But he left a cutting, and in Vol 2 this cutting becomes a teenage Groot. He’s one of my favourite movie characters of all time. I’ve got a plant in my garden, a thing called a gunnera, that I’ve named Groot in his honour.

Afrofuturism by Ytasha Womack.

2. Book
Afrofuturism by Ytasha Womack

This book examines the cultural aesthetic of Afrofuturism, which a lot of people think of as funky black dudes with afros, shiny suits and shades – the likes of Sun Ra, George Clinton and Janelle Monáe. Afrofuturism really is a mix of African diaspora culture with philosophy, history, science and technology. It has a long literary, cinematic, academic, musical and artistic legacy. Black culture has almost hit a brick wall by playing to the old street thing, whereas Afrofuturism is about looking to the galaxy, not the ghetto. This book fleshes out that idea in a very interesting way.

3. Radio
BBC 6 Music

6 Music’s ​Mary Anne Hobbs.
6 Music’s Mary Anne Hobbs. Photograph: Laura Lewis/BBC

What a surprise, I’ve picked a radio station that I’ve got a show on. But it ain’t about that. Before I got the show I was listening to the station every day. To the people who present the programmes, music’s not a hobby, it’s not a job, it’s an integral part of their lives and I think that’s what separates 6 Music from other stations. I love Mary Anne Hobbs’s show, and Gilles Peterson on a Saturday afternoon is essential. Listening to them helps me keep up to date.

4. Restaurant
Turtle Bay, Brixton

Turtle Bay.
‘A healthy selection of Caribbean flavours’: Turtle Bay. Photograph: Turtle Bay

Taste is another one of the senses that I like to please. Turtle Bay is a Caribbean-themed place with outlets across the UK, but the Brixton branch is my favourite because that’s where I grew up. It has fantastic decor, killer music, delicious food and some dangerous cocktails. You’ve got your jerks, your gumbos – a healthy selection of Caribbean flavours – and they’re playing the history and legacy of Jamaican music. It’s a good night out.

5. Record shop
Rough Trade West, Notting Hill

Rough Trade West, Notting Hill, London.
‘A great waterhole for creative people’: Rough Trade West, Notting Hill, London. Photograph: Alamy

If music is my religion, then Rough Trade is my church, and the owner of the shop, Nigel, and his crew, they preach a mean sermon. It’s partly because of them that I appear hip on my radio show, because they’re turning me on to new stuff. I owe them big time. It’s a great waterhole for creative people to meet up and exchange ideas. In the digital age, places where like-minded people can congregate and look each other in the eye can’t be a bad thing.

6. Music
God’s Favorite Customer, Father John Misty

Father John Misty.
‘The guy is a genius’: Father John Misty. Photograph: Icon/Emma Tillman

I’m really looking forward to the new Father John Misty album. Pure Comedy was one of my favourite albums of a couple of years ago. I’ve heard a few tracks from the new one, including Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All, and they haven’t disappointed. The guy is a genius, his lyrics are very clever. He’s got a vocal tone that sounds like an early Elton John, and you’ve got to love a guy who takes acid to relax. I’m an absolute fan.

7. Animal

A North American beaver.
A North American beaver. Photograph: Alamy

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before publicly, but I’ve managed to accumulate what is probably the biggest collection of beaver paraphernalia in the UK. What started out as a joke between me and my wife, Grace – who’s American, by the way – has gone on for 30 years, with each of us trying to outdo the other, trying to find the most impressive beaver-related items on our travels. Consequently, my home is overrun with the furry little critters, including a mechanised one that [photographer] Bob Gruen got me from Las Vegas and a branch chewed by beavers that was given to me by Jim Jarmusch.

Don Letts fronts this year’s 50th anniversary celebrations of reggae label Trojan Records


Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

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