Brixton High Street, August 2011

No London neighborhood is as synonymous with reggae as Brixton. Immortalized in countless songs (“Guns of Brixton“, “Electric Avenue“) for outsiders, the borough’s musical identity is inseparable from popular music of the late 1970s and early eighties. Residents of San Francisco will find it comparable to the Haight Ashbury area’s identification with 1960s bands like The Grateful Dead, and the Jefferson Airplane.

Though the original hippies are long since gone from the Haight, the Caribbean community synonymous with Brixton remains. So do facets of the musical culture which gave birth to British reggae. Also my former home, I frequently stay with friends who live in the neighborhood, when I go back to visit London. In the city to give a talk last August, I arrived just in time for the 2011 riots.

The photo featured here was taken on Brixton High Street, as security forces rushed south, towards Croydon. The audio recording was made in Brixton Market half an hour earlier. It features a rasta chanting the words “Drum and bass, dub, roots and culture,” while someone in the background is playing Oasis. The contrast between the two is its own soundclash, a curious backdrop to the violence then underway. - Joel Schalit