The Last Pirates: Britain’s Rebel DJs Documentary 2017

In the 1980s a new generation of pirate radio stations exploded on to Britain’s FM airwaves. Unlike their seafaring swinging 60s forerunners, these pirates broadcast from London’s estates and tower blocks to create a platform for black music in an era when it was shut out by legal radio and ignored by the mainstream music industry. The Last Pirates: Britain’s Rebel DJs explores how pirate radio stations in London – alongside record shops and clubs – forever transformed the UK’s cultural landscape, giving a platform for black music when it was shut out by ‘legal’ radio, and mainstream channels.

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In the ensuing game of cat and mouse which played out on the rooftops of inner-city London across a whole decade, these rebel DJs used legal loopholes and technical trickery to stay one step ahead of the DTI enforcers who were tasked with bringing them down. And as their popularity grew they spearheaded a cultural movement bringing Britain’s first multicultural generation together under the banner of black music and club culture.

Presented by Rodney P, whose own career as a rapper would not have been possible without the lifeblood of pirate radio airplay, this film also presents an alternative history of Britain in the 1980s – a time of entrepreneurialism and social upheaval – with archive and music that celebrates a very different side of Thatcher’s Britain.

Featuring interviews with DJs, station owners and DTI enforcers – as well as some of the engineers who were the secret weapon in the pirate arsenal – this is the untold story of how Britain’s greatest generation of pirate radio broadcasters changed the soundtrack of modern Britain forever.

“The radio, the record shops and of course the clubs. That was the holy trinity,” explains Gilles Peterson.

“This is like our church, this is like our university, it’s our communication hub, this is our internet this is our Wikipedia,” says Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B speaking about the power of record shops.

“Sometimes I’d be thinking to myself hmmm am I going to eat food this week or am I going to buy these import records? Food… imports… Ah. Imports won all the time. I had to have those tunes,” says DJ Camilla.

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