In the early 70’s producer, sonic wizard and singer Lee ”Scratch” Perry declared his will to build his own studio, a place open for everyone, especially dreads and rastas. In 1973 his studio Black Ark opened its doors. Seven years later it was burnt down by Lee Perry himself and looted.
In the documentary The Upsetter: The Life & Music of Lee “Scratch” Perry he says the studio had been polluted, corrupted and biased by dreads and rastas, and pinpoints The Congos, an outfit he calls “demons”.
After it had burnt down Lee Perry declared he was born again.
The Upsetter is directed and produced by independent filmmakers Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough and narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Benicio Del Toro. Lee Perry’s story is told through an exclusive in-depth interview filmed in Switzerland in 2006. He took refuge in Switzerland to confront his demons, and several of these are addressed in The Upsetter.
It has taken seven years to finalize and includes classic Lee Perry produced music and archival footage selected from throughout his extensive career. These video footage gems – both professional and homemade sequences – as well as extraordinary photographs taken from the vaults of music history span nearly five decades and paints an intimate and private picture of Lee Perry’s past, present and future.
The story about Lee Perry has been widely told before – in books, in previous documentaries and in liner notes to CD’s and LP’s. But The Upsetter is nonetheless an insightful look into the elusive personality and creative genius of one of the most legendary and pioneering music figures of all time. He’s usually credited for discovering Bob Marley, one of the first to use samples and one of the masterminds behind dub and remixing techniques.
For Lee Perry nothing was off limits or too bold, and he has worked with Paul McCartney, The Beastie Boys and The Clash. With the latter he had a relationship described as “The Clash looked at me like the children of Israel looked at Moses”.
The Upsetter is a captivating and fascinating journey. But it’s also a tragic story about a man that feels betrayed and robbed by everyone around him.
Lee Perry has often been portrayed as a mad man, and this documentary doesn’t change that image. He talks nonsense and sometimes seems to belong with Gabriel Byrne in the TV-series In Treatment. But according to Lee Perry himself he plays mad to avoid people.
Whether it’s just a front or not is hard to know, but The Upsetter is definitely one of the most disclosing reggae documentaries ever.