White Riot (2019) - 9/10
Updated: Apr 25
The year is 1976 or could be now. The place is London, although it could be anywhere in Britain. We like to think that things are better now, but are they really? The story of White Riot is the story of Rock Against Racism. A movement born out of the rise of Enoch Powell and the scum that followed him... like Eric Clapton. I had a couple of Clapton albums as a kid, but I went off him as I grew up. I also discovered Punk! The reactionary stance against the injustices in society. That’s where this starts, with those standing up to the co-opting skinhead racists of the NF as The Clash belt out London Calling. As opening sequences to documentaries go, it’s bloody arresting stuff. To every idiot that today tells you Britain was better in the 70s, before the EU, before this before that. Delusional and dangerous. 70s Britain was a shithole and to see archive footage of Powell and NF rallies is thankfully shocking. As bad as things are still to this day in Britain, surely we’ve not slipped that far. The divisiveness is still present though. That’s what’s recognisable here. Two opposing sides, diametrically against the other. Troubling though are those flirting in the middle ground, Bowie with his moronic comments in Berlin and to a more severe extent Clapton openly telling audiences to get behind Powell, cunt. That was the catalyst for RAR, a DIY uprising of designers, photographers, musicians, wordsmiths, music fans, “Love Music. Hate Racism”. If those words don’t stir something in you, stop reading this now and watch White Riot! Punk was complex in its origin. An explosion of raw energy reacting to the failed promises of the hippie 60s “Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust”. It was angry, people were angry at the state of the country and the NF used that as fuel. There’s archive here of Sid Vicious and Siouxie sporting Swastikas and plenty of young NF gangs tried to jump on the Punk aesthetic. RAR was about claiming that back, putting gigs on with black bands and white bands. Breaking down the fear being pedalled by a rising white supremacy... and the fucking police! A two fingered salute to the concept of colonialism and Britain’s idiotic notion of being great and superior. Fuck nationalism and fuck flag waving. I’ve watched most of this with a feeling of shame and disbelief, whilst bouncing it my chair to some truly amazing music. I hope you will too. It’s a blistering run through a fantastic look at the power of music and youth movements and what they can do when mobilised properly. Packed with interviews from the ring leaders, archive of the bands, newsreel of the times and massive heaps of punk graphics, slogans and style. That style though never overshadows the substance and the message delivered at the culminating gig with X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, The Clash, TRB. The NF were defeated, but the fight is far from over. “All the power’s in the hands of people rich enough to buy it”.