Open Culture reminds us that where we are is where we were before.
The Rock Against Racism Carnival brought together punk and reggae bands, and fans of both, starting a tradition of multi-racial lineups at RAR concerts into the 80s that featured X-Ray Specs, the Ruts, the Slits, Generation X, Elvis Costello, Steel Pulse, Aswad, and Misty in Roots, among many others. “When you saw a band like ours jamming with Tom Robinson or Elvis Costello,” says singer Poko of Misty in Roots, who played more RAR shows than any other band, “it showed that if you love music we can all live together.” That message resonated throughout the country and the sound systems of the streets. At the first Carnival, Fortnam writes, “phalanxes of police held back counter-demonstrating skinheads” while an estimated 80,000 people marched through the streets chanting “Black and white unite and fight, smash the National Front.” Rock Against Racism became a massive movement that did create unity and pushed back successfully against far-right attacks. But it wasn’t only about the politics, as photographer Syd Shelton recalls below. It was also a fight for what British punk would become—the music of fascism and the far right or a synthesis of sounds and rhythms from the former Empire and its former colonies.