Small Axe: Lovers Rock

“Move your feet! You don’t know who you’ll meet.”


The second of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Lovers Rock captures a single night at a West London house party in the 1980s. Although it features the barest bones of a budding romance between two strangers, McQueen’s focus is in distilling the essence of this social experience in what is arguably an hour-long music video. The title refers to a romantic subgenre of reggae that emerged in Britain but is not well-recognised in its birthplace. Its power is evident: sometimes couples are pressed together, barely moving; at others the entire room sways in a rhythmic trance, the joyfully beating heart of an organism. The camera glides deliberately through the house, slipping behind figures and furniture, providing an intimate perspective rather than that of an outside observer. Whenever we return to the living room, we find ourselves in the middle of the dancefloor. The cold blue lighting outside contrasts with the warmth of the phosphorescent yellow inside, an inviting haven away from the threats of violence that briefly emerge. Lovers Rock is an ambitious idea that is well realised, but I wish it had more content. Instead, following Martha as she sneaks back into bed only to be roused immediately by her mother, it is like waking from a dream — enjoyable yet ephemeral.


Small Axe anthology: Mangrove | Lovers Rock | Red, White and Blue | Alex Wheatle | Education